The uncertainty of contemporary Higher Education

I wanted to draw attention to a great chapter that I came across on Twitter recently that puts into words really well some of my more troubled feelings about my work life post PhD. Predominantly I try and remain positive about my situation because I enjoy both research and teaching, and feel very privileged to be able to contribute to generating and sharing knowledge. However, I have also had many ups and downs, particularly in my last Teaching Only post, and have sometimes felt trapped by an on-going cycle of short term contracts that have been both rewarding, but very difficult.

In her chapter ‘Breaking the silence…’, Rosalind Gill shares qualitative data from colleagues in academia about their experiences of contemporary academic work, moving away from what might be viewed as ‘moans’ about the job, to a more critical investigation contextualised by relevant literature. Like one of her participants I am now on my third short term academic post since completing my PhD and can strongly identify with the stress of balancing heavy and sometimes unforgiving work loads with finding ‘another’ new job. I still also frequently deal with the same questions; Will I ever get a long term post? What else do I have to do to get there? How much more uncertainty do I have to deal with? I am pleased that Rosalind is trying to put academic work life on the agenda, because as she rightly argues, it is woefully under researched, there are significant structural issues and changes affecting contemporary academics (especially early career) and it really does help to know that my troubled feelings are not purely my own failing.

I am currently really enjoying a new post at Open University which is a 2 year contract and is research only. I hope that this will allow me to develop my career and to capitalise on my teaching only post, which I admittedly found detrimental to my publishing capacity and also very time consuming. I wouldn’t want to deter early career academics from short term posts because often needs must and they can look great on a CV and plug significant gaps, but it is important that these are considered critically, both in terms of their value to students and to early career staff.

Gill, R (2009) Breaking the silence: The hidden injuries of neo-liberal academia in Flood,R. & Gill,R. (Eds.) Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections. London: Routledge

Anna Tarrant is a Social Scientist and Human Geographer currently working at the Faculty of Health and Social Care at the Open University. This article was originally posted on Anna’s blog.

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