Ko Taranaki raua ko Whakatere nga maunga
Ko Waingongoro raua ko Waima nga awa
Ko Aotea raua ko Mamari nga waka
Ko Ngāruahine raua ko Ngati Ruanui raua ko Ngāpuhi nga iwi
I sit and write this from the comfort and security of our Dunedin home during an alert level 4 Covid pandemic lockdown in Aotearoa New Zealand. The daffodils and magnolia are in bloom. There are tui, silvereyes and blackbirds singing in the trees. It’s a cold, sunny day. I’m reflecting on my academic career and am writing this letter in a stream of consciousness.
I am an accidental academic. As an indigenous person, a Māori academic, I often wrestle with working in a western institution. Our Clocktower building and campus was partially built by Māori who were imprisoned for being active in the 19th century Taranaki land rights movement. An ancestral family member was one of those prisoners. For me, being an academic at Otago is a political act. Academia has opened doors for our family to reclaim knowledge about the past. Our family’s involvement in tourism goes back 5 generations to my great-great grandmother, Te Paea Hinerangi, who was a guide in the Rotorua lakes region in the 1880s. Our family involvement in academia was non-existent until I was the ‘first in family’ to go to University.
I had a magical, loving, childhood. My parents were skiers and trampers (hikers). When I was 3 months old they shifted from Taranaki to manage the Skotel (a ski hotel) on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park. What fun for my sister and I – we were free range children tramping and skiing in a wonderful part of the world. At the age of 16 I announced I wanted to be a ski instructor and to my surprise my parents sent me to boarding school. On reflection they wanted me to spread my wings to consider other careers and to see the world. My mother died young and my father didn’t travel beyond Australia until his 70s when he took up backpacking with enthusiasm. With their encouragement I was the first to attend a university where I studied art history. After graduating I lived in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park for ten years working for the national park service and in our fledgling, family mountain guiding business.
On shifting to Dunedin in the mid-1990s, family business #2 was born – guided sea kayaking – but more importantly so was daughter number 2. I enrolled part-time in postgraduate tourism studies to inform our business’s marketing plan and the course of my life changed dramatically. I loved the papers and was awarded a PhD scholarship. My youngest daughter started school the same day I started as a tenure-track lecturer at the University of Otago. I could count the female professors working worldwide in the discipline of tourism studies on one hand (so times have changed). My first experience of overseas travel, apart from work trips to Australia and a summer in Antarctica, was to attend an ATLAS conference in Portugal. Hazel Tucker helped me overcome my fear of flying so far away from my children (thank you Hazel!). Research enabled me to pursue my interests in nature, adventure and heritage whilst collaborating with inspirational colleagues. Here is some advice from my years in academia (irony – of course I am still seeking advice and have enjoyed reading the letters in this volume).
Work to live, don’t live to work. Weekends are for family and yourself. In my first decade I juggled work and family, sacrificing weekends. I’m surprised I didn’t burn out. Possibly I did, without realising. I rarely work weekends now – I am more selective of what I take on and start my work day early as I can’t burn ‘all-nighters’. Some weekends, work is required, for instance when on field work. Attending weekend graduations is a celebration.
Do nurture interests outside academia. Be creative, sporty, adventurous, musical, artsy, garden or home focussed. I have had a secret life as a yoga teacher that isn’t shared with colleagues (until now). My daughters are close by (they thrived despite an academic mother and lead strong, creative lives). My three grandchildren are joyful distractions and reminders of what life is really about!
If you’re unhappy then do consider other pathways. Confession time – there were several times I felt stretched by work demands, publishing deadlines, ill-health/surgery, caring for grandchildren and my aging father. Counselling informed my decision in this ‘should I stay or should I go” era. For me the pros outweighed the cons. I stayed to enjoy my career again after that bumpy year. But if you are unhappy for a sustained period of time don’t be afraid to make a considered leap away from academia. Female academics who have left to set up wonderful businesses, or for fulfilling employment in government sectors or other academic roles, appear content. Others are healthier, happier people. I still consider myself an accidental academic but I am never bored in this career.
Mentor others: When you are ready do mentor others (male or female or they) via your University mentor programme (if there isn’t one join forces to set one up!). Join the union or an on-campus support group that includes academic and non-academic staff. Enjoy the informal mentoring of TRINET and social media platforms such as WAIT (Women Academics in Tourism).
Make time for others: Listen. Accept invitations. Offer invitations. Share lunch or tea breaks with friends and colleagues – even if it’s only once a week (at a minimum!). Remember some of your students and colleagues left their home countries to be there – it can be lonely – share your time with them when you can. I need to do more of this.
Serve: The flexible work environment of academia means we can undertake stimulating service roles that help your community. Service is where we can make a difference. Find a service role where your expertise and non-academic interests align (a conservation, community or heritage organisation – or an academic service role may suit you more).
Get outside – seek sunshine: I wear a Fitbit (I hate gadgets but this is a good one for academics) and if I haven’t hit 5000 steps by 1pm I take a walk (even if its just 20 minutes) outside in the sun (hopefully – it is Dunedin). On rainy days I walk the building or do office yoga. There are occasional teaching days where I’m deskbound. Your future posture and cardiovascular health will thank you for it.
Respect your culture, and others: There have been moments where I’ve experienced racism – inappropriate comments, ignorance, requests to ‘sing and dance’/lend my pounamu (greenstone) to a colleague, etc. I respond by retreating into silence or my office as my parents were pacifists – but I am enraged when the same happens to others and find my voice then. Please be kind. Learn about other cultures. Learn another language.
The past 25 years in academia have flown by. As I consider retirement years I juggle working and travel back to Te Manuhana the Mackenzie basin, where our land is. There we plant trees and visit my elderly father (in his 90th year) as he refuses to leave the mountains he loves for ‘old age’ in Dunedin. We are fortunate to have careers in academia. It is hard work but the opportunities for travel (even domestically), the intellectual stimulation of teaching or supervising students and the flexibility to choose our research agendas are a privilege. Most of all it’s the collegiality and friendships that have developed with other scholars or community members that I have enjoyed most. There may be challenges but so be it. I’m lucky to have spent my entire academic career in a department where many of the staff and fantastic students are friends. Children are welcome in our department. Going to work is something I look forward to.