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Thursday 19 December 2013

Why live the pracademic life?

By Tracey O’Reilly

Three things you need to know about pracademia...

  1. Pracademics do not operate in both worlds because they do not excel at either academia or practice; in fact, it is the opposite.  Some of the most innovative thinkers out there fall into the “pracademic” category.  Understanding theory and systems is inevitably complimented by a range of skills that only active public servants can develop.  Understanding how to problem-solve within complex systems is critical for success.

  2. As the culture of pracademia and interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral collaboration increases, innovation will follow.  The world’s problems will not be solved by ivory tower thinking, but by complex collaborations across various fields of discipline and across borders.

  3. Pracademics make great teachers because they know how theory and practice collide in the real world and can understand the consequences and trade-offs of public policy making beyond the textbook.

Three myths about pracademia...

Myth #1: My public service duties have no bearing on my academic life.

The Reality: As a political science instructor I am often able to connect my real work experience to the textbook material.  I try to bring the theories to life by explaining that processes are not always smooth, and by giving examples where policies have been successful and the ones who have failed.  Pracademics see the world through a complex set of filters.  We see problems from a variety of perspectives, and not necessarily confined to the perspective of our field of study.  Public servants view problems through the lens of political science, economics, philosophy, and business and this multi-dimensional view transcends to the classroom.

Myth #2: My academic life has no bearing on my public service duties.

The Reality: Teaching has helped me prosper as a public servant in several ways. Teaching has also given me greater abilities to juggle multiple priorities, communicate effectively and deal with people.  More importantly, teaching and research helps me see the world, and its problems, anew.  It may be cliché to say it, but I do learn from my students and from time to time those conversations in the classroom give me a new perspective on an old problem or re-invigorate me to try something new.

Myth # 3: Pracademics don’t fit in anywhere.

The Reality: There will always be folks in the academic world who don’t see practioners as intellectual heavy weights, and on the other side, public servants who think that academia is nothing but an Ivory Tower.  However, most see us as valuable.  Straddling the worlds of public service and academia is important if we are to build good citizens, and address issues from a multidimensional perspective, but above all, being a “pracademic” is a privilege.

Want to continue the discussion?  Join Jared Wesley as he asks "What is pracademia?" and Maria-David Evans as she asks "Who are pracademics?"

Are you a pracademic?  IPAC Edmonton is building a stronger pracademic network and culture in Canada through initiatives like this blog.  Share your story by commenting below, and join in the discussion!

Tracey O’Reilly joined the Alberta Public Service in 2002, and has worked in in the ministries of Advanced Education, Executive Council, Aboriginal Relations, and International and Intergovernmental Relations, where she is a currently Managing Director of the Alberta Abroad Externship Program.  She has been nominated twice by the Government of Alberta for a national award sponsored by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) for leadership in public policy.  Since 2007, Tracey has also been a part-time instructor political science part-time at Grant MacEwan University.

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