The academic year is once again in full swing. For me this means associate lecturing at both Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Institute of Management (Uni SIM). I teach 200, 300 and 400 level papers on everything from Psychometrics to Personality and Individual Differences. With teaching comes a completely different set of challenges, not to mention audience, from my other job as a consultant with OPRA.
When asked whether I define myself as an academic or a practitioner, I invariably say neither. Rather I’m best defined by what is known as a pracademic, a person who is both an academic and active practitioner in their area. As a pracademic I pride myself for favouring neither academia nor consulting, but rather see them as complementary; together enhancing my overall skills as an applied psychologist. The blending of academia and practice is central to being an effective lecturer and consultant.
Here are five key reasons for why being a pracademic means being the best that I can be in my field:
- Remaining update-to-date with the field: Being a lecturer makes it mandatory to know the latest research in your field. The university system makes this relatively easy with access to journals, guest seminars and departmental updates, all of which ensure that one is at the cutting edge.
- Ensuring that the latest research is practical: As an applied I/O psychologist, my clients demand that I take research and make it practical for them. A whole different type of rigour is required to ensure the research can be applied. The combined effect is that I’m forever both learning and testing to ensure that both clients and students get the best outcome.
- Ensuring that I gain deep knowledge on a given area: When lecturing, the level of understanding that you have on an area must be deeper than the average end user of that research. To teach a subject I must know it intimately. Ultimately I must understand it to a level that I can explain it easily to others. This is applicable to my role as a lecturer and as a consultant. Too often both students and clients are not provided the detailed knowledge required to understand concepts fully. This is something that I can’t get away with as a pracademic.
- Ensuring that my knowledge of the foundations in the discipline remain sound: One of the many side benefits of lecturing is that it forces me to go back to the foundations of psychology and ensure that my understanding is sound. The net effect is that I always learn some nuance of a theory that has application within my role as a practitioner. Psychology is not unlike most disciplines: the foundation is the key.
- Ensure that I remain culturally and technologically contemporary: Lecturing brings me smack-bang into the world of youth culture and continually opens my eyes to how fast the world is changing. Psychology does not exist in a vacuum. Understanding the relevance of theories in modern society not only improves my practice, but opens my eyes to what is possible in the field which I may not have thought of.
These reasons aside, the life of a pracademic is one that I simply find hard to beat as a psychologist. I find lecturing to be one of the most enriching activities that I can do. I enjoy watching people take on new concepts, be challenged and grow through the education process, and I hope my students benefit from my practical experience in the field. I also trust that my clients have benefit from the knowledge I have gained from my being part of the academic system.
One thing that I know however is that I will continue to benefit from both my clients and students through whom I continue to grow professionally, something I’m extremely grateful for. I have always believed in the benefit of education for its own sake and having a class of eager minds with a commitment to learning is a huge responsibility and challenge that I continually do my best to meet.