Thursday, 28 June 2012

Post job offer happiness

This is going to be a quick little snippet. Still getting my head around the reality of being offered a decent job after so much soul searching and job seeking this year. Today I'm feeling pretty good, with a bit of giddiness here and there. I've also had another birthday last week and as with every year at this time, I find I am often reflecting about my life, where I've been, where I am going, and reminding myself of all of the good things I have for which I am so grateful. So, I decided, in one moment of morning giddiness, to snap a couple of shots to record the moment. This pic is the first one I've revealed here (many of us in the post-academic blog community take pseudonyms and don't have pics of ourselves), but I'm feeling today like it's okay to celebrate a new stage in my life.

As I am another year older I see the grey hairs are multiplying more quickly than ever and they are especially more visible when a certain daylight hits them. Several years ago I made the firm decision that I was not going to invest in any more hair colouring and I was just going to let the hair develop into a new (grey) style. I don't regret the decision but it is very clear that it quite obviously 'ages' me - yes, there is a reason why the hair product industry makes a fortune as it relies so much on our pervasive culture of youth and our anxieties about losing attention. One of the pair of style celebrities here in the UK, 'Susannah' of the 'Trinny and Susannah' pair whose show 'What Not to Wear' hits the heights of popularity a few years ago, made this statement (paraphrase): 'I really don't know what I'd do if I just became invisible and not noticed'. She just couldn't bear the idea of losing her looks or her femininity and she was referring to the invisibility many 'women' experience when they get old. (Funny though, I have spotted a few older men who I am certain add the Grecian formula to their locks but they would never admit to it!) For me, this 'invisibility' experience offers a liberating potential that she just hasn't quite spotted yet. How nice to know that men (and women) will be forced to judge me on things other than my looks as I get older. And how nice to get a point in later life when not giving a fuck any more feels pretty good. In fact, having that attitude can draw another kind of attention that we may not have managed to get when we were younger and more physically desirable. Yay!

So, I know I could take a few years off if not grey, but fuck it, I really just don't give a shit anymore about this trivia. Another bonus about ageing is that you begin to prioritise the important things and the other stuff doesn't get a look in.  I am relieved to finally come to this point in my life. I haven't given up many of the other accoutrements of femininity (and yes, I will totally admit I felt I had to carefully choose which pic to upload!), but this has been a nice start.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Not quite leaving the Ivory Tower but…

This post tells a story about trying to leave the Ivory Tower of academia and managing to achieve this aim to some degree. It’s about getting out, but still remaining in the space in another capacity.

Well, so much has been happening since my last post and the previous one that mentions the process of applying for a non-academic job at the university where I studied for my PhD. If this job spec appeared a year and a half ago when I was first thinking about getting out of academia I probably wouldn’t have given it a serious look. The thought of working in a non-teaching role at the same university where my old department could ‘spot’ me and drill me about why I gave up on worthy scholarship etc., was just too much to ponder. I wanted to get as far away from them as possible. This anxiety also arose when I was contracting teaching for a long time at another local university. I looked at job openings there regularly (applied for one but didn’t get the job) but always feared bumping into other academics I knew in my network and then having to explain everything.

But that was then and this is now and the reality of circumstances, as well as the wonderful therapeutic nature of ‘time’ perhaps has been helpful in narrowing down what I am willing to do and what I am not willing to do. The narrowing list (always in process) isn’t perfect, but it has got more refined and containable I guess.
So, I think I’ll leave exact details about the job out (still have fears about being found out through a google search!), but will indicate a bit. The role involves developing student representation and engagement in the university with a specific focus on a certain student cohort (of which I have personal and professional experience!). When I read the spec I was intrigued to see that it involved both primary and secondary research as part of this initiative to develop the area. It also includes recruiting and training, so the teaching background I have is helpful. My earlier post mentions sending off the application and reveals some of my anxieties around the health section, not to mention age, so I kind of left things as though it would not go anywhere. Mentally preparing myself I guess. But last week I did get invited to interview and candidates were given instructions about what they had to do to prepare for the ‘task’, which involved quite a lot of creative vision and organisational thinking. Of course, this meant presentation with Q and A, and an additional round of a first ‘informal interview’, another ‘task’ and if candidates passed that, they went through for a ‘formal’ interview. So, here is where I shall cut to the chase. After the morning tasks I made it through to the afternoon. I guess I felt pretty positive about how things were going and there seemed to be positive nods from the panel. There were a few moments where I thought I might have gone off on a tangent waffle speech but then made focused attempt to get back. Clarifications – one or two – then back on track and good nods in sight. I got a phone call in the evening and was told they wanted to offer me the job. I had decided by that point that I would accept if it was offered but I’ve had some nagging anxiety (oh dear, readers must see my patterns of anxieties by now) about working the full-time load. Ideally, I have wanted to find part-time work but the possibilities for permanent part-time jobs are so slim. Anyway, the very strange thing is that this prospective boss/manager then said he’d like to ask me if I would consider the possibility of working a four day not a five day week, as they see the potential to use some of the funds to put into a research pot for the development initiatives in mind (maybe thinking about my response to their ‘task’ that I presented). Well, what a strange moment indeed. I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. He said, I’m sure you may want to take a few days to really think about that before you accept, etc. This was a pretty straight forward moment for me at that point so I just accepted.

What is really weird about this whole process is this feeling that it has all happened so quickly, even though, I realise too that the job-seeking process for me has been a very long one indeed. I am left this morning reflecting on how my experience of academia at PhD level and contract teaching has informed my ability to get this job. Has it been helpful? Absolutely yes, but for a specific range of reasons. In the morning all five candidates waited in the same area for proceedings to start (we were arranged separately in fixed time slots for the different tasks and informal interview). After a bit of chat on this and that, what I discovered was that they all had Master degrees - not sure about one other person but she had higher diploma to teach English as a second language. The criteria for the role did not specify Masters Level qualification, but it seemed obvious to me that candidates with at that level found the role interesting with a lot of potential for growth.

I think my research experience during PhD and then the later short-term, practical paid research projects  I’ve been involved in (doing fieldwork, interviews) also made me a strong candidate. Of course the other important aspect is my work experience and knowledge of UK Higher Education. I think the department could see the value in the background and gave me a shot to show them what I could offer. I think all of this is very promising for potential post-academics who may think about pursuing other professional areas in Higher Education, which can also involve research and work with students. The pay scale for this role does not equal that of a first permanent UK Senior Lecturer’s post. I’ve accepted that in starting somewhere else in a new area this is the way it is, but there is much room for growth and opportunity to apply for future posts internally. The universities are now advertising many jobs to internal applicants only out of loyalty. So less competition - not fighting alongside one hundred other well-qualified applicants.

Admittedly, I am just feeling a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing this morning.  I worked hard on the brief and in selling myself for a job spec that was about three pages long. Will I be able to live up to my claims? Will I have the energy required? These are questions many candidates and job winners ask themselves I assume. All I can say for the moment is that with that fear is a also a sense of newly acquired confidence and pleasure that my efforts paid off and that other people recognised and valued them. I forgot to mention that during my interview I was never drilled about why would I dream of leaving teaching/academia. That territory was framed in the general question, ‘Tell us what has led you to apply for this job, why now, what kinds of things have brought you to this point?’ I also haven’t mentioned that the team of people I will be working with, including a person who holds a parallel position with whom I can work closely to develop ideas, were all really friendly, warm and welcoming. It’s all looking good. Aside from having to sort out logistical matters like what to do with my younger daughter when both my partner and I are out all day working over some of the school holidays, it’s feeling manageable. I’m going to work hard to remain sensible about this job, taking it slowly, step by step as a process. It’s not a fixed contract run so there is time to grow with it. Lots to think about. I am thinking also that the post-academic bloggers here, by sharing their job seeking stories and experiences, have really helped me get to this stage and I want to say a very big thanks to you all for the encouraging blogs you are writing and for the comments you’ve been leaving here regularly.

In my last post I mentioned my intentions to write about the experience of working in academia with young children in tow. This aim is still on my list. With these new developments it will be interesting to think about how I'll manage in this kind of role with kids. It's nice that my older son who will be sixteen in July, will be less to worry about in that sense (although I have my other worries as he is the risk-taker, accident prone one - see my Easter/Passover post on his skateboarding accident...). Watch this space. So much to think about!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

A great sigh of relief after the day's work...

This is going to be a very brief post indeed, but one I feel compelled to write. I have just managed to complete a paid stint of academic work that I agreed to do for the project I was employed on this past year. The first part was very straight forward and quite enjoyable - report writing is nice as you know exactly what your mission is, the task is achievable in a short time-frame and there is far less chance of getting lost in academic theories that can take you to far too many grey and dark places that only open up new problems. But the second half of the work was more challenging, involving literature review of some complicated texts and the darkness starting to set in again, taking me back to those vulnerable feelings I often had as a post-grad student and later when trying to publish. On this last stretch of the work I set myself the challenge of making the clear decision that I would spend only a certain amount of time on it (as I had gone over time a bit) and that I could not afford to spend more emotional and physical energy on it. Once I focused on achieving this I 'kept calm and carried on' and today, finally arrived at the point where I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I finally realised that 'good enough' was actually pretty good. I was not going to give anymore and after reading through it for the final time, I thought the outcome might even be received as very very good, better than 'good enough'.

So, a small victory there. Sent the file off, established closure and checked with the administrator that my invoice had gone through to payroll. I am intending not to accept any more of this work, but finding it difficult to be straight with the project manager who I quite like. I'm thinking I'll just make excuses that I've got other work on the way, and eventually I will soon get forgotten!

Yay, yay and more yay! Good feelings of elation - hope it can last a while!

Next post...thinking of developing something about post-academic life with children. Bye for now.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Closing doors and opening new ones, but will they be slammed in my face?

I am so ashamed to admit that I haven’t posted on the blog lately when others in the post-academic community are sustaining their blogs with prolific and fun entries. My apologies to them for my recent lapse in commenting on some of their great posts. I’ve mentioned in my last post that the excuse for my inactivity this past month or so is because I have been offered some paid academic work that was added on to help with the project I was employed on until February. It was nice that my manager found the money and made it clear that he didn’t want to exploit me by asking me to work for free. On the other hand, while some of the work has been enjoyable, another side of what I’ve been doing has just left me feeling a bit steeped in the world that I’ve been mentally trying to set myself free of. My manager also seems to have tacked on some tasks that weren’t included at the start and I’m having that feeling of the never-ending academic project that I now want to see the back of. I know there are other post-academics maybe feeling the same way as they are in the transitional stage – half-in, half-out. It’s a tricky state of mind when there are no other employment options available.

So, I’m kind of at the end of this batch of work and looking forward to closing the doors on it. On another note, I have been applying for yet another job over the last few days. I won’t say too much about it, except that it’s at the university where I did my PhD and it is not an academic/faculty position, but more administrative. It’s an interesting spec, and I have many of the transferable skills that are needed for it. But I find, as usual now, that I am gob-smacked at the never-ending list of expectations and criteria attached to these kinds of posts that in turn are offering a relatively low salary. You would have thought they were hiring a tenure track prospect with the pages of responsibilities listed and to know there isn’t much of a financial reward is a downer. So much for a career in the UK university sector. Anyway, as with most of these new career prospects, I’ve had to bite the bullet and expect lower pay to get on the ladder.

But one of the things that is really bugging me is the application section that asks applicants if they have a disability. I’ve been inspired a bit by Currer Bell to mention this now, considering her interest in Disability Studies. Anyway, I’ve noted before that I have a diagnosis of Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis, which is listed as one of the chronic health conditions that may affect an individual’s ability to work. What is interesting about this is that the university and other institutions will state that they encourage people with disabilities to apply and if they fit the criteria they will be considered fairly like any other applicant. But the area always feels a bit grey to me. As the following question goes something like, ‘Does this condition affect your ability to fulfil regular work duties’.  Well, in most cases the answer is, it doesn’t, and I probably wouldn’t be applying for that kind of job if it did.  I usually then fill in more by adding that the condition is very well managed and I have no mobility limitations. If I had to admit any issues, I guess I could say that yes, fatigue can set in and I live everyday with the usual numbness and tingling sensation in the limbs (sometimes spasms which can be visible when they suddenly occur), but these are just uncomfortable realities that I have learned to live with. In one case when I was on a teaching contract at a new unviersity, I was phoned by the their contracted service who asked me a long list of questions about my mobility. This was after I clearly stated that mobility was not a problem – did they even understand what Relapsing-Remitting MS was? And when she used the phrase, ‘I hope you understand that we just need to ensure that you are fit to work’, I thought I would scream. This was the kind of moment when I thought, well, if there’s anything like a label to fix me in a certain place (unemployment maybe!) then the disability one will do it.
After this I began to question whether I should leave the section blank, however, the law requires an honest answer, and the Disability Discrimination Act is supposed to protect people against employer discrimination. My friend who is a disability lawyer also said that in positive cases employers are there to provide any adjustments if ever needed.

I guess I am feeling quite vulnerable about all of this now. While employers claim non-discrimination, can we really ever be sure that in the cases where they do see this page of the application that they will not be biased? In some cases it is only Human Resources who have access to this bit of the application but the one I filled out for this job had the question embedded with other sections. I am feeling quite sceptical about this at the moment, and think it will certainly not help my job prospects. And I haven’t even begun to mention the possible discrimination about my age – yes, my 49th birthday is coming up this month! My undergraduate date of graduation will most certainly give the age away, and even then I was a bit older than the average undergraduate at the time. I have a male freelance journalist friend who is 55 years old and he has got so fed up now with rejections that he's considering lying about his age. Heavy sighs, heavy sighs. 

In the midst of this very supportive post-academic community, I will admit that today was one of those days when my MS symptoms seemed to be really playing up more also. By the end of the day I began to question whether I should be applying for work - wondering if I should stick with part-time possibilities only, but there are so few of those available anyway. Is this some kind of weird reaction to applying for this job, or just a reaction to having to sit in front of this computer today and struggle to finish off this academic contract work? Or, is it another physical reaction to having to live with yet another long bout of British rain? Will it ever end, I ask?  Please let me have a bit of real summer!