Scholars’ fears inspire colouring book for academics

Satirical take on sector also has serious message for university leaders, says author

April 24, 2017
Colouring pencils
Source: iStock

Working as an academic may appear like the dream career to an outsider: the freedom to pursue your own research interests, the opportunity to engage with stimulating colleagues and students and the perk of “not working” during the summer.     

But a new colouring book for academics provides a satirical take on the grim reality for today’s scholars, from the lack of funding for arts and humanities to the burden of administrative red tape.

The book Doodling for Academics, written by Julie Schumacher, professor of English and director of the creative writing programme at the University of Minnesota, and illustrated by Lauren Nassef, portrays a typical day in the life of a researcher.

It begins with a “4am fantasy” that involves the invisible protagonist publishing a best-selling book and being showered with money.

“And then the alarm goes off, the day begins and it’s anything but a dream world,” Professor Schumacher told Times Higher Education.

University of Chicago Press

One page invites readers to colour in administrative red tape while another includes five “helicopter parents” to cut, colour and hang for a game of darts.

Academics are also invited to colour in the humanities building – a shabby block with visible cracks – and the science lab – a shiny, glass-plated tower with trees on the roof.

University of Chicago Press

Professor Schumacher said that the book does not portray her own situation, noting that as a tenured professor she is “one of the very fortunate people within academia”.

Instead, it takes the point of view of a young or untenured academicwho is definitely not at the top of the ladder and who is trying to make some sort of progress within the system but finding the system often bizarre and difficult to navigate”, she said.

“It portrays the fears that a lot of people in academe have about what is happening in higher education, [such as] the increasing numbers of adjunct faculty who don’t have security, and the love of the STEM fields, at times, at the expense of the arts and humanities.”

University of Chicago Press

Professor Schumacher is sceptical when it comes to whether academics will actually colour in the book, despite the growing trend of adults buying colouring-in books to tackle stress and anxiety.

“I have difficulty imagining a group of philosophy professors sitting around together and colouring,” she said.

“I imagine that some people might purchase it as a gift for people who are in doctoral programmes or people who are looking for jobs in academia.”

While the book pokes fun at the day-to-day realities for the modern scholar, Professor Schumacher said that as with all satire there is a more serious message.

“One of the messages here would be: let’s pay attention to the humanities. Not all of us are going to be students in science, technology, engineering and maths. The arts matter.”

Julie Schumacher’s Doodling for Academics was recently published by the University of Chicago Press.

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