Thursday, February 18, 2016


An article was recently published on the Times Higher Education site and has aroused some debate (see here). It discusses how academics stuggle to find a work/life balance due to increasing demands placed on their time to do all of the following:
  • Teach
  • Research
  • Publish
  • Conference
  • General administration
  • Commitee involvement

These activities and more are necessary, not for career progression, but job security. As a result, academics don't know how to switch off.

The same applies to PhD students of course. When not actively engaged in research, they are often constantly thinking about their research.

All I can say is the following: at least those academics who were asked to write in that THE article were gainfully employed full-time. While there is spill-over from the workday into leisure time, at the minimum the core working hours of 9-6 can be dedicated to those taks, with the financial support of a salary.

But we must not forget that academics and people engaged in academic research don't exist solely in the ivory tower of universities. A vast amount of scholarly research takes place by those who hold non-academic day jobs.

Imagine that you are a recent PhD graduate with the goal of getting an academic position. But the market is crap. And academic jobs are hard to come by. So while you wait for those academic job opportunities to arise and for you to be (hopefully) successful in your application, you take another job. It could be in the private sector, it could be in alternative academia, it could be teaching in schools, whatever. The point is that you need to live and eat. You need to pay the bills. You take that job. You make sacrifices.

S, when are you going to do all the academic things you need to do to keep your dream alive? You will try to pack what employed academics do into evenings and weekends, likely to the detriment of your home life, your family and friends, your social life, and possibly your sanity. And lest we forget that engaging in activities like conferencing and publishing come with costs that are not supported by any research allowance.

Admittedly, I am speaking for other people. I work outside of academia for the moment, and I have reiterated many times on this blog that this was a conscious and deliberate choice. I needed a break after my PhD. But my PhD thesis has been accepted for publication and I have only 3 months to get it into shape. So, that means late nights in the library (luckily, I work in one!), working on the commute to and from work, and saying no to social engagements. However, that is my sole focus at the moment, and that deadline was self-imposed. For others, getting a non-academic job is far more pragmatic and without the luxury of choice. Financial reasons take top billing, but think also about PhD graduates on student visas who must get a job to stay in the country!

For so many, the fight for the academic dream lives on, and the sacrifices that people make are rarely spoken of. Articles about the plight of academics ignore those on the outside looking in. If academics are struggling to manage their time, consider how difficult it must be for those standing on the drawbridge of the ivory tower.

*As an update on this post, many twitter users agree that an academic is someone engaged in scholarly research, doing activities such as publishing and conferencing, at a university level. So, to post-PhD students discussed above, we can add independent scholars, museum curators, people working in industry, and so much more! So we need to think more broadly about who or what an academic is, and make sure discussions about academia are inclusive and not exclusively for those paid by universities.

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