Do you have an academic side hustle?


“Side hustle?”, I asked, as a younger work colleague mentioned hers. I learned it’s a new-age term, common among millennials. Times are tough, cost of living is high, and everyone has an extra job, a “side hustle” for extra income and, I presume, for experience and networking. I realized I’ve had multiple side hustles throughout my career, most recently volunteering on non-profit boards, and my graduate studies which have now morphed into a writing career.

Since finishing my dissertation, well actually long before, I’ve stewed about how to maximize my impact with this PhD; what social good can I do? Still in public service, now in my 30thyear of policing, I find myself fully engaged in a side career of writing and teaching, with guest lectures and courses, and a continuous cycle of research, writing, peer review, revision, and publication- all in my spare time. I guess it is the work ethic, curiosity and work habits I gained through years of grad studies, while maintaining my policing profession and doing my part at home, raising four kids. The drive has not been a problem; having quit school early and returning later in life to further my education, I’ve cherished the opportunity to work and learn, but I’ve often reflected on how much the education and publishing work helps or hinders my day job. The other bigger question is where I can get the best impact with my PhD credential and academic work. Should I move into academe or stay in the front line? I’ve come to realize that I have an academic career, as a side hustle. Should I continue my grassroots and frontline work, in policing or elsewhere, and continue pursuing academics on the side? Or should I seek a full-time professor role?

As a pracademic, a frontline practitioner with some academic skills- seeking praxis of my work- it feels fulfilling to publish and raise awareness about issues in my profession and community. My first book and all of my articles have influenced decision makers and practitioners in the far corners of the world- I know because they cite my work, and occasionally they tell me; those interactions are highly rewarding and inspiring. At the same time, I wonder where I can get the best bang for my efforts; for example, I’ve put a lot of effort into publishing in scholarly journals, but I’ve come to prefer open access journals that allow me to freely share the work and spread the word farther. Sometimes professional magazines and news pieces get much broader distribution, so they do a lot more to further my personal goals, of affecting some good by moving the public discourse on social issues; sometimes they inform decisions by difference makers in the community. So, I wonder what more I can do with this potential power of writing.

Of course, as a closet academic- I did some research on the question of whether my PhD serves the community and my work better inside or outside of academe. One of the volunteers in my office calls me “Doctor Bob Cop”, which highlights that in some people’s eyes I’ve become somewhat of a goyim (Yiddish for someone outside the community), a label I’m happy to bare because it also connotes, in my mind, breaking away from the pack with some unique accomplishments. But where best to use these new skills? My cursory research on the academic vs. practitioner role finds that the vast majority of published articles on the topic quickly move to the question of where the better jobs are. This is likely the question foremost on most people’s minds; analyzing whether pursuing the PhD or master’s degree is worth the effort- for job getting. I was in the opposite, and fortunate position of having my career already set, and doing graduate and post-graduate studies mainly for self fulfilment. But it still leaves the question of where to get the better bang for my efforts- (1) in the workforce and publishing as a side hustle, or (2) seeking to go head and heals into academic career. Some have written about the potentially stifling university bureaucracy that comes with professor jobs. The opposite side of that problem is the limited time available for research and writing while maintaining a 40 hours per week non-academic job. Some even argue that working in academe leaves little time for many, for research and writing, as teaching is highly labour and time demanding.

The other question about pursuing higher education is whether it’s worth the effort in relation to career advancement or rewards. In some professions higher education results in almost automatic advancement, or at least meets requirements for advancement. In other professions, not so much. In those cases, one must dig deep for motivation, because they are not likely to find it in the job. Some professions, like policing, are in a period of change over recent decades- so higher education is appreciated more by some than others, and achieving an advanced degree may or may not help one’s career. I’ve often said that the moment people ask me how the education helped my career- that I knew they don’t really understand it. The prospect of a promotion could not motivate me to do what I put myself through to complete the PhD. At the same time, I have to say, my education has improved my job skills on every level. More importantly it has enriched my life far beyond anything I could conceive of before I began. So, wherever my career takes me, regardless of what I am doing, I will always have my academic side hustle. How about you?

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