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Teaching to academia?

(56 Posts)
jimmyjammyjumbo Mon 27-Nov-17 14:01:16

I’m currently on a career break from teaching while raising my young dc. I was feeling pretty fed up with teaching to be honest and as I went straight into it from my BSc I don’t have any other work experience. I feel like I don’t want to miss out on having a career that makes me feel really fulfilled.
Has anyone come out of teaching and found a passion for their subject/research again or is it mad? Or has anyone gone from academia into teaching and care to tell me why the grass is not always greener?
Maybe being a sahm for a while has just made me desperate to get my brain going again.
I really enjoy teaching A level Biology and feel like I would really enjoy researching the subject more and lecturing/teaching to a higher level.
TIA

user2019697 Mon 27-Nov-17 14:34:03

Are you aware of how hard it is to get positions in academia? First you need to do a PhD (perhaps it's not so hard to find funded PhDs in the life sciences) but then you need to move around as a postdoctoral researcher on short term contracts and apply widely to get a permanent position. The vast majority of PhDs won't stay in academia because there simply aren't enough jobs for them. If you do get a permanent position, you need to balance research with teaching and typically work pretty long hours to do so.

I'm not sure why you were fed up with teaching but academia and teaching share some of the same issues (over work, pressure to hit targets, cuts in budgets, challenges in teaching students who don't want to learn or work hard).

So academia could well be a path for you, but make sure you know what you are getting into before starting a PhD.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 27-Nov-17 16:08:52

I love the teaching part of academia, but I can definitely give you the negative sides today as it's been one of those days. I'm in Humanities but this is pretty transferable:

- You need a PhD, so 3/4 years training.
- You will need several postdocs, so maybe 5-6 years of short-term jobs, moving all over the country.
- After that ten year period you might get a permanent job, though they are very scarce.
- Depending on the kind of biology, you might find you're doing a lot of quite repetitive, low-level research work a lot of the time. It might be interspersed with more exciting stuff, but you might be doing a lot of grunt work for the person who runs your lab. My partner's in biology, and this is how it is in the labs she's worked in.
- It's a difficult environment if you have children. Research meetings are often in the evenings, for example. Conferences will require you to travel away from family. Exam marking loads might mean you have to work extremely long days for a period. There's a culture of working very long hours.
- Pressure to publish is relentless.
- Pressure to network, get grant funding, and do public impact work is relentless.

jimmyjammyjumbo Tue 28-Nov-17 19:11:37

Thank you both for your responses, it’s probably confirmed what I had gathered from reading through the posts on this board.
I don’t mind playing the long game and taking my time to build up my career slowly, but with the kids school and dh’s job it wouldn’t really be feasible to keep moving around if most contracts are only temporary. I think I’d rather enjoy going to conferences, although that is something that might prove more difficult with a family.
I guess with teaching I’m fed up with many aspects, such as feeling like I’m missing out of enhancing my knowledge of the subject, and just teaching the same thing year after year (with course structures and exams changing all the time) and a feeling like I’m working my ass off for no real gain to my own career/cv (I enjoy working for the students but it would be nice to also feel like I’m moving forward too). I sometimes see my 6th formers go off to uni and start their careers and I wonder if I’m missing out. I’m not interested in working my way up within a school, I wouldn’t enjoy that job.
I feel so under-appreciated in this job and I like the idea of researching, writing and discussing my work with others and leaving my stamp on something I guess. Probably a romantic view, like many have of teaching!

murmuration Wed 29-Nov-17 13:32:18

Hmm, with your educational background, I'm wondering if you might be able to move into education-focused academics more easily than a research career? Assuming you actually like teaching, there are careers focused on teaching in higher education and on pedagogical research. I don't have experience of A-level teaching, but I've done some small amount on the education-enhancement side and pedagogical research in HE, and I suspect it may meet some of the places you feel your current career falls short. There is constant shift and change, and you're the one setting the course/exam structures instead of teaching to them. There are some benchmarks to meet, but they are much broader and the specific material can be done in a huge variety of ways.

A potential route could be a Masters followed by a teaching fellow position (I'm guessing they'd want some kind of postgraduate degree, but you could check and see...) with plans for concurrent study in pedagogy. I know of more than one person at my Uni who has done this (not sure of the details of contracts/study - PhD's at least were something like half-time, based on the length of time to finish).

It's not necessarily an "easier" path, as all the pressures of academia would be there, plus also the sense in some places that education-focused staff are looked down upon by the research-focused staff - yet the community is really great within itself and very supportive and full of people who care about people, since they care about student learning! And it might potentially require less geographic flexibility. Although you could easily get trapped into zero-hours contracts where you're actual effort is poorly reflected by your paid 'hours'.

Anyway, a potential idea to explore.

murmuration Wed 29-Nov-17 13:33:49

*your

I knew that, but my fingers didn't...

TheOriginalMagratGarlik Wed 29-Nov-17 23:43:09

I had a permanent academic position in the life sciences and moved to secondary teaching and now I run a private tuition business (earning similar amounts to dh who is a SL also in the life sciences).

I loved science during my degree, loved research during my PhD, loved it even more during my (overseas presitigious) postdoc, slightly less so during my temporary dalliance with contract research and then I got offered a permanent academic position in the UK. Sounded wonderful. Build my own research group? Yeah, great! Teach highly motivated undergrads? Wonderful!

In reality, I realised that you are building your research group, which means you are stuck behind a desk writting grants to get funding for students/post-docs to do the research you would like to do yourself (and could do quicker and better yourself). Teaching in HE is a fairly thankless task. Most people don't get promoted on the basis of being good teachers, you get promoted on the basis of research funding attracted, so more sitting behind a desk writting grants (and those research papers your PhD students couldn't be bothered to finish off). There's an awful lot of isoolated sitting behind a desk. Yes, you get to go on conferences, but in my ex-department, only if you have personally applied for funding to do so.

I don't do research any more, but I'm still on the editorial boards of 4 international peer-reviewed journals. I do get pee'd off with the same old shit being repeated again and again. Most scientfic research is not about scientists making massively ground-breaking decisions, but is scientists getting any old crap published to support their latest grant application.

Sorry, that's very negative, but I suspect the grass is always greener. Oh and btw, as a lecturer, there wasn't a single family holiday where I didn't take work with me (and complete it) whilst on holiday. I also routinely worked until 34am and got up to be in the office at 9am. I was writting papers whilst in hospital awaiting the birth of ds1, answering reviewers comments on a grant application 2 days after the birth of ds2 and back in woork for meetin with my research group with 6 weeks of ds2 birth (unpaid). In the sciences, it is not a career compatible with young families.

TheOriginalMagratGarlik Wed 29-Nov-17 23:49:21

*sorry for the typos. It's late and my phone is obviously playing up.

Thetreesareallgone Thu 30-Nov-17 09:52:51

I have a friend who made this move. I don't think she regrets the PhD but in terms of the career choice, it's not been so good- contract work, and less pay then as a secondary school teacher with significant responsibilities!

I don't do as much time-wise as MagratGarlik though as I don't run an entire research group, just me and a couple of researchers/few PhDs in a more informal way.

user2019697 Thu 30-Nov-17 11:13:14

In reality, I realised that you are building your research group, which means you are stuck behind a desk writting grants to get funding for students/post-docs to do the research you would like to do yourself (and could do quicker and better yourself)

This is not true in all areas.

TheOriginalMagratGarlik Thu 30-Nov-17 12:06:00

user, obviously I can only speak from my own experience.

user2019697 Thu 30-Nov-17 13:27:05

But anecdotes about extremes are not very helpful. As a senior academic, I don't work until 3am (ever). I manage to combine work and personal life with no issues. I don't think anyone can or should be maintaining 70+ hour working weeks - and I personally don't believe that such working hours are necessary or productive. And if you are genuinely spending all your time writing grant applications at the expense of doing research then it is time to move institution. I don't accept that this is necessary, in any branch of sciences or engineering. Of course, in areas where lots of early career researchers are involved you may spend a lot of time supervising researchers but that is different from writing applications from behind a desk continually.

There are many issues in academia, many have overlap with those in teaching, but the vast majority of successful academics simply don't work in such an extreme way.

TheOriginalMagratGarlik Thu 30-Nov-17 13:55:39

user2019697, you may not like to hear it, but that was my experience and I don't think it is helpful for you to police the opinions of anyone whose experience differs from your own! There were plenty of people working similar hours in my previous department and as you say, if you are genuinely spending all your time writing grant applications at the expense of doing research then it is time to move institution - that is a big part of the reason why I left and never regretted doing so.

LRDtheFeministDragon Thu 30-Nov-17 14:58:05

I find this a bit depressing.

I occasionally come across senior academics who can't believe what I say isn't, likewise, in the nature of an anecdote about an extreme case. One claimed 'I didn't know we hired teaching associates' and another was really shocked to find over 50% of the teaching for the module I was doing, was done by people on temporary contracts or PHD students.

It's quite easy to believe something is 'extreme' if it's not your experience, but it shouldn't blind you to the possibility you're just insulated from other people's rather less easy circumstances.

(And we won't even start in on the people who tell me 'oh, yes, we all had to cope with hard times during postdocs' and then talk how difficult it was to pay the mortgage back in 1989 when they were 25.)

user2019697 Thu 30-Nov-17 15:14:57

LRD: do you seriously believe that many academics work routinely until 3am and then start again at 9am? Long term? Do you believe that academics on permanent contracts need to be dealing with academic business the day before or after their children are born?

(As somebody who is a senior academic actually I really do make it my business to know what the people in my university are spending their time doing. Yes, some work long hours, but not this extreme. And I am well aware of a lot of problems in academia, hardly insulated.)

The previous poster did not talk about temporary contracts, and the difficulty of getting permanent contracts - which I myself already mentioned above. She did not talk about use and abuse of teaching fellows. She presented a very extreme culture which is not particularly helpful to OP.

Also don't make judgments about what I myself may or may not have experienced. I would bet that my path in academia has been at least as hard as those who post here - but I choose not to identify myself by publicly telling these stories.

LRDtheFeministDragon Thu 30-Nov-17 15:41:23

I honestly have no idea what's typical where. I can believe that in a department with a bad culture, someone might feel pressured to work in unhealthy ways - but then, that's probably why she left!

My point was more of a general one, about how people don't always know each other's experiences well.

I'm not making any judgments about you. I'm just explaining where I come from on this issue. I'm sure your path has been far harder than any of us can imagine, and you show noble fortitude in not mentioning it (except, you kinda did mention it there ...).

jimmyjammyjumbo Thu 30-Nov-17 19:10:33

Thanks. I did wonder if perhaps I should look into furthering my studies in education rather than science. I was once asked by a mentor if I was a scientist who happened to teach or a teacher who happened to specialise in science. I guess I’m both. I wonder if I should go back and teach for a while and then move into teacher training a bit more as I enjoy mentoring/supporting training.

Interesting points about work load, this I can imagine is very much like teaching. Everyone has different extremes of work load and I guess that’s because there is no ‘off switch’ there is a limitless about of time you could spend on your work and it’s up to you to manage it effectively and decide when you need to stop. That’s what I struggle with, I hate knowing I’m not giving something my very best but I just don’t have the time to always do that. I’d love a job where I can complete my to do list at the end of the day/week!

Thetreesareallgone Thu 30-Nov-17 21:24:11

I’d love a job where I can complete my to do list at the end of the day/week! Academia has to be the worst for this, as you are always behind your schedule, sometimes by months or years, and you make very long term plans (write book in 2019, do grant in a years time) as well as medium term ones, then end up running round like a headless chicken with day to day tasks like marking, letting the long-term ones run away with themselves.

That said, your idea about moving into education is a good one, why not lecture teachers? I know someone that has made this move, is doing a PhD at the same time and is really enjoying it.

geekaMaxima Fri 01-Dec-17 17:40:11

Oh and btw, as a lecturer, there wasn't a single family holiday where I didn't take work with me (and complete it) whilst on holiday. I also routinely worked until 34am and got up to be in the office at 9am. I was writting papers whilst in hospital awaiting the birth of ds1, answering reviewers comments on a grant application 2 days after the birth of ds2 and back in woork for meetin with my research group with 6 weeks of ds2 birth (unpaid). In the sciences, it is not a career compatible with young families.

This is not true for me nor many other academics I know. It doesn't have to be this way.

I'm in STEM at a research-intensive institution. I have very young children, and since having them I've gotten good enough grant funding and papers to be promoted from senior lecturer to reader relatively quickly. I probably work a 35 hour week (more at busy periods, but I'll also take duvet days when exhausted from being up all night with small child) and I try to take all my holiday allowance. I do it by being absolutely laser-focused at work, rarely taking breaks or time to chit-chat with colleagues, working from home to avoid office interruptions, and refusing to treat teaching- and admin-related things as emergencies (I prefer a "fuck it, it'll do" approach). I'm way more productive now than when I was a lecturer, when I used to work much longer hours.

Some academics work hideous hours but it's not necessarily necessary. A bad departmental culture can make it seem that way, though.

bigkidsdidit Fri 01-Dec-17 18:57:25

I'm in sciences too and I have never seen or heard of anyone working like that, Magrat. To say sciences is not a career compatible with a family is nonsense. I work in a very very highly rated research intensive place and we are almost all parents of young children. About 20% of new tenure track starters work part time.

OP I don't think you understand enough about what the job is like, unfortunately, to know if it is for you.

MedSchoolRat Fri 01-Dec-17 19:06:30

I've been a researcher for 25+ yrs on "temporary" contracts. I never had to move town/city. There was lots of employment at just one institution (several different departments). My temp contracts always feel a lot more secure to me than DH's "permanent" jobs.

I have opportunities to go to conferences, including to very nice places, but I rarely go. Don't like to present.

I don't work until 3am, either, but I agree it's quite difficult to research with young children (under 5s). That was very hard for me, too. I don't apply for grants, which has benefits & drawbacks.

TheOriginalMagratGarlik Fri 01-Dec-17 20:14:39

bigkidsdidit, as I said previously, I can only speak from my experience, just as you can only speak from yours. To call someone else's experience nonsense is incredibly patronising though. It's also not that a career within the sciences is incompatible with children, but an academic (university-based) career in the sciences is incompatible with children. Many other sectors in science are much more compatible. Within the male-dominated department I was in, only 1 female professor had a child (and then only 1 child) and she employed a nanny.

user19283746 Fri 01-Dec-17 20:52:55

an academic (university-based) career in the sciences is incompatible with children.

How can you say this as it is a definitive fact, when other academics on this thread are successful academic scientists with children?

It didn't work out for you. It does work out for many others. It is not the norm these days for academic women not to have children. It is not the norm for senior female science professors not to have children (at world leading universities or lower ranked universities). And it is not the norm for academics with permanent positions to feel they have to deal with academic matters the day before/after a child is born.

TheOriginalMagratGarlik Fri 01-Dec-17 20:57:38

* user19283746* as I have said repeatedly in my experience, just as your views are in your experience.

TheOriginalMagratGarlik Fri 01-Dec-17 21:06:09

and btw, at the time, there were many MN academics on a thread in the off the beaten track (OTBT) topic. There may be some on here who remember that and our "bats" wink.

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