Monday, August 1, 2016

Time and Identity

I wrote about the notion of sacrifice in a previous post, but I want to raise the issue again. Mostly, this is in reaction to the Stern Report on the next REF (Research  Excellence Framework). As many young scholars have noted, this changes to the REF 2020 will likely adversely affect Early Career Researchers. You can read more at the Times Higher Education site here.

At its simplest, it represents a catch-22. You have to publish lots in order to have a chance to get hired for an academic position. But then your publications are of no REF use for your new institutions because they were the product of your previous institution. So, do you hold of on publishing to be more REF-able but to the detriment of your CV? It has been suggested that a lot of publication lists on academic applications will read "forthcoming" or "in process".

At the time this news broke, I had recently returned from the Harlaxton Symposium on the medieval great household, filled to the brim with ideas for publications. I have already started to write an article, have approached two people to work on collaborative papers, and have been invited to contribute to the Proceedings of the Harlaxton Symposium. My monograph has been passed to the production team of my publisher. This is not to gloat or boast about how much I do, but rather to highlight the luxury I have in not having to deal with the REF implications described above. I am about to start a new job in professional services in Higher Education (more on that in a future post), and am comfortable in my alt-academia identity. It means that I choose to publish when I want to one, with no external pressures such as funding or the REF. I can build a body of work over the next 5 years, so that if I want to return to academic full-time, I will be well-placed to do so. I retain my academic identity through conferencing and publications. I consider myself an academic who happens to work in professional services.

In addition, I have been offered more teaching opportunities in order to keep that CV refreshed with evidence of continued academic activity. So long as I can make all this work around my 9-5 job, then I will usually say yes to most opportunities that arise.

But what this means is that I sacrifice time. One of the missions of this blog is to show that there are alternative paths after the PhD; paths which may require you to compromise on what you thought the PhD would lead to, but paths to interesting and varied careers with routes to maintaining that academic identity. However, these are paths which require you to give up your evenings, and sometimes your weekends.

I frequently battle at conferences with the assumption that I *must* have a post-doc straight out of the PhD. And, if I say that I don't have one, the assumption is that I *must* want one and whatever else I am doing is just a temporary stopgap to the academic research fellowship or lectureship.

The truth is, for me, is that I find working in professional services within a university incredibly rewarding. I am soon to move into the area of Student Welfare which I am immensely excited for. I realise that my post-PhD path may not suit everyone, but I hope it serves to prove that a non-academic job is not the death-knell for being an academic. While some may have assumed I had a post-doc, no one doubted my identity as an academic, even after hearing that I work in alternative academia.

So long as I keep publishing, conferencing, and even teaching, my identity as an academic cannot be taken away from me.

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