As the way academics work becomes increasingly specified and regulated, the role of the public intellectual, as championed by Burawoy and exemplified by Jakubowicz, is changing. Engagement with the professions and industry is being proposed as a requirement for a research-active academic. Prescriptions for the way this might happen have the potential to remove the sense of responsibility inherent in Burawoy’s notion of the public intellectual and the suggested use of social media to promote new knowledge potentially dilutes the notion of ‘publics’ which is fundamental to the notion of the public intellectual, substituting the individual for the collective. This in turn has an impact on the kind of informed debate that can influence policy development. This paper explores the narratives of new academics as they seek to answer the questions Giddens asserted were fundamental to the creation of identity in late modernity – What to do? How to act? Who to be? It positions these narratives of identify in a broader discourse of the role of the academic in the creation of new knowledge, perceptions of the role of the university in contemporary Australian culture and the constraints of work planning and performance management.