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The Academic Life: Overcoming Stereotypes in Academia

25.09.2019Comments are closed.

SEB LU assistant professor Tamara Pavasović Trošt earned her Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard University. Born in Serbia and growing up in the States, her life experiences brought her to Slovenia. Her research interests include nationalism, stereotypes, ethnic identity, and culture, with a geographical focus on the Western Balkans, applying qualitative and mixed research methods. Noted among her international rewards and recognitions is the best article award in the field of nationalism from the London School of Economics.

Dr. Tamara Pavasović Trošt,

Assistant Professor, Academic Unit for International Economics and Business

What is the most inspiring part of academic life for you?

Academic life is incredibly multi-faceted – teaching, researching, writing articles, presenting at conferences, and mentoring students. Not all of these parts take the same amount of time, nor are they equally fulfilling, and definitely not all are inspirational. If I had to pick the most inspiring thing, it would be seeing how what I do matters to students – seeing you made a difference, motivating someone who maybe would have given up on the university, inspiring students to see new perspectives, making students feel like you hear them and see them and that they’re not just a number. I think everyone needs to feel a sense of meaning at work, whatever their job is – that what you’re doing actually matters. With research and writing, it sometimes takes a long time to see the impact of what you’re doing, whereas with teaching, you can see it day to day.

As a sociologist you research stereotypes. What would you say are the main stereotypes of academics and academic life? Do these stereotypes differ by region, or could you say they are predominantly global?

I don’t really research the stereotypes of academics, but I do think they are different in different regions. In this part of the world, I think academics are perceived as pretentious, very “high up,” and unapproachable. In the US, there’s less of a hierarchical relationship between students and professors, so the relationship is more informal. However, there I think there’s a stereotype of academics (well, sociologists at least) as liberal, living posh lives, disconnected from the real world. Of course, I don’t think any of these stereotypes are true.

Nowadays, universities are operating in global environments, with high proportions of international staff and students, aiming to enhance the academic and student experience. What benefits do international academics bring to schools?

A different worldview, definitely! When you’re socialized in one system, it’s easy to start thinking this is the way things work everywhere. International academics bring some fresh air – new perspectives, new ways of interacting with students, different types of assignments, different kinds of anecdotes

Connecting different fields of study is about creating thinking across boundaries. As a sociologist teaching and researching at the school of economics and business, what kind of methods and perspectives did you bring to studying economics and business?

In terms of methods, I try to get students to see the value in qualitative and mixed methods research, and to see that quantitative hypothesis testing and regression is not the only way to create knowledge. Qualitative methods help us understand how things work, and why, and they can show us how our quantitative models might be flawed, or not measuring what we think they are measuring. In terms of perspectives, there are so many concepts from sociology that are relevant in understanding economic and business life – concepts like emotional labour, structural inequality, implicit bias, social and cultural capital . . .

What are the biggest differences in the academic experience in Harvard University compared to the School of Economics and Business University of Ljubljana?

At Harvard, the classes were smaller, and instructors had a maximum of two different courses per semester – so you could learn all your studentsʼ names, and really engage with them and the material, and you got to pick the courses you taught, so of course you only taught classes you were really passionate about. Here our teaching loads are heavier, and we have to cover a wider variety of courses, so itʼs a little more challenging to have the same levels of energy and enthusiasm in the classroom. But Harvard is a rich, private school, so itʼs unfair to compare them. I find our students more enthusiastic and appreciative in class. And some of our classrooms, especially in the English-track program, are more diverse (this semester, I had students from Cambodia, Canada, all parts of Europe, Asia, etc.), which makes the classroom dynamics great – the wide range of social, economic, and cultural backgrounds makes for good debates!

What would you vote for the best learning experience for you in 2018?

Having to teach in Slovenian. It was my first time teaching a relatively complex topic in Slovenian, in which I don’t feel completely comfortable yet, and it was quite humbling. The students were great though – they helped me with terminology, were good sports about the mistakes I made, and it ended up being a really fun course to teach. It made me gain more respect and empathy for people who have to daily “perform” in a language that they don’t speak well.

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