Thursday, 26 April 2012

Transitional times and time needed for transition

Well, after taking my son home last Tuesday evening from the hospital where he spent ten days, family life is now kind of settling back into some sense of normality. Some of you who read my last post will know what happened over the Easter, start of Passover weekend, so I won’t lay out all of the details again. The fifteen year old skateboarding boy who endured a significant head injury and seizure is home now, in full teen, grumpy spirit, insisting all is fine.  He does admit to getting a bit over tired but the headaches seem to be subsiding and he wants to get back into everyday school action as before. We were told he performed well in his neuro-psychology assessment that was done the other day, managed to stay focused, concentrated with no signs of memory problems, so good news there. He’s keen to get back to school full-time (in spite of doctor’s advice to take half-days at the moment), see all of his friends and have a ball.

It’s been a strange several days for his father and me. Over this period we have tried to have sensible discussions around the whole business of safety and the importance of wearing a helmet to protect this precious brain that he injured, and still he asserts he will not wear one when back on board after the three month ban. He was just unlucky, he claims, and won’t try any dangerous tricks like that in future. He’s been having endless arguments with my cyclist husband saying that yes, while the all knowing dad wears a helmet, he could still crash and have a list of other severe injuries, such as those to do with the spine, and end up in a wheel chair or even dead. So, a point taken there, but at least one can argue that helmet wearers are making a conscious effort to protect their head if they come off. Hence, the rationale around the eventual laws that require wearing car seat belts, motorcycle helmets, and helmets in public skateboarding parks in the US. The Brits haven't got that far just yet, probably because there aren't many public skateboard parks available. Yes, there is too much money being spent in the National Health Service, especially on those stubborn teens who refuse to wear helmets and injure their heads.

So, hubby and I are a bit frazzled and on edge after this episode and have resigned ourselves simply to keep trying, have the skating helmet available and try to force him to take it with him later on, all with the hope that he might wear it. But we can’t monitor his behaviour when he’s out of our sight and aside from chaining him to the house, we’ve just got to go with it and hope for the best.  He’s actually a good kid, doesn’t give us any trouble, is coming up to sixteen and is keen to do well at school, study Maths at a top university. There are no signs of drugs, bad company friends (they all want to go to a good university, blah blah) and he’s experimenting with a bit of alcohol here and there, but no signs to worry about (yet!). He’s home at a reasonable time when out on weekends every now and then, so we have no other excuse to punish him and play the role of nasty draconian parents. Hell, his bedroom is even pretty tidy and he clears up his plate after meals, so we can’t complain too much. Go with the flow we will, and inevitably with this will come many levels of anxiety after what has happened. Oh, the joys of parenting!

Okay, so that’s the latest on the domestic side of this post-academic blogger’s life. As things have been calming down a bit, I’ve picked up again on my latest reading while waiting for grumpy teenage son to get home from school. After coming across another post-academic blogger’s recommendation (Sorry I tried to find the exact place where I found this but I think it was in a reply to a post so it’s hidden in someone’s blog!) I ordered So What Are You Going to Do with That?: Finding Careers Outside Academia, by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius, and What Color Is Your Parachute? 2012: A Practical Manual for Job-hunters and Career-Changers by Richard N. Bolles. This book by Bolles has been around for years apparently and keeps getting updated by him with current information and Internet links to follow up.  They are both US publications but offer strong post-academic general advice that many of us residing outside the US can use. (PS: I have only come across one other non-US post-academic blogger so far, from Australia, so if any other UK based people want to get in touch, please do. I don’t think this is because there aren’t any UK post-academics out there, but they may feel less inclined to blog about the experience.)

One of the main things that I am learning from my period of current unemployment since the paid part of my last research project work finished, is that the transitional period out of academia takes a lot of time and takes up a lot of head space. This is probably necessary because we actually need good chunks of time to sit with ourselves and reflect on our lives, our past successes, failures and everything in between, and ask what we are going to make of it all. Some of this is painful and if you’re forced into unemployment rather than by your own choice, the pain can turn into depression. Bolles writes about his own experience of being sacked from two jobs and he remembers the intensity of feelings that he experienced afterwards. What I enjoy in reading many of the wonderful post-academic blogs is the revealing of the range of emotions that many of us have in our search for other meaningful means of employment. The revelations of 'bitterness' that many of us admit to feeling after working years within the structures of academia, encouraged to pursue our academic passions and build those strengths, only to discover there’s hardly any room for us, are emotional narratives that we must embrace because we have to decide what we are going to ‘do’ with those feelings. I appreciated Bolles’s argument that touches on this point:

And I remember the feelings. The overwhelming feelings, that only intensified in the weeks after that. I would describe my state as feeling sad, being in a funk, feeling despair, feeling hopeless, feeling like things “will always be this way,” or feeling depressed.
 Why oh why, I remember thinking at the time, don’t “career experts” ever talk about feelings? Unemployment was rocking my soul to its foundations. I needed to know what to do about my feelings.

So, I am finding that the time I am spending reading through the post-academic blogs and books like these, is well spent for practical reasons, for example, in reminding me how important it is to recognise my ‘transferrable skills’ and communicate them effectively. But, of course, like much self-help literature, the books and blogs are reaffirming of all of the confusing feelings I have been going through during this time when I need to make important decisions about what I want to do. I am not sure yet about what to make of this idea of finding my ultimate ‘calling’ or ‘mission’ in life. Bolles adds a large section on this in the Appendix and he draws on his relationship to God to explore it. He tells people to skip it if this is not their thing. I guess I have kind of resigned myself to accepting that another non-academic job may not live up to great ‘calling’ expectations (and neither do academic jobs for that matter, in my eyes), but that job/career choice may offer a long list of bonuses that are ‘good enough’ and even better than academia can offer.

This leads me to try to summarise a bit now. The other day I came across an advertisement for a job in British Post 16 education for which I believe I am more than qualified. In short, it’s a role that is not subject specific teaching, but will assist in academic support and mentoring, with the whole student in mind. After pondering whether I should or shouldn’t apply I thought, I really need to give this one a shot and see what happens. It is very local, actually walking distance (never in my wildest dreams had I imagined I would find a job I could walk to!), and it has lots of potential to make interesting things happen with regards to developing the student experience and enrichment activities. So, I’ve been spending the last few days working through the application and personal statement, breaking down sections of text that address all of the criteria I meet, so I would be surprised if I didn’t get an interview. But I am quite concerned that there may be the usual worry that I am overqualified, potentially uninterested because of my experience of teaching in Higher Education. I’ve tried very hard to present a case that addresses this and shows I am keen to work in another kind of educational environment, and so on. I also had experience as a secondary school subject teacher before my son was born when I lived in London, and I’m hoping that the path from there to MA, PhD and now (all managed with young children in tow – yes, I know you’re all thinking, “I don’t know how she does it!”) will be viewed as a bonus, and that they can see the benefits of this diverse experience.

Will have to sit tight and wait/hope for an invitation to interview after sending in the application, and in the meantime, get myself ready to do more and more research on the school. For US readers, here in Britain they call Post 16 'Further Education' institutions ‘colleges’, not to be confused with British 3 year (not four as in the US)  Higher Education universities. In fact, I was intrigued to discover, when I learned about the structures of British Further Education, that these 2 year colleges, historically, are offered as preparation courses for academic students aiming to study at university. By the time they go to university, they have already chosen their main area for degree study (unlike the US system where the first year is spent exploring a range of options). The two Post 16 years, therefore, are far more focussed and narrow. You could argue then that the second year Post 16 students here who go off to university the following year, are more like first year US undergrads. In any case, this rjob is not subject specific, which I really think I would prefer as a post-academic. Working in a role like this would allow me to focus on other issues in education which I have not been able to do as subject Lecturer at university level. Ho hum, we shall see how the whole thing pans out. 


  1. I'm so glad to hear your son is doing better and that he has the energy to be rebellious ;)

    And that sounds like a promising job. Something in walking distance from your house sounds particularly delightful! Please keep us posted on how it goes.

  2. Thanks very much for your kind words Currer. I think it's the kind of job that seems like an ideal starting point for work in that kind of educational environment. The pay isn't great and I am learning fast that transitioning into something else requires accepting that I may need to start lower than I would have wanted to before. But as I mentioned, some of the other perks help overcome that problem. Will let you know if it goes anywhere.