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Ageism in academia?need opinions of academics

(7 Posts)
earlycomputers Sun 16-Mar-14 11:22:46

I am planning to take a masters/Phd in ancient history with a view to working in academia after this. Having come from an industry full of hot shot (and successful) males in their early 20's (I am 40), it got me thinking about whether there are any professions which older workers tend to do better than their younger colleagues. I was under the impression that if you are over 50 or 60 in academia (especially in history) this would be a bonus as you have had more time to accumulate knowledge etc.
i don't really care if there exists a bias in favour of younger people at universities (-I still want to pursue my studies), but I would still be interested in others' experience of this.

creamteas Sun 16-Mar-14 17:14:50

If you want a job in academia you need to understand it will probably take about a decade until you are in a position to apply for lectureships.

To get a lectureship in history you will need your PhD completed (and you probably need a Masters to be accepted for study. You will also need a range of good publications, and preferably a book published. You also need a range of teaching experiences and increasingly a teaching qualification.

Most people don't even get shortlisted for lectureships until 3/4 years after their PhD.

Most universities are not ageist in the traditional sense, but younger candidates tend to be able to fill out their CVs easier as they often have less other commitments. So they are able to hold out longer on zero-hours contracts whilst working in their own time to publish their research.

cory Mon 17-Mar-14 07:25:32

I'd say there is less ageism than in many professions- but there would be no automatic assumption that you know more because you are older either. In fact, nobody would be making assumptions at all: they would look at your publications list. If a younger academic had written more or better books, or was more in line with the profile of the institution, or (increasingly these days) was more likely to bring in large amounts of research money from external funding, then the job would go to them.

I'd listen carefully to what creamteas said; the point about years on zero contracts is valid.

I'd also say that it is a a profession that demands stamina: you have to be able to maintain a constant flow of high quality output (as well as teaching, applying for funding and dealing with ever-increasing amounts of admin). Most of the people I know work very long hours.

But it is also a very rewarding profession.

earlycomputers Mon 17-Mar-14 08:32:45

What's zero contracts?

creamteas Mon 17-Mar-14 13:54:43

Zero-hour contracts are when you have a contract of employment but it does not specify or guarantee hours of work. In the case of universities, you are paid on the basis of contact hours with students.

So you might get 7 hours a week teaching one term and nothing the next.

The rate of pay per hour might seem generous. But when you factor in that the hourly rate includes things like preparation, marking, contact with students outside of class (office hours/emails), attendance at moderation or exam board meetings, you can be working for as little as £2 or £3 per hour.

The first time you teach a class you have the maximum prep time. Clearly you amend and update continuously, but this doesn't take as long. But staff on zero-hour contacts, quite often have little continuity in teaching. So they can't reuse material, and are continually teaching new stuff which makes the rate of pay worse.

innercity Mon 17-Mar-14 14:07:31

Academia is extremely competitive. As people above have said, you need to have a number of articles and preferrably a book published before you can stand a chance of getting the starter position in a Uni.

I actually think that older people unless they are already 'in' will find it harder as it is an incredibly demanding profession and everyone I know works very long hours and is constantly under stress. I once worked with a man in his 70-s (I don't know how he wasn't made to retire) and he was half as quick as other people, which made it difficult for everyone.

The academy is also increasingly neoliberal; with pressure to 'succeed'. You can't write world-leading books and teach well, you also need to win grants and this is difficult. It is a job in which you can work well and still 'fail' - as they want you to constantly bring in external money (and you fail if you don't). Oh sorry, all the bitterness now comes out... And yes, the pay is not fantastic for such a level of demands, until you become a top Prof, if you ever survive ...

And last thing - the older people at which you might look now have started under completely different conditions and there is a huge generational change. Everyone under 40 is in a different boat altogether. You can't expect to be like those people who are not 55-60, there is a different world for us.

cory Tue 18-Mar-14 07:12:26

And what innercity said about the generational change applies equally to anybody who is over 50 but at the same stage of their career as somebody under 40. I am 50, but have taken time out to care for my disabled child, so am really at the same career stage as a 30yo; badly paid part-time contracts and the pressure to bring in my own funding.

It's still the job I'd rather be doing than any other, but I do feel slightly nauseous when I think about my pension.

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