Something that I’ve been pondering on since last Saturday is the label of “ex-academic”. I was chatting to my choir members after performing in my first concert. My other half came for moral support and referred to me at one point as an ex-academic when talking to a fellow soprano who happens to work at the same institution. At that point I didn’t say anything but the label didn’t quite sit right and I’ve been trying since to pinpoint exactly the reasons for my discomfort.
To start with, the label assumes that I define myself by the fact of being an academic at some point and continue having an attachment to that particular profession which I don’t really, on both counts. I am not sure whether I ever was an academic – I did complete a PhD and had a stint for working as a research assistant for a unit located within a university but affiliated to a large professional institution, so I can’t even say that I have experienced “proper” academia, whatever that is. I did hold a brief research fellowship with the Open University but this was related to a part-time research project I was involved in, so once again, was that “proper” academia? I can definitely say that I feel my PhD did prepare me to think in an academic way and to undertake independent research and this is something I rely on every day in my current role as project manager every time I put together a report or a piece of business analysis to support the projects I manage. The way I approach any project issues can be quite analytical and I am quite a sponge for information, all traits I picked up along the way to doctoral degree. In addition, the fact I understood “academese” and had experience of working in universities was something that swayed the decision of the recruitment panel in my current workplace so I’m not complaining.
There was a relatively short period when I tried following both tracks at the same time and had two versions of my CV, one for research jobs, one for non-academic jobs but felt like I wanted to be able to tell a more coherent story about who I was and where I was heading and that was away from academia. Increasingly, I wanted stability and wasn’t sure I could bet my future on the dim prospects of maybe at one point getting a lectureship. You could say I stopped wanting the lectureship enough and the payoff felt too costly. Through working with academics on various projects I was discovering the reality of academic roles and I wasn’t sure I liked what I saw, either. Not saying this is the case for everyone but an awful lot of academics I spoke to seemed quite frazzled and overworked, with 50-60 hour weeks being the norm rather than the exception. Yes, they had the freedom to organise their day quite flexibly (depending on their teaching and administrative duties and the local policy, obviously) but their work seemed never-ending and that no longer appealed. In my line of work I am expected to keep standard office hours and do sometimes get very busy weeks but overall, we are encouraged to keep our hours to a reasonable level and fortunately I work somewhere that doesn’t see overtime like a badge of honour, more a sign of ineffective planning and time management (as project managers we should have the right skills to be able to do that!). That didn’t happen overnight and as I mentioned in previous posts, it took me a good couple of years of fixed-term contracts and many, many job applications and interviews before I landed my current permanent position and you could argue I am still in honeymoon period, as in third month and counting. At the same time, I can honestly say at the moment, I am happy investing my time and energy into becoming the best project manager I could be. In short, happy being “now me” rather than an “ex-academic”.