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.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Being anti-social

You may have noticed from my previous posts that I am not enjoying the company of my new colleagues (well, not so new now really) particularly. That may have been my fault for being shy and not knowing what to say when I first started, and it also may have been their fault for being assholes not overly friendly.

After enduring many an awful social event, I have now reverted to avoiding them altogether. Time will tell if this strategy will be ok, or if it's going to cause no end of grief.

Unfortunately, I am not a very good liar. I really want to be able to say the truth "ugh, hanging out with you guys in my time off is my idea of hell", but some instinct for self-preservation makes me make up a feeble excuse. I am already worried about how I am going to keep all my lies straight.

Admittedly, it does help somewhat that no-one has shown any interest in my life outside of work, or even my life before I started work, or let's face it, what they hell I am doing at work in the first place. One would think then that it would be easy to invent glamorous weekends away or fancy cocktail parties that I am attending with such regularity that I can't possibly take time out to go to a mere work function. But alas, my lying skills are just not up to scratch.

Perhaps I will get better at it in time? When I run out of mundane "family functions" to attend I might be bold enough to switch it up and say "Oh no I can't - I am going on a wine tour. Oh what a shame! We booked it ages ago! No I don't think I can change the date without losing my deposit". Or something else that sounds far more interesting than the sad fact that I would rather stay home watching crappy TV than hang out with people who clearly don't care for my company.

The funny thing is, I am actually much better at socialising than these awful work functions demonstrate. The awfulness lies in the company that I have to go with. If I went to the function on my own, I would have a brilliant time meeting new people and generally hobnobbing. But no, if I go with my colleagues, we all sit together in awkward silence while they laugh at and mock the other people there. It really is most uncomfortable. To my eye, when they point and mock, all I see are ordinary folk going about their business - eating, drinking, dancing and being merry. And I long to join them, because after all - they look like they're actually having quite a good time.

Once I did do that - I went and chatted and danced and carried on in a way that I thought was a perfectly enjoyable affair. Then I discovered at work the next day that I am the one to be mocked.

WTF?? I can't believe that anyone would take themselves that seriously that they can't relax and enjoy themselves. From that moment on, I vowed to avoid any future work functions, less I do something terrible like, oh, have a good time.

Pass me the remote.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A disturbing new job market trend...

I have been keeping tabs on the local academic job market. Sometimes deliberately, sometimes just out of curiousity, sometimes just because I haven't yet taken the leap to unsubsribing from all those academic mailing lists.

Just in case you were wondering, the job market in Australia is terrible. Think about it: a nation of only 24 million (or thereabouts); an ageing population; and a post-school qualification rate of less than 60%. Post-school includes an incredible robust "vocational" (tradespeople and the like) eduction sector. It is also a well known fact that you earn more as a tradie than many a university graduate.

I digress.

So, we have few people going to university in the first instance and this number is declining over time. There are approximately 40 universities in Australia, each covering largely the same material. Think Law, Medicine, Arts and Social Sciences, Engineering, Science, and maybe a few other specialty areas. Pick you discipline and do the maths.

No wonder there are so many Australians skulking about in universities abroad - it's what you have to do if you ever want to get a job. Some ex-pats are happy to be free from the shackles of parochialism and live happily ever after in their new locations. Others pine for the summer sun and the decent coffee and apply for every  job they can back "home".

Now, added to the mix, is an even more alarming trend within the higher ed sector here - teaching only positions. Teaching-only positions have been the scourge of workplace negotiations for some time. The union has fought the encroachment of this as best they can. And rightly so. Teaching only positions are a death knell when you operate wihin a promotion system based on research success.

Let me explain: a standard academic position in Australia is roughly (depending on which institution you work at) meant to be (by which I mean, rarely is in practice) 40%  teaching, 40% research and 20% administration. There are many complex workload formulas around to explain how this division might accomodate the diverse practices of academics. I don't know anyone who is really happy with the way their workload is calculated. It would seem as though administrators are always overburdening academics, and academics are always pushing administrators. In a perfect world of course, you woud simply have teaching days and research days and one day a week to attend meetings and do committee work all within the standard 35 hour week (yes, I did say 35 hours - it might be up to 38 hours in some places though).

The reality of course is incredibly different. Academis work around the clock on teaching preparation, responding to student emails/requests for extensions etc and marking. What little research they do is squeezed in outside of the working week, when they feel they are "allowed" to ignore the demands of students and other administrative requirements. Needless to say of course, the demands of administration, under the typical workload model, involve long and tedious commitee meetings and endless rounds of paperwork.

Yet when it comes to promotion, academics are usually judged by their research output. While some promotion processes have recently introduced different categories (ie teaching, research, administration) to their promotion criteria (after the union insisted), it remains to be seen what a "teaching only" promotion would look like. Just how much "approval" would you have to get from your students to pass muster? What "innovations" must you introduce into the classroom? How would performance really be judged, and by whom?

Yes folks, teaching only positions are a minefield. Yet they are becoming far more common.

The general gist is: universities are trying to get away with highering "cheap" staff ie lower level staff on teaching only contracts, and because of their teaching focussed role, they will never cost the university more because they will never get promoted (I am paraphrasing somewhat...I am sure the union is more subtle and eloquent in their analysis). Insidiousness at its worst.

Despite years of hard fought negotiations over the use of teaching-only positions, workload calcuations and the promotion process, I have noticed that there is a new "teaching-only" position advertised ever week. Universities here are also increasingly using "teaching-only" options as part of redundancy packages. That is, if you agree to go quietly (or in some cases, are forced) you can still have a job - you just won't be doing any resarch.

The irony of course is that, whether this is mentioned in selection criteria or not for any advertised teaching only positions, is that you will still be expected to have a track record of research in your field of expertise. If the university doesn't mention it, the selection process itself will make it a default category - there will be so many candidates with outstanding track records that only the best will get interviewed. I also believe that having a PhD (or other postgradaute qualification) in the area is also a requirement.

So you have to have a research qualification for a teaching only job. Now there is some fucked up university logic for you.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The lies we tell ourselves

I have been reflecting lately on what it is that makes wanna be academics cling to the idea that if we just ... (insert whatever academic activity you like) ... then all our dreams of a full time permanent job will come true. I think I am mulling over the same general theme that JC at "From Grad School to Happiness" ( calls "magical thinking".

Now that I am out of the whole hoopla that perpetuates some of the more demented myths around academic job hunting, I can see with a cold detachment how wanna be academics develop a kind of Munchausen syndrome when it comes to thinking about their career prospects. It's a really complicated psychological trick that enables so many people to put up with terrible circumstances in the hope that all those years invested in their career goals won't turn out to be a total waste of time*.

(*please remember that "by total waste of time" I of course mean "profoundly edifying yet with no meaningful improvement in one's employment prospects". It's just easier to use the short-hand version.)

I have heard of some of the most outrageous circumstances that people in unsecured academic employment will put up with. And thinking back on my life up until this year, I realise I have been pretty much guilty of doing the same thing. In general, it all boils down to not being able to earn a viable living and convincing yourself that it's ok that you don't because one day - ONE DAY - you will get a "proper" job.

The question is: how many years are you going to keep convincing yourself that this is an acceptable way to live?

Part of the complex pyschology of all of this is that you will have also bought into the idea that it takes time and sacrifice to get one of those jobs. Repeated failure to get a job will have been reinforced by your networks which say "oh, the next one will be yours, keep ...!". This of course enables anyone who diviates from this trap to be classified as not committed or serious enough to be an academic. Which is clearly not true. It also enables those within the trap to make the most ridiculously complicated justifications for why what happened to their no longer academic colleagues won't happen to them. In effect, they will do anything within their power to ignore the very obvious evidence in front of them about their actual job prospects.

As I am sure everyone who has decided that enough is enough has discovered, when dealing with those "on the inside" so to speak, you will find yourself being told why you should jump back in. And I am sure I don't need to say - just IGNORE THEM. Don't be seduced by the rantings of the delusional. You've made the break and you're on the road to normality. While your post-academic life might not be rosy all the time, it is DEFINITELY better than living the compromised existence that you were.

It can be hard to not feel judged or defensive about the choices that you have made when faced with the absolute certainty of someone who has not yet been able to accept the truth that you have, but don't get sucked in to justifying yourself - it's your life - to someone who is still living a lie. You will never convince them of the truth.

My tip in these situations is to instead grab an adult beverage of your choice and then ask them about their research: that way you can occupy your mind with more interesting things while sipping your beverage and letting them spout some nonsensical words for a while. Then, depending on your level of general appreciation of the said individual, when you notice them running out of puff, you can either say "Oh, how interesting - good luck with your next grant application" and hope that they stop talking about academic stuff or "What do you think about the recent funding cuts to higher eduction...?" and watch them turn green as they are forced to come up withe more convoluted explanations of how they will survive. Then get another drink.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Things I have learnt about surviving in the post-academic workplace

1. Don't be shy. Say hello to everyone, no matter who. Being shy will only make people think you should be avoided.

2. You don't have to try so hard. Sure, you need to pass your probation period, but generally speaking, NOTHING you do is going to require the work ethic that surviving adjunct-land requires.

3. Learn how to make small talk. Academics are notoriously bad at this (in my experience anyway!).

4. You don't have to pay attention to what EVERYONE is saying. This will be especially useful in meetings. Unlike class, you don't have to worry about supporting and encouraging everyone in the room.

5. Prepare for meetings in advance. Know what you want to acheive before going into a room and you will be ten steps ahead of everyone else. This is somewhat like class and a good skill that post-academics already have.

6. Learn when less is more. Another thing academics are bad at. Sometimes, it really doesn't matter if someone is talking a pile of crap. Let them carry on.

7. Pick your battles. You are now working with an entire organisation. You are not solely responsible for everything that happens (ok, maybe if you run a small business you are).

8. Don't get involved in workplace politics. Who cares if one department isn't talking to another because of something that happend ten years ago? Don't play those games. They're not helpful to anyone.

9. Develop a poker face. If someone throws a curve ball at you or is stamping their little feet over something, stay calm and focus on the task at hand.

10. You don't have to eat ALL the free food.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Yep, academia still sucks.

With all the angst and whingeing about my current job, I was slipping back into nostalgia, imagining what my life would have been like if I had landed that much sought-after permanent academic position. Just when my wallowing in self-pity reached and all-time nadir, I saw an academic job posted that was a) in my field and b) in my home town.

"WTF??? There must be a catch" I thought, and turned my back on the siren call.

Later, I started thinking "hmm...maybe that's the answer to my current doldrums"

Then, the clincher - I make the phone call to relevant wanky-pants Professor, who carefully avoided answering any questions I asked, but did slip in to conversation that there was someone already doing the role, but for one reason and another they had to advertise.

To translate, this actually means: "You haven't got a hope in hell".

That's ok, because I know the person who has been doing the job, and they definitely deserve to keep it. I wish them all the best and keep my fingers crossed that the Department does the right thing by them and actually gives them their own job back. Sincerely, I do hope that for this one person who has worked so hard to do the academic thing, that they  get recognised for the hard work that they do and live happily ever after.

Sadly, I also know that there is a not inconsiderable risk that some stellar international superstar with a ludicrous track record you won't believe may in fact be so despearate themselves for any kind of position that they would be prepared to move to soemwhere they have no interest in being simply for the sake of their career. In which case, the current person who has been doing an EXCELLENT job will be out on their arse, without a backward glace, because there is no way in hell they would have the track-record, seniority etc to match.  

When I got off the phone to Professor Wanky-Pants I was actually shaking, sweating and quite pissed off.

I know that this whole advertising a position that someone is already doing is quite common in publicly funded institutions, but what really pisses me off about the whole academic process, is that the person already doing the job could so easily be out on their arse because of the woeful international job market. Through no fault of their own, they will be edged out of a posiiton that has been presumably working for them ok, because someone who is much more senior will be even more desperate.

Yet again, all of this just confirms for me that getting out of academia is a good thing. I am ok. I am earning a living wage and I am off that awfully desperate treadmill. Professor Wanky-Pants has done me a totally unintentional favour and reconfirmed for me that I am, in fact, not missing anything by leaving.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Contractual labour pains

Hmm... that title should get a few interesting hits on google. I guess I am following a theme that I seem to have developed on this blog - whinging about my post academic work.

While I like the regular pay check, there is something missing in shifting from a something I regarded as my vocation, to simply being a warm body occupying an anonymous desk. I am still struggling with the loss of my professional identity as an academic.

Let's be clear - I don't miss the tedious bitching and moaning and budgetary crises of the modern university. What I miss is the intellectual autonomy, the teaching and the relaxed nature of academic life. Yes, I did just call academia relaxing. Nuts huh? Well, not really, when you think about how unstructured the average academic job is. Sure, there's a lot to do - reading, writing, publishing, reviewing, preparing for class, submitting grant applications, teaching, attending conferences, networking, dealing with rejection, admin etc. But in general, that workload is very non-specific. There is a wide variety of teaching methods, a lot of scope for writing, all sorts of research, too many conferences to attend, and a diversity of ways of addressing your administrative load.

Not so in an office.

There are meetings. Endless meetings. I don't know what purpose they serve half the time. Sometimes nothing it seems. But still, you must have an agenda and you must cover every item on that agenda, and then you must record resolutions against those items. And then write up those resolutions to circulate to everyone who was present so they can disagree about what was discussed. Then you can have another meeting.

There are endless forms to fill in. Whether you're out sick, on leave or having a day off instead of being paid more, there are several forms to fill in. These forms must be signed by the appropriate person. it's not enough that you are expected to do the actual work they pay you for, you must justify everything to everyone and get them to sign off on any decisions.

Then there is the actual work. Between the meetings and the forms, it is sometimes hard to find the time to actually complete anything. Doing actual work usually requires more meetings with different people, and more forms to be filled in too.

In exchange for attending meetings, filling in paperwork and, on occaision, performing actual work, I get a regular amount of money deposited into my bank account and then some days that are free of work.

Although this is what I signed up for, I am still chaffing at the labour hire process - the control that the work environment has over me. I have been told that this is in fact, the nature of work and I just need to get over it. Perhaps. Maybe I have had it too good for too long, and I am really being quite precious. In a way, I kind of wish I hadn't had all those years as a grad student/academic to make me soft. If I had done what everyone else I know did, I wouldn't be sulking about how crappy the whole work for a living thing is and would have a professional career that paid me properly. At this stage in my life, I would have been the boss instead of taking my forms in to get signed and justifying my decision-making to everyone else.

ah, if only I'd known... Anyway, at least grad school was fun. Now I know what kind of workplaces I don't like and what I will need to look for in the future.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

How to have an interesting life?

As has been written by others, I am currently giving a lot of thought to what I want my life outside the 9 to 5 to look like. I guess while I have been busy being an academic, this is the stuff that my peers used to always say when we were in our twenties "What am I going to do with my life?".

For some of them, these questions have fallen by the wayside. Travel, marriage, mortgages and babies and they're all comfortably middle-class and too busy with nappies to worry about what do with their lives anymore. They are living them. Cute kids and all, I find it comforting to be around them in their settled, day-to-day concerns.

For others, it's meant finally being adult enough to go to big school. After all the drugs, the parties, the sleeping around, the travelling and impulsive moves from one place to another to "experience" life, they have finally decided that sharehousing is all well and good, but to get anywhere in life they need a proper education to get a decent living wage. So they are busy growing up. These people remind me of me when I was doing my PhD - passionate and focussed on the future. And insanely busy working to the university schedule.

A rare few have made radical lifestyle or career changes, either taking up causes or turning hobbies and interests into careers that are less lucrative than their old ones, but leave them with a much stronger sense of inner calm. These are the people who pre-occupied my rambling mind when I was unemployed - drawing strength from the example that they set.

So where does that leave me?

I kind of feel a bit lost at times. Not quite domestic enough to worry about the day to day stuff of babies and weekend barbeques, still a bit forlorn about my former academic life to feel quite as enthused as my student friends (altough I love hearing them talk about their new found passions) and not quite as energised by the lifestyle change of having a full-time job to gush enthusiastically about my new career.

It's almost as if I am going back to a phase of my life that I merrily skipped over - the soul searching and restless wondering about what I was going to do with my life. Except I am too old for endlessly drowning myself in drink and drugs and the bodies of strangers.

The financial security and routine domesticity that I felt slipping away from me as I spent yet another year in academia worrying about how to make ends meet are now established. My job is neither too boring nor too challenging, leaving me with plenty of free time to do what I please with. But what is it that I want to do? What is it that would make life as interesting and passionately engaging as it used to be when I was an academic?

Ironically enough, I am now in a position to take advantage of everything a big city has to offer, yet paid entertainment is only shortlived. I miss the robust debate of ideas and the chance to delve into arguments deeply that occurs in the classroom. Yet public intellectualism in this town has always bored me. It's somehow too shallow, too one-sided and too flighty to really appeal to me. I have been reading plenty of course, but it's not quite the same.

At lesat I have the rest of my life to work it out. :) In the meantime, I am going to get back to my book.  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Working for "the man"; or, lessons in diplomacy

Actually, I don't quite work for "the man" because I am in the community sector, but I still feel like there is an aura of complicity that means you are never quite free to "be yourself" as we are constantly exhorted to be in this neoliberal world.

In fact, it's far better to be a close approximation of a person with a self, but to carefully conceal that actual self behind a facade of cheerful cooperation and relentless positivity. No matter what. No matter whether you have already worked a 12 hour day or whatever else is going on in your life.

Now, fortunately for me, I am white, young enough to be spoken to patronisingly by men who flatter themselves into thinking that they might have a chance at picking me up and generally optimistic and confident enough to move about in most social situations without being too terribly gauche (unless I am unaware of it) or running into the toilets crying because I need someone to hold my hand. This gives me a lot of room to move for the most part, and generally capable of making friends and getting on well with others.

Up to a point.

Because I am unfortunately, not quite old enough for competitive men and insecure women to stop considering me "a threat". It is interesting to note as I write this post, that I had similar problems when I was teaching. That is, the particular students that were hard to work with for me were always the overly competitive men and insecure women that saw me in this light. Happily, there are not that many folk who see me as threat, so usually I am quite ok.

(Side note though: WTF is it that they are so worried about? I have never been able to work that one out...)

This week at work, I have come up against the same problem in my post-academic life.

Insecure women make life painful for me, as I find that they can often be skeptical and suspicious of my behaviour and unfriendly towards me as a result. Totally unecessary in my view. I am but one person and deserve to be treated couteously if nothing else. Also, my feminist history means that I honestly subscribe to the notion of "the sistahood" and really take a dim view of women who undermine other women. In short, if you're a lady in my social circle, then I will always be cheering you on to do your best and helping you to do that wherever I can.

Overly comptetive men make life painful for me, as it's impossible to do my job without being able to manage a project. That is my job role, and if you're not working within project deliverables, sir, then I am going to call you out on that. There is no need to call my boss/go over my head/spread malicious gossip/undermine the project just because I stood my ground.

So these are the two key issues that I deal with in life. Which when confronted with both during the work day, makes me feel like I am not permitted to really be myself. Apparently I can't be too [whatever it is that the women can't stand - independent? Cooperative?] and I can't be too outspoken in standing my ground.

I am going to add another note here too, and say that I also have a problem with the conservatives (of both sexes) as well. That is, I have never learnt that useful art of letting a sexist/racist/homophobic/classist/undemocratic/stereotypical comment go. I have to pipe up and call them on that crap. As I get older though, I am learning to pick my battles better and recognising when someone is doing it deliberately to wind me up, but I will be the first to say that I could be more diplomatic.

I guess what I am realising through writing this down, is that these are personality issues that have been occuring my whole entife life, so I guess there's not much point in worrying about them too much. I am also thinking that there are some workplaces where these issues are not as bad as in others. Perhaps it is the nature of work in general - just learning how to recognise those personality types and situations that aren't  going to work out in your favour before you manage to put your foot in your mouth and get called in to the boss' office.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Oh really?

I did something at work the other day that was something I actually used to teach unsuspecting undergraduates how to do. Without thinking about it, I had simply gone ahead and done it cause I thought "what the hell, I used to teach this stuff for a living, I can do it with no problem". My boss agreed at it was done.

Then ages after I had forgotten about it, it became apparent that for reasons of office politics, that I had to have my work approved through some other channel. So off I went to get the requisite approval. And of course it was approved. My colleagues actually complimented me on how good it was and how they usually have problems with everyone else in the office not doing a very good job.

I resisted the temptation to say: "Well yes, I know more about this than most people, as I have taught undergraduates how to perform the same tasks, and I have published in peer reviewed academic journals on these topics".  I simply smiled and said "Thanks for the feedback, I am glad to hear that everything is ok". Oh the irony!

Obviously I can't say what the task was (for reasons of anonymity and not outing my colleague who is perfectly well meaning), but it is sometimes ludicrous to think that even when my current job actually happens to have direct relevance to my academic experience, I have to have my work over-seen by someone with less experience in this area than me. But of course, this is the way the office heirarchy works - and I am sure I am not the first person to feel chaffed by having a more senior person with less practical knowledge having to sign off on tasks.

In fact, come to think of it, isn't this what every story about work involves?

I believe this is the nature of work. But what the hell, as long as I am getting good feedback, then I don't really care if it's something that I can do in my sleep. Just working in an evironment where you're not having knives stuck in every word you write, paper you give or class you teach more than makes up for the lack of autonomy.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

On fairweather friends

The issue keeps coming up a few times as I weave my way around and through and in the blogosphere - how to manage relatonships as you move out of the academic life for the great unknown of world beyond the campus.  I mean relationships with people you may have bonded with over endless coffees and bitch-sessions about the trials of your graduate years and other people who have been a key part of your lifestyle for such a long time you barely remember how you met, but just know, that you are firm friends.

A few bloggers have wondered in print, how to "break the news" that you are moving on, and some people have noted how hard it is for some of those people in your life find it impossible to really accept the fact that you are indeed leaving. I would also like to note that in this period of transition, when you are questioning everything that you thought you knew, you are going to realise that perhaps a few of your friends are not really that friendly any more.

These are the people who might otherwise be referred to as "fairweather" friends; that is, they're happy to hang out when the going's good, when you're happy and fun to be around, but that haven't learnt the finer details of how to really be your friend when the rough patches occur. Something as radical as changing your entire life course (ie being an academic) and re-evaluating your goals in your quest for gainful employment outside of academia is quite possibly going to bring some uncomfortable tests of the strength of the friendships you have.

As you learn more about yourself in the process of finding out what else you can do, there are going to be moments when you thnk: "Oh, I never realised that ... is not making me happy." And, since you're on this path of radical transformation, this thought might be followed by "And that's going to change right now".  If this happens to be a person that is not making you happy, it's hard to make the necessary transformations. Afterall, you have a history together, you know each other well. Your lives may be quite intertwined.

You won't regret it though. If you really can't remember the last time someone helped you out when you needed it, then perhaps they are a fairweather friend. And maybe you're fine with that, and maybe you can leave the relationship in that way - as someone to have fun with when you're in the mood.  The trick is to find that right balance, so that you do have a level of reciprocity that you are happy with. Don't be afraid to make changes if you need to. It's your life - why replace academic guilt with another kind? 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Another reason why work is better than adjuncting

Paid holidays are great!

You have enough money to pay for a trip, you have enough money to spend while you are away, and if you go a little over budget, chances are, you will be able to pay it off quite soon.

What can be so bad about that?

Oh, I know, coming back to work totally sucks. But whatevs. You will notice that the building hasn't burnt down, your colleagues are still the same, and that you really didn't miss much while you were out. Depending on your level of seniority, you may have a shite-load of emails to catch-up on, or your projects may have been devolved to someone else, but hey, you don't get paid enough to care. It's not as if YOUR ENTIRE CAREER depends on someone else doing what you thought you would be doing.

You will notice that something needed doing, it got done, and nobody cared that you weren't there to do it. Instead of sticking knives into you while you were out, they simply used your seat to store supplies on.

So, yes, I can get used to this.

Meanwhile, while you are actually on holidays - you don't have to think about work. How refreshing. You don't have to take work with you. You don't have to try and find an internet cafe to finish doing something by some impossible deadline. You don't even have to check your email. Let's face it, if anything truly important happens on the home front, the people who matter will find a way to get news to you. The people who pay you, on the other hand, probably won't even know where you've gone.


I really needed that break. It was just at the right time to give me a moment to recover from being out of work, finding a new job, getting used to a new job, getting over my career failure and just generally taking stock of where I am at now. It was also the perfect holiday to help me realise that the issues I have had in my new job are actually a function of the office and the people in it, and not me. I kind of knew that already, I have to say, but being new, I was inclined to give the benefit of doubt. But no, it's not me. That much I can tell you for sure.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Workplace relations

When I started this blog at the end of last year, it seemed like it would be a kind of interesting way of a) keeping myself amused, b) testing some new social media, and c) trakking the highs and lows of the transition out of academic work.

One of the big lows, about academic, unemployment and starting new jobs is how relationships with other human beings are played out.

There are all the annoying types you meet in academic circles. These include rude and arrogrant professors, disinterested advisors, whiny colleagues, entitled students, needy students and so on. But usually, you don't have THAT much contact with people in any case, so you can generally avoid the people you don't like. I think that's why working from home becomes the dominant work model for so many people - so they don't have to leave the comfort of the familiar and trusted space of their own intimate environments. Lucky for me, I had an office. I used to shut the door and sit in peace, blissfully ignorant of what was going on outside in the hallway. Crucially too, when I'd had enough of the student emails, I simply switched my email off for most of the day, and only answered emails at certain times. These were both strategies that worked quite effectivley for me, and left me largely untrammeled by the demands of others. When things got to much, after teaching, during the semester, after meetings etc - shut the office door, turn the email off and bury yourself in some obscure reading/writing.

But then when you are unemployed, your perspective shifts once again. In effect, it almost feels like you drop off the face of the earth. It's like you have some kind of contagious disease or something, with few invites to socialise as everyone you know is out doing fun stuff that you can't afford to do. You become increasingly isolated and restricted to the small domestic habits of your immediate environment. It's a very isolating time being unemployed.

Then you start a new job. And if it's a non-academic one, you now have to work out how to be a team player and get along with a whole host of new people and different kinds of personalities. While learning the ropes and surviving your intial period of performance evaluation, you also have to work out who are the mean girls, who is the office bully, who is the organiser and who is the prankster. You can never predict which one of these people will be around at any given time, so you have to be ready to play the appropriate role at a moment's notice. It's exhausting. Throw in the obligatory birthday cakes, leaving dos, team outings and office socials, then that's a whole lot of interacting with people before you've even done any work.

For someone used to shutting the door and turning off their email, this is too much! Perhaps I am just a misanthrope, but I think the hardest part of any new job, especially if it's in a different industry to the one that you're used to, is the socialisation stuff. Who am I now that I can't retreat behind the door? Am I in fact the office wierdo because I don't want to go out all the time and would rather read a book at lunch time? Am I the office grouch when I am heard to express a critical opinion about, say, any current affairs kind of issue? Can I extricate myself from the endless obligations that seem to happen while still being "a team player"? The dilemmas of office life!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"It must have been love - but it's over now..."

I know you all love a bit of Roxette :)

Just the other day it hit me. With stunning certainty and clarity. My academic career is over. OVER. O-V-E-R. Over.

And I think I am ok with that. I mean, sure, it's hard to take that all those years I spent slogging away in pursuit of such a defined goal have amounted to, well, not getting what I wanted, but, at the end of the day, I will get over it.

For quite a while after the initial euphoria of actually getting a job wore off slightly, I started doubting whether I was really doing the right thing and was wondering whether it was worth hanging on to the academic life a little longer. I was toying with the idea of continuing to do what I have been doing "in my spare time". And then one day, I was sitting down at the laptop and realised "WTF am I doing? It's a beautiful sunny day outside and I am telling myself I should be looking up unbelievably dull journal articles in order to force myself to write another dull journal article that only five people will read." So I stopped. And went for a walk instead. Which was a far more enjoyable activity than writing journal articles I must say.

I think I can get used to this life.

Since then I have been thinking about failure and what it means and how we cope with it. Of course, a week out from the Olympics, there are going to be a lot of tales of triumph and failures coming up shortly. But think about it - athletes go through the same thing at the end of their careers. The difference is though, that athletes know they only have a short time to shine and have to make the most of their physical ability while they can. This is not something ever mentioned in academic circles of course. Anyway, my point is that making that call, about when to retire, when you no longer love the sport, you've lost the passion or your body can't take it anymore, are all the decisions that an elite athlete is faced with.

If elite athletes can cope, then I am sure someome with a PhD can. We've had just as much training and have similar levels of comittment, so there's no reason why we can't find that requisite ability to redeploy when necessary. I know that for a lot of former athletes there isn't much glory to be had post-career, but perhaps that's also something that can be different when your "sport" is academia and it's not so much physical strength/ability/prowess/talent etc as mental capacity that's been finely tuned.

Anyway, I will be watching the Olympics and wondering about the "also rans". For me, their the stories that are more inspiring than winning medals.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Workplace cultures and work/life balance

When is the myth that being a workaholic is a good thing going to die the death that it deserves?

As we all know, this idea that you should be working 24/7 is rife in academia, and with increasing competitiveness for increasingly scarce jobs, it is getting so bad that University's have started offering unpaid research positions (as Dr Piglet and JC have blogged about recently). University of lies reminiscence about advice for PhD students also draws attention to this myth of long-hours = productivity. Implicit in this argument too is the idea that without working long hours your career will fail.

Well guess what? That's an outright, baldfaced lie. A significant amount of workplace productivity studies demonstrate clear and decisive links to work-life balance and increased productivity emerging from worker less, not more. Not to mention the fact that studies in driving, flying, doctoring (the medical kind, not the research kind) and so on have demonstrated clear safety risks from working longer hours. In fact, just this evening on the local news there was a bulletin about how it has been established that working long hours is equivalent to drinking in terms of skills affected.

So, if you're a workaholic you're no better than being a drunk it seems.

AND: labour studies have always demonstrated clear links between long work hours and higher rates of stress-related illness, physical and mental, that obviously affect productivity. This lost productivity costs in the order of billions annually.

So you're not just drunk, but you're the worst kind of drunk, a maudlin drunk. If you're even at work in the first place.


Given all this research, and government, union and coporate rhetoric around worklife balance - why are we STILL subjected to the kind of machismo crap that working long hours is something to be proud of?

Do you want your colleagues to think you're a dull, whiny, drunk???

[Disclaimer: I am highly sympathetic to anyone struggling with mental health issues - a serious mental health issue created by overwork and overstress is no laughing matter]

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Anatomy of a career gone wrong

Reading some links from Dr. Piglets blog, I now realise that the reason I haven't got an academic job is that I did exactly all of the wrong things! So silly in hindsight. It's a pity I can't go back and fix it.

First - I stayed at my home institution for my PhD. I was suckered into it by an advisor who I was too naiive to realise was firmly in recruitment mode for the higher ed money machine.

Second - I picked an obscure and interdisciplinary area of research. Instead of picking something sensible and unambitious in scope, I thought I was there to make an original contribution to knowledge.

Third - I lacked the professional ambition to promote myself via every available outlet. I was, in fact, too busy thinking and reading and writing my thesis to worry exessively about conferences and publishing.

Fourth - I was blissfully ignorant of the need to build networks. Stupidly, I hung out with people I liked, regardless of their ability to influence my career.

Fifth - I was largely clueless about the enormous necessity to secure grant income. I was several years down the track before I realised that without grant income, I was going nowhere.

Sixth - I rather stupidly relied on the idea that the academics who taught me must have known what they were doing. It took me a long time to access some teacher training that ultimately made a significant difference to my emjoyment of teaching.

Seventh - I made some questionable personal choices about how I would negotiate my career opportunities. I would, however, probably make the same mistakes again.
Eighth - I let myself be blinded by the cultish aura of academia. In short, I focused too narrowly on my obscure research area and didn't allow myself to be open to ideas from elsewhere.

Ninth - My teaching has been in programs that have been axed, rather than boosted.

I am not that remorseful about what I did or didn't do - after all, I am a forward-looking person who can only work with what is to come rather than worrying about all the mistakes I made. But it is useful to reflect on what I did do, versus what other's might have done and think about how complicit I might have been in the unmaking of my academic career. While there are a lot of systemic issues around too many graduates and not enough jobs, I think that if some people get jobs, but others don't, then it is a little bit too convenient to blame 'the system' for all the damage done. In short, although I have a good track record and am pleasant to work with, there has to be something that distinguishes me from the other candidates who have gotten academic jobs.

That is not to say that it's eniterly my fault either. As has been mentioned plenty of times on different post-academic blogs, it is far too easy and too convenient for our former academic colleagues and/or advisors to say we weren't committed enough, we weren't dedicated enough, we didn't try hard enough, etc etc. But if I have a good track record and plenty of evidence that I am actually ok at what I do, and that I have tried hard and so on: how is it my fault that I don't have a job?

So somewhere between blaming the system and blaming myself, there has to be a more nuanced explanation of the experience that has led me to this point. And yes, it's ultimately a combination of systemic issues and personal faults, some of which may have been avoidable and some which couldn't have been. However, lacking a crystal ball to tell me what was going to be important, and without many structural remedies offered at different times, I blundered along as best as I could.

Now wonder it's often said that "hindight is 20-20".

Anyone interested in a scathing critique of Australian academic life should read Richard Hil's (2012) Whackademia. UNSW Press. It's got a lot of inside info about Australian universities that may not translate that well to an overseas audience, but it certainly highlights all those systemic problems for people still working in academia. And makes me feel more like I have dodged a bullet than missed out.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Still wondering/wandering...

While most of the time I am too busy working to give much thought to my former academic self, when I am not working, I am busy wondering how much more effort I should put into continuing down the academic path. That is, is this non-academic thing a transitory phase to pay the rent, or is it a permament transition that represents a new direction in my career?

Forgive me if I sound like a broken record. I guess I am still struggling with the transformation.

In earlier weeks I had my up and down experiences at my new job, but on the whole, it is in fact quite decent, not too onerous and relentlessly social. I am enjoying the pay cheque, the learning curve and the fact that I have my free time to myself. I am also enjoying the collaborative aspect and the fact that there is always someone to talk to. Unlike my time in academia, where I was always by myself and only ever talked to other human beings in class, consultation times, meetings or conferences, I find myself yakking to a wide-range of people throughout the day. It's a nice change.

So in short, it would be quite easy to barrel along this new path in life and find out what new career goals develop.


I am still wondering whether I want to keep pursuing the academic work. I like to torture myself occaisionally by looking up people I know from academic circles and seeing where they're at these days. Does the fact that many of my past colleagues have been eeking out their career goals mean that I have given up too soon? Or should I just stop googling and focus on my own affairs?

What does my research into the business of others signify about my true heart's desire? Am I just morbidly curious, or am I jealous that they have the role that I can't get? I also find myself speculating: Would I have taken that job if it had been offered to me? What sacrifices would it have meant for them? How would I have felt about making those sacrifices? Are they happy? Would I be?

Arhg. Usually I finally manage to snap out of it and remind myself of all the reasons that my life has gone in a different direction and get back to what I was supposed to be doing. But then I am sstill left feeling: should I continue to keep a foot in the door, as it were, and find the time to keep working on academic things? Or do I just want to cut my losses and have my time to myself?

I am finding that it is really difficult to make a complete break from academic life. So many of my friends are academics, and so much of my identity has been invested in being an academic for so long. It feels both exhilarating and depressing to move away from academic life at the same time. On the one hand, all those years spent studying and a promising career brought to an end. On the other hand, a life lived and lessons learnt, skills earned and a whole world ahead.

The question I really can't answer is: will I try to hold on to a much longed-for career, or will I open my eyes to the opportunities that lie outside academia? I keep vacillating betwen the two. If only there were some way to make the decision easier. I think I once thought that the pay cheque would be the deciding factor, but now I realise it isn't. What is the deciding factor?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

If you're lucky, your talent will shine throughout your new job too.

I know a lot of former academics would probably have worked this out too. That is, that all those skills and talents you learnt being a graduate student/adjunct are going to help you out in your new career. And I am not talking about your brilliant ability to produce a complex piece of original scholarship. I mean your ability to get stuff done, play well with others and take the initative when it comes to making your job your own.

Now I am not saying that everyone's first foray into the non-academic working world is going to be brilliant, but if you work for an organisation and a team that takes their work seriously and does more than pay lip service to professional development, you will find yourself working on some interesting projects. In some cases, whether you like it or not.

That is, if you are a former academic who has taken the option of working a relatively low-key job in order to live your own life outside of work, then be careful about how well you do your job. Your boss might work out that you're cruising and find more things for you to do. This may turn out to be a massive pain in the a**e if that's not what you signed on for. But if you want to take your career seriously, then you are in luck and you just never know where the future will take you.

I guess the moral to the story is that you never know what lies around the corner. Getting off the academic treadmill will leave you in a position to embrace the winds of change and find your own path in life. The question is: how ready are you to take on that change? Are you going to pine for the rigour and structure and comfort of academia? Or are you going to throw caution to the wind and learn to trust your instincts and take a chance on your ability to thrive without the safety net of the academic calender or the opinions of colleagues, anonymous referees, advisers and students?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

how good are the weekends??

For all the trials and tribulations of the working week (waking up early, ironing, remembering your lunch, not being able to organise all the stuff you need to do to keep your life functioning), having your weekend to do exactly as you please with is a good trade. Sure, it's never long enough, but hey, you have money to do fun things with. Or not. You also have time to do...oh... I don't know... nothing in. Or everything. Or a happy medium. Or you can fritter away as much of both time and money as you like. Who cares? Noone. As JC says, as long as you're back at your desk on Monday, no harm done.

I have to say, although I have always been pretty strict about keeping my weekends free of academic work, now that I am working a regular job, I have found a new depth of appreciation for my time off. I am, indeed, more relaxed. I get all those itty bitty annoying housework jobs done. And I stop to dance around the lounge room like an idiot whenever I feel moved to. I go out until 5 am if I want. I stay in bed reading if I want. I watch crappy TV and movies when it rains. I spend time thinking about what delicious and nutritious meals I will whip up. I have time to try things on when I go to the shops. I plan fun things to do with family and friends.

Most importantly though, I don't think about work. I don't get paid enough for that. Nor do I have any pressure to beg to keep my job by publishing and grant writing and the like. I also don't have to worry about what will happen when my contract runs out. Or whether I am doing enough to keep my job.

I love the weekends!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Changing priorities

Once upon a time, I was hell bent on acheiving academic success. I would have done anything to get a fulltime position, anywhere at all.

Clearly I was very naiive.

I am a truly optimistic person and really do find the silver lining in every cloud, so for every far-flung outpost of civilisation that I applied to, I would find myself looking up places to live, or things to do, or day dreaming about not commuting. In short, I was always convinced I would make a go of wherever I ended up. Indeed, I was utterly convinced that it was just a matter of time before I would get a position somewhere, and then I could do all of the other things that adults do. Like have savings and buy stuff for your house. Like new stuff, from an actual shop, not second hand from someone down the street you know who is upgrading to a fancier version of whatever home furnishing. Or free from the side of the road where all students collect their home furnishings.

Does this sound trivial?

Well, of course, the furnishings are, but my point is - I finally realised a while ago that I am no longer prepared to go anywhere.  At first I started redefining the boundaries around where I would and wouldn't work. But now I realise that there are in fact very few places that I would be seriously committed to moving too.

And now that I am not an academic - who cares? I am like everyone else now - if I want to move, I will do it because I want to, not because I have to. This is a huge change for me. And I think a really clear sign that I am just not that into the academic pathway anymore.

I have heard too many stories of marriages breaking up or under strain because of the long-distance issue for two academics (hats off to all of you who have survived this awful life). I have heard stories of people unable to have families because of such logistics. Or trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to "have it all" (as the euphemism for having a partner, children and a career is known) in these conditions. I have also heard some truly outrageous instances of how being a carer is complicated by the lack of academic jobs, with some people having to accomplish truly astonishing feats of logistics in order to meet their obligations to both work and life. And lets not forget the ludicrously high toll that academic careers have on physical and mental health. Almost everyone I know in academic life has had some kind of mental health crisis, if not a physical health crisis too.

At least some of the cause of these problems has to lie in forcing people to move anywhere there is work. Uprooting from families, friends, pets, established routines, familiar places and a culture that you understand is a difficult thing to do. Add to that an impossibily high workload, a culture of closed office doors and everyone working from home anyway, the demands of students and it's no wonder no-one has any time to put down new roots in new homes in new places. You have to be seriously outgoing, willing to try new things, determined to not give up, and able to withstand loneliness to move to a new location in the first place. And who has the time or energy left when you are commuting to see your partner, or the sole income earner because your partner can't find a job, potentially being a sole parent or going through fertility treatment on your own, unable to see your family and with no friends nearby to have a glass of wine (or three) with?

If getting an academic job requires making all those sacrifices, then that's not something I am prepared to do.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Clinging to the past

Something I have always found difficult to judge is when it's time to move on. For years I have been saying that I would move on from academic life, but now that I have actually done it, I find myself still hanging on to some remnants of my former life.

For the most part I am way too busy having a life to be bothered with academic things anymore, but then there are times when either I have to because of previous obligations tie up loose ends, or I find myself daydreaming about my academic future. Finalising outstanding business is one thing, but far out is that daydream persistant. I am sure it's just a deeply ingrained habit from working towards such an elusive goal for so long, but it does beg the question: when am I finally going to kick the habit???

It is especially hard when there are so many things about the academic life that I do actually enjoy going on around me. Hearing about people going off to exotic locations for conferences, meeting interesting people, getting involved in collaborations, gaining funding for some pet project or teaching fascinating sounding classes makes it very difficult to remind myself why I am not going those things anymore.

But then it isn't usually long before a hard does of reality reminds why I finally decided to walk away from that life: The conferences are inevitably over-priced and not as interesting as they seem on paper; the location is always some city, and always in a dull location of the city at that; you rarely have enough time for sightseeing anyway; most people you meet are too busy finishing their papers to let their hair down and enjoy the confernece, let alone sightseeing, so you're always on your own in any case; you never usually meet anyone that interesting and it's quite lonely travelling all that way to be bored in a city you don't know. Collaborations don't happen often enough and are always fraught with people missing deadlines, getting upset about authorship and disagreeing on the nature and intent of the collaboration. Gaining any kind of funding requires a disproportional amount of effort in writing the application, only for it to be subjected to some mysterious decision-making process of which everyone is highly critical but no alternative is ever devised. And teaching is only interesting if you don't have an enormous pile of marking to do or complaints about grades to handle.

Add to the mix all of the well-known issues around competition for jobs, job security, job location, and work-life balance and there's a long list of reasons why academia is not all that is made out to be.

And yet... despite knowing all of these things I find myself still hopefully searching the job ads, speculating about the next project or going to talks to meet people whose work I like and would like to get to know better. Why am I torturing myself like this? After years on the market and untold numbers of interviews I know exactly how the outcome of any application will be - someone with a LOT more of everything will get the job. and when I say a lot - I mean in some cases, DECADES more experience. I can't compete with that - I can't sacrifice any more time or money to chasing this elusive academic future. I must take control over my future before I am homeless and alone and with nothing but a room full of students and my next publication to care about. Beause in this market, that is what it would take: namely, to sacrifice any hope of having a fully adult life and to sacrifice everything to move to a town I care nothing for to teach classes that won't be in my area and work with colleagues I don't like. Who wants that?

NB: Here's a link I found by following my stats traffic - it gives a British perspective on some of the inequities of higher ed and reinforces those cold hard facts about why leaving is a good idea. It's also very eloquent and well-put.

Monday, May 28, 2012

'Workin' 9 to 5...'

With respect to Ms Dolly Parton, working 9 to 5 (or whatever your fulltime equivalent is) can be a bit ho-hom from time to time. There are some days when I miss the freedom of the academic life, where you could have a little sleep in work from home if you couldn't be bothered dragging your sorry arse into the office. No such luxuries in the "real world". You just have to drag your sorry arse into the office whether you like it or not.

Now perhaps you were/are the kind of academic who works from home in any case. Not me. I always went in to the office, if for no other reason than to create a bit of a distinction between my home and my work life. (I've mentioned before that I always had good work-life balance - keeping work at work really helped in this). But I still liked having the option to work from home, or to work hours that suited me better.

For the most part, my job is pretty flexible. They at least talk the talk about work life balance. (Whether anyone takes them up on it or not is a seperate issue).  But that doesn't mean you can just turn up late because you'd rather take your hangover "weighty thoughts"  to the coffee shop...

However having said that while some days require a lot of effort just to get there- there are a million ways to look like you're doing something while you're really running on empty without having that awful gnawing feeling of being unproductive crushing you even further. In short, there are a lot of crappy things you can do while you're not feeling up to the bigger things and at no point will you be made to feel like a god awful loser because you can't string a sentence together. I guess what I am saying is: even the worst day in the office can't make you feel as incompentent as an unproductive day of (not) writing that next paper/book/conference presentation.

Then before you know it - the day is over and you can go back to your PJs and crap TV and hope tomorrow is a better day. You don't need to feel guilty about all the work you didn't do, and you don't need to be melodramatic about how crap you are as an academic compared to the person down the hallway. You don't need to count the number of papers you don't have, or the number of grants you have failed to get. You can idly flick channels and watch your favourite reality TV show without guiltily reflecting on what you should be reading instead.  

Thank goodness for the "real world".

I still hate ironing though.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Yep. I can confirm that the post-academic blues are true

You've heard of the baby blues right? Well the post-academic transition involves a similar form of emotional upheavel (although not nearly as hard, and hopefully involving less vomit and more sleep). Like other post academic bloggers have written, it's normal to feel sad about the change you're going through.

Don't get me wrong, I am not talking about clinical illness here - more just the occasional down moments you have when you think "WTF is going on here? I thought I had my sh*t together and now I realise that I was totally wrong...". If you are having these down days on a regular basis, then get thee to a health professional ASAP. They have pills and therapists for that sort of thing. Don't suffer in silence thinking what you're feeling is normal. It isn't. But like I say, occasionally feeling down is. (How often is occasional is up to you to decide, but I believe the aforementioned health professionals say that persistant sadness for more than two weeks is a clinical condition, not a "mood")

So once you get a job and you can start paying off your student loans and the rent and splurge on some new shoes and haircuts and expensive adult beverages instead of that cheap crap you've been allowing yourself only once a week, then it would seem like life should be hunky dory. But then you find yourself inexplicably upset that your career is over, you are a failure, you have nothing to show for all those years in school and you will never find anything intellectually stimulating ever again.

Yes, as other post-aca bloggers have noted - it takes time to process the complex emotions attendent on such a big change. It's normal to feel a range of emotions when you go through a major life transition like the loss of your professional identity, the security of a career path that you know all too well, and the years of effort that have gone into inching your way along that path. You will have good moments and bad as you work out what comes next. You may find yourself lurching from a feeling of being delirously exicited about being a grown-up with a real cash flow instead of a potential one, to suddenly feeling like you're a total failure because you couldn't get that dream aca job all in the one afternoon.

But when those moments hit I try to take a deep breath and remember all the personal reasons why I decided to make that change. All the internal reasons, not externally imposed ideas from former colleagues and the like. After all, they are not me, they are not living my life, they don't have my values, and they don't have my personal constraints. Sometimes these moments of crisis hit when I least expect it, so it can be hard to marshall my resources and remind myself that I am doing the right thing. Ultimately though, the mood does pass. I take heart too that as JC says, I can expect these moments get further and further apart as time goes by (see

Sunday, May 13, 2012

'Listen to your heart...'

My Roxette inspired post title today is both cheesy and dated (and yes, perhaps revealing too much of my limited musical education), but I think it reflects an important idea that too few of us tend to heed: that only you can know what's right for you.

I started thinking about this when I realised just how many physical symptoms of angst started to manifest when I realised I had to sit down and finish off some outstanding academic work. I won't say what it is, but it is something that really must be done by a certain deadline (not an internally imposed one that I have created). It won't take me long, and indeed, after finally getting around to starting it, I am flying through what I need to do. So really, why I am I finding it so physically painful to get through?

Here is a rough summation of how my afternoon has gone:

First, I turned the laptop on. Queue stomach grumbling about needing food. Ok, so break for lunch.

Second, I sit down to begin. Uh oh, need a drink of water. Away from the computer again.

Third, five minutes in and I already have a pain in my neck. Lots of shifting around trying to comfortable.

Fourth, twenty minutes in I start getting cold. Spend five minutes wrapping myself in multiple layers.

And so on and so on. Either hot or cold, shoulder and/or neck in pain and either need more food or water...

I have been forcing myself through my list of things to do with grim determination because the sooner I get it done, the sooner I am free to do more fun things. But all of this procrastinating about my physical comfort has made me realise that what it really is about is that I just don't want to do this stuff anymore.

I am pretty sure that it's not something that's task specific, because working on a computer is something that I do for my paid job too. I think it's something more to do with the mental burden of having to continue with this particular academic task. Clearly, the emotional strain of having to continue with something that I have already moved on from is manifesting in physical ways.

While my years of disciplined writing mean that I will continue, no matter what, and finish this damn task, the few months of freedom from such discipline have forced me to realise that listening to what my body/soul/psyche/mind/instinct is really telling me is hard to do when immersed in externally and arbitrarily created goals that are imposed on me by a system not of my own making. One of the joys of being free from academic life is being able to focus more clearly on what it is that I want to do. Current incomplete tasks notwithstanding.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What's in a career, anyway?

So last week I wrote about how I think my new job is not the right fit for me. The question is though: what would be a right fit for me?

When I originally started looking for work, things were pretty dire. I needed a job. It wasn't quite desperate, but I need to get some income rolling in (which I think is pretty normal really). I thought I had some time to look for something that was going to be ok, rather than rushing out and getting any kind of job just to make ends meet. I had a deadline in mind and I was anxiously wondering whether something would come through or if I should start visiting all the bars and cafes in my 'hood with my CV in hand.

Eventually something did come through and I was thrilled to think that I had finally done it. I had finally managed to get out of academia and still have a job at least loosely related to my professional experience rather than having to work for minimum wage. I thought I had navigated the career transition successfully.

As it turns out, changing careers is more tricky than it looks. Some people argue that with any career transition there is an inevitable drop in status, and that you have to start at the bottom all over again. Other people argue that this is not so, and that the secret to a successful career change is marketing your transferrable skills properly. Another factor too, is making sure you do your research and know what you're getting in to (something academically trained people shouldn't have too much problem with). Lots of people who have successfully changed careers say that planning is the key, and not jumping ship too soon (however, they all had jobs to begin with, just ones that they didn't like). And let's not forget all the literature that says changing careers is now becoming the norm, with very few people staying in the one occupation for life anymore. Apparently the average is something like 6 careers in a lifetime, although where this figure comes from is anyone's guess.

In leaving academia, with defined career paths, long-term goals, institutional rhythms, clear objectives and a very famililar structured environment, I now find I am struggling with how to find the same, shall we say, 'clarity of purpose' that I had as an academic. In short, I always knew exactly what I had to do to build my career. I knew what my professional goals were (not KPIs, they're different) and I knew exactly how to go about acheiving them. This is what I am missing in my current role.

While I am grateful that I have a job (let's face it, there are millions of people world-wide who don't), I know now that this is not a career. I also know that having a career is important to me. I have done my time punching a clock to make ends meet, working in retail, hospitality and other similar occupations where you're simply a body that can't be replaced by machines. I have always been good at work-life balance and have plenty of extra-curricular activities to keep me entertained, so I don't have any major personal goals that would benefit from focusing on non-work time. I also know that I don't need to panic about being able to find any work, since unemployment rates are not dire here and I was able to find work in a relatively short period of time. I don't want to do any more study as I am still paying off my years working towards my academic career, so retraining is out (for now, at any rate - I do still keep fantasazing about law school, but that's another story).

I guess this all means I am stuck with making the most of the position I am in, at least for a little while at any rate. Which is fine really. I will survive. But perhaps the take home message for anyone else making the transition from academic to post-academic is this: what is it that you need out of a job? I have observed that there are different styles of career changers - those that need to make ends meet and fast, those that want more free-time, those that don't want to relocate every year or so just for a job, and those that hate all things academic. I am in the category of someone who loves academic work but can't survive on an academic wage. This means that I need a challenging and fulfulling career to replace the academic one that is unsustainable. This is going to be my struggle as a post-academic, at least in the short-term. What is yours?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Status anxiety

It might just be me, but it seems like my status has dropped somewhat. Once upon a time, when I talked, people listened. They either responded in kind (if interested in the topic) or they suddenly found somewhere else more interesting to be (most academics will be familiar with that one). Now, I find that I am routinely criticised, put down, talked over and not listened to. In short, I am now supposed to be "the little woman".

Now that I am a nobody, nobody cares what I think, what I do or what I have to say. This is somewhat unnerving.

I am not super sensitive to people not wanting to talk to me because they'd rather talk amongst themselves, but I am used to people at least expressing some polite curiosity about my work, my life or my opinion of stuff when they do choose to talk to me or are forced to sit next to me at some dreary function.

I do also like to consider that my social skills are not that bad. I try to be inclusive, empathetic, interested, and non-judgemental. I invite people into conversations, I don't play with my phone while I am talking to them, and I listen to what they have to say. I am also reasonably good at picking up queues that they would rather be somewhere else or that they don't want to talk about certain things.

Given some of the behaviour I have witnessed recently, I think many of these skills are a product of my academic career. All those awkward conferences and seminars etc where you're forced to try and meet people while stuffing your face and carrrying an overly heavy handbag at the same time. Whereas I always thought I was terrible at it, apparently I have better networking skills than many. I did of course observe some appallingly boorish behaviour at conferences by esteemed Professors, but I had always just assumed they were the cliched "awkward academic". However, perhaps they were more normal than I realised.

In my current role, I have witnessed a range of obnoxious behaviours that I won't go into. Of course, not everyone is like that, and I must confess, my heart leaps with joy each time I find someone capable of conversing like a normal human being. I hope I can continue to meet with more normal people instead of feeling like I am being walked all over by a badly behaved (usually) male.

When I started writing this post, I was wondering if these experiences were related to not being widely known as "Dr" anymore (in that I don't have it on my email signature and try not to refer to once being an academic). Yet now that I am writing about it, maybe it's actually a function of the environment I am working in instead. I never used to think anything of being "Dr" and generally consider myself to be quite relaxed about status and heirarchy. I like to think that I treat everyone the same, whether they are a student or a very senior colleague, a friend, a child, or a stranger (obviously though, with varying degrees of intimacy and conversational topics). But now that I am not an academic, I do feel somewhat at a loss about "what" or "who" I am, and I think this is playing out in my perceptions about what's going on around me.

I also can't help but feel that my job is somewhat beneath me. Now that does make me sound a snob when I put it that way, but what I mean is that it really is very easy. I remember being somewhat bemused at my interview when they kept on insisting how difficult working in the organisation was, but all I kept thinking was "I am sure it can't be any harder than what I have been doing". And while originally I thought they were possibly breaking me in gently, I actually now think that the job is waaay too simple for someone used to what I have been doing.

I have also had a few pangs of regret too, about the other road not taken when I was offered another job in a different sector entirely just before Easter. Opting to stay where I was (the reasoning was, and still is, sound), a small part of me can't help but wonder if perhaps the other role would have, in fact, suited me better. The first few weeks in any job are completely overwhelming, so it's impossible to decide if the job is really ok for you or not, but now that I am less overwhelmed, I realise that I have given up a lot in making the transition out of academia.

The work itself is actually ok. It serves an important function and I get to focus on something that I feel strongly about. But in terms of challenges, well, I don't think there are any. Oh my colleagues will bitch about the challenges for hours on end, but what they see as challenges I just think of as details. Maybe it's too soon to tell. Maybe I will be sucked in to the nitty gritty and find the everyday as overwhelming as everyone else. Maybe I am missing something. But then again, maybe this job really is as simple as I think it is.

So I don't know what to do about all of this for now. Part of it is just learning to unwind and realising that I don't have to push myself 24/7 in order to pay the rent (novel experience for me).  Part of it too, is learning to recognise that having a PhD does in fact make me unique and that I should be looking for ways of building more challenging work opportunities for myself. At least having a job has allowed me to gain some perspective on the academic experience and recognising what skills I do have.  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

On feeling ambivalent

I won't lie - some days I STILL wonder WTF I am doing with my life.

While most days are fine and good and I am learning new things, other days I am racked by the self-doubt and torture of a mind more used to working towards very long term goals. Despite the wonderous event of having the universe confirm that I am actually highly employable, every so often I find myself wondering: Is this it? Do I just do my job and go home at the end of the day and not think about it? What will my future hold? What else can I do? How do I know that I haven't made a terrible mistake? Am I "wasting" my PhD or am I building new skills?

Perhaps I need to acknowledge that ambivalance has always been a significant part of my life. For the entire PhD and post-doctoral years I was always wondering if I was doing the right thing. Sure, there have been very happy times when I have felt sure about what I was doing, but then other times when I questioned whether continuing in that path was a good thing. I was going to say that this ambivalence started well into my PhD, but then I had a flashback to my first six months and feeling bored and lonely and yearning for adventures instead. Sometimes now, in my darkest moments, I think, if only I knew then what I know now, I would have followed my instinct. Instead, I marshalled myself with cold hard discipline and worked hard to finish the damn thing. But then, other times (most of the time) I think, I have had really amazing opportunities to live the life that I had always dreamed of. It's just unfortunate that it didn't work out according to plan.

Once the thesis was done and dusted, as my  employment prospects lagged more and more, the ambivalence would grow until I had something else to do. At different times over the years I have had plans to break away from academic, but I was always sucked back in to the academic life for one more contract. This was always gainfully assisted by the fact that I was inevitably in the middle of retraining or I was only working casually. Whatever the contract, I happily chucked away all my alternative plans in order to feed the beast/return to the cult of academia. Twice I have deferred law school.

Yes, I know, everyone says that more school is not the answer to the postacademic transition. More debt, more studying, potentially just as insecure unemployment etc etc. So in my last period of ambivalence and unemployment, I said "no more school". No matter what. I focused on shanghaing my existing skill set into another role.

But now that I have navigated that tricky gap (ok, terrifyingly tortuous and uncertain time) between academic life and non-academic life, every so often, the ambitous, career-driven, soul-searcher in me that changed undergraduate programs twice, worked their arse off to get a scholarship for graduate school and would actually have a very successful academic career if only there were more jobs, interrupts my idyllic day-to-day existence to push me into thinking: where the f*ck is this going?

Some days it does make me a little disappointed to think that after all that time spent working towards my goals that I have now got an ordinary old job. While my new work colleagues are very impressed by how quickly I have come to grips with my job, I do also sometimes think, "well, I do have a PhD - WTF did you think I was going to do?" Of course, I don't say anything out loud. That would be rude. Not to mention make me sound like a total wanker.

So while I struggle with these occaisional days of feeling ambivalent, I keep trying to remind myself that one of the best things about being free from the academic trap is that my future is my own. It will be what I make it.