Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Another year later...

When I started this blog I wanted to use it as a forum for charting the highs and lows of my emancipation from the academy. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to do until I felt comfortable with my transition. After 12 months I felt I didn't have that much more to say.

So what can I say after another 12 months 'on the outside'?

Since the end of last year, not much has changed. I am still in the same role. There have been lots of changes in my workplace since I started, however the everyday details of my tasks are as they were when I started. This is generally ok with me still as things on the personal front have been a little hectic. Having a job that I don't need to worry about has helped a lot. As I have said before, it's not hard, it pays the bills and I get to use my free time to do non-work related stuff.

Overall, I also really don't mind that much the dressing for work, turning up to the office and seeing the same people every day. There is a certain amount of rhythm to how the week progresses. It's just a pain if you need to run around and take care of your personal affairs - appointments and errands and the like all have to be crammed in to the hours before, between and after work. But come 5 o'clock on a Friday - YEEHA!! I walk away and look forward to not thinking about work until Monday.

In the long term though, I am still left with the same dilemma - what am I going to do with the rest of my life? I am still drawing a blank. I thought that with some time free of the ongoing crises of trying to make ends meet that I would find some inspiration along the way.

A question put to me the other day made me realise that I still haven't achieved much headway on this topic. I was asked: what would you like your life to look like? And for the first time in a long while, I didn't have anything to say.

It's high time to get my skates on and start making some inspiration happen instead of waiting for it to strike.

I do know without a doubt though, that every time I set foot on a university campus it makes my stomach lurch and twinge. This entirely visceral reaction is startling. It's actually how I felt every day I went to work. And I don't miss that.

I also don't miss the drama of the workloads and workplace relations. Every story I ever hear from someone who works on a university campus makes me cringe with the familiarity of it all. It doesn't matter which department or who the antagonists are - it's all the same essentially.

In sum, I don't miss academia as much as I thought I would. It all seems like some kind of bad dream now.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

One year later...

Hola amigos! (I am not being sexist - the group term in Spanish is masculine...)

I can't believe it's been a year of this post-academic life.

It's been a rollercoaster that's for sure.

This time last year I was worried about the future and how I was going to make the cross over into the wide-world beyond the ivory tower. This year I have been far too busy working to worry about what next.

One of the big take-home messages for me would be: people outside of academe change jobs ALL THE TIME. Noone really sticks in the one role where they become increasingly specialised. Most employers recognise that changing jobs is perfectly normal. In the non-academic world, it's even considered "showing initiative".

You can even change jobs in the same organisation pretty easily. No-one really cares if you go from one department to another. As long as the selection process was done fairly and you maintain good will towards your former colleagues then it's all ok.

Also, no-one really cares if you decide you've had enough. It's not personal. Unless you're being bullied or something and are forced out, for the most part people do a job for as long as they can take it/find it interesting/it suits their lifestyles and then they move on. The colleagues left behind are usually excited to hear their plans, are full of good wishes and send then off with some cake at minium if not a boozy night out too.

Even at the managerial level, you don't have to have worked your way up from an entry level - you might have done all sorts of things until applying for those higher level roles. Most of the time, experience external to an organisation is considered a good thing.

Now compare all of the above to what you know about academic life. Totally different right? Where would you rather be? I know the answer to that myself.

That's probably the second take home message this past year has taught me - it's ok being outside the ivory tower. Sure, my job is a little boring and the general office vibe could be better, but that's particular to the role and the company. There are also lots of positives, but I can't go into that without spilling too many beans about what I do. Anyway, I can always change jobs if it gets to be too much.

So overall? I am ok. I don't love what I do and I miss being an academic (the freedom! the challenges! I loved it all) but I can pay my bills and have a life. Next year I need to decide how to get more challenge in my work days (and yes, I have plenty of extra curricular activities, and no, I can't do non-work things at work - that would be grossly inappropriate) otherwise I will go crazy with boredom, but for now - BRING ON THE HOLIDAYS!

Friday, November 30, 2012

And so the dillema continues...

It's job market season in the antipodes. It always coincides with the time when you want to plan holidays and not have to think about work. It also coincides with grant-writing season too. To sum up - instead of relaxing and enjoying the summer, most Australian academics are frantically either trying to line up work for next year or write grants for the major funding rounds. For a lot of academics that seems to be ok - generally being indoor bookish types, they hate the sun and sand and would prefer to be working anyway*. For the rest of us though, it's sheer hell on earth. (Sidetrack: when I was a pretentious graduate student who thought I knew everything - I would take my Foucault to the beach. It was useful for picking up other pretentious graduate students, but not conducive to either study or beachgoing. I have long since abandoned the habit of taking anything to the beach with me apart from sun protection, dark glasses and money for beer on the way home.)

(*it's a stereotype I know, but I did say "a lot" rather than "all")

So as you might know, I have already been sucked in to applying for one job this summer. I am also toying with writing a grant, but I think that there is an inward compulsion to procrastinate my way out of having to make a decision about putting it in. Never having been a procrastinator when I was committed to my academic career, I find it interesting how this new skill (is it a skill?) allows me to avoid making definitive decisions by allowing the passing of time make them for me. Also never having been any good at listening to my inner judgement - I am old enought to realise that the procrastinating over very specific tasks is clearly a sign from my unconscious (or should that be subconcious or nonconscious?). So perhaps I will never get around to doing much about my self-appointed tasks and feel secretly relieved that it will be too late by the time I get around to starting any of them.

But the frustating aspect of all of this is: will I regret not giving it one more go? Will I regret not applying for jobs that come up or putting a grant in? Being a highly trained academic - making decisions is a challenging affair for me. I need to weigh up all the evidence, determine the best course of action and then make a fully informed decision. Some people might call this anxiety. I call it "analytical skills".

At least part of this frustration is obvisouly because my current job is boring. There are aspects that I like - i.e. working with actual human beings - but for the most part, I don't have enough to do. When I do ask for more work, the work I am given still isn't enough. I have literally hours to spare in any given week, sometimes in a day. While lots of people might be content to work like this, I am more than a little disappointed. I need to work on challenging and complex tasks that take a significant amount of time to complete - like the work I used to do as a an academic.

This is essentially why I am currently wondering if I should keep applying for grants and jobs and so on. Or if I should just bite the bullet and start retraining in another field - one that would be more challenging than the current one I am in. Because even if I was doing a more senior job in my current field - it still wouldn't be complex enough. I have seen enough to know all that I need to know. Working in a different part of the sector would not be that much different to where I am now. It's a shame, because there are heaps of jobs. It's an important field of work and does real things for improving life chances for many individuals. I believe in the sector and what it can acheive.

Still, there just aren't enough challenges in it for me. So I am tempted to keep slamming my head against the academic wall for just a little while longer. Maybe another year of not going anywhere will be what I need to get it well and truly out of my system. The important point is - I will have a job while I am doing it, so it won't matter if I don't get anywhere. I will still be exactly where I am now. And then I think: oh but maybe I shouldn't be wasiting any more of time? And so on and so forth.

For now though, I think I need to consider my options just a little more...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

So I didn't get the job...

A week or two ago I mentioned that I had been sucked back in to going on to the academic job market.

Mercifully, this particular recruitment round was short and sweet and as I suspected, I never made the short-list.

So. That's that.

I guess I am stuck doing what I doing. For now anyway. Because the one thing about not having an academic career anymore is that I don't have a sense of being "trapped" - I know that when I decide it's time to move on, it's simply time to start applying for jobs again. And then wait until I get another one.


Academic jobs really are scarcer than hens teeth. Now that I am out, I can see how ridiculous the whole framework is and how little control you have over what you can and can't do. Making the decision to get out, find another job and take the first one I was offered has really freed me up to take control of what I do in and out of my working life.

Sacrificing one's career comes with a lot of heartbreak, I admit. It was also kind of naiive of me to think that I could go from being an academic to a desk jockey without having to deal with other people's prejudices. And I think you know how much fun that's been for me in the workplace. I swear it's them and not me - it's not like I have been swanning about calling myself Dr. and pretending I am super smart or anything. But the fact is, going from doing quite sophisticated and  complex work to doing what I do now is that it doesn't use enough off my brainpower. I really do need to do something more challenging. 40 hours a week is way too long to spend doing work that really isn't hard enough.

But hey - I know I have options. One day I will move on. Sooner rather than later. For the meantime though, I will just keep making the most of my spare time.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

WTF is an "educationalist"?

I have mentioned before how I now work in a alt education role that has nothing to do with univeristies. It's an ok enough gig, but I do actually miss "the front line", so to speak. Nevertheless, it's still about education and improving life outcomes through education, which is kind of what I am all about. So that's cool.

And I think I have also mentioned before how there are quite literally TONS of these kinds of jobs out there, but that it's not something that anyone ever dreams of going into. Almost everyone I have met through this line of work has done something else before "falling into" these kind of education jobs.

But when I heard one person detailing their career trajectory into alt education they used the phrase "as an educationalist..." I couldn't help thinking "WTF is that supposed to mean?"

Has anyone else heard that phrase? It rankles with me. What does an educationalist do that an educator doesn't? I really don't understand...

I guess this is all part of my new "career" - unpacking the conventions that surround what it is that I am doing is as much a part of actually doing the job.

I wonder if maybe I should start using "educationalist" as my job title whenever anyone asks? I think I have also mentioned that I don't know what to say when people ask me what I do for a living. The explanation doesn't fit into a one line response. I was toying with using "administrator" because that seems as close as anyone really needs to know, but usually I just leave any forms blank. And then some actual admin person goes "Oh you haven't filled out the form correctly."

Why do bureacrats need to know what you do for a living? What data is it that they're collecting this vital information for anyway? I don't object to putting something like that on my tax return or the census, but I think in most other cases it makes no difference. So perhaps I will use "educationalist" now, just to mess with their figures. It's kind of like writing "Jedi Knight" when asked for your religion isn't it? What does a Jedi Knight Educationalist do I wonder? Use the force to facilitate student-centred learning? Do I need some special powers of self-awareness and inner calm for that, not to mention some really awesome martial arts skills?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Here we go again...

I had a moment of weakness this week and was sucked backed in to "going on the market" for a role that I don't think I have a snowflake's chance in hell of getting.


I am such a fool.

I spent an afternoon writing it; an evening tweaking it, collecting referees and paperwork; and an early morning before work frantically compiling my documentation and triple-checking everything before submitting it.

And let's not forget all those hours I have spent fantasizing about my new academic life.

<insert sound of my slapping my own forehead>

Here begins another 6 weeks of wondering if I will get the job and tossing and turning at night.

I must learn to remind myself every single day that I have a job. I do not need another one.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Alt education roles

I haven't mentioned much about what my post-academic job involves previously, mainly for reasons of anonymity. But I figure I might as well describe a little bit of what I do, and conribute to the pool of knowledge around what one does after being an academic.

In essence, I work in a training role.

When I was unemployed, I read quite a few books on career changing and what-not, and perhaps the most useful tip I found was to write a list of the skills that you do have, think what you like to do the most, and then consider where you might be able to "plug and play" as it were.

So what skills did I come up with? Writing, research, teaching, project management, public speaking etc and then all the specific content and industry areas of my previous academic and non-academic jobs. Having worked since I was 17, this was actually a quite extensive list.

Then, I decided that what I liked doing best was never going to be making money for someone else. That ruled out doing anything for a profit-making company. I also hate wearing suits. Easy - nothing corporate then. So it meant something for the public good.

Now, there are A LOT of opportunities to work for the public good in this wide-world. But where would my skill set fit?

I am sure no-one would be shocked by this, but competition for jobs involving "research skills" is pretty fierce. In essence, it's too generic a skill set to whittle down the field. Lots of interviews due to the PhD, but I was always pipped at the post by someone who had worked in that exact field. It doesn't matter that I hold a world record in speed reading after being dumped in teaching positions where I had no prior knowledge - when your competition has the exact profile the employer is looking for, someone who is close enough, isn't going to get it.

Right, that's that then. Next, was "teaching skills". This is, in fact, far more precise than "research skills". Very few people have a teaching background like an academic, and there are far more roles that require teaching skills than research skills. So this is what I do. I work for a large organisation that does a lot of training. It's core business is certainly not education, but they need education professionals (i.e. me) to do some stuff for them.

Most companies, government departments and not-for-profits will be offering their staff some kind of training. And it's always much cheaper to have an internal person do it than send all your staff out on a training course. Alternatively, you could think about where they are sending their staff for training and find an opening in a company that delivers the training. Can you see yourself doing a training kind of role? Do you need to have any qualifications to do that or will a decade of adjuncting be enough? What kinds of roles do they have - after all, not all training requires actually standing in a classroom?How can you make your skill set fit with what they need?

So, that's my story. It's ok - it's still education and it's for the public good. It's permanent full-time and they pay me a decent wage. I also got offered a role in one of my content areas, but that's a separate story. What I do now, I would never have envisioned if I hadn't gone through the process of breaking down my work history into separate skill sets. I would still be wearing the "I am a researcher" hat and not getting a job. This alt education pathway too, I might add, has a significant amount of diversity to it - it's one of those areas that no-one dreams of going into, but once they're in, they stay for decades because they're is so much to do and so many different roles available.