The smell of alcohol and cinnamon is everywhere, but there is a stack of marking, moderation and final lectures to finish before I start listening to the Muppet Christmas Carol soundtrack in a novelty jumper. This time last year, I was singing carols in the Manor House where I lived and taught, and I was about to be called for an interview for my current job. Returning back from the interview I walked through Manchester’s Christmas Markets and thought ‘Yeah, I could live here’. Walking back through those streets after work today, I thought about the last year and, indeed, the last few years since I got my PhD. I thought about the practical things that would have been helpful in embarking upon the life shifts that are in store for you. I’m aware this is a lot more difficult with dependents, and there have been articles in both the UK and US education press about the serious problems that follow this often rootless lifestyle. But, I think, there are a few things you can do to help with the transitions. My perspective comes from working on temporary contracts in Belfast, the Republic of Ireland and the East Midlands.
– Don’t sign a thing. By this, I mean that you should avoid contracts of any kind, particularly mobile phone and gym ones. Get a pay as you go and find a contract-free gym or start running in the park. Opportunities may often mean that you have to up sticks midway through a year, sometimes to a different country (this happened to me twice) and you’ll be stuck with direct debits flying out of a bank account you are no longer getting paid into.
– *Think* about pruning your book collection. This is from bitter experience. Some workplaces won’t pay relocation fees, especially for temporary staff, and you’ll end up shipping boxes at exorbitant rates. I kept my books at my family home (yes, I’m lucky) until I found my permanent location and only brought a ‘capsule collection’ of things I need for my work. I also made use of libraries (remember them?) and my modules’ reading lists.
– Now is the time to start to get your finances reasonably together. Yes, I know how horrible and ruinous banks are and the problems of late capitalism and neoliberalism, but if you can get your act together, now is the time to do it. If you’re lucky enough to have a PhD scholarship, try saving a bit for there will most likely be very lean times ahead. You may end up at the start with an hourly paid or 9 month contracts and a bit of a lining will help. I tried to isolate some bad habits but I confess that with irregular work my credit was awful: I once bounced a week’s worth of bills so that I could afford a train to a job interview. Some University HR departments are deplorable at getting expenses back to you and, indeed, if you’ve no fall back the extra expense can be absolutely ruinous.
– Moving from job to job can be very isolating. This is the first year since I got my PhD when I knew where I would be the following year. It’s harder to make a new set of friends in a new town when you are long past the cider and an indie nightclub stage (Limelight, year 2000, anyone?) where everyone was your mate so long as they knew all the words and hand movements to ‘Common People’. Be shameless, even if you don’t feel like it. Go to research events at your University and others nearby, even if they’re not quite your discipline, meet your Twitter friends in real life. Make your home a happy place to be, even if you’re only there for a year. I fretted about moving to Limerick, where I knew two people, and the people there were absolutely amazing and I don’t regret those two years. I fretted about moving to England for the first time and found an odd sort of family in that house in Lincolnshire.
Try your best to make the most out of every move, no matter how irregular it may seem, and I wish you every luck in finding the job and the place that is right for you. It happened to me, in the end. Or, in the words of the philosopher Kermit the Frog: ‘Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it’.
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