It’s been a great week of birthday celebrations (yay to the October-born). With all the changes that have happened this year, I found myself caught up at the start of this semester with the “must work all the time” kind of mentality that comes with starting a new job. Not surprisingly I found myself becoming quite anxious and mentally exhausted – not a good sign given I’ve got 8 weeks left to the semester.
However this week I’ve been reminded of what actually matters by just being around people. Especially people who want to party. Considering most of my social circle is comprised of language teachers and UK HE professionals, the need for a party runs pretty high. Not party in the sense of all-nighter, lock-in binge (not really my thing) but more grab a drink and chill. I mean actually having a conversation with friends you cross paths with on campus when you’re both on your way to teach your next class but barely have the time to say hello. I don’t think I realised how much I needed to sit and hang out with people until after the party, when I felt more energised than drained. As an extreme introvert this rarely happens, and was a reminder that focussing on work all the time does nothing for anyone’s mental health.
The rest of the week was filled with other awesome experiences: first driving lesson in the UK (I haven’t driven since 2002) and my first trip to the chiropractors to deal with my first lower back twang (running related *sigh*). OK so having lower back pain isn’t awesome but going to see a chiropractor was quite calming. In all this week has been a good reminder to take a step back from work and do some self-care, especially during your birthday week!
I’m about to start Week 3 of teaching and, if I’m honest, it’s been a painful learning curve. It’s not that I’ve forgotten how to teach, but I have forgotten how heavy the work load was. This semester I’m teaching five different classes and it is a struggle to keep on top of the planning and weekly marking. Two of the classes are English language related, two are undergraduate content modules and the last is a series of weekly workshops. Ok granted I’m not planning from scratch for 4 out of 5 of these modules but I’m finding using other people’s materials takes almost as much planning time.
It’s strange. When I’m teaching I really enjoy the experience (for the most part) but the time in-between it’s this relentless pressure. It’s quite different to doing a PhD but the toll it’s starting to take is a little surprising considering it’s only Week 3, but I suppose it’s all part of starting a new job in a new city.
On a similar note, I’ve started running again. Last weekend was my first long run since July and, well, the next two days were hellish on my lower back. Did stretch properly post-run? Yes! Did I warm up properly? Um, define proper. Did you think about your pace and try slowing down because this was the first run in months? Nope. Now, today when you went out for your 2nd long run in two weeks did you learn anything from last week? Nope.
And so here I am with an aching back and a partial lesson for my 9am class tomorrow. The joys of being back in the learner’s seat.
Making the transition from PhD student to academic staff member isn’t as straightforward. There’s this tendency that once you finish your PhD you know what to do next.
Such as get a job.
The thing is, it is assumed that getting a job = lecturer. If you don’t become a lecturer then you don’t have a proper job. You’re not really working in academia.
For a long time I bought into this mindset and found myself desperately throwing my CV at any lecturing post that remotely seemed to be in my field. Trouble was that a lot of the posts I was applying for were fixed-term (e.g. 1 year / 3 year, non-renewable etc.). The academic job market is not great and is fiercely competitive with permanent contracts few and far between. I’m not adverse to working on fixed term contracts because frankly that is what I’ve been doing as an English language teacher. Working from contract to contract for 5 years was doable, 10 years was a little tiring, but the thought of working yet another 5 years with no job security was disheartening.
I suppose I’ve had enough.
I think what was more troubling was the fact that the only future I envisioned for myself was “be a lecturer” because “that’s what PhDs do”. When I wasn’t getting hired as a lecturer I became increasingly anxious and disillusioned. Intellectually I understood that having a PhD guarantees nothing, but experiencing the reality of it was worse.
I wasn’t ready to leave academia (yet) and I began to look for other opportunities within the academy. One of those opportunities came in the form of student support. As a PhD student I was given the opportunity to work in different areas of the university which gave me new insights into the different roles available to PhD students that aren’t lectureships yet still very much part of academic life. From these experiences I began to wonder what else is there to academia, which lead to looking for non-academic roles in academia, which eventually led me to my current post!
I now work as the Researcher Development Officer for the Faculty of Humanities at The University of Manchester. I work in academia but not as an academic. It’s an interesting position to be in and one that I’m still getting used to. In a way, I’m battling my own insecurities of being perceived as “less than” because I’m not a lecturer. This is when I start to get angry at the fact that I’m justifying my job to myself, let alone other people. It’s made me realise just how PhD career paths narrowly defined and actually, there is so much more to the academic life than research and teaching. I wouldn’t say that I’ve settled into my new role, but I’ve been learning a lot about myself and my own prejudices along the way.