Who are we and what do we do? Social representations of academics among academics and other professional groups

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


We examined how different social groups perceive academics using an established mixed methods approach (Cristea et al., 2020) to identify if and where there are misconceptions about the profession. We wanted to know whether society’s perception of academics is keeping up with academia’s evolution to ensure our teaching, research and scholarship is accessible, trusted, and engaged with by the wide range of stakeholders that academics and Higher Education Institutions (HEI) engage with (e.g., prospective students, professional services, schools, government agencies, employers, the public). A sample of 215 participants (Mage = 37.47, 141 females, 170 White ethnicity) completed an online Free Association Task (Abric, 2003) providing five words/expressions that came to mind when presented with the word ‘academic’ or one of five priming vignettes where the implied ethnicity or gender of the protagonist was manipulated (e.g., Dr Jane Smith/Dr Adebayo). Participants provided additional justifications (Di Giacomo, 1981) on the connections between the stimulus or priming vignette and associations to prevent semantic confusion. We identified the elements defining the internal structure of the social representation of academics among each group (i.e., Academics, Non-Academic HEI Professionals, Other Professionals, and Students) irrespective of the prime they were provided. All groups shared the central element of research. Except Academics, all groups shared the central element of intelligence. Interestingly, when thinking about the main activities that an academic should perform, research falls within the central core while teaching is considered peripheral. Differences in the peripheral elements provides additional evidence that academia is perceived as male-dominated, disconnected, distant from the public and inaccessible (Buckley & Du Toit, 2010). Differences with central and peripheral elements are also evident according to the stimulus word ‘academic’ or priming vignette presented (e.g., Higher Education Professional, Dr Adebayo, Dr Jane Smith).
Period8 Jul 2022
Event title17th European Congress of Psychology - Psychology as the Hub Science: Opportunities and Responsibility
Event typeConference
LocationLjubljana, SloveniaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Higher Education
  • (mis)perceptions
  • social beliefs
  • academia
  • free association task

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology