Tuesday, 22 May 2012

A much needed but brief update

Days have passed over the last week or so and with each one I have felt increasingly guilty for not keeping up with this Blog. So here is my very brief update to remind myself about what is important at the moment and to say a quick hello to others who swing by and read this stuff when they get a minute.

Currer Bell's recent post about her much anticipated face-to-face job interview that was unfortunately cancelled, has prompted me to mention some of my disappointment about a lack of response to a job that I applied for a couple of weeks ago now (as of last Friday). The job specification (a UK city council Post 16 education job), like many standard council posts, warns possible candidates that if they haven't heard about an interview in four weeks from the closing date, then they should assume they were unsuccessful. In my previous experience of applying for education jobs (in academia and years ago when I worked in a secondary school in London), the response came within a week if they invited me for an interview, so it seems clear to me that they are not interested.

I have been walking around the past few days feeling a bit hard done-by and sorry for myself in great frustration, knowing that I meet all the criteria for the job spec and more, and have not had a look in. I'm angry because this is one job of several others, not to mention sending the cv and letter out cold to some places, that I am more than willing to do and keen to build some kind of future around, if given the opportunity. This is where I begin to feel the anger welling up. I see myself as one of the many highly qualified, educated professionals out there now (I also have earlier commercial experience before secondary school teaching, then higher education teaching, and now qualitative research experience in several different project areas), who is perceived as 'over-qualified' and too old.

This may indeed be the case in this context, but it was a place where I was willing to go as it would have allowed me to start at a lower level and build more competencies and experience and eventually move up. This is difficult territory. I am 49 next month but, in spite of some grey hair, I do not fit the picture of a frumpy, middle-aged grumbler. (Okay, perhaps a revealing photo will be out up soon so you can see I'm not lying!) I've always been told in work contexts that I've got an open mind and showing a great willingness to learn new stuff and take the ball running. I think the post-graduate experience and slogging through contract teaching forces one to adapt to new ways all the time, so helpful in that way (one positive thing to come out of it!). Anyway, this post about this unsuccessful application experience is kind of an expression of my 'heavy sigh' feeling at the moment. In the last week I have begun to feel many sympathies for professional people who have lost their jobs in older age and have been long-term job searching. No wonder so many get depressed and give up.

On another note, one of the reasons why I haven't got around to posting here is because I've been offered some very short-term paid research work that picks up on the project that I 'officially' completed (in terms of data collection and some report writing) at the end of February. I have a tight deadline that I need to stick to so cracking on with the stuff at home mainly for the next three weeks or so. I'm pleased that my manager 'found' some departmental university money for me, but have some mixed feelings about doing more academic work. As I've been having to talk myself out of academia, it's then hard to get my head back in the space that is required to do a decent job. I'm already looking forward to finishing it, but I do feel that a decent thing's been done in my boss's commitment to find me some money to do the work. He could have tried to exploit the situation in other ways for sure.

So, that's it on the job hunting side and current temporary employment issue. Forgot to add that at least the sun has come out - finally! - in this part of England in full force yesterday and today. Helps the mood but it would have been much more convenient if the shone in the last six weeks when I was desperately unemployed!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Breaking away is hard to do

I've been having a couple of low-ish days, not surprisingly, considering my unemployment status and the feeling that great prospects are not in sight at the moment. Apart from something I have just applied for the other day, there is nothing else that feels right for me and I'm not feeling positive about sending out any spec cover letters with CV to places that are not advertising. That initiative takes a lot of time and emotional energy - time, I have, emotional energy, not so much of that at the moment. Maybe the endless days of rain we are having in the UK this month haven't helped my mood. Please let there be a dry and full sunny day soon!

One of the things that also seems to have prompted some funny feelings is that yesterday a couple of my academic contacts got in touch with me via facebook and invited me to join their friends list. These are very nice people indeed, and I really enjoyed meeting them at conferences, talking to them about their very interesting work, having a laugh, and feeling like I was accepted as part of the academic community in my field. They are still at it, and going strong. One contact is a highly respectable name in the field, is younger than me (well I am almost 49, so maybe that's not too surprising!), and publishes prolifically. He is the kind of academic who makes you question how he manages it all - how many hours of sleep does he survive on and who's cooking his meals, doing the food shopping and laundry. Answer - it must be someone else because he doesn't seem to stop for a minute and is always key speaking at important conferences, symposiums, etc. I do seem to remember reading in the acknowledgements of one of his books, his thank you to his partner who supplied him with constant food for fuel, and I imagine, the tender loving care he must have needed to finish the thing. Oh, isn't he lucky, I thought at the time. Still, I do find it hard to not to like him. He's a lovely (young) man [Oh dear, I am now beginning to sound like my mother...].

The other contact is a younger, more recent female PhD finisher, not long behind me. But unlike me, she has managed to crack on with an impressive, growing list of publications after PhD and Research Assistant job, and I'm sure, she should have a permanent post by now, or very soon. I first met her online when she contacted me to tell me how impressed she was by a paper I had published. It was amazing to hear so much praise, but with it, she continued to tell me about all of her research and publication plans, asking what I was up to, what would I be publishing next, and so on. This all came at the time when I was half considering leaving but I couldn't quite confess this to her after all of her compliments! I managed to bump up the paper I was presenting at the time and some of the hopes around that.

So now, I am invited as a facebook friend to these successful, keen (and young - oh, did I say that already?) UK academics in my field, and I'm feeling a strange kind of anxiety around this. I have accepted their invites and have looked at their posts and see lots of chat around fun at conferences, references to this work and that, to this academic and that other one. My discomforts are around coming out as a leaver - finally - to these people, and feeling as though I may come up as the subject of the failed academic if the opportunity arises in chat in the future. What other way will they be able to understand my decision. I guess she wasn't invested enough. Yes, she was good, but actually, she wasn't that good. You've got to stick with this for a long time to reap rewards (i.e., a decent, paid job!). I wonder what she's going to do now? Oh, you know what they say about failed academics...they work in publishing. (Yes, I have heard this joke tossed around between academics.)

Since these facebook invites I have looked around their facebooks, admiring the pics, noticing familiar faces, people I've met at symposiums and other events. I see their list of friends and comments made by many other academics in the field with whom they are chummy. I've read these people's admirable work, and as I'm the one peering like a voyeur into these lives, or little, short moments within them, I feel like the interloper who has no right to be there. This is difficult because I feel like I've broken up from a sort of intimate 'relationship' with this community, yet I am still trying to remain 'friends'. There are some romantic relationships that break up and seem to be able, at some point later, become 'good friends' as they find common ground together. At a basic level I do see these people as kind, warm human beings - their research interests fully embrace the realm of feelings, yet I can't escape the feeling that coming out as abandoning ship, will prompt the usual responses. Is there anything I can do for you? Can I read your stuff and offer feedback? How about taking on some teaching here? What about speaking at our department seminar on that work you were doing? All nice, supportive stuff, but I've gone past that now.

Facebook communications take a bit of careful identity management, I guess. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to just be open about where I am and why, if asked, without going into too many other details about it. It will be interesting to see if I remain on their friends list.