When is an academic not an academic? When he or she is having an identity crisis, according to some at the Higher Education Academy's conference this week. There are now so many different roles to perform that many academics apparently find it difficult to encapsulate their job at dinner parties. Although they are hardly unique among professionals in having to acquire new skills, there is no doubt that many in universities are required to perform tasks they would never have foreseen when they entered the academic world. Indeed, many chose their vocation partly to avoid the more businesslike activities they now have to undertake.
Perhaps the best way to stave off dinner party confusion is to concentrate on the core of what it means to be an academic. Fellow guests will be grateful to be spared the intricacies of departmental administration and research contract negotiations to hear what inspires an academic about a subject.