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Anyone feel like life is passing them by due to being an academic?

(67 Posts)
BaileysWithIce Sun 01-Nov-15 15:58:26

I just end up spending so many weekends trying to catch up on work I couldn't finish during the week, I'm starting to feel like life is passing me by.

I was a bit like this as a PhD student and as a post-doc. Now I'm a lecturer with lots of teaching as well as research commitments, I'm starting to feel like academia is slowly 'stealing' my life.

I wish I knew how to change it - both before my husband leaves me, and before I wake up in ten years' time with very few memories apart from sitting in front of the computer...

BaileysWithIce Sun 01-Nov-15 17:34:18

Hmmm just me then? confused

Nikitasol Sun 01-Nov-15 17:52:34

My partner and a couple of friends are all teachers - secondary and tertiary, and all have no life. Which slightly ruins mine too!

MedSchoolRat Sun 01-Nov-15 17:57:34

I utterly detest the term post-doc

This is why some of us stay as RAs, with no interest in ever lecturing.

Profs have a great deal, though, if you think you can get to that destination, or if you love lecturing. How long have you been a lecturer? Do you have a mentoring system? Are there tasks you can brutally say no to or ways you can cut corners without destroying quality?

BaileysWithIce Sun 01-Nov-15 18:07:37

Med school just out of interest (only because I've never thought about it) why do you hate the term post-doc? I can see that it's not very helpful if you stay as an RA as it seems a bit time bound!

Yes, I desperately need to do something to change, as I can't go on like this. I'm almost 5 years post PhD and have been a lecturer for a couple of years.

I can really never see me being a Prof, even if it's easier once you get there. I am struggling with my work as it is nevermind what would be required to climb the greasy poll!

I just look at my husband with envy as he sits on the sofa watching a Game of Thrones box set while I sit at my computer trying to write some presentation for a conference.

He even earns more than me and has never known what work on a weekend feels like. It's not fair on him or me though. I often think if I had my time again I would have never become an academic sad

TooMuchRain Sun 01-Nov-15 18:08:31

What I hate is that there is a culture where everyone is expected to say they spent their weekend working, it's just so wrong. Like all the academic summer tweets earlier this year of people almost proudly announcing they'd had no holiday because they were working.

This year I decided that I just wouldn't work on Saturdays and Sundays, unless it was a bit of research where I was excited enough not to be able to wait until Monday. It makes Mondays a bit stressful when I open my email and I am less creative in seminars I think but it's worth it to avoid totally losing perspective of what life is about.

BaileysWithIce Sun 01-Nov-15 18:12:08

TooMuch I think I'm going to have to do the same. At the moment it's just about keeping my head above water though. Some things you can't delegate like marking, teaching prep, and then what about all those research papers that other people are waiting for your contributions for? I'm wondering if being at my desk at 6am-7.30am is the only answer (before I leave for work) to squeeze some extra hours out of the day?

I hate the 24/7 culture too and the pride that goes with it.

TooMuchRain Sun 01-Nov-15 18:26:08

It is rubbish and I'm struggling to keep up but it seems important. And one good thing I have noticed is that now I no longer check email over the weekend I seem to get fewer questions.

BaileysWithIce Sun 01-Nov-15 18:30:33

TooMuch well that's an encouraging finding!

I have one postgrad student who emailed me a week ago about her project and I just haven't had the mental space to reply yet. It's only been 5 days' wait for her, but it's preying on my mind. Somehow I'll have to find the time tomorrow to squeeze it in amongst the million other things I need to do tomorrow.

Oh to have a 9-5!

SarahDietitian Sun 01-Nov-15 18:48:22

I feel your pain. I spent last year lecturing, but resigned as it was taking over my life (5am starts, weekends and holidays) High stress levels, and my kids were feeling the brunt of it "why do you have to go to work on Easter Day mum?" My health was also beginning to suffer. I felt I was turning in to an anxious loon. Luckily I have my private dietetic practice to fall back on for income. You are not alone xxxx

MedSchoolRat Sun 01-Nov-15 19:02:24

post doc = "Well you've finished your Phd But we've really no idea what you're good for now"

or

postdoc = "Limboland job before you are experienced enough to get a REAL job in academia and be someone who merits a real job title"

I've always been happy as CRS & even have a quite long contact at the moment, but many hate the insecurity of it. So I also don't think it helps CRS job security or status to define us as some intermediate (?temporary) thing on the way elsewhere.

In biomedical schools, lecturers have grant targets of £60k/annum.
Not very enticing, is it?

BaileysWithIce Sun 01-Nov-15 21:58:13

Thanks Sarah flowers

MedSchool ah yes, I see that. And no - those targets don't sound enticing at all! Guess I should be thankful at least that I don't have that!

disquisitiones Mon 02-Nov-15 15:53:30

Profs have a great deal, though, if you think you can get to that destination, or if you love lecturing

Huh? On what planet?

As a professor my life is far, far more stressful than it was when I was more junior.

I have a heavier teaching load; a bigger research group to manage; larger research targets. I spend a lot of time on management and administration. I have to take responsibility for what junior academics do (teaching/research) when in practice I cannot control their performance. I have to shield my younger colleagues from the raft of nonsense measures imposed by research councils, university management and administrators. I would estimate that I work at least 25-30% more hours than I did as a junior academic just to keep my head above water.

And all this for a salary which is a fraction of what I could earn outside academia for a far less demanding job.

Honestly, life as an academic does not get better. Unless you love your research it is not worth staying.

BTW in many fields it's not possible to stay longterm as a RA, even if you are willing to move around.

PeasePuddingCold Mon 02-Nov-15 18:21:21

No, I feel that a lot. I have no husband or children (yes, a sacrifice for my career ultimately - but also about the difficulties for high-flying alpha females in the mating game) and I guess I watch soap opera to remind me of normal people.

I try to have at least one day a week, on the weekend, when I don't work, and go for outings like a normal person. But writing - which is what I seem to do constantly - requires so much quiet and introspection.

I'm used to it now, and I do lots of conferences instead of holidays or weekends away, so I get my bursts of intense sociability.

And ditto to disquisitiones about being a professor. I look back to my years as a junior lecturer, when I could read books deeply. <sigh>

FaFoutis Mon 02-Nov-15 18:25:13

I feel like this too. I'm trying to find a way out but failing.

I can't imagine having any time when I don't feel I should be working.

MedSchoolRat Mon 02-Nov-15 20:01:45

in many fields it's not possible to stay longterm as a RA, even if you are willing to move around.

Which fields? Genuinely curious, not disputing.
My Uni is heaving with middle aged+ RAs who aren't on a lecturer path.

That's interesting, I've never known a Proff with a heavy teaching load.

BaileysWithIce Mon 02-Nov-15 21:52:53

Yes yes to 'can't imagine any time when I don't feel like I should be working'. It's like a cloud that follows you around!

Yes the Profs in my department are v v busy. I don't know how they do it and I always assume they're just some kind of 'super people'. Because I can barely cope with my plain old lectureship. They frequently email at 10/11pm.

BaileysWithIce Mon 02-Nov-15 21:54:54

Disquistiones that's a sobering picture!

anonooo Mon 02-Nov-15 22:20:32

Prof with extremely heavy teaching load here, plus loads of PhDs and large admin roles. it does not get easier. it gets harder.

disquisitiones Tue 03-Nov-15 08:32:48

MedSchoolRat, I'm assuming you are in medical sciences, which is rather atypical.

Long term RAs don't exist in STEM subjects such as maths/physics etc. They don't exist in the humanities, where any RA positions are very hard to come by - most fixed term contracts are teaching related. The main reason they can exist in medicine is because the amount of research income is much higher. There are a few long term RA positions in disciplines such as engineering (again research funding per permanent staff is high, particularly where industrial funding is applicable) but these are still rather rare.

And in STEM subjects such as maths/physics/engineering etc senior professors are asked to deliver the "big" courses with huge numbers of students while junior staff deliver more specialised small courses. Professors do not get teaching reduction unless they have very large grants, and increasingly you can't buy yourself out of teaching completely even with a large grant - student numbers have increased without staff numbers being increased, professors are needed to deliver the big courses and the substitutes paid for by grant incomes could not deliver these big courses.

Academic life can be better in other countries but most countries are evolving in the same way: pressure to generate research income, deliver fantastic teaching, take on admin/management roles to save universities paying for administrators etc etc.

PeasePuddingCold Tue 03-Nov-15 08:49:03

OK, my standard workload - a very basic outline:

I lecture & teach a compulsory core 1st year course, and mentor/train the PhDs who team-teach with me. I mark alongside them & often remark their work.

I convene & teach our 3rd year dissertation module.

I run my own specialist module (2nd or 3rd year)

I convene & run a Masters module

I have around 6 PhD students and examine internally about 2 a year, externally ditto

That's when I'm not Head of Department. When I'm head I drop the big 1st year course. My other major role is as research manager/director for the department, so I manage the REF submission - which largely means protecting my colleagues from the worst of the shit involved.

I have around 30 personal tutees, and am involved in all the normal day to day running of the Department.

And there's lots more I do under "Professional Service" which doesn't get counted in my institutional workload. Editing journals, writing references for the PhD students I've examined all over the world, sitting on national committees, running scholarly associations, convening conferences, informal mentoring of junior colleagues & PhD examinees outwith my own institution. That is, all in all, facilitating my colleagues' research.

MildVirago Tue 03-Nov-15 09:05:31

Yes, and I suspect I'm on my way out, though not entirely through choice. I had to quit my tenured lectureship after taking extended paid leave after maternity leave, so there's a three year hole in my CV - now I'm in the second year of a temporary 0.5 research fellow job at a deeply demoralised institution, and in a poor position to apply for ft jobs.

And while I've been a lecturer since 2002, it was outside of the UK, and, if the situation of my young, newly-appointed officemate is a fair indication of life for junior lecturers in this country, it's a dog's life - continual surveillance, highly-structured teaching observation by senior admin staff, appraisals every term in which there are potential disciplinary issues for not meeting your goals, REF pressure combined with huge teaching loads, endless bureaucracy surrounding everything from student feedback questionnaires (which are treated like gospel), attendance etc etc.

Our head of school just left academia at 50 out of frustration.

I was very lucky in my job abroad -only now am I realising why my department there consisted of so many 'refugees' from the UK.

ocelot41 Tue 03-Nov-15 09:17:19

I look at everyone in positions above me (am an SL) and they are bug-eyed with stress and overwork. I have always been ambitious but am beginning to wonder if either a. I should just move sideways at the level I am currently at to keep it fresh but give up trying to climb the greasy pole or b. switch to another European or Scandinavian institution where work/life balance seems to be more attainable. My colleagues with kids in German and Swedish unis seem very happy!

MedSchoolRat Tue 03-Nov-15 09:39:39

I may answer emails at 10pm or spend a Sunday morning on unexpected work. Even as a lowly RA, didn't think that was weird.

Long term RAs don't exist in STEM subjects such as maths/physics etc.

Hmm, there are plenty at my Uni. I'm even related to one of them (yes in a Math dept writing physical models). confused. 20+ yr career as an RA. Works PT, even. One career RA I knew moved to biomed sciences after about 15 yrs in a math dept (UK Uni I haven't worked at), another RA guy moved to biomed after decades+ in biology/agriculture.

I was longterm RA in other interdisciplinary science subjects (not medical) at two UK Unis, btw. Lots of career RA colleagues then and still in one of those depts.

Dunno about humanities, engineering or teaching, fair enough! From what I've seen & been told in UK, junior lecturers always seem to have a large teaching load (hours of contact) , while senior Faculty seem to swan in for the odd lecture and otherwise do course convening & huge amount of other admin that isn't actually face to face with students.

Our Proffs bring in huge heaps of money & lots of pubs. That takes the pressure off so they can usually get away with low teaching loads if they want. Yes they have £200k targets to fundraise each yr, but most of them seem to relish the challenge.

MedSchoolRat Tue 03-Nov-15 09:43:05

Having 6 PhD students is really good, Pease; our whole Uni is struggling badly to recruit PhD students right now. I doubt anyone in my (large) dept. has more than 2 PhD students at the moment, & I keep hearing about PhD adverts (in any dept) which had NO applicants at all.

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