It is becoming more widely mooted that the life of a post-doc is no easy one. Every day, on various academic job listings, I see adverts which are either for PhD studentships, or for temporary/part time post-doctoral work: very few stable full time positions, and certainly even less that I am specifically qualified for.
And I’m not the only one. Many ECRs that I know live a somewhat hand to mouth, piecemeal existence: many of them might well fit under the label of the precariat – albeit that they are members privileged with good education and high qualifications. I was certainly such an individual until I started working in the shop, and even still, because I work in Ops rather than academia, I am technically on a temporary contract (though my boss is, to all intents and purposes, treating me as a permanent member of staff). So, I’m stable financially: up to a point.
Many of us also have insanely busy schedules that revolve around two basic, often conflicting, needs: 1.) to pursue the academic/post-doctoral career that you worked so hard to qualify for; and, 2.) to keep body and soul together.
To use myself as an example, here is my current list of jobs (some of which are paid, some of which I am given an honorarium for, and some of which are unpaid):
1.) Bookshop – every day of the week, 10-3, along with some Saturdays and evenings as needed.
2.) Temporary TA position, looking at enterprise in research. Involves interviewing people and chasing them for questionnaires, as well as collating and writing case studies.
3.) Copy/Managing Editor for a disciplinary journal (counts as an RA position in certain circumstances)
4.) Treasurer for an SSN – a complex job which I’ll not detail here(my term comes to an end in April).
5.) Newsletter editor for another, international SSN.
6.) Mentor for Post-doc researchers on an AHRC supported project called Research in Translation.
7.) Manager of an ECR support network.
8.) Running my own academic editorial business.
9.) Looking and applying for academic jobs.
Somewhere in all of this, I still attempt to write and research in my own subjects of interest. It’s no wonder, really, that I’m almost always found exhausted and clutching desperately, maniacally, at my Filofax – my own Personal Augmentation Device. The Viking told me a joke the other day: Knock knock! Who’s there? YOU SHOULD BE WRITING!
And the thing is, ironically, that for lost of us, the thing we have been most trained to do is the thing we have the least time for. It’s almost a no-win scenario: when you have the time you’re desperately hunting for ways to make money, and can’t afford to travel to the conferences that will let you develop your ideas; when you are making money, you no longer have the time.
Juggling a portfolio of commitments is our way of life. As long as we learn to distinguish which are valuable and which are not. It does sadden me at times that, after a decade of dedicated study, many of us should be so insecure. Not just financially – most of my friends didn’t get into academia for the money – but in terms of employment, and the validation and mental well-being stable employment can bring. It saddens me that so much of this job is based on luck, geography, and who you know – moreso, perhaps, than any other profession. It saddens me that our hard work and training is so often undervalued.
That said, there are benefits. Working five hours a day and with two hours travel, is forcing me to use up every available moment: hence, the first draft of this blog post was written at 8.30am on a bus through Leicestershire, on my way to work. Efficiency has been forced upon me: I probably procrastinate less than I did. I’m cutting down on extraneous commitments and focusing on things which are important to me, for once. I might be more confused and overworked than before, but I think, peculiarly, I’m less stressed and less sad. I just don’t have time! Emotional efficiency is driving negative thoughts into an active kind of ferocity: I need positive action, so anger has replaced despondency.
Yes, I’m busy. But I’m also ALIVE. And despite being overworked, yet woefully under-utilised as far as my training is concerned, I am to some extent happy with my busy, messy, complex, constantly changing, infinitely diverse life. If I could find a steady and intellectually vigorous job which had this level of variety: well, I’d be a pig in clover.
And I wouldn’t be constantly needing to clone myself.