Tyre not part of pension plan

Tyre not part of pension plan

So the new job has started and it is pretty full on – not necessarily in terms of workload (um, yet – I know you cannot spell hubris without ‘I’) but in terms of culture shock, a slightly different commute, different attire, and quite a lot of travel in the past few weeks. I really haven’t settled in enough to know whether this is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, only that I am very tired (as per portrait above). But! here are a couple of thoughts about work so far, inasmuch as they refer to Operation Run Away From Academia, Do Not Look Back:

– As I mentioned in my last post, there are elements of this job which are alt-ac and these are the ones I am most uncomfortable with so far; I think for a clean break I really need to be in a workplace which isn’t about academia, no no no.

– In my past few jobs I have been doing a thing – call it Fish Wrangling – that I had just taken as part of my work without it giving it too much thought. In new job there is not so much of the Fish Wrangling, and I am realising just how much I like to wrangle fish and how important it is to me. Not a big deal for now – I can probably wrangle few fish here, out of my own initiative – but it is useful to know and not something I probably would have realised otherwise.

– There is some potential grit in my role which I haven’t worked out yet if it’s manageable, or if it’s a permanent part of the scenery – if the latter then thoughts about the next step out might come sooner.

– Also I am not really out of academia as I still have my book to write plus several papers from my last project which I’m bound into co-authorship on. No bad thing again, but it means I cannot RUN RUN RUN for the next while.

This all sounds a little bah but it isn’t, not really. In academia there’s a very specific set of functions that almost any job will have – a fair amount of teaching, some time for research, and a bucket of admin. Out of the ivory tower those functions can be mixed up any which way with an added buffet of whole new and exciting and it’s difficult to know what you’ll get, or what you’ll want – who knew that Fish Wrangling was so important? Me, now, but not me 3 months ago. I am so grateful to you other little dudes out in the post-ac blogo-cybersphere, and especially to young Currer Bell – reading about someone else who has made the transition out and it not be a bed of roses straight away has been hugely helpful in seeing how people cope when the first job out isn’t necessarily the right one, but just a stepping stone to the next thing. Anyway, for now I have the immense luxury of gainful employment (YES), a place to start stretching myself, and time to think about what next*. The job is interesting and will certainly teach me a lot. I’ll be keeping up with the blogging and the conversations and looking forward to that exciting new leaving academia e-book I hear is on the horizon…

*What next is actually a ton of white water rafting and kayaking at the centre a mere busride from Partner Piglet’s joint, oh yes.



YOU GUYS! I GOT A JOB! INDEED, ONE OF THE JOBS I WROTE ABOUT IN THE LAST POST, JOB #1 IN FACT! Let me tell you about it but not in caps lock!

So – this will test the limits of my pseudonymity. If you know me already, you can probabaly guess my sekrit identity from this post; if not, I will hopefully still remain shrouded in mystery (as per picture above). Read the rest of this entry »

For the record, adorability is a transferable skill

For the record, adorability is a transferable skill

ITEM: I sent off my two job applications and now have an interview for Job #1 this week! Also I contacted someone who’d worked for the organisation involved with Job #2 who said that  even if I didn’t get shortlisted, I should contact hir anyway. I am feeling pretty chipper about all of this, and also wondering if I applied for Job #1 in too much of a panic as it’s a bit below my abilities; but I will go to the interview anyway and see what happens.

(NB. This, btw, is why I’m keeping my identity as Dr Piglet for now rather than Dr Realname, so I can actually talk about this stuff to a wider audience).

So I thought I’d write up a couple of notes on what I’d learnt from writing the applications in case other escaping academics found them useful (although Karen Kelsky thinks we will all be making up our own jobs soon, which may be true in a couple of years but for now I’m getting on with this).

Both jobs asked for a CV, details of how I’d meet the ‘essential requirements’, and a short statement on why I wanted the job. Job#1 is as part of a university (possibly alt-ac although I would prefer not to think of it that way) so wanted a lot more detail than most private sector jobs do. Fairly obviously, once I’d written the first application it was much easier to do the second as I had a clearer idea of what I was doing, and also a bunch of material to copypasta from one to t’other.  Read the rest of this entry »

Gigantic Harley-Davidson just out of shot

Gigantic Harley-Davidson just out of shot

After a few months of flailing and sadness, I found 2 non-academic jobs this week that I would like to do and that I think I’m qualified for. AMAZE. I’ve started filling in the application forms and have roped in a friend who’s a professional careers advisor to look over them. It’s only 2 jobs, I know, and I also know how horribly competitive they’ll be and that I have no idea if I’ll get either of them. My career advisor friend said similar things: don’t think about the application as achieving anything, just make it beautiful in itself and then get it sent off. This is very similar to the ‘always be shipping’ mantra that my friends in tech and design talk about – not that I want to be applying for everything ever and making sloppy mistakes in the application forms (after all, ‘always be shipping’ can lead to its own errors) but it’ll be good to get some momentum going on here.

And man, I allowed myself to think about what it would be like if I got one of the jobs and OMG you guys, it was amazing – like this little spark of neon hope that there a) was actually an Outside there and that b) it coud be pretty amazing. Even if I don’t get either of these two jobs, I’m planning to keep my job-hunting mojo going; even just seeing the job ads has been really useful in making me think about what type of work I’d like to do and that I’d be good at. ONWARDS.

Not waving, not drowning

Not waving, not drowning

Oh gosh, so I’ve got so many ‘hello I am still alive’ unfinished posts written, I thought I would just blitz though this one and get it posted up.

So yes, I am still here and still not crushed to death by a pile of ‘Journal of Outrageous Neoliberal Education Outputs’. It’s been an interesting few months – the endgame of my project is in sight, which means that we are all now scrambling like mad to write up the final report, policy pieces, journal articles etc etc. And of course, this being academia means that there is no way in hell we’ll finish all of this before the funding ends so our higher-ups are now scrambling for more money to pay us all whilst the Writing Tunnel looms…

…which means that my neat deadline to get out by the summer is unlikely to happen. Add to that that I have one gigantic piece of other work to get done by the autumn too, a book based on my PhD, and – yeah, I’m wholly in agreement with the person somewhere else online who described academia as the zombie that grabs your ankle to pull you back just when you think you’ve escaped (though surely that is the end of Carrie too?). Oh yes and also, I’ve been getting the usual very dull and mundane worries about whether I’m actually qualified to get a proper and relatively interesting job in the ‘real’ world, stuff which a lot of other bloggers have covered in far more interesting/less emo detail. WOE. For now I will carry on writing, watching trashy movies to lift the gloom and pretend that it isn’t January.

*Hilarious joke for my UK readers.

Nothing like a jaunty jacket to get through existential job angst

Hello! I am not dead, just monstrously hungover from having stayed up last night with Partner Piglet to watch the election, fuelled by pie, ice-cream and a bucket of whisky. And well done US readers for getting Obama back for another 4 years! USA! USA! I am very very fond of you all, with your tendencies to put cinnamon in everything, your countrymen who created ‘The Wire’ and your ability to embrace and produce spectacle like no-one else. If the gods smile on it, I would love to spend some time living in there in my post-academic life. However, a bucket of whisky and the US voting system do not easy bedfellows make – trying to make sense of the difference between the electoral college votes and the popular votes and who was actually winning as we chugged our delicious bourbon was a challenge.

But hey, the UK can do massive confusing opaque systems of power too – for it is, indeed, the time of the Research Excellence Framework, or REF to its enemies. For non-UK readers, this is the system which comes around every 4 years  to assess the quality of research that is going on in UK universities, and thus the amount of tasty money that they receive from the government.  In theory REF is a nice objective way of determining which institutions are producing excellent work which impacts on the real world and rewarding them accordingly.

In practice, it is hell.

Everything in the UK university lifecycle cranks up to this. If you’ve got an academic post, enormous amounts of pressure will be put on you to publish enough and in the ‘right’ places – and remember, this happens every 4 years, not just as a milestone on the way to the tenure-track or tenure itself. In theory, REF looks at research outputs in their own right, not where they get published. In practice, it’s all about getting published in the right journals (as defined by your department) – yes, impact factors are a pile of rubbish which discriminate against interdisciplinary research, but if your department says “Publish in the Journal of Gigantic Pineapple Theory, or else”, then that’s where you try to publish.

If you’re an early career researcher in search of a permanent post or even a postdoc, it’s even worse – your job prospects depend so much on at what point in the REF cycle you got your PhD. As with any metric-based system, the REF gets gamed – rather than relying on the excellent work which of course they’ve been nurturing over the preceding time period, universities go into severe Karl Rove panic mode in the run-up to the REF and try to ‘buy in’ as many rockstar academics as they can to boost their funding. Some of this is outright poaching, but much of it goes through the job ads so if you’re a baby academic, forget it – all anyone wants over the 18-month run-up is ‘internationally excellent publications’, proof you can pull in lumps of increasingly rare grant money, and possibly a tap-dancing unicorn too.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that, beyond being rubbish for academics, the reward system at the heart of REF is intrinsically flawed. Theoretically, universities are incentivised to nurture their faculty, encouraging them to produce world-class work for which they are all rewarded. In practice, universities get rewarded for buying research in – not producing it. This absolute break between the work we do and how we all benefit from it – or not – is one of the many reasons I am packing my bags.

So that’s what’s been happening in Piglet Towers. I’m delighted that Obama has another 4 years in power – although I think his leadership has been far from perfect, it’s a damn sight better than the howling horrors of the GOP. I hope that by the next election rolls around I’ll be far from the maw of REF.

I promise to write again before the autumn’s over!

Sorry for the radio silence – that little bubble of calm did eventually subside, only to be replaced with a bigger bubble of work. I’m still investigating whether I can make a move on Profession X, albeit a year later than planned, and thus what I would do with that interim year for love and money. In lieue of anything more exciting to say, have some more links containing exciting stuff written by other people 🙂

Tanya L Roth is another ex-academic who made the jump into high-school teaching straight after finishing her PhD in history. There’s some stuff on her blog about that transition, but also lots about her new job. Tanya’s the type of person I was thinking of a few months back when I was writing about everyday heroes; not a major celebrity but just a regular person who made that shift out of the academy into a new – and important! – career.

– On everyday life, JC is writing about what her life looks like now in a ‘for now’ job ([one], [two]). Beyond the fact that I love reading about people’s descriptions of their working lives* I think this is SO important. One of the biggest fears that I suspect a lot of folks leaving academia is quite what their new lives will be like, and seeing the rich detail of what there is – friendly co-workers, regular paychecks and weekends filled with friends, food and relaxing. The flipside of this is Currer Bell’s recent posts about how her first post-academic job isn’t working out for her – but again, it’s good to see the detail about why things aren’t brilliant and what she might look for next.

– Captain Awkward writes an excellent eponymous advice column, and her recent one on job hunting has lots of excellent stuff in it which applies to the post-academic world. There’s also some interesting stuff in the comments about how a menial job can be good for mental health (for a while), which adds to other debates about ‘jobs for now’ and ‘careers’ which I’ve seen flying around.

*And no, Profession X isn’t ‘career advisor’ but don’t think I haven’t thought about it…


Emotional exhaustion, piglet style

Apologies for the radio silence; life at Piglet Towers has been full of Life Events as I believe Psychologies magazine would have them. Some have been good, some bad, and none I will describe in particular detail. One major upshot has been that Potential New Career will have to be put back a year, at least, if I even choose to go for it. This has suddenly opened up the horizon again which would have me spinning like a panicked dervish…

…except that, because of the impact of some of the Life Events I have spent the past couple of weeks in a daze. At the point, some months back, when I decided to say “Aha ha ha academia, nuts to you” I felt some kind of careless lightness – that all the things I had been worried about, like publications and research grants, were meaningless and lifted away. I’ve now been feeling like that about pretty much everything; all the postacademic job and direction fears have just gone floated out of the window. It’s not ideal – my productivity has not been super as I’ve spent most of my time in work doing the 5-mile stare at the computer, or shuffling through various videos of Paralympic events. Whilst I would not wish for the world that the worst of the Life Events be repeated again anytime soon, I am hoping to capture some of this bubble-state in which I am actually pretty calm about the future because everything will be OK, in some way for when my adrenal glands start working again

(If you’re wondering just what it’s like inside my head right now, go into a cool dark room, cover yourself in a sheet and listen to this on loop).

A couple of links to keep you busy until next time (one of these things is not like the other):

–       New Kid on the Hallway is a former academic turned lawyer who made the career after (I think?) being denied tenure. She has some interesting perspectives on what it’s like going back from professor to student again.

–       An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education made me realize that one reason why there is so little transparent information about post-PhD careers is that there is no centralized body gathering that data in the US. In the UK we have Vitae which isn’t perfect but is better than nothing.

–  A short video of a piglet enjoying a warm bath.


Be prepared for FUN!

Bit of an interesting week here at Piglet Towers as I think I have figured out what career path I want to take when I run screaming (squealing?) from the academy. This is pretty exciting, but I have been brought back to earth with a hefty thump as Profession X – as I shall be mysteriously referring to it – is one that requires no small amount of retraining and  is rather competitive to get into. Eek. I feel moderately well prepared – it is actually the career I nearly went into as an undergraduate but bailed at the last minute, so have some of the background already. On the other hand I am *cough cough* years older than I when I was a tiny drunken first-year student so need to see what extra things I need to do now to have a chance.

This, of course, has made me realise how little preparation  I did before embarking on my mighty foreshortened life of an academic. I did research for my PhD topic of course – as is reasonably standard in the UK social sciences I prepared the topic myself, found a supervisor and applied for funding alone. But that was it – all of the focus was on getting into the PhD program and getting it done, and once I was in it was assumed that I would of course mystically transform into an academic at the end. I, like many other post-academics, had no idea what it actually meant in terms of work, publishing, politics, teaching load, and so on. All I knew was that it would be Magical Dream Professor Land!!!11!! Maybe I would get a pony if I published enough!!!11!!

By contrast, this is what I have done in the past 7 days around Profession X.

– Looked up the admission criteria.

– Made an appointment with a university that offers Profession X conversions to talk about my chances.

– Found an online forum with other wannabes

After the meeting with admissions folk I’ll have more of an idea what I need to do, but I imagine it will involve work experience of various types, more research, and speaking with as many Professional X’s as I can. Imagine, though, if I had done this much research into becoming an academic – I wouldn’t have stayed after the end of my PhD, if I’d ever started it in the first place.

I know there are differences – going to into Profession X is a massive investment of my time, energy and money (thank-you David Willets and your amazing fee increase!) so of course it’s in my best interest to research it as much as possible. Also I am now much older than I was when I went into the PhD program (*sob*) so know more about how to get involved in work experience, research and so on.  But on the other hand – where is all the equivalent material about what it means to become an academic? Where are the open days, the speakers, the easily accessible material for wannabe academics to test the waters and find out more about just what it means to enter a career which sucks so much time and energy and money out of you? Where is the goddamn professionalism?? Everything is focused on getting people into the Ponzi scheme of PhDs and postdocs rather than preparation for what comes after, mostly likely because what comes after is a world of temporary contracts and insecurity. GRRRRR.

Anyway – wish me luck because, as excited as I am about Profession X I am also scared about how hard it is to break into. Still, I am plucky and resourceful! Also the sun is still out, and I have Jurassic 5 fired up on the old music system. Tell me what you guys think – should there be more  systematised ‘Here Be Dragons’ warnings for wannabe academics? Does this stuff already exist and I never came across it? And what else are your feel-good tunes for hot days?

The Olympics are still on for another few days!

Man, the good stuff is just rolling in at the moment AND we Brits have a ton of Golds in the Olympics (sorry any Australians who are reading). Have a little light summer reading:

What we must demand of our colleges – This is a powerhouse of a rant from Adjunct Rebellion wrapped up in a list of questions which all parents should ask of the colleges which will take their kids. Where do the tuition fees go? Are undergrads guaranteed full access to their professors on campus? What percentage of classes will be taught by full-time faculty? I would love to see a) a UK version which b) was distributed to every student with their UCAS handbook.

– Unpaid research assistantships are back in the news again! This time it was UCL who advertised the nae-monies post before pulling it after 30 minutes. Ben Goldacre captured the document before it went down and taken up the response from UCL; and Martin Eve has written a good piece in the Guardian about just why these positions are so iniquitous.

– In related news, the Times Higher reports on what we all know: that there’s a backlog of senior academics in the system who will not die are creating a bottleneck which limits the number of younger staff who can get jobs. In the comments, Professor Biggins Sorn earns a special type of hellbiscuit for suggesting that there is an ‘entitlement culture’ around those young academics who actually imagine that having invested so much time and money into the system that it might reward them in some way? Fie on you Professor BS.

#ECRChat is a Twitter chat for early career researchers that takes place every Thursday at 11am-12pm GMT. Last week’s theme was ‘Careers Outside Academia’ which just EXPLODED – the host, Sarah-Louise Quinnell summarises here, and there is also a Storify of the whole thing. I hope they return to the topic again given the horrendous job stats summarised above.