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!