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!

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.

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.

chemenger Costa Rica 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 17:39:35

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?

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.

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.

namechangeforissue Sat 30-Nov-13 15:42:58

chemenger Apologies if I've offended! I, personally, like doing research and I do feel there are academics who are more scared of it than necessary, and whom I'd love to enthuse, but as I say, this wasn't the role for me at that time, if ever.

But although at your institution the promotions process may be clear and unambiguous and the majority may be promoted to SL - this is completely not the case at my institution, possibly only in my department but definitely in my department. The ratio of people who have left to get promotion to people who have stayed and got promotion is just so overwhelming. While collecting data on the current SL crowd (small) I also realised that there are at least a couple who are way overqualified for simple professor through promotion and should be head of faculty somewhere and again, in at least one case, perhaps just can't leave.

Libra I have just sent my application round to colleagues, and got comments back, and I did this with all the previous applications. Some of them were helpful and did say "sell this and this more" but at least one (and one set of comments came back in a batch, but I suspect one of two people) actually said "oh, you can't say that, it sounds like you are overstating it/going for Reader" WHICH I BLOOMIN WELL COULD BE according to a lot of people. Not according to me. According to a lot of other people. I say things like "internationally renown for.." and they say "oh, well, that's overegging it a bit isn't it?"

I am talking to the union but I don't really feel they are taking it seriously - they see it as a one-off that will obviously succeed next time because it's normal not to succeed the first time. They don't seem to get the history. I'm going to try and explain it to them a bit more though.

I am not sure how far to push the "I am serious about resigning" issue though because I am serious - 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.

I am coming to realise that if I wanted to do something non-academic, I would actually need to resign before job-hunting as most non-academic jobs won't wait for the academic notice period (ours is especially long, at my last interview they were a bit shocked!). So one possibility would be just to decide that if I don't get promotion I'll resign anyway, and if during my notice period I found another great academic job, fabulous, and if I didn't, I'd have long enough to start looking for a non-academic job.

DH is now really selling the civil service to me!

Libra Sat 30-Nov-13 14:16:49

Agree with a lot that has been said here. You have to make them believe that you will leave if you do not get promoted, and you have to be prepared to do that.

It is a question of ticking boxes. In my own case I set up meetings with everyone - head of department, associate dean, dean, head of research institute - and asked them same question. What is missing? What do I need to do specifically. I went through the promotion ticklist with them and got them to agree that if I did x,y and z, I should be promotable. Then I just worked at the things that had been identified. So for example I had the publications and funding but not membership of editorial boards, so I worked on that. But I made myself into their project as well, so they became invested in me. I thanked them profusely for their assistance. And they were really helpful.

One woman professor was particularly helpful in sitting down with me and rewriting my application. I was saying that I had done this and that but she made me sell myself more. That I was the first, world-leading, important, etc. This was not something I was comfortable with, but it needed to happen. I needed to see myself as good before I could convince others.

Lastly I really focused on the issue of impact. I took every chance possible to talk to the media, for example, so my name kept coming up in the university's weekly summary of media coverage that is read by senior management. So when I applied for the chair they knew my name.

Think about the evidence you need to substantiate claims you make and inundate them with it. A portfolio of book reviews, innovative teaching approaches, positive feedback from students. Hit them with everything you have got. You have to talk yourself up because no one else will do it.

As I said earlier, DH found his union rep was very helpful as well. He came to meetings with him and went through the promotion tick list, demanding their evidence that DH HADN'T achieved these things. So that might be an approach ad well?

Good luck.

YuleNeverKnow Sat 30-Nov-13 12:49:22

Surely interdisciplinary is the way to go? Lots of brownie points for that with the funding councils? AS long as they are genuinely multi-disciplinary, involving other depts or (even better) other faculties.

That apart, does writing research proposals float your boat? Technical experts are worth their weight in gold to write quality bids and proposals. Just a thought.

chemenger Costa Rica Sat 30-Nov-13 12:26:15

I should have said, when you were turned down for promotion you should have had feedback on the reasons - have you acted on that feedback?

chemenger Costa Rica Sat 30-Nov-13 12:24:12

I was on your side until you mentioned that you quite fancy a role kicking non-research active staff up the rear. Nice. I am essentially research inactive and have just been promoted in an RG university the tide is most definitely turning.

With promotion you have to play the game, tick all the boxes and have lots of external and internal friends. You need to be seen doing things in the department and in the wider university and in your wider discipline. Get on committees, chair things, volunteer for not very nice stuff to get seen to be a doer. Get good teaching feedback.

There is a perfectly clear promotion procedure at my university and everybody expects to be promoted to SL and the majority are. The problem lies in understanding the tactics of the game rather than the rules, and it all comes down to selling what you have done in the right language on the forms, assuming that you have the right portfolio of teaching, research and admin. Get someone who is good at that to polish your forms with you, if they are not in the right language you are doomed. Getting good external references is the final part of the jigsaw, but that should be easier on the basis of research rather than teaching.

namechangeforissue Sat 30-Nov-13 11:18:07

morebeta thanks - I do somewhat agree that it is a sham process but we are slightly stuck at the moment. I didn't take the first chair I was offered because it was in a part of the country DH at the time couldn't move to (he was in the middle of his retraining - unfortunately though in the first half of my time at my current university we could have moved, I wasn't fed up enough yet, and then he did his retraining and now new job). It also seemed quite a lot like a "kick our non-research active staff up the rear end" type role, and again I am not completely sure I'm ready to do that type of thing yet (maybe in the future).

The other post was an "invitation to apply" and the colleague who invited me knew my work/grants/publications well, and was shocked to find out I'm only at L (and this was about 3 years ago). She was told by her colleagues that they therefore wouldn't consider me.

MoreBeta Sat 30-Nov-13 10:45:41

Hello namechange - I know the academic world very well.

The only solution is you have to leave your university and go somewhere else. You mention this which is the answer to why you are stuck where you are:

"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."

Why on earth didn't you take the offers?

The longer you stay where you are the longer you will stay at Lecturer.

There is no academic promotion route now in any university. It is a sham process to keep you dangling and their costs down.

You must be prepared to move around between universities every few years. You have to threaten to leave and be prepared to do it. If you don't then your department will assume you are happy to stay and every year that goes by that you accept being turned down for promotion then the more they are sure you will not leave. Ergo you never get promoted.

I know quite a few women that face this very issue and it is obvious they don't get promoted partly for plain old sexist reasons and partly because they just won't physically move to another university.

My advice if someone has a post on offer out there you should be applying and prepared to go. I am sure your DH can move jobs within the civil service?

Libra Sat 30-Nov-13 10:39:55

Will come back to thread later. Have to take DS out in a minute.

You are describing the situation both DH and myself have been in over the last few years. Will come back with more later, but DH found his union was really supportive and helped him get his SL post and I got very tactical over the last couple of years, and also a lot more bolshy. Went through SL in eight months and am now professor.

Got to run ,but will be back.

namechangeforissue Sat 30-Nov-13 10:33:40

Lucelulu I do get what you are saying about industry but in DH's job it is taken as read that time away from the office will be time NOT working. Nobody asked him why he hadn't replied to emails when he was with DC in hospital, and nobody has suggested that he work from home over Christmas when nursery is closed and one of us needs to be at home with DC.

None of his bosses boast moan constantly about how many emails they have to answer at 11pm. When his colleagues work part time nobody gets cross with them when they don't answer emails on their day off, and nor do they send him material on a Sunday night that he needs to read before a 9am Monday meeting, not even with a warning on a working day that it's arriving at that time.

Maybe people who have teenage DC can work at home when the children are there, but I can't. We both travel for work, and that is taken as read for both of us, we just swap that off, but regarding other flexibility, his work is light years ahead of mine.

icetip This is exactly what I'm trying to work out. I have no idea what else I could do, but I'm wondering if this isn't it. That's why I'm doing some soul-searching and, specifically, asking what else I could do.

Before DC, I worked late(ish) in order to be able to spend my evenings and, especially, weekends mainly doing pleasant things, rather than work. I thought I'd quite like to be fairly ambitious and the plan was that I rise slowly before DC and then as I say have the brilliant part of my career after DH retires. But the slow rise has completely failed.

We went through a lot to have DC (I am definitely over 40, in response to whoever asked - not so much a miracle child as a horrendous long slog), and I got very low. DH says he's worried now that I'll get like that again

namechangeforissue Sat 30-Nov-13 10:30:09

sinpan Colleagues have moved all over the UK - mainly not abroad - we've lost 1/3 of our academics in about 2 years which, ok is a REF issue, but it also says a lot about how hard our university is to work in. I would say 6 or 8 have moved and got a promotion in that time. I was given the choice of just 2 successful sets of promotion documents in the last 5 years to look at to see how they were done, for my own forms. I assume there are others like me who have tried and failed (I do know of one who failed about 10 years ago and then succeeded about 7 years ago).

lljkk I'm really sorry! I'm just having a bit of a brain dump. There are smaller companies that do related work but they basically develop the instruments that I use and then hang on to them with their dirty mitts, and make us all pay through the nose for them. I do a bit of instrument creation in my job but I'm more interested in using them (and not making scientists/non-profits pay through the nose for using them).

barnet not my field at all sadly! and not really an option for DH at the moment. Maybe when he/DC are retired/in school if we could find something! I know the schools are great there.

Higheredserf I won't say the exact amount but I am well above the average for SL (the level I've applied to be promoted to several times). The two promotion forms that I was shown, that were both successful, didn't have any RCUK money. One is a very theoretical researcher who has no funding at all, and one had some non-RCUK money.

This reply got long again so I'm splitting it into two...

icetip Fri 29-Nov-13 23:50:15

Time for a bit of self-reflection I'm afraid, nothing you've said makes you sound promotable - perhaps academia's just not for you.

Lucelulu Fri 29-Nov-13 22:29:53

No advice I'm afraid (hard not knowing what you do) but I was struck by what you said about family friendly. I've just moved into academia from industry (admittedly a fractional post) but Im finding it SO much easier to work around family.

Yes I answer/check emails on days off/weekends, often work after children asleep and have to juggle to make evening lectures etc. But, the hours necessary to stay viable in practice were so much harder to do and the judgment about not being 'present', cynicism about working from home , and lack of flexibility meant I felt I could never compete once I had children. If you're thinking of having another child I would be careful not to lose those benefits.

I may be overly positive as it's relatively fresh (though I have taught post-grad at universities for years). I'd also second the posters comments above - I know very few professors in my field who aren't genuinely eminent in the industry as well as academia.

drspouse Fri 29-Nov-13 21:02:16

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Higheredserf Fri 29-Nov-13 20:56:03

How much research money have you have brought in because in every dept I have worked in that seems to be the chief route to promotion.

I have worked in higher ed for twenty years and have only met a handful of Profs under 40. I suppose I'm making the assumption that your still a young thing.

All of the academics I know rightly or wrongly work ridiculously long hours. DH is well on his way to becoming a Prof, he got home at 7.45 tonight he will do some work this weekend, I don't even question it. He does seem to thrive in this kind of environment, it does sound as if you hate it.

barnet Fri 29-Nov-13 20:25:42

This is a bit out there, but why don't youmove to Norway? If your field is environmental science, biology, geology, ecotoxicology, some chemistry, GIS, there are loads of jobs, well paid (including academia, for example a Phd is a paid job on 30k here). But also research in the private sector (funded by oil riches) and consultancy, and public sector. You have a right to work here as a UK citizen.

Its a fab place to live too. We did it!

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