Deaf geographies, and other worlds.

What becomes of the broken hearted?

In the summer of 1966, the singer Jimmy Ruffin had his only real success with the song What becomes of the broken hearted. The song wasn’t originally written for Ruffin but when he read the lyrics, he was so touched by them that he asked his record label if he could record it himself. The song seems to strike a chord, and it’s become one of the best known Motown songs ever.

The song is the story of someone coming to terms with the loss of a loved one – and of them picking themselves up, and moving on, to find and fall in love again.

And it’s that song that I think of now, about a month after hearing that we had finally landed the Leverhulme Grant that we’d been waiting for.

The reason that I think of Ruffin’s song is that it perfectly captures something that I’m struggling with, which is the quite unromantic reality of research as a job, after the romance of research as a postgrad.

Actually, that’s not fair. I think the research itself is the same. The challenge is the context in which it occurs, and what it (and I) am supposed to ‘do’.

Actually, that’s probably not fair either. I think that’s probably the same too… after all, as a PhD student you’re strongly encouraged to see your PhD as ‘just another step’ towards an academic career, and to measure your investment in it accordingly. That’s something that I didn’t do at the time. And my failure to do it landed me in a 5 year PhD which started as a labour of love, and ended up with a somewhat disillusioned escape plan to complete and graduate before my marriage collapsed under the pressure.

…. So, perhaps what I’m really struggling with is the collapse of my over-romanticised view of a research career, as it collides with the scuffed, dented, but ultimately much more realistic expectations of those who have been in professional research for a while. 

With that clear, there are two areas that I’m particularly struggling with.

The first is how ruthlessly instrumental academia is… particularly when it comes to defining behaviours that lead to academic ‘success’. Essentially, I don’t yet have a permanent job, and one of the aims of this grant has to be to get me into a position where I can get one. To do that, though, I’ll have to show myself to be a success. And success in academic terms (where I currently am, at least) is defined by a set of extremely narrow parameters. Publish here, do this, achieve that. More importantly: don’t publish here, don’t do that, and most importantly… don’t do anything that doesn’t count.

Essentially, this is good advice – I need to fill the gaps in my CV, and this will help me do it. And I don’t mind making the choice… I think it’s valuable to recognise that you only have limited time and must make the most of it.

What bothers me is the idea that the choice between doing something that counts, and doing something that doesn’t isn’t based on how it counts… but is based on how it’s been decided that it should count. For example, academic publications do count, and non- (or less-) academic publications don’t. But academic publications don’t count more because they have a bigger impact, or more influence, or do more… they just count, because they count.

And because they count whether they count or not… even if you decided to not play the game and to publish in all the wrong places to demonstrate that all of this was completely screwy… what you publish wouldn’t count, because it doesn’t count. Catch 22.

It’s all rather circular.

And that leads me to the second area which is oddly, in explaining the grant to people outside of the university (there’s been some press interest), coming to terms with the fact that it’s actually a very ‘academic’ project – one that could be very successfully completed (in the sense of producing all the required outputs) without any kind of community engagement or impact at all.

Sure, that’s partly the form it had to take for the funder… and sure, again, we could get more funding to add in community engagement activities, and I hope we do. But it has struck me in the last week or two how insular and aloof academia can be if it wants to be, and how – if you apply point one about focusing on areas that academic identifies as important – you actually achieve success by perpetuating that insularity and aloofness.

That’s hard to swallow for someone working on a project with massive transformative potential, and who has a commitment to seeing at least some of my work spill over into social change.

I hear rumours that this disillusionment is only a temporary stage – that once you are through the gates (as it were) then you find ways to accommodate these expectations. Certainly, my experience of talking to those who represent the ‘kind of researcher that I would like to be’ is that they still retain a gleeful exuberance, and are able to work within these rather stuffy limitations to do and achieve what they want… in particular, in satisfying both the academic requirements, but also in delivering meaningful change outside academia.

And that speaks to me of learning a new set of rules… and then learning how to bend them accordingly.

So, initially, my coping strategy is to recognise some of these tensions and to consider my next steps as a political expediency – to adopt a series of uncomfortable strategies for maximising the future opportunities I have. But I know I’m only accommodating at the moment. As Ruffin says, I’m eager to digest this, and come to terms with it, and find a way to fall in love again.

Anyway – for your pleasure, What becomes of the broken hearted.


As I walk this land of broken dreams
I have visions of many things
But happiness is just an illusion
Filled with sadness and confusion

What becomes of the brokenhearted
Who has love that’s now departed
I know I’ve got to find
Some kind of peace of mind, baby

The roots of love grow all around
But for me they come tumbling down
Every day heartaches grow a little stronger
I can’t stand things pain much longer

I walk in shadows searching for light
Cold and alone, no comfort in sight
Hopin’ and praying for someone who’ll care
Always moving and going nowhere

What becomes of the brokenhearted
Who has love that’s now departed
I know I’ve got to find
Some kind of peace of mind, help me, please

I’m searching though I don’t succeed
But someone look, there’s a growing need
All is lost, there’s no place for beginning
All that’s left is an unhappy ending

Now what becomes of the brokenhearted
Who has love that’s now departed
I know I’ve got to find
Some kind of peace of mind
I’ll be searching everywhere
Just to find someone to care
I’ll be looking every day
I know I’m gonna find a way
Nothing’s gonna stop me now
I’ll find a way somehow

2 comments on “What becomes of the broken hearted?

  1. Laurie Sanders
    January 22, 2014

    You do always cause me furiously to think. 🙂 Hang in there. You are doing important work. Academia will never know what hit it.

    • Mike Gulliver
      January 22, 2014

      Hey Laurie,

      lol… I like the idea of furious thought.

      I’m actually beginning to resolve some these issues already. Interesting that simply expressing them allows me to put some shape to them, and then that allows me to find solutions.

      All the best,


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This entry was posted on January 16, 2014 by in Musings and tagged , , , .
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