Goodbye, academia

Thursday, 9 July 2015 17:43
I don't work for the university any more. I won't be going back. Partly because they are bastards, but not only that.

(Okay they are not all bastards. Just the institution itself, on a kind of meta-level. Long story. But. Awful.)

So it came down to a point where the funding for my current post was running out, and the best option offered to me for staying was: can you please write a new bid, with all that entails, and then talk Dr X into putting his name on it? In return for which the best-case scenario is that Dr X would get promoted, and I'd do 90% of the work and get another three years of repeatedly banging my head off walls before facing the exact same employment situation again. Or maybe I'd get pregnant again and they'd try to get rid of me sooner!

Sorry. Still bitter.

Anyway, that really did not sound too tempting to me. And working elsewhere... well, there weren't many jobs, and there were even fewer jobs I'd be a good fit for, and I got as far as interviewing on campus for one of them (which I'd have loved oh so much but, alas, was not to be). And there was this advert everyone was telling me to apply for which would have been a great fit in lots of ways, but then turned out to be: the deal is you come and work for us for 5 years, and at the end of that we might keep you on, but you'll have to be bringing in a lot of research income and covering your salary entirely while doing all the teaching we load on junior staff, and we aren't sure whether your field will still be in fashion then so we aren't going to commit to anything. So, another five years before, potentially, facing the exact same employment situation again.

There are many many things I will miss about academia. I worked so hard for so long, because I truly loved it: the research, the teaching, the colleagues, the students, the hours, even the culture (sometimes). I didn't want to be one of those female academics who had a baby and then left. And now I am, I suppose, and in large part it's because working 70-hour weeks is not something I want to do any more. I want a job where I can be ambitious and make a difference in normal office hours.

Plus there are so many ways I got so ground down by that job, enough that it's still difficult to go into because... just... ugh it was awful. (Did I ever mention the time someone else got a raise for work I was doing? THAT WAS FUN.)

ANYWAY. The happy news is that I now work (as of September, they're not paying me yet) somewhere totally different. And oh, it feels so, so good. Like a huge crushing weight has been lifted off me. Like I can breathe again.

(no subject)

Monday, 14 January 2013 14:12
There are some good things about working for a very old institution. It has some wonderful traditions. It has a rich long history. Nobody says 'where?' when you tell them where you work. And I could take or leave capital-p Prestigious as a concept, but there is something wonderful about knowing how many of our former students went on to shape the world.

So mostly it's great - until you stumble across The Thing. The Thing takes many different forms in many varied areas, but it always has this in common: a) it is a rule or a way of doing things which seems bizarre/outmoded/surreal/totally impractical, and which everyone agrees causes hassle; and b) if you suggest changing it in any way at all, the response is "but it's always done that way" or "I know it's sort of stupid, but we've been doing it so long now we couldn't start changing things" or "we just have to do it this way, it's how things are."

And this isn't graduation gown colours or the Latin motto or anything. This is stuff like office allocations, or what weird minor tasks have to be done by the secretaries, or how you get your marking passed to you, or what time the exams are (which I appreciate would be hellish to change by itself, but isn't this something we could have done while the teaching year was being massively rearranged, so we didn't have exams turning up at times everyone agrees are stupid? No, apparently, no we couldn't. Exams have to be at this time of year because this is the time of year when exams are.)

I do like it here, but there are times when it's like living in bloody Gormenghast.
eye_of_a_cat: (River)
So one of my articles just came back from review savaged and torn (but with a chirpy revise-and-resubmit note by the editor - and incidentally, this always happens when I get a revise-and-resubmit. Either the reviewers are all "yeah, it's mostly great, but please fix these small things" and the editor's all "pfft, well, resubmit it if you want I suppose", or the reviewers say "change EVERYTHING, this is AWFUL" and the editor's really upbeat and "we look forward to recieving the resubmission ASAP, please let me know if I can help speed things up!" Right, then.)

Anyway, this article got one reviewer - which to me is weird, but I've been the sole reviewer for stuff for this journal before, so, well, okay - and my God, did the reviewer not like it. This is the worst review I have ever got for anything. I am sort of heartbroken, obviously - this paper is my baby! - but less upset than I could be; partly because, hey, it's still an R&R rather than a rejection, partly because I've been through the peer-review mangler before, and partly, to tell the truth, because some of these comments are just so outright bitchy that I couldn't help but giggle. 

So anyway, now I'm revising it )

86 undergraduate essays later, and I am back in the land of the living! Which is a bit disappointing, to be honest. Why isn't there pizza?

Off on Sunday to spend Christmas with my family and their omg new puppy. Expect a lot of puppy picspam in times to come! The Mad Scientist will also be visiting before New Year, because the Meeting of the Parents Ritual has to happen one of these days (along with the Meeting of the Brothers, and the Meeting of the Large Posse of Childhood Friends, and why not get all this out of the way in one go, right?). I'm not at all worried about this - he's great, they'll love him, and I'm perfectly happy to do some judicious fudging of details so it doesn't sound like 'Hi, parents! This is Mad Scientist, who I met on the internet which as you know is full of serial killers, and we only met in person for the first time about eight weeks ago, when I was planning to take things slowly until he said 'Do you want to come back to my place and see my Mac SE?', and then we got on so well PUT THE GUN DOWN, DAD!' - and while he's nervous, as who wouldn't be, I'm really looking forward to him meeting them.

Also, I am really looking forward to spending three days with him without any work to do or essays to mark or conferences to attend or meetings to arrange or trains to catch or any of it. I know we're both busy people, but this. is. driving. me. mad.

(no subject)

Saturday, 13 December 2008 14:39
To everyone who had ideas on That Thing my students do, thank you! I have a lot to say about that in terms of wider issues of students' expectations, but I am busy as a busy thing in busyland at the moment, so it'll be a few days yet. Among other things, I have 80 first-year essays to mark in a stupidly short space of time, a job to apply for, a lot of organising to do about a postdoc funding application I'm trying to sort out at my current institution, Christmas shopping that probably needs doing at some point before oh, say, Christmas, and argh.

But life's really good right now, even if it's hectic. Yesterday night was a party where I introduced the Mad Scientist to a bunch of my friends for the first time, and while there were moments of weirdness (my ex-fiance managed to decork a bottle in such a way that the cork crossed an entire crowded room to hit the Mad Scientist in the shoulder, and, uh, I'm sure he wasn't aiming as such, but...) the evening mostly went really well. And oh, people, I am so madly in love with this man, I can't even tell you. But I'm so busy, and he's already been away for work stuff twice this month, and if January doesn't get here soon so I can spend some more time with him I am going to start eating first-years.

Starting with the one who just e-mailed to ask what her grade was.
Department: Hi, post-PhDs! You can now supervise undergrad dissertations. Have some students!
Us: Yay!
Department: :)
Us: So, um... what are the rules about this? There's a limit on the number of meetings we have with them, right?
Department: *silence*
Us: And, uh, as to what's expected of us? Can we have a meeting or something to clarify that?
Department: *silence*
Us: Maybe just a look at the department guidelines?
Department: *silence*
Us: Also, um, we, uh, we were just, um, wondering how we'll be paid for this? Is it like a per-hour thing? Or like teaching a course?
Department: *silence*
Us: Well, how about a contract?
Department: *silence*
Us: No, seriously. Contract. We are already doing this job.
Department: You'll get your contracts when we've arranged your pay, but we won't arrange that until, oh, February at the earliest.
Us: But - um - wait - February? So... when do we get our first payslip for this?
Department: You'll get paid.
Us: Right, okay, but WHEN?
Department: In May.

Fuck. That.
I'm still thrilled about getting to supervise undergrad dissertations, and I'm still loving teaching, but dear God am I feeling snowed under with work at the moment. Being effectively off for a couple of weeks with an evil flu thing put me much, much further behind than I wanted to be in terms of teaching and my own work (I still taught in my time 'off', but wasn't planning ahead beyond the absolute minimum necessary) and *FLAIL*.

Also, I have 65 essays of around 2500 words arriving in my inbox on Thursday. By my calculations that's two PhD theses worth of first-year undergrad literary criticism, which all gets commented on in meticulous detail because it's their first piece of graded work. As my good friend Dr K has pointed out, though, the most difficult essays to mark are always the first four, and it gets easier once you're in The Zone.

All right, it's 6pm. I have two more student e-mails to answer, and then the rest of today is devoted to writing my damn article.
I'm juggling two jobs next semester. Actually I'm juggling three, but one of those is choose-your-own-hours and can be fitted around the others. Teaching, though, has set hours depending on when timeslots and appropriate rooms are available, and library shifts are not exactly flexible. So this is always a nightmare to arrange, but after a few years I've got used to how the system works enough to manage it. 

But not this semester.

This semester, I've been waiting to hear back from the head of department regarding a) whether I'll be on the higher pay grade or not and b) what kind of timeslots I'll have to teach the evening class in, and so I hadn't confirmed library shifts until this morning, because if I get paid more I can drop one or two. But it's been two weeks, and I still haven't heard. And since I know how the evening classes typically work, and since I'm desperate to drop my Wednesday evening shift in favour of a reading group and a karate class anyway and my library boss needs notice on that, I spoke to her today. 

Library boss looks panicked (we are very short-staffed), makes me promise I'll still do the Thursday evening shift, and lets me off Wednesdays. I might have to pick up a Monday evening shift in exchange, but that's okay, because it still leaves me Tuesday or Friday to teach the evening class (which only meets once a week). All right. Can handle that. Library boss goes off to speak to people about shuffling shifts around to cover the Wednesday.

Three hours later, one of the secretaries gets in touch to say, oh, yeah, about that evening class? It will be running on a Thursday evening, like it or lump it.

If I drop my Thursday shift as well, and am somewhow not fired, I will be broke.
If I drop my Thursday shift and tell the library boss that I can do Wednesdays after all, after she's just spent a whole morning trying to arrange someone else to do it, she will quite possibly strangle me.
If I keep the Thursday shift, I can't teach the evening class, and I will be really broke.
I could cry.
I'm teaching next semester. Yay, &c. Now, my department is changing TA pay to a different system next semester, so that instead of the flat-rate £X amount per group of students per semester, we will get paid per hour for every hour we're actually teaching. Essay-marking will be paid per essay; office-hours originally weren't going to be paid at all, but after some protest ("so, I'm contractually obliged to spend blah hours per week helping students with their work for... free?"), office hours will now be paid at about half the rate paid for teaching time. 

So here's the thing. Lectures. Until this year, it has been department regulations that TAs attend all lectures for the course they're teaching on. This clause has now mysteriously vanished from TA contracts. A group of the postgrad TAs asked the new head of department whether this meant they weren't obliged to go to lectures any more.

The answer: Yes, you all have to go to the lectures. But lecture attendance now comes under the department's new-ish professional development training thing for postgrads. So, you do still have to go, because attendance on training and development things is compulsory, but we're not going to pay you for going. (Yeah, you can imagine how well this went down.) But I'm not a postgrad any more, and I do not count under the department's professional postgrad training thing. Lecture attendance isn't going to be on my contract, either - but it will be understood that like the postgrads, I will attend all lectures, and that my teaching will be structured around these lectures. It will be part of my job. I will be seriously smacked on the wrist if I don't go. They're just... not going to pay me.


Dear some junior academics of my acquaintance:

You are allowed to hate various things about your job, or to hate everything about your job. You are allowed to regret your decision to do a PhD, to loathe academia and everything it stands for, and to make loud pronouncements that this wasn't what you signed up for and you want to get out. However, I would meekly suggest that some conditions apply.

1) Make your griping realistic. Yes, some things about your job do indeed suck, but the academia you want doesn't actually exist. Your students, in large numbers, are apathetic and unwilling to do the reading? Yours and everyone else's - at least, in the first-year introductory courses you're still trying to foist off on the TAs because you have Better Things To Do. You have to do lots of hoop-jumping, time-consuming administrative paperwork when 'we have secretaries for this'? Well, what did you think you'd be doing with all your non-teaching time - reading Shakespeare and sipping port? You're doing a job, not ascending to a higher plane of existence (and I hope the secretaries poison your coffee). You have to go to boring meetings? Yeah, you and the rest of the working world. I had a meeting today that took an hour and a half and began with my boss saying "The idea of this is to see if we're all on the same page with regards to [procedure we're working on], and right now the only thing we all seem to have in common is a strong and persistent theme of failure." These things are not a terrible torment that only afflicts academics. Get over yourselves.

2) If you must despise everything about your job and bewail your decision to work in academia, at least have the good grace not to do so in front of the unemployed postgrad students and post-PhDs who would gladly fight each other to the death for it. I mean, that's just tacky.

Dear People Whose Work I Am Currently Writing About:

The tendency to use five hundred words to get through two sentences' worth of ideas makes quoting from you people very, very difficult.

eye_of_a_cat: (frog)
Article still not done. Kill me now.

I've fixed one major structural issue, swapped around some things, put in some more information that one of the reviewers (henceforth known as 'Professor Grumpypants') wanted, made a couple of changes that the other reviewer ('Professor Sunshine') suggested, deleted some things I didn't like any more, hit 'Word Count', sworn at the damn thing for being far too long and gone to get a coffee. Do you know how easy it is to accurately describe the metaphysical philosophies of a new religious movement in a single paragraph? Not bloody very. I wrote an eighty thousand word PhD thesis on these people and I still had to leave stuff out. Curse you, Professor Grumpypants.

Also, I had to take the laptop through to my bedroom and write lying on my bed for most of the day due to Bagpipe Fatigue in my living-room. (Not that the bagpipes are in my living room, but they're so damn loud they might as well be.) Tourists of the world, if you could all stop giving them money until you've established that they're willing to play more than the same three tunes in a continuous loop all bloody day, those of us who can't just walk away from them would very much appreciate it.

Also also, my graduation tickets are still not here, although other people's arrived yesterday morning. Graduation is next Thursday. Sigh.

Also also also, I am grumpy. But you gathered that.


Tuesday, 10 June 2008 17:39
eye_of_a_cat: (River)
 My Indy 4 plans have been postponed due to other people's inconveniently rescheduled job interviews (and why is my entertainment not more valuable than other people's livelihoods? pfft, my friends are fired), so now we're going on Saturday, allegedly, and I am determined to Get Stuff Done before then. The stuff in question:

- Tidying my flat. (Unfortunately, tidying a messy flat is one of the few things in the world I hate more than living in a messy flat.)
- Fixing the squeaky doors of said flat. 
- Finishing the damn article which I have been dawdling over for weeks now. This will be finished and either sent off or ready to send off by Saturday, or else I will never get published and this will be my own stupid fault etc. etc. etc. Seriously, if you see me back on LJ and my first words are not "Well, the article's done," please yell at me until I skulk off back to the thing and get it over with.
- Pull out all my old files on Article 2, which has been not so much on the back-burner as in the freezer for months now. Article 2 needs love as well, even if that love is only reminding myself what it's actually about.
I especially hate job applications for posts that say things like 'research interests in haddock-collecting of the middle classes might be an advantage,' and then say in their lengthier job description that 'ability to teach haddock-collecting of the middle classes' falls under the 'desirable' (rather than 'essential') criteria, because even though I've taught middle-class haddock-collecting before, my research speciality is really proletarian fly-fishing, and for all this coyness on the job description, I know damn well the post they're advertising is to fill in for the research leave of one of their academic staff, who's a Big Important Name in middle-class haddock-collecting and teaches pretty much nothing else.

Also, what the hell is this 'research interests in' blather? It's a teaching fellowship. Nobody gets time to do their own research on a teaching fellowship. Nobody gets time to cook their own meals on a teaching fellowship, for crying out loud.

(for the record: my research has nothing to do with fish.)

Almost free...

Thursday, 29 May 2008 15:25
1. I have an actual, official-looking, hardbound copy of my PhD thesis. I'm handing it in to Registry today, after which point - if all goes well - I will have at long long last done the last thing I need to do in order to call myself 'Doctor'. (I mean, I've got graduation still to come, but even if I ended up having to miss that I'd still get the PhD. But this is a degree requirement.)
1a) However, I very nearly didn't have a hardbound copy of my PhD, due to a very annoying issue at the book-binders that meant an extra few hours spent squelching round Glasgow in the rain. Oh joy. But! Fixed now! Okay now!

2. Of course, since it's the end of semester, I'm dealing with panicky last-minute grade requests and pleas for mercy by student parents. Of course. :(

3. My brother sat three seats away from David Tennant for the length of an entire play and did not once even try to get his phone number for me. Bah!
My friend Dr K's advice for how to deal with ex-boyfriends giving talks on Healthy Relationships:

1. Attend in disguise.
2. Stay quiet until near the end.
3. When the ex asks if there are any questions, immediately raise your hand and shout 'Yeah. Where's my guitar?"

I wub my friends.

Meanwhile, still internet- and phone-less at home, still stuck in the middle of pay grumbliness at work, still dealing with ongoing soul-gnawing graduation issues in my department. I've finally got the thesis together in a single pdf and sent it to the binders, though (and wouldn't you think that would be simple? wouldn't you THINK? but you would be OH SO WRONG) so it will at least be submitted to the demon spawn of Registry in time to graduate.

Also, despite having neither the time nor the money, I have decided to get my hair cut on Monday because it is bugging me. A multitude of other stuff is bugging me, too, but at least the hair I can fix.

ETA: Okay, the hair question. Right: At the moment, I have a dyed streak near the front of my hair, which was red and is now a sad shade of orangey. (Orangey - like orange, and yet not quite.) I wish something done with this when I get my hair done on Monday. People who do more adventurous hair stuff than me, what do you suggest as options? I've got 'dying it to match the rest of my hair' and 'dying it back to sparky red', and then I am stuck. Could I put another colour in here? Should I? I would like it to grow out, eventually... Or should I just go wild and get all sorts of highlights put in my hair?)
One of my friends - despite having a completed thesis, despite having passed the viva, despite having made all asked-for changes and having those changes approved by both examiners - might not be graduating with me this summer. Because a couple of the academics involved in the process have still not quite got round to signing and sending off a couple of necessary forms.

I get that it's the end of semester. I get that everyone's busy. But DEAR SWEET LORD, people, you HAD TWO MONTHS, and now somebody's graduation is on the line, and you are STILL DRAGGING YOUR FEET. Jesus.
Thesis binding: £40
Gown hire: £40
Graduation fee: £45

I bewail the cost of this (literally; actual wailing is very much involved) and the academics I know say ah, yes, well, but it's worth it, isn't it? You want to get all this done properly, don't you? Which is true, sort of, because I do. But when I say I don't have this kind of money, I don't mean "I would rather spend my £125 on something else", I mean "fuck, where am I going to get £125?" It's a lot of money, that. It's a lot.

Also, getting the damn thing printed and bound is turning into a bashing-head-off-desk nightmare. How can this be so complicated and time-consuming? How is the damn PhD STILL NOT OVER?

(ETA-even-before-hitting-'post' - with thanks to my loving and wonderful parents who've offered to cover some of the cost, if only to see their daughter not graduate in jeans and a Dalek t-shirt. Still a lot. But maybe less of a lot.)
eye_of_a_cat: (frog)
I am getting used to the idea of not having an academic job for next year That doesn't mean I won't have one - the adverts for permanent jobs usually don't peter out until May-ish, and this year is a very strange one for the job market anyway, and adverts for temporary teaching fellowships still appear up until September - but I've been running the thought through my head to see how I feel about it, just in case.

So, how do I feel about it? Well... surprisingly calm. I mean, it'll suck, and I so very much want a Real Grown-up Job right now, and I'm sick of living like an undergraduate, and on, and on, and on, but... I'll cope. I have an assortment of jobs here that I can live off; I have friends, and a place to live. My friends on teaching fellowships might be in a better place than me CV-wise, but they're also being worked to exhaustion and have no time to write; I can at least get a good number of publications worked out in another (three, six, nine, twelve) months.

I don't quite get this. I feel like I should be panicking and tearing out clumps of my hair. Maybe it's because I'm moving house, and there's always something cleansing about that, or maybe it's because I feel like I'm actually getting somewhere with the article I'm working on at the moment (Big Important Editor liked it! I am acknowledged and validated as a person!), or maybe it's because I threw all pride to the four winds and begged for teaching - any teaching, any field, any year group, any time, anything - from my department today and was met with a "Thank you!" rather than the "Bugger off" I was expecting, or maybe it's because I've been getting rid of some clothes (six bags going to the charity shops tomorrow - don't wear it, don't need it). The idea that I have some control over my own future is slowly filtering its way into my consciousness, and I'm liking it.

But, seriously. Is this weird?
Up until 3.45am marking student work, sleeping until 8am in my draughty, noisy living room (it's a good thing my sofa is the Most Comfortable Sofa In The World to sleep on, I tell you), and then up to finish the marking before teaching this afternoon. Also, realised a little too late that I'd scheduled my key-pick-up-and-lease-signing appointment for a time when I'm teaching, just too late to call the letting agents and rearrange until Monday... ai. I am so tired. I have not packed, either, and I'm working all weekend and don't know when I'll even have time. 

I also got in touch with the editor of Big Fancypants Prestigious Journal (the "Dear Dr..." of a previous post) to say thanks very much for the reviewer's reports and that I would be sending in a revised version with his suggestions in place, by mid-May. I have no idea where I'll find the time to do this, but I am damn well determined to find the time somewhere. This journal is not quite PMLA, but it's Big and Fancypants and Prestigious enough that getting something accepted by them would be a huge, major thing of currently unprecedented dimensions in my academic life. And to have that listed on my c.v. when I am but a minion on the lowest rung of the ladder... well, holy hell, will that look good. (Plus, Professor Supervisor will actually kill me if I turn down an offer to revise & resubmit with them.) 

But I just want to sleep! When do I get to sleep? Sigh.



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