Thursday, February 23, 2012

oh my god I was so naiive

A few comments, conversations, observations that have been circulating around me in the last week have made me realise that the fundamental reason why I am in the situation I am in now is: I didn't know what I was getting into.

Had I known, I would have done things MUCH differently.

And come to think of it now, this is the feeling that has plagued me pretty much since finishing my PhD. That there is/was so much I don't/didn't know about what an academic career really involves/d.

I dug myself out of the hole created, on the whole, by a system that is geared towards getting people across the line without much thought for what happens to them afterwards. While there are some folk in the system who are great mentors and prepare their students well for career success, it wasn't until after I finished my PhD that I found a great mentor. All of my post-PhD success I owe to this fabulous mentor. I had a very step learning curve in those years. Whenever I get the chance I also return the favour, by mentoring other people so they don't have to go through the same process.

But while it might be easy to blame my lack of mentoring for the struggle I have gone through, I now realise that the larger issue is that I just didn't do my research. In short, I had only the most naiive idea about what my career would look like.

I KNOW I was not alone in this. And I know that the system doesn't do much to correct those misperceptions. Why would it? More students equals more money. It's not in the interests of PhD programs to disillusion their new recruits.

Ultimately though it was my own naiive fault. Interestingly enough, it took running into a former undergrad from the same program to make this clear to me. This student had apparently had her heart set on the bright lights of an academic career. And then she went to a function where she had the opportunity to talk to staff about what it was really like. That's when she heard there were no jobs. Sensibly, she changed tack.

I finally reaslised - I didn't do that. I didn't take any time out to find out what it was really like. I knew from a very young age what it was I wanted to do, but didn't actually do any research.

I could say this is the fault of the career advisor I did ask many moons ago, who said in response to my uncertainty about how one goes about deciding what kind of a career one should choose "oh, you'll figure it out". That's it. No flyers, no brochures, no suggestion to talk to someone. Nothing. Not even a chat about the things that interested me. Just the promise that I would figure it out. Less than one minute and he was done. We didn't even sit down.

So I picked some courses that I thought I wanted to do. It turns out that I didn't like any of those, so spent some time as an undergrad flailing about wondering what to do. I eventually found something I like and have stuck with that ever since. But my visions of the future were always hazy. Because I didn't make any effort to find out. 

Anyway, so it was my own fault. I didn't do the research. This time round, I will take a different approach.     

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Why does everyone keep telling me to perservere?

I am so sick of friendly folk that have hitherto been important fonts of knowledge and friendship during the course of my previous career telling me that I shouldn't give up on the elusive academic job.

They tell me how disciplined I am, how productive I am, how great my research is etc etc... and then suggest that I write to all the departments I can think of to offer my services for the upcoming semester. What they mean of course, is taking a couple of tutorial classes as a casual. That is, what in the US is approximately similar to TA work.

I don't want to be a TA!

I want a proper, full-time, paying position that comes with sick leave, holiday pay and long-service leave. Not a contract to teach first-years for anywhere from 1-6 hours a week for 13 weeks in someone else's course.

While I could do with the money, the point of this phase in my life is to CHANGE careers, not keep running in the same circle chasing my tail. I WANT to do something different. I WANT to move on from this ridiculous scenario that sees a whole heap of graduate students, recent phds and unemployed phds vying for a few hours of work a week.

I mean, first-year's, casual? Sure - I can do that standing on my head. I have done work like this so many times that I can do my preparation in the 15 mins before class (and that still makes me 12 minutes more prepared than most of my students) while I am waiting in line for my coffee.

As Currer Bell has put it on her blog Project Reinvention 2012 - I just don't give a f*** about doing this kind of work anymore.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Finding a non-academic job isn't any easier than finding an academic job, but at least you have more options

It's been over 2 months since my last paying gig. I am getting really good at cranking out job applications.

But here's the thing - transferrable skills still don't match up to the competition who have EXACTLY the experience/training/skill set that organisations are looking for. I have heard this waaay too many times by now.

The ironic thing is too, that this is EXACTLY what looking for an academic job is like.

It's always "Oh, we deemed you appointable, but there was another candidate who matched what we were looking for a little better. We'd like to keep your details on file though, as we thought you were an excellent candidate and you interviewed very well. We'll be in touch if we have other positions come up in the future".

Okey dokey, you do that then. Thanks for calling.

I know what this means from an academic point of view - better "fit", an internal candidate, or someone who is way more senior than you applying for crappy jobs below their rank because they're in the same boat as you (ie unemployed in a crappy market).

I am now convinced that it is exactly the same in the non-academic world too.

Changing careers is not necessarily the answer to the problem of chronic underemployment, but you sure have a lot more options with almost any other career than academia. You don't have to relocate, you don't have to wait 6 months for a rejection letter, and there are a lot more jobs you can apply for. At the end of the day though, the competition is steep because the world is in a recession. It's not the fault of individuals, and no more uptraining/ reskilling, reviewing your resume, thinking positively, etc etc is going to change the fact that there are increasingly more willing workers per job available.

I would also add too that former academics who want a "normal" job are also facing the uphill battle of employer's prejudices and status anxieties. All those people who think along the lines "Oh, if you're an academic you must be so smart" don't always see you as another candidate happy to turn up on time, be agreeable to work colleagues, take initiative, work hard and do what you're told by your boss. All those undergraduates intimidated by their Professors and teachers are the ones who are going to be employing you. They're the ones who have the status anxieties that you have to overcome.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Goodby academia, I don't want to write another paper.

I had decided that today was going to be THE day. That is, the day that I get started on writing another paper.

But you know what? I realised that I have reached a point where I just don't care enough anymore to bother.

So I read a novel instead (David Whitehouse, Bed: A novel, 2011. Truly EXCELLENT). And then I pottered.

In other words, I procrastinated. A lot.

Something I NEVER used to do. I have been too busy hitherto chasing my tail in the academic game to have time to procrastinate. I was disciplined. I was good at it. I have written countless grant applications, conference papers, papers, reviewers reports, book reviews (and of course an actual book), course outlines, assessment tasks, lecture notes and emails to students whose dogs ate their homework. I can spew words out at a truly alarming rate when I want to.

But I just don't want to anymore.

Last year I was extremely busy, not to mention diligent, in producing the requisite amount of work. But all the while I was concious that I was finalising things, rather than producing new outputs. In other words, I wanted everything in train to be done and dusted so that I could move on to other things.

And then I was sucked back in. A carrot dangled in front of me if you like. A tenuous link to the academic life I was trying to actively leave behind. It made me feel OBLIGATED to continue to produce outcomes. Yes, I thought, I can compromise some of my writing job application time for more research. Or even, said I, I will get a part-time job so I can keep writing.

Yeah. Right. Like I need to spend any more time of my life in the ranks of the marginally employed.

To be blunt, I have felt NAUSEOUS at the thought that I should keep on keeping on.

Give me an actual paid gig and I will jump through rings of fire if you want me to, but I am done working for free. I have done my time, paid my dues and am leaving this game to those who for one reason and another can afford to continue this life. It's not for me any more.

I am kind of sad saddish slightly despondent to say goodbye, for I have had a great time. But there is so much more for me to do with my life than sit inside writing any more. I can't wait to do something different and challenge myself to learn a whole new set of skills. Just as I was once desperate to start the PhD process, I am now desperate to start something new.

What that will be, I don't know yet. I do know this though: it is going to be F***ING GREAT and I will be REALLY AWESOME at it because the committment and discipline I have shown in my academic career are intrinsic to who I am, not the position I hold or the work that I do. See ya later academia, I have other things to look forward to.