This is a Premium feature
To use this feature subscribe to Mumsnet Premium - get first access to new features see fewer ads, and support Mumsnet.Start using Mumsnet Premium
Fed-up lecturer seeks new challenge that pays more (ha ha!)(28 Posts)
I am a lecturer in higher education (humanities subject), from an EU country.
I have been in a position of lecturer for 10 years now (although I don't really count the first two years as I was still finishing up my PhD). Since then, I've been completely stuck. Applied for promotion to SL last year - refused. Constantly applying for research grants - no luck.
As a result: few publications (to get publications, I need proper DATA, and to get those, I need FUNDING). It's a vicious circle.
At the same time, the targets are higher every hear - our module evaluation results are now part of our appraisal! If not all targets of the appraisal are reached, no chance to even apply for promotion that year - you get the gist, another vicious circle.
I really try to do what I can, but this job, which I once loved, takes over my life. I have got a 2 1/2 year old and, because I do most drop-offs and pick-ups at nursery, time I can spend at my desk is limited. No family support locally and my husband works over an hour away - so he can only do the occasional pick up. This means that I catch up with work stuff most evenings and never have any time to myself.
I am sick of it!!!
The problem is...
1) Changing to another academic role is tricky given the lack of track record for funding and publications.
2) With one small child and another one on the way, commuting would be tricky, so I am more or less stuck here locally anyway.
3) DS1 ist at the university nursery, which not only is one of the cheapest in town, but I can also fully salary sacrifice the fees. Essentially, this means we save a good £500 on other nurseries which are a) more expensive and where I b) would only get childcare vouchers.
So I am looking at completely changing my job, and am looking to square the circle. I need a role that is localish and pays more than I currently earn to cover the increase in childcare fees.
Any ideas, anyone?
My skills are, I think, in teaching (I am a bit tired of it due to the consumer attitude of students, but generally still like it), but I also really enjoy writing / materials development kind of things. Internationalisation
Any advice / pointers appreciated. I am in the South East, commutable to London, but not keen on it with (soon) two kids. I want to use my maternity leave to seriously look for opportunities.
My advice is stick to it while the kids are in nursery - this alone makes the difference (and the maternity leave if you are pregnant).
To make your deal a little bit less tough what about the following steps (which have worked well for me, one way or another):
- organise a "best teaching practice" group for support
- engage with some scholarship research, gathering data on an area akin to language skills, expectations and attainment at XX degree level.
- identify strong project students (or foreign interns, they are top class, often) to carry out some research which can generate data and build toward bigger papers in time.
- when money is tight, I do a lot more qualitative research - cheaper than lab work!
- collaborate with someone who is "opposite" in circumstances: rich in data, but without intention to publish
Hope it works for you - I only feel that now is maybe not the best time to leave it all behind...
I would agree with pp that it would be a good idea to stick to it for now. Moving career would be very difficult with young children - you wouldn't have the flexibility that you currently have and you would also probably need to throw yourself into your new career (long hours) to succeed.
Academia is difficult. Everybody has down phases, where everything seems to be going wrong, but if you quit during such a phase there's no turning back. And the reality is that any job paying 40k plus (which I presume you are getting as a lecturer for 10 years) is going to demand its "pound of flesh". I don't think it's easy to get 40-50k (with benefits) from teaching in any guise, whether corporate world or elsewhere.
When you return from maternity leave, could you look into mentoring? Would it be an option to switch into a teaching only position (which in many UK universities will now have promotion tracks, with the TEF coming)? Or if you enjoy research why not stop worrying about promotion and simply enjoy the research you are able to do (even if slower and less funded than you would like) ?
Honestly, if you're looking for a career change you're going to have to take a serious drop in salary first. If you're looking to move into the L&D environment, salaries are usually in the 30-40k range, but you will probably lose the flexibility that you have now and there's not a huge number of jobs in this area.
You also need to factor in the level of additional effort you'll need to put in to start a new career. DP is a senior lecturer. Yes, he works hard but he'll be the first to admit it's not at the level I work at and I don't think I'm that unusual.
Have you considered moving to pedagogic research rather than research in your own subject? As a pp says, with TEF coming it may be easier to find funding for this.
Thanks for your suggestions.
Yes, in many ways I am thinking that I should try to sit it out. Funnily, the end of the next REF cycle will coincide nicely will my No 2 child leaving nursery. End of REF cycle usually means restructuring and (voluntary) redundancies... and at that point, I might be in a better position to take it.
In terms of changing to the teaching track, yes, I've thought about it. Unfortunately, that was just after a semester of not so good MEQs (when the university has brought in impossible targets for MEQ scores), so I was told to improve MEQs first.
Also, if I did change to the teaching track, I might have to teach Evening classes again. I'll definitely reconsider things after my next maternity leave (or during).
Pedagogical research is something I am already doing - my whole research field is quite pedagogically focused already. My dream job would be one that would give me a slightly higher teaching load perhaps, but at the same time allow me to do pedagogical research that doesn't necessarily need to feed into the REF.
We've just got a new VC, so maybe I should lobby him for such a career path.
Thanks again... I'll update if anything significant happens!
Are you taking a full year for your maternity leave? If so, could you put your baby into nursery a few months before returning to work, and with this spare time, shift some of the outstanding work eg apply for more funding and get ahead with publications etc?
To be honest, I think you're in a really good place and I would really think hard before quitting. There are literally thousands of people wanting a permanent lectureship. It doesn't sound that bad (compared to other careers like primary/secondary teaching or working in the NHS). Hugs x
No, I am not taking a full year - I wouldn't be able to afford it, in particular with nursery fees and everything! Will take about 9 months... given that my due date is early October, this will cover the teaching part of the academic year nicely :--) I am hoping to then use the summer to get ahead with research / funding applications.
It's just annoying that promotion is unlikely again this year. It is only possible to apply for promotion once all the targets for the appraisal have been achieved, and that is unlikely. I'll talk to occupational health on Tuesday to ask whether I can ask for any relief on my targets. Whilst I don't want to play the pregnancy card, I do feel that it did impact me in the spring semester, which coincided with being sick, tired, ...
Why are you so keen to get promotion? Is it to protect you against the threat of redundancy? To be honest, while I was pregnant and had small children, promotion was at the bottom of my list. Life was more about surviving and keeping my head above the water rather than excelling at my job...!
I want promotion because at some point (very soon) I'll be stuck on the salary scale and not getting increments any more. Then, with nursery fees rising every year, I'll start loosing money rather than gaining any...
I am looking at colleagues that are going ahead so much quicker than me, including one who has got a four year old and one year old twins! Another colleague started as lecturer maybe a year or two before me and has just been made professor. She is childless though, and her husband lives in another city (also an academic), so she has all hours in the day during the week to work.
But, maybe you're right. Maybe I should just give up the focus on the promotion for the time being and just try to survive and not loose my job...
Food for thought, anyway! So thanks :--))
Objectively, promotion criteria are getting tougher every other year in my uni.
I am on track for promotion this year, and this has meant approx 3 years of pushing very very hard night and WEs to pave the way for a solid application. This only happened once I had my littlest at nursery and off the breast.
give yourself time - SL criteria are only tougher, with more hassle for not bringing in the ££££ - not a good sort of pressure when you are going through the usual rounds of D&V when kiddos start nursery.
In the meantime, you could "pave" the way gently, start gathering the essential evidence for a strong application (student feedback, focus groups with students, etc) and see if there are any admin type jobs you could go for at your uni - like Athena Swan or even ethics committee work where you could demonstrate leadership.
see if there are any admin type jobs you could go for at your uni - like Athena Swan
Athena SWAN is very time consuming. I would not recommend it to somebody who is pressed for time.
Time consuming or not.... if the OP is thinking promotion to SL, key criteria including admin contribution (for example) must be evidenced. It will always be a step up.
I chair my school SAT - yes, it is a lot of work for some of us (chair, co-chair, working groups chairs etc), and a gentle ride for many of the other contributors. There is loads that can be done without being too time consuming.
I already am on the Ethics committee and am PGR director of my School, plus a few more minor jobs, so have got plenty of admin experience to show for. The problem is that all what really counts for promotion is research, and that's what always falls by the wayside when trying to get everything else done in a reasonable time frame.
Where I am you'd only get credit for AS if you were chair or co-chair. For other members of the committee it would (I think correctly) be perceived that it is a fairly gentle ride.
I think you have to learn to cut corners with admin jobs - a lot of them seem time-consuming, but they're not rocket science. That way you can get on with research. I learned early that male colleagues like to make out that a lot of admin 'leadership' roles are harder & more time-consuming than they really are - to make them seem important, I think!
You are right OP - research is weighed "up" for promotion.
My problem is not so much admin, it's the heaps of teaching, and more particularly pastoral
crap work that comes with it. Real time sucker.
Can you team-up with another prolific academic and benefit from the synergistic interaction?
I think you have to learn to cut corners with admin jobs.
Yes, I think that's a really interesting point, relevant to both teaching and admin. Many successful academics (particularly male ones) learnt very early on to do the minimum possible for teaching and admin while maintaining acceptable levels.
Others (including many women) do the best job they can, at the expense of their own research, but do not get rewarded for it.
Personally I have found it very hard to not do the best job I can with teaching, and to do "acceptable" instead. For example, I might feel that lecture notes need to be rewritten completely but this is very time consuming so instead I simply adjust the parts that really need to be changed, instead of totally rewriting.
Many successful academics (particularly male ones) learnt very early on to do the minimum possible for teaching and admin while maintaining acceptable levels
It's what I do (female, senior) - only way to survive.
It doesn't mean I'm not a good teacher & administrator. But I've learnt to cut corners & wing it. Of course, that only comes with experience, and the first time I did a really senior admin role (HoD), I spent at least the first year feeling completely overwhelmed. But I got my head above water, and did the job well. Subsewquent times I've done it, it's been much easier because I know that nothing dies if I don't do everything perfectly. I try to mentor female colleagues with this "good enough" philosophy.
But women are subject to such damaging socialisation: imposter syndrome particularly. So we feel we have to be super-super good & never underprepared. Underprepared men just go o the attack. I've seen it. I don't do that, because it doesn't do those men any good in the long term, so I'm not going to copy that. But once you've recognised how men do it, you can learn a bit from it.
The problem is that "good enough" doesn't work at this moment in my institution. Any less than a 4.1 average on module evaluation questionnaires - you need to explain yourself, potentially special measures, no chance for promotion that year.
Last year, I took on 4 hours of extra teaching without moaning because they didn't want to hire a part timer. It meant that I had 13 hours of teaching in Semester 2, degree and non-degree. My MEQs were very good anyway (I managed to get the required average, miraculously). I got a 'satisfactory' for teaching in my attempted promotion application.
And, oh, yes, excellence in research, of course. And all times.
In admin, I do what I need to, but it is still difficult not to feel snowed under.
Sorry, I am very negative at the moment :--))!
Why did you take on tbe extra 4 hours? Were others asked? Did you offer or were you asked? Did you get a reduction in workload elsewhere, or will you have a reduction next year?
4 hours per week?
sorry - I am not sure I am following...
The main issue seems to be that you are not being promoted. However, as you say above, while you got the job 10 years ago, you finished your PhD 8 years ago and have taken some time out on maternity leave. You also mention that because you have a young child you don't feel like you have enough time for research and that you haven't had that much research funding.
In many fields (STEM etc) people will have to do a couple of post-docs before getting a lecturer position. To get a lecturer position people have to demonstrate not just strong publications but also a record of getting research grants/income. Next people do 4-6 years as a lecturer before applying for promotion. It's therefore perfectly usual for people to be 10-15 years post-PhD before becoming senior lecturers, with very solid research and grant records needed to get the promotion. While standards do vary a bit across departments, it wouldn't seem fair to me if my staff were held to higher standards than those in humanities.
Worse than this, I know of many STEM academics who despite having loads of publications, lots of impact, research grant income, can't get permanent contracts at all. They're the same age as you but stuck on research assistant salaries in the 30-40k range and having to move around from contract to contract. Many women in this position don't have kids as they don't have good maternity leave rights (fixed term contracts) and they feel like they have to work 60+ hours a week.
BTW in my university very few people get graded beyond "satisfactory" for teaching. To get above satisfactory one would have to add a completely new strand to the undergraduate programme, or start a new masters or something like that.
Also, I should say that it is common for academics to not get salary increments beyond cost of living increases (which indeed don't cover rises in cost of living). You will find many people at the top of lecturer/senior lecturer/reader scales in this position, and at many universities professorial salaries often don't increase much either. If you are top of the lecturer band, you actually may not earn more than 10-15k or so less than a reader/professor whose salary is also not increasing, but who is expected to do a lot more than you do.
Sorry you are feeling this way. I'm not quite understanding how a lecturer can be the PGR director of the school - particularly if you aren't 'publishing' as much (according to what you are saying - otherwise you will be promoted?)...
regardless, it's a hard place to be at the moment. what I would say is, enjoy your new addition to the family (soon) and take the maternity leave to consider what it is you want to do. There is no shame in switching tracks, switching jobs, changing areas of work/specialism. if anything, from here, from 'shit academics say' (on FB and twitter), 'the chronicle', it looks like there are lots of people who are considering alternative careers.
and hayita and others are right re promotion, money and responsibility. I was promoted (yay) but the amount of money that resulted in was perhaps in direct opposition of the amount of responsibility I ended up having. And money and responsibility is great when support is also rendered. A lot of the time, support isn't (beyond 'you're doing a great/shit job!').
I had 2 kids in nursery for about 18 months. the amount of money I was paying out for nursery fees was ridiculous. We dipped into our savings. That savings pot has gone from a 5 figure sum, to a 3 figure sum. go figure. We too, had no family near by so kids were definitely in full time daycare.
thanks for all your comments, many of which are really food for thought!
Just to clarify - I am published, but just with a very slow pace. Programme Directorship is something many of us at lecturer level do in my school ... it's a very small school! To be honest, I don't find it particularly challenging, just lots of (time-consuming) monkey work at times, in particular when dealing with challenging students or when administering the studentship competition.
What really IS food for thought for me is the fact that I do have a permanent, full-time job, and I know I am very lucky with this given the fact that many scramble around for years in non-permanent positions. So yes, sometimes, I need to count my blessings, but I still find it incredibly hard at times when I haven't had an evening off for what feels like weeks!
Just to explain about the four hours - this was four hours per week for a full semester. To cut a long story short: part-timer got ill, and because of a general drive to get down the number of part-time contracts, they didn't replace her and just asked a full-time member of staff do do it. That was me, no negotiation. Resulted in 13 hours of teaching a week, three days until 6pm (unlucky timetabling), and me trying to also finish my first book at the same time.
I survived somehow, but you can imagine why I was a bit annoyed at the "satisfactory" for teaching when I actually managed to get really good evaluations that semester!
Anyway, thanks for your answers, it's good to chat to those who actually know the business ... my husband sometimes doesn't really understand.