Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Where have we been and where are we now?

Well, it's now the middle of January and many of us are trying hard to keep up the momentum around our new year's resolutions. Often at this time of year we are also looking back at the past twelve months and asking ourselves we have achieved and how do we want to move forward. So, with the title of David Bowie's new single in mind, 'Where are we now?', I would like to look briefly at where I was last January and where I am now. If you're a follower of this blog you can expect that I'll probably take this as an opportunity to expand and look further back into the past, but I'll try hard not to wander. My aim is to keep this post brief-ish!

Last January I was employed in a short-term academic research project as a Research Assistant. It was a funny time for me. The post was advertised the summer before at the same time when I was still considering how I might be able to leave academia. I was coming to the end of another academic year Lecturing contract  and was prepared to have another summer of unemployment. I guess I was pretty much buying time last summer with the teaching year. When I wasn't teaching I was working on some research ideas, developing a paper from a conference to help build up my CV, and thinking about using my other time to experiment with other forms of writing. I enjoyed the experimental writing exercise but felt resentful with the research paper - I was doing all of this on unpaid time and my 'passion' for the subject was waining. Where would it take me, I asked myself. Was all of this effort worth it? I was hoping that the extra time over the summer could liberate me a bit from some of the stuck and indecisive feelings I was having. Basically, I was keeping my eyes out for employment prospects in the university but in other non-academic, administrative or project areas. Every week and month that went by (from April time) reconfirmed that those prospects were low. As I hadn't come up with any other solutions I resigned myself to just carry on with the expectation that I would take the plunge and turn down contract teaching offers for the next academic year. I would be unemployed then but at least I wouldn't be tied down to the contract and could have more flexibility in my job hunting, and I guess, my soul searching.

So this research project appeared through my institution at just the right time. I was still half in the state of mind that I might have some kind of future in academia so I committed myself to doing the research for this field of study (it was outside of my comfort zone but still within Arts and Humanities). I interviewed well and got the job. It was interesting enough and I got my head down to do some good work, but it didn't excite me enough to want to invest myself in academia again. It was an interesting testing ground for me. When I took the job I thought, this might be my turn-around moment; it can lead to all sorts of wonderful prospects. There was an opportunity to bid for more funding with my manager and the team to extend the project's prospects, but I decided at that stage of the discussion to pull back. That was when I continued to look seriously for more non-academic career possibilities. It was also around that time that I discovered all of these other post-academics on the net blogging and sharing their experiences.

So a few more months passed and more applications were sent out in alt-academics areas. For that moment at least, I decided to pursue non-teaching/research possibilities in UK Higher Education and accepted the fact that I might have to take up short-term contracts to get started. My current job was advertised in June. I spent a lot of time working on the personal statement and later preparation for a demanding, full-day interview process. And then I was offered the job. I breathed a long sigh of relief that my efforts had finally paid off and someone out there recognised some of my potential. For those of you who are are experiencing the frustration of the post-academic transition and are exhausted from the process, take comfort that there is hope and a good outcome will surface. It just might end up taking longer than you imagine when you start out.

This time of January, new year reflection though always leads me to an emotional place where I contemplate where I have been with my chronic health condition, Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis, and where I am now, which is in a very good place, although I have to make sure I am good to myself so that I won't suffer another relapse. I have mentioned in my last two posts that I have joined up with three other post-academic bloggers, Currer, J.C. and Lauren to begin a new Post-academic resource website called How To Leave Academia. This is where I have recently written about how my health suffered when I was in the middle of my PhD studies and had to take a long leave of absence from my research project. It was that time when I had my MS diagnosis. It was an incredibly difficult but rewarding time as it also forced me to think hard about how I wanted to proceed with my career aspirations while also managing a serious health condition when I had two young school-aged children and a husband who was often away on work-related trips. I won't revisit that story now but you can visit our How To Leave Academia site here and find it. You can also find other accounts from Lauren, Currer and J.C. about how they managed their intense emotions, anxiety and depression when transitioning out of academia. The common threads across all of our stories illustrate that stresses around academia when studying or when leaving can take a serious toll on the body and can lead to depression. The authors' different means of coping are all worth a read. We are always looking for contributors to the site to share their resources and stories around leaving academia so take a look, comment and feel free to get in touch.

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