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.