The moonlight anthropologist

Many moons ago when I did fieldwork for my doctoral thesis in anthropology among farmers in Southwest Finland I came across the term månskensbonde, moonlight farmer. Farmers that called themselves by this name did farming in their spare time. Their main income was earned through other means in an office job, a company or a government job. Why did they continue farming if their hands were full working a regular job? Because it was their calling and their moral obligation, an inherited duty. They lived on family farms where several generations had farmed the land before them. These farms were usually too small to be economically viable production units, but the need to secure the continuation of this chain of work and commitment to the land was the impetus for the long hours spent on weekends, evenings and holidays to keep it all going. I admired their commitment and was fascinated by the story it told about social change, and transformations in working life. Although we want to keep working at something, it is not always feasible or possible to do so. Circumstances may force us to inch into new areas of employment, although we have the desire to hold onto to what we were trained or educated to do.

I feel affinity with farmers that burn the midnight oil. As a medical anthropologist currently looking for new employment opportunities I have spent evenings, nights and weekends continuing my work as a researcher finishing off research articles, writing many grant proposals, and reading books and articles in my field of research. My day time work has been to look for employment outside of academia, do occasional temping as a  teacher in higher education and to go through the process of changing my identity from researcher to something else. I have familiarised myself with how employers view highly educated academics with years of research experience. They do not seem to know what we can offer them, how we can be an asset to a company or organisation. Although higher education is valued, few employers know what to do with a person who has a doctoral degree. We are deemed to be over educated and our know-how is seen to be too theoretical.

I also ask myself, how committed was I to embroil myself in the demanding world of research? Did I have a burning passion to do academic research? Because that truly is needed to make it in that world, to endure and deal with all the uncertainties. Research work is independent, which is a definite perk of the job. At the same time it is also a risk because you easily end up working long hours because there is so much to dig into and it is difficult to switch off work in your free time. This, of course, is an issue in many fields of work today. It is also high-intensity mind work. You need peace and plenty of down time for innovative thoughts to be born – creativity springs out of an idle mind. As a university researcher I, unfortunately, seldom had the time to permit myself days of doing nothing when my mind would have the leisure to be creative. This is damaging because I do believe this is one factor contributing to the brain drain among academics in Finland. If your days get filled up with other duties than research and thinking it becomes less attractive and eventually impossible to be a researcher.

The income is also highly irregular as almost all work is project based and often not up to the level one would expect to be paid as a highly specialised expert in one’s field. In the current climate of research funding, competition is fierce because unemployment among researchers is higher than ever due to major budget cuts implemented by our present government in 2016 (there is now 40% less money in the university budgets). To give you an indication of how difficult the funding climate is, consider these numbers: The Kone Foundation, which is one of the big Finnish foundations financing academic research and art projects received 6385 applications in 2017 and granted funding to 374 applicants – this means a 6% chance of receiving funding. You truly need to be highly motivated, resilient and ready to spend time and effort on preparing proposals to continue applying for research funding in such a competitive race for the money.

Don’t get me wrong – I liked being a researcher and my identity as a researcher was strong. I was for many years among the privileged few who received funding from the most prestigious funding body in Finland, The Academy of Finland. Yes, I was one of the lottery winners of the academic research world and it is a great merit.

Now it is time to move on. I call myself a moonlight anthropologist precisely because I do not want to completely give up my identity as an anthropologist or give up doing anthropology. Although academic research may be a thing of the past for me, I am still committed to anthropology and to applying my anthropological skills in a new line of work. I have always had a strong interest in and desire to put my knowledge to use in a practical sense, to be of use to regular folk out there. Anthropologists are people readers, detectives in the sometimes murky waters of human behaviour. It is important that we use our methodological and analytical skills to make this world a better place, to provide better services and products, to influence policy and political decisions. The task ahead is to convince employers of how we can be of help to them, to translate skills and work experiences so that they are transparent and easy to grasp. This is my calling.

Approaching job seeking and my own transformation journey as a form of anthropological fieldwork is a manner of dealing with the transition from academic researcher to anthropologist working in the business world or any other organisation willing to employ me. I hope my musings will help other anthropologists or academics pushed into the cul-de-sac of leaving the ‘ivory tower’ of academia to remain strong and hopeful when navigating the new waters of this oftentimes confusing and rapidly changing scene we call the world of work. Here I will write about my journey, the uphills, downhills, hairpin curves and hopefully also some of the smooth riding. Pack your bags and join me!


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