What else could I do - academic in distress!

(35 Posts)
namechangeforissue Fri 29-Nov-13 14:27:46

Advance warning - long essay!

I'm an academic with quite a few years under my belt, but still at lecturer level. I've applied for promotion 4 times in the umpteen years I've been at this level and applied for other jobs (got interviews too, but no job offers). I have a pretty good publication record, everybody says (at least, everybody outside my own department sad), and have had some grants including one current one that's quite big. In the last 3 or 4 years, two other departments have invited me to apply for a professorship and the last external person my HoD chatted to about whether my CV was "good enough" for promotion also assumed I was going for a chair. I am not being bigheaded when I say that I should have been promoted ages ago.

I am currently filling out the soul-destroying promotion forms again and getting once again the sucked-in teeth and the "ooh, I don't know if you have a case, you're being a bit optimistic in saying this, this and this".

The last interview I had gave me feedback that the reasons for not promoting me in my current department were, and I quote, "b*llsh*t". All the feedback from recent job applications has been very positive, just that I'm not exactly in the right area they wanted (e.g. one "personality" wants someone in their field and won't budge - that was from someone I know well and I believe them; or all candidates appointable but another one had research more central to the unit).

My HoD doesn't particularly like my research, and one previous HoD didn't like it either - they think it's too applied and too interdisciplinary. I was entered into REF under a different grouping, so it's true it is interdisciplinary. I'm in a slightly soft science, and was entered under a different, slightly less soft science. I don't really have a research group - we tend not to in my field - I usually have 1 or 2 PhD students, or an RA, and sometimes a few undergrads helping out - but we don't do much "lab" stuff anyway. But the number of people can vary between 0 and 5 or so.

I really, really love my research. I don't love writing papers but I think that's probably due to the soul-destroying nature of the submission process. I get them done, slowly but I do get them out. I like writing collaborative papers (one of HoD's beefs with me actually, as he'd rather I was Big Cheese on all of them).

I'm on the fence about teaching - I don't really love it or hate it. I don't want to only teach (so I don't want to move to the OU or into A level teaching).

I do some public engagement, but not enough to make a career out of it. I have done some science journalism, but mainly very light blogging (far too low profile for anyone to notice), and although I have a few proper contacts who have said some positive things about my writing, at the point when I had energy to do this I made a lot of pitches on possible stories to these contacts and never got any response (not even no thank you).

DH works in a government department and we are very geographically limited in where we live. We've always been like this, we have one preschool DC now though and we have thought about moving (see above re applying for jobs) we would now have a choice of living in our current, non-London region, or in the SE as he could get a transfer to the London office, but (partly because we're thinking of having another) it would be a really bad time to move right now. We'd be happy to move once that phase is out of the way, either before or just after the current DC starts primary school. The last few jobs I've applied for have been in our current area, but there aren't many universities here.

I am just so, so fed up with academia, with my current department, with the personalities and politics, and with the whole system of universities refusing to promote you unless you move.

I don't find academia particularly flexible and family friendly, though everyone says it is. But I don't find lectures that go on into the evenings when you have to pick up a child from nursery particularly flexible, nor do I find helpful the expectation that I'll check emails on my day off/in the evenings/work on projects at the weekends/lie about working from home if I have a sick child (and then actually work while the child is whining round my knees). And I don't find the senior male academics flexible or family friendly either (gosh, how surprising).

I have thought of a few things I could do instead but none of them seem really sensible or to work for me in any way, to be honest. Perhaps I could be inspired about one of them. Perhaps other people have more ideas.

(This post got so horrendously long that I snipped out my job ideas, I'll see what responses I get before posting them!)

Sorry this is such a novel! I had a real sob on DH last night and he said I need to GET SOME ADVICE. I am thinking of going to our staff advice service but I think I really need some perspective first!

ancientbuchanan Sat 30-Nov-13 17:09:08

Ok, by civil service I didn't mean your specialism as I don't know what it is.

I meant admin, which in a central spending dept means providing advice to ministers on how to take forward and implement their policy, answer department of state business ( parliament questions, letters and the like), draft speeches, take bills through parliament, explain ministerial policy to stakeholders.

It is not appropriate for anyone who in effect wants to lobby a minister; you are serving the govt of the day. And there are if course office politics.

There are other jobs, delivering, eg in dvla, passport office, etc.

At the la level it is more a question of how you implement the local council's priorites. It is more, generally, of an implementation job than in the centre, how you drive up eg breast feeding rates, deal with holes in the road and your local transport budget, rather than whether HS2 should go through, which is the central civil service role.

At the senior levels, both are intellectually luxurious compared to most jobs outside academia.

MoreBeta Sat 30-Nov-13 17:35:20

"I just haven't found another job yet, partly because of the geography/not-very-portable husband issue. I know of a couple of people who seem to have got promotion through threatening to leave, but with jobs lined up."

namechange - you really are doing my head in.

What you need to do is woman up here!

The process is as follows:

1. apply for job elsewhere

2. get job

3. accept job in writing

4. threaten your current boss from a position of strength

5. ask what he is offering to make you change your mind about leaving

6. leave current job if he does not deliver that by 1 October 2014.

Honestly, you really need to be totally mercenary on this issue. You also need to tell your DH you need to move jobs for your joint wealth, health and happiness and get him negotiating with his boss.

MoreBeta Sat 30-Nov-13 17:39:35

Also stop talking to the union. The union top bosses are politically aligned to the Vice Chancellors behind the scenes. They will not help you - look at the evidence.

Why do you think women have never succeeded at getting equal pay in any industry or public sector?

bigkidsdidit Sat 30-Nov-13 17:48:01

Yy. Get another job panda threaten current boss with it! Especially if your ref score is good. My boss made prof at 38 doing this.

MoreBeta Sat 30-Nov-13 17:54:56

On the location issue can't you just commute?

Some academics I know commute to their job over 100 miles a few days a week in term and not at all during holidays because academic jobs don't need you in the office every day.

If you are in the office every day you are doing it wrong. Working from home is far more productive.

namechangeforissue Sat 30-Nov-13 19:54:51

MoreBeta I guess people work differently because I don't find working from home that productive. For a start, I have to take DC to nursery at work, come home, then go back and collect. We'd love to have DC in nursery/childminder near our home but when I went back to work DH was still studying and we didn't know where he'd be working. Then we realised our schoolboy error but one of the local nurseries closed so all the others are chocka and so are all 3 of the childminders.

I know that if I got a better job elsewhere and seriously threatened to leave then I'd end up with either a better job elsewhere or a promotion where I am. I know this. People don't need to tell me.

I just can't implement it at the moment, because a two year-long, and counting, search hasn't found me anything that we could work with. I have 2 universities I could move to without moving house, and 4 jobs have come up that I could apply for (3 at one of them, 1 at my current university). I've applied for them, been interviewed for 3, haven't got them. Maybe I need to work on my interview technique instead. I haven't seriously been looking in London/SE as I didn't realise how impossible it would be to get a job locally, but I have been casually looking, and nothing has come up that looks like I could do my research at the institution (lots of non-research-intensive institutions seem to be looking).

And I can't stay in my current job, as it is at the moment, for years without having a classic nervous breakdown.

I do know a few families that commute weekly, and honestly, it sounds miserable. I am not sure I'm prepared to take the risk of being more miserable, though of course it might come to it if nothing else comes up.

I did originally ask what I could do instead of academia, though I'm grateful for the advice on how to stop academia doing my head in, and why I'm daft to stay where I am, and how I should become a stronger person and stop it doing my head in - I have heard all these arguments before and I have been trying to implement them.

ancientbuchanan, I get you now - that does sound like something I could think of doing - because there is some element of research (how have other people driven up breastfeeding/down pothole rates) and implementation (how do we could do it here). Definitely something to look into, thanks. DH has explained a bit more about his central government work and it's actually similar in some ways and in the right field (i.e. not his field, nothing personal but not me!) could also be interesting.

UnexpectedItemInShaggingArea Sat 30-Nov-13 21:42:52

It's a fact in many organisations, not just universities that people who have been there a long time get pigeon-holed into a particular role/level, even if there actual performance exceeds that. You have to be really proactive and upfront to counter that.

You've had some good advice on this thread I think.

chemenger Sun 01-Dec-13 09:03:47

It is obvious that your institution and by the sounds of it others are very different from mine, so my previous message came across as critical when it was meant to be advice. Where I am it has been very unusual, historically, to recruit to SL or Reader posts, the normal route to those levels is by internal promotion and most people make SL after 5 - 8 years in post at the most, if they play by the rules. Threats to leave for promotion are usually met by someone holding the door open. It sounds as though your only choice is to move, really.

Tottyandmarchpane Thu 05-Dec-13 01:06:21

What about academic publishing on a programme in your field? Nature (for example) or HSS publishers depending on your field have plenty of editors with your background. Usually pretty flexible jobs as well.

SophiaMan Mon 16-Dec-13 23:43:04

Hi, I am a postdoc, not actually an academia, but I can indeed feel your dilemma here, since some of my friends experience exactly the same thing as what u have gone through. My advice would be to transfer to another university, getting promoted and then transfer back to your current city. I know it is not easy and might take lots of effort to do that, but that's possibly the quickest and most efficient route to get promoted. My current supervisor did exactly the same thing and jumped from a senior lecturer to professor in 3 years time.

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