A confession about working weekends

I came back to academia after being in a professional role for over three years with a promise to myself: I will not work across weekends.

As I mentioned in a recent post, some people derided my promise. Many more laughed in disbelief, or were encouraging in their words but exuded an air of ‘that promise is doomed, doomed!’. Having been in a professional job where I found it extremely easy to maintain the boundaries between work and non-work time, I was very used to having weekends in my life. I assumed that transitioning (again) into an academic role while keeping weekends free would be relatively easy. It was the status quo for me at the time, after all.

Two and a half years after returning to academia, then, how is my promise of ‘not working on weekends’ going for me?

Terribly, I have to say.

And I acknowledge this with some shame.

I know a lot about academic overworkpeer pressure dictating how many hours we spend at our jobs (sometimes pushing scholars to quit careers), and the dominance of ‘administrivia’ in our working lives.

I’ve read heaps on work/life balance in academia (from many sources including Tenure, She Wrote, Raul Pacheco-Vega, and various scholarly studies [like this one by Osbaldiston and Cannizzo]), and how overwork is not necessary for success. I constantly advocate for self-care and regeneration time for researchers. I loved Dani Barrington’s post in RW and cheered her declaration that “although research will never ‘just’ be a job, it is, in fact, a job” (Escaping the ivory tower).

And yet…I have a confession to make. Read more of this post

Beware excellence

At a recent international conference focused on research administration, there was the usual palaver about every researcher, their institution, and their dog achieving excellence.

It’s presented as why we’re in the game – to achieve this highly circumscribed and metricised ideal of ‘excellence’.

We’ve all heard this rhetoric before so I have a certain level of ennui every time I see the posturing.

This feeling also emerges for me these days when people use ‘innovation’, ‘engagement’, or ‘impact’. I’m extremely fond of Rolin Moe’s statement that “innovation means less than any other word we use in regular discourse” (The Innovation Conundrum).

I would say the same applies to ‘excellence’. Just about every organisation uses it, government policies are ridden with it, and senior executives at universities mouth it at every opportunity. But it usually signals little, and indulges in the conceit that if we say we have it, it makes us better than others who don’t say they have it (it doesn’t actually matter whether they have ‘it’ or not). Read more of this post

Becoming autonomous

amy-loughman-150pxAmy Loughman is an Associate Lecturer in Psychology at RMIT University.

She has recently finished writing her PhD at the University of Melbourne, and has undertaken research at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the National Institutes of Health in the US.

Clinically trained in neuropsychology, she is passionate about understanding the relationships between physical and mental health. A particular research interest of Amy’s is the gut microbiome and the potential relevance that this ‘forgotten organ’ may have for understanding human health.

Amy blogs at Mind Body Microbiome and is on Twitter at @MBmicrobiome.


Photo by Sergee Bee | unsplash.com

Photo by Sergee Bee | unsplash.com

I’ve recently taken up an academic position. Like, a proper, grown-up, paid academic position. One where I get to teach (which I like doing) and I can also do any kind of research I want to.

People outside of the research world might not appreciate just what a privilege that last point is.

Of course, anyone can steer themselves towards applying for jobs on research projects that interest them. But unless you’re a relatively established academic, and independently funded (i.e. You have project money, as well as a source of money that pays your salary such as a grant), you don’t actually get to choose much else.

For less established researchers, research assistant positions can be a great place to start. The research or project assistant role is a predominantly data-collecting, administrative and occasionally grant- or paper-writing gig. Those things can be fun, and even career-building, but at the end of the day (or rather the start), someone else is dictating what your work will look like. Intellectual input? Minimal. Autonomy to take the research where you want? That’s the principal investigator’s job. Research assistants are vital to making research happen, but eventually most people with drive and ideas of their own will be itching for more. So, like me, many people obtain a higher research degree such as a PhD. From there, many enter the independent research rat-race of underpaid postdoctoral fellowships, spending weeks of the year on writing grants with slim chances of success, and experiencing the general lack of stability that comes with a research career.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m prepared for all that. I love and believe in research too much to be put off by the competitiveness, scarce funding, and not-great money. Read more of this post

Saved by slow scholarship

Ali original b and w - smallDr Ali Black is an arts-based/narrative researcher.

She is interested in research that supports connectedness, community, wellbeing and meaning-making through the building of reflective and creative lives and identities.

Her recent work explores storied and visual approaches for knowledge construction and the power and impact of auto-ethnographic, collaborative and relational knowledge construction. One of her recent projects is Australian Women: Telling Lives.

Ali has a ResearchGate profile. She is still learning how to tweet but when she does it is from @draliblack.


Photo by André Freitas | unsplash.com/photos/uu5PfAzu0s4

Photo by André Freitas | unsplash.com/photos/uu5PfAzu0s4

Mid-life.

I’m not where I thought I would be.

Identity. Ego. I reject them. They are things that I dislike, a lot. They are close cousins to competition, comparison, measurement, judgment, and (misguided) self-glorification. These are also things I dislike, a lot. But they hurt me even so. Do they hurt you?

It’s important to shed light on our academic experiences, to make public the stories of what it has felt like, and feels like, to be an academic. It’s important that collective conversations about academic culture and what constitutes our social, political, and intellectual life in the academy can take place. We need to share our findings on what matters to us, and how we might cultivate kindness in the academy, foster care-full work, and count that which is not being counted.

I have been in academia twenty years, as a teacher, a researcher, and an innovator. I have given it my all, and been driven, dedicated, passionate. My current job title does not reflect the work and time I have put in. Rather than move up the hoped-for ladder, I have slipped, lost footing, fallen with my re-location to this new university, like a mud-faced-red-faced failure. Read more of this post

Staying on the radar

I unearthed this fragment of a post the other weekend. I started writing it in 2012, when I was about two years into a professional role at a university as a research grant developer. I had had about ten years of researcher life before that, with back-to-back research-only fellowships. My feelings about leaving my researcher self behind were mixed, to say the least.

Now, I’m about two years back into an academic job after leaving that professional role. And I have things to say to my 2012 self. 

Hopefully, this dialogue with the self is useful for those of you with ‘portfolio careers’ and seemingly zig-zagging career paths. It may never seem like the right way to do things, but  it helps to know that there isn’t a right way to do things.


Me, writing in 2012 while in a professional role: 

What’s the shelf-life of academic expertise?

This is an issue that’s haunted me ever since I started working on the ‘other side of the fence’ in my current professional research development role. I was used to being easily identified as ‘academic’ for many years, and it was the angst of having to explain being a research fellow position that occupied my time. Common things I’d have to say: “No, I don’t teach”, “no, I’m not supposed to teach”, “yes, I’m 100% research”, “yes, that means I don’t teach”.

Now, as a research grant developer, I’m in a role where I’m constantly advising researchers on what’s good practice and savvy research strategy. I can’t help but view my on-the-ground experience as a researcher for over a decade as a core part of the value I bring to my job. Similarly, if I’m not publishing, presenting at conferences, or debating critical issues with peers, am I a lesser occupant of this role?

For example, if I was awarded (and completed) a shiny competitive grant, does my experience in putting that application together count, more than five years later? If I haven’t published in an academic journal for over ten years, do I have credibility advising researchers on how to strategise submissions and papers, or negotiate editorial processes?

I’ve kept a part-time hand in with running the research network but, other than that, haven’t given an academic conference paper or written an academic article for about two years.

It feels strange. Read more of this post

What does it take to move from precarity to security?

dani-barrington

Dr Dani Barrington is a Research Fellow jointly appointed by Monash University and the International WaterCentre, and an Honorary Fellow at The University of Queensland.

Her work focuses on water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) in developing communities, meaning she is often referred to as ‘The Toilet Lady’ by strangers and ‘Sani Dani’ by at least one of her friends.

She tweets at @Dani_Barrington.


Photo by Oanh Tran

Photo by Oanh Tran

A lot of my friends and family are appalled that my contract ends in a few weeks and won’t be renewed.

But it makes complete sense to me. The university never had money to pay me in the first place.

For the past three years, I have been a research-only academic. This means that my salary has been funded from a government grant that my team and I won almost four years ago.

We have been working with informal settlements and enabling actors in the South Pacific to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene according to the priorities of communities themselves. It has seen me spend a large proportion of my time overseas conducting fieldwork.

But when that grant runs out, so does my current job. Read more of this post

An open letter to the ultimate imposter

Belinda Cash - smallBelinda Cash is a social worker with a background in disability services and clinical mental health. She completed a Master of Mental Health in 2009, which began the adventure into research as a tool for social change.

Belinda is in the final stages of her PhD researching the experience of choice for older spousal caregivers. Her research and teaching interests include mental health, ageing, social policy, service provision in rural areas, and informal caregiving.

She works full-time at Charles Sturt University, teaching in the social work and gerontology programs. Belinda tweets from @pinkbellee.


Image by Bernard Laguerre | www.flickr.com/photos/aldor

Image by Bernard Laguerre | http://www.flickr.com/photos/aldor

Dear You,

I had the good fortune recently to work with you in an academic training workshop. Just for the record, I thought you were great.

I guess that’s why I was so surprised on Day Two to hear you hadn’t slept well.

You said to me, “Whenever I present in person, my head likes to spend all night chewing over every little thing I stuffed up”.

Wait… WHAT?!

Were you even THERE while I watched your smooth crowd control (academics are a seriously hard-to-wrangle bunch)? Did you not hear your seamless presentation of interesting and engaging material? Did you miss the artful way you navigated relentless and tricky questions?

As all of this was about to spill forth in a vain attempt to allay your doubts, I stopped. Suddenly, I recognised something all too familiar.

Of course, you don’t see any of that. You felt every tiny moment of hesitation acutely. You noticed every less than perfect word choice as it slipped out. You felt your mind whirring ahead of itself, desperate not to stuff up whatever was coming next, unable to enjoy the moments of success as they passed. Read more of this post