Increasingly I am finding it more and more difficult to stay quiet about my complicated and sometimes unhealthy relationship with academia. This started as a conscious quiet rebellion against the idea that young women in academia need to completely divorce themselves from the real or potential idea of having a child.
I have a child. She was born at the start of the second year of my PhD. I’m incredibly proud of her, and of myself for finishing my PhD within my original timeframe, and doing pretty much everything that I had planned before she came along. I didn’t want to stay quiet about having a child, even on my ‘professional’ Twitter account, because she’s a big part of my life and my motivation. And also because I don’t want to give the impression that I work constantly – so often, when I’m tweeting about working at 9pm I casually mention that I took time off earlier to hang out with my kid. That seems fairly reasonable, right.
But, I’m finding it hard to not talk about other the other complicated bits, too. Like privilege. Like how people tend to fight from their own position. There are a lot of great and wonderful academics, across disciplines and career stages, who want things to get better for everyone. But there are also a lot of people who forget that PhDs-without-full-time-jobs are a thing and that it’s okay to skip from ‘fighting for PhDs’ to ‘fighting for early career academics on fixed-term contracts’. And there’s even less about how it actually feels to be in that forgotten category. So, I’ll tell you. I have no answers, and I can’t help you figure these feelings out. But, I can let you know that you aren’t alone.
It feels awful.
I work full time for nothing, and because of that I have significant financial stress. And, that’s on top of the fact that I am in an incredibly fortunate position where I have a partner and family who helps me as much as they can.
I got to the very final shortlist for a major national postdoctoral grant this year, and I wasn’t funded. That’s fine (no, it’s not), and I appreciate that the competition is very strong and I’m really glad that the selection committee thought my project was that good (which they said in the not-exactly-a-stock-email that I got). The people I needed to tell (my mentors, referees, and family) all congratulated me on reaching the final shortlist, which absolutely was the right thing to do because it’s a wonderful thing. But, it’s a wonderful thing that doesn’t bring me any stability, financial security, long-term happiness, or close to achieving my career goals. I understand that these people mean well and I appreciate it. I understand why they have all urged me to continue, to try again, to keep going. Many people urge me on. Many people have told me that I am good at what I do. And sometimes that’s what I need to hear. And sometimes it just makes me feel worse. And that’s because…
I feel like a failure.
I haven’t failed, but that doesn’t change the way that I feel sometimes.
After my last interview, I took out two very small metal studs from just under my lip. They were a quiet rebellion too. A rebellion against the way that academics are supposed to look. I couldn’t carry the weight of non-conformity anymore, and that makes me a little bit sad.
But. And, there’s always a but…
I feel hopeful. I feel hopeful that there are people at every level actively fighting to make the academy a better place for everyone. Who are actively fighting against privilege and injustice. And, that won’t get me a job. Only I can do that. And, I truly hope that I will. Because, I really want to be an academic. I want to be an educator. And, I want to be able to fight to make academia a more welcoming place for people in the position that I am now in.