Desolate piglet contemplates a future of ‘publish or perish’.

As a Type 1 leaver, I feel I have an extra burden to explain myself. I’m not leaving because I’ve spent years scrabbling between 700 adjunct jobs to pay the rent; or because there is only 1/2 a job advertised in my field per year; or because my discipline is slowly being side-lined out of existence. But *flexes trotters* I have my reasons to want out. Number 1 reason – it won’t get better.

As things stand now, I have a contract research position on an interesting project with no teaching. Pretty sweet, right? I am truly a piglet in mud. But it’s not going to stay like this – this isn’t the equivalent of the gun-for-hire researcher or programmer or project manager who gets to pick interesting projects in interesting organisations, building up a nice portfolio of work, maybe taking some time off here and there if I want (I know I am probably idealising the freelancer/contract lifestyle a bit here but I do know many people whose working lives are very close to what I describe here).

Not so for me. The research job is not a job in itself, but a stepping stone to a permanent academic post (theoretically – I have sat in meetings in the past while where my university has acknowledged that there aren’t enough permanent posts for all the post-docs out there, let alone the PhD students). And that permanent post is a very different thing to the job I have now in that:

  •  There will be teaching. A lot of teaching. So much teaching that it will suck all the time and energy out of nearly everything else. This might be bearable if you like teaching but, after nearly a decade of doing it, I have concluded that I don’t. Guest lectures, conference talks, yes, but I have done my time in the teaching trenches and want out.
  • There will be pressure to publish. A lot of pressure. So much pressure that it will bend my spine over 7 ways to Monday, to get the ‘right’ papers in to the ‘right’ journals.  Lest we forget, this isn’t pressure to get the Olympics running without explosions – this is pressure to write stuff that barely anyone will read, ever. Ever. But this – and pretty much only this – is the thing that will guarantee your promotions.
  • There will be meetings. A lot of meetings. So many meetings which will drag on and on and on, and suck time away from all the other things you should and could be doing.
  • There will be supervision of students. A lot of supervision.  This is actually not so bad a thing, but I have massive ethical issues about being complicit in a system that brings bucket after bucket of postgrads into institutions because of the sweet sweet fees that they, or funding bodies, pay, rather than because it will enhance their job chances in the future.
  • There will be scrabbling for increasingly rare resources. A lot of scrabbling. Over a longer term, this is exhausting.

In the past couple of years, I have seen several senior academics take retirement (some early) and they are all, to a man and woman so happy. SO happy. They still do the ‘fun’ stuff of research and writing and guest lectures – the stuff I have in my current job – but all the awfulness of their ‘real’ academic jobs, which is what I would have to look forward to if I stayed, is gone. They are, by the way, famous-in-their-field academics whose careers we (I) have been told to emulate. No. Rosalind Gill has already documented a lot of this in her excellent 2009 chapter on silent injuries in academic work; and again, she writes from the position of a renowned and respected professor in her field.

I know that if I wanted to be an academic badly enough then all of the above would be the trade-offs for that career. But I really, really don’t – I like my job as it is, but not what it will turn into if I stay. I need to figure out the next steps.

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