|Doctor of Philosophy (Photo: dullhunk)|
Tanya Filer is a PhD candidate in the department of Spanish and Latin American Studies at University College London - follow her on Twitter @TanyaFiler
The Higher Education Network's early career researchers platform frequently carries bold posts.
Three recent pieces possess characteristic punch and timeliness: stick or twist: the postdoctoral dilemma; the truth of the academic job hunt - even one with a happy ending; and PhD: so what does it really stand for?
This trio is arresting, particularly in the British context, where the scale and pace of debate around recent opinion pieces by early career researchers in US publications leave us in wide-eyed wonderment.
The welcome audacity of these three posts sits, however, in uneasy contrast with the coyness of their authors, who have published under the cloak of anonymity.
The writers apparently feel unable to sign their criticisms because they are 'not yet there' and, unprotected by namelessness, they fear that they might never get there - wherever 'there' might be.
As a doctoral candidate, I have some sympathy with this choice of anonymity. I have written articles on the academic pay scale, women in university leadership and PhD funding.
My thoughts remain safely filed away in the far corners of my laptop, a truth painfully ironic given that I study (Argentine) public debate and am acutely aware of the perils of self-censorship, pared-down spaces of public conversation and elite-dominated national debate.
But how do we publicly challenge institutional orthodoxies or propose improvements to organisations from which we might one day seek employment? What might the career consequences be? And should we, anyway, when we are not yet there?
Any profession or industry has its flaws and these imperfections have a habit of revealing themselves most clearly to new arrivals.
No longer wholly outside nor securely inside either, new entrants may offer valuable insights, unencumbered as they are by the sometimes heavy weight of bureaucracy and institutional history.
Liminality can enlighten. Yet challenges exist. Being 'not yet there' is a state of anticipation: we are waiting for a certain kind of legitimacy, greater intellectual confidence and financial stability.
The anticipation of a more secure personal future makes commenting anonymously an attractive proposition. We can contribute to the discussion of institutions while mitigating the risk of those opinions damaging our chances of joining one.
The problem with this 'best of both worlds' approach is that if we start out with anonymous comment, our future is surely one in which anonymity has already sedimented as a legitimate - perhaps necessary - condition for institutional debate. And that does not spell a better collective future.
The principal fear is surely employment-related. Academic institutions may be centres of critique, but it is difficult to imagine them placing top of job lists (at least without pausing for thought) those candidates who publicly decry their structures.
The current oversupply of candidates gives universities no reason to fast-track supposed rabble-rousers, even ones who propose solutions alongside criticism.
The anaemic body of early career researchers contributing to higher education policy debate suggests that a critical mass share this anxiety.
It hints at self-censorship among the youngest generation of a profession that tasks itself with driving ideas and change-making conversation. We must not, then, ignore this feeling.
Other fears may also come into play. We risk accusation of holding youthful fancies or putting our academic pubescence on public display. Presenting openly an argument that turns out to have little backing could reveal our outsider status in embarrassingly public form.
But anonymity appears to dissolve this last anxiety. Readers may inaccurately transform the nameless writer from individual thinker into 'the' early career researcher or, as Pascal Junod recently lamented, take an incognito commentator as messenger for the multitude.
'Are we there yet?' is a question familiar to anyone who took a family road trip as a child. Asked insistently enough, it won you a silencing-if-spluttering juice carton or fun-for-five-minutes car game. "Be patient!" we were told. Or, the white lie: "Not too far to go, now."
Those trips taught us either patience or that we were not patient. Later experience revealed that patience is not always a virtue, despite the values that a western education attempted to instill in us.
Now, experience should be our guide, pushing us not to wait patiently, silently, anonymously for what might come, but instead to open ourselves up to the risks that putting our opinions and names out into the world can engender.
Whatever the uncertainties, this will surely do more to delegitimise, not just in theory but in practice, the fear-based anonymity that is now emerging as a dangerously accepted condition for institutional debate.
Signing our opinions before we are there signals an encouraging optimism for a public forum in which scholars can productively critique, their names and faces revealed, the institutions that we hope will make critics of us. And that is the kind of future to which I, at least, would like to belong.