Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
*Obviously that should read "Is academia worth it". Twitter - where is my edit button!?I've just seen two academic job adverts that are exactly what I do. I have questions:— Dr Fiona Whelan ☘ #FBPE (@FionaEWhelan) March 15, 2018
Do I have the energy to try?
Have I been out of the academic job market too long?
Am I good enough?
Is academic worth it at the moment?
Classic impostor syndrome is kicking in.
But Twitter gave me a boost to believe in myself and I started to polish off my academic CV and get to writing the job application. But in the end, I did not apply.
I have to be honest that I don't know if I made the right decision or not. Some would surely say that I should have just put my hat in the ring, just to test the waters. And yes, that would have meant that I had more up-to-date application material at my disposal. But the reason I did not apply was that this was a teaching-only position, and the more I thought about it, the more I backed away from applying.
I have written here before about my relationship with teaching. I enjoy the rewarding feeling I get at the end of teaching and seeing my students thrive. I know that I am a good teacher based on the feedback I receive. I have massive anxiety in the prep and lead up to teaching. This is my impostor syndrome - the thought that my students will "catch me out". I has never happened before, and I admit when I don't know the answer to something, but I always have the lingering feeling that one day I will be exposed as an academic fraud.
So, my reasons for not applying to a teaching-only role was primarily for my personal wellbeing. I realised that I didn't need that stress or anxiety in my life. The current state of academia with TEF and the stress on student feedback and peer observation would only have worsened that anxiety.
It all brought to light the thing that I enjoy - research. I am happily working away on the second monograph, have a conference proceedings paper about to go to print, and a collaborative article on the horizon. If I were to return to academia, it would be for a more research-focused role with some teaching that I could find more manageable. Interestingly, there is something just like that being advertised which I may just go for! Who knows!
The point of this point was to say that sometimes the "perfect" job may be perfect in terms of the subject matter but not the remit of the role. It was hard for me not to apply and face up to a potential missed opportunity. But I had to put me first and not jump back into academia for the sake of being back. If I go back, it will be on my terms. For now, I have a good job with an excellent work/life balance that affords me positive wellbeing. It also allows me time to keep doing what I enjoy - research and writing. It would have to be a pretty "perfect" opportunity to tempt me back.
Monday, March 5, 2018
Save £100k from VC’s salary by reducing it to that of the PM, remove all senior management except one PVC (T&R) = save salaries from 2 Senior Deputies VC; 2 Deputies VC +all staff to comply with same travel and expenses policies + remove middle management 2/2— University of Kent UCU (@UoK_UCU) March 4, 2018
I know that the majority of academics value the work that academic-related staff / professional services do, but all it takes is consistent oversight mixed with one blatant statement of admin's uselessness, to make me question if it is worth it. And when I think about my career, do I want to continue in an environment that will devalue and deride me on a regular basis? Do I want to work in an environment where no one considers how I feel?
The answer may well be no.
I am passionate about education. I want to make HE the best it can be, just not in an academic role at present. But if a minority believe that my career path is meaningless and redundant, maybe I should put my skills and passion towards something that will value me as an equal partner.
I just wonder how many good people will be lost to HE because we didn't value them enough or, if we did value them, never took the time to tell them.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
Sending solidarity to those @ucu lecturers on strike today.— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) February 22, 2018
Today's industrial action is about pensions, but we should remember that the higher education is under attack as a whole - from marketisation, cutbacks and casualisation of the workforce. #USSstrike
Or take the BBC who actually reported that the USS pension scheme was a "lecturers' pension scheme" (which it is not, because I'm professional services and I am in that scheme).
All of this was emotionally draining. As I've said before, staff who support the work of the university in non-academic roles have been shut out of the conversation and ignored. It got me thinking...if we continue to devalue staff in universities, how long can we expect them to stay?
It is days like today, when the world seems to think that academic staff are the only one's working in higher education, that makes me think about leaving the #HE sector and trying something where I don't feel like a second-tier staff member. @ucu #USSstrike #ucustrike— Dr Fiona Whelan ☘ (@FionaEWhelan) February 22, 2018
But what do I mean by devalued or ignored? I have worked in Higher Education administration for over three years now and have some observations (and apologies for some generalisations coming up).
Professional services staff service many committees whose membership is academic staff. This is the norm and is why universities are self-governing. Professional services staff can be called onto advise, but that (expert) advice can be easily ignored and, more often that not, we sit in silence at these meetings. We act as a second tier, destined to record the conversation but not really be part of it.
Administrative staff are easy targets. As we implement policies, processes and changes, we are at the cold face of grumblings and grievances about bureaucracy, paperwork, and obstructionism. We are subject to the same decision making by senior staff, but often people find it difficult to distinguish between the decision makers and the implementers.
Furthermore, when major issues arise, it is always the academic voice that is heard, not that of the rest of us. I recall going to hear the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford speak about the challenges the university was facing and it was all about the need to recruit early career researchers and provide affordable housing for them. No care was given to support staff who struggle to afford to live in the most expensive city in the UK but without whom the university would cease to run effectively.At another event about women's equality, again the whole conversation was couched in terms of getting more women into academic roles. I asked the Vice-Chancellor and the panel why it was that we don't talk about getting women into top professional services roles (such as Registrars) but no one had really considered it.
I am very disheartened today. I feel that today cemented what I have been feeling for a while which is that we are always an afterthought, rarely praised but often scapegoated. This isn't enough to make me leave Higher Education immediately, but I don't think it is sustainable to feel undervalued and not respected. I'm not sure how the system can improve but I worry that the more invisible we become, the more our enthusiasm and passion for Higher Education will wane.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
First line of The Times editorial : "If universities and their lecturers fail to agree terms...". Please remember that many university staff who are not academics are members of the USS pension and affected by this too and ignored by the press. @ucu @UniversitiesUK @thetimes https://t.co/JsP4Odgl3D— Dr Fiona Whelan ☘ (@FionaEWhelan) February 21, 2018
*For non-UK followers, many univeristies are part of a pension scheme called the USS. I am not going into technical details (Google if you are really interested), but the gist is that pensions will be massively slashed as a result of proposed changes.
The problem I have is that all of the reporting (both in the mainstream media and on Twitter) has focused on the impact these changes will have on academic staff and the impact the strike will have on current students when their lecturers go on strike.
Well, I have news for you - many professional services staff are members of the USS pensions and nobody cares about us. I genuinely mean that. I went to an hour-long talk in my university held by the principal and it was only in the 58th minute that someone (rightly) informed the principal and the audience that there were professional staff there, concerned and ignored.
So, I was annoyed. And now I am angry. And hurt.
I'm sorry to harp on about this, but I am finding the discussions of the #USSstrike so demoralising because of the focus on lecturers. It feeds into a culture that devalues support staff, ignores the unseen work of a university, and makes me feel like what I do is unimportant.— Dr Fiona Whelan ☘ (@FionaEWhelan) February 21, 2018
In this thread I used the term "support" staff in addition to professional services. I hate this term, and I am not the only one. I used it deliberately as it is a phrase so widely used in universities and I wanted to make a point about how "non-academic" staff (another phrase I loath) have been erased from the story about the pensions and the strike.
The phrase "support staff" has lost it's meaning I think. I had viewed it as "supporting teaching and learning", which includes facilitating the work of academics and success of students. Now I think it is viewed as subservient, lesser, there to "serve" academics. Now, obviously, not all people treat it like that and view the admin/academic relationship as collaborative, which is what it should be. However, personal experience has shown that some treat professional services staff as less important and less worthy of an opinion around the table. Our work can be devalued, deemed as obstructionist, bureaucratic, or acting as gatekeepers. At the sharp end, we can be used as glorified personal assistants:
It's not fun to be publicly berated because you politely refused to help a lecturer with their printing.— Dr Hannah Murray (@hl_murray) February 21, 2018
I am utterly unsurprised that no one reports on the plight of professional services in this pensions row. This is because we are the invisible side of the university, holding it altogether. We are only seen when things go wrong. And then get blamed for it.
We need to think about language that emphasises that collaboration, that symbiotic relationship between academia and professional services which delivers teaching and learning together. And, at the end of the day, there needs to be respect for our roles...even if it make not be evident to you why we exist, trust me, you would notice if we weren't there.
Friday, January 26, 2018
- The proposal application date: March 2018
- Fellowship start date: October 2018
- This was the wording of the Economic and Social Research Council
- One response indicated that if you haven't been awarded your PhD you must have had your viva by 23rd March (proposal date) and be under an outcome which means you will have been confirmed by the start date (October)
- Another response indicated another story. This stated that they can accept applicants with minor corrections to complete, but would be concerned about candidates who have had their viva and have major corrections completing these and re-submitting by the deadline of 23rd March 2018.
- confirmed that those with major corrections to make by the full proposal deadline are ineligible.
- November - Viva
- December - List of corrections provided / Christmas break
- March - application deadline (eligible because viva complete but ineligible as corrections not complete)
- April - Corrections submitted (let's assume 3-4 months work)
- May/June - Corrections confirmed
- June/July - PhD confirmed
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
- Dispel the myth that major corrections equaled a failed viva
- Reduce the stigma associated with major corrections
- Break the cycle of one-upmanship and the notion that UK/US PhDs had grades.
- Be careful in your choice of external. They shape the viva.
- Be explicit in explaining why you are choosing to take a certain approach and not another.
- You supervisor is your ally. When things go wrong, they should be your champion and defender. Mine leaped into action and I couldn't be more grateful.