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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!

namechangeforissue Fri 29-Nov-13 15:37:44

Oh dear that was obviously so long and ranty that nobody has bothered reading it! Apologies!

I know there are a few academics on here so hopefully someone will spot it later and have some words of wisdom.

ancientbuchanan Fri 29-Nov-13 15:49:51

Hi, not an academic but friends and relatives are it have been, and in the have been cases they have left for very similar reasons.

Ok, could you face central or local government? Both face cuts but so does academia. Both are pretty family friendly. You sort of have to decide which one is more interesting to you, as there is a limited amount of swapping between them but once you are in you can hunt for jobs in other departments and local authorities. They employ generalists, ie train people, don't expect you to know anything specific unless you are going for a profession or set of expertise.

There are pluses and minuses. Others can talk about them, I am sure.

Other options, but less family friendly, that my academic friends have gone into are the law and accountancy.

aGnotherGnu Fri 29-Nov-13 15:52:46

What field are you in? Would a career in industry be a possibility?

GrendelsMum Fri 29-Nov-13 16:29:56

You've got some tough choices, haven't you?

You move to another city and another University to get the chair you deserve, and get your DH to find another field of work.
Or your DH stays in his field of work, you stay where you are, and you stay in academia not being promoted to the positions that you deserve- except you've tried this and you're not happy.
Or your DH stays in his field of work, you stay where you are, and you leave the research you enjoy.

TBH, it looks to me like your DH's current job is what's causing the problem. How much thinking has he done about using his civil service skills in the private sector? Perhaps you could go for a Chair elsewhere, and he could freelance / be SAHD? Could you and the family move for a promotion, get an au pair / nanny, and your DH do a weekly commute for his job?

ArbitraryUsername Fri 29-Nov-13 16:39:06

Would moving to the SE be OK for you if you could get a chair? There is much more university choice down there.

Don't necessarily write off the OU either. There are research and teaching academic positions even in the regions (although they don't come up that often), and most of the central academic staff tend to commute in rather than live in Milton Keynes. Lots of research does go on. They're a good employer, genuinely family friendly, and there are never lectures that go in into the evening for the academic staff (rather than the associate lecturers).

namechangeforissue Fri 29-Nov-13 19:16:09

ancientbuchanan I have to confess that I don't have any idea what a job in central or local government would involve. Are we talking admin of the type that happens in university admin? Or is there anything involving content (i.e. advising government on something relating to my field)?

aGnotherGnu Possibly as a technician, but not really doing actual research. I'm going to post next my list of "things I thought I could do and why I'm not keen".

GrendelsMum I agree. DH is quite a bit older than me and he's just retrained following redundancy (and taken a bit of a pay cut but to get into something he now does enjoy). He's been in his current job less than a year and the original plan was that he works in that till retirement (10 years, if that) and becomes the SAHD and does all the activity taxi stuff for DC when older, at which point the brilliant part of my career takes off.

The problem now is that I'm not sure I can stand the plodding part of my career for another 10 years, without seriously going loopy.

DH could move to industry in 3 or 4 years but he doesn't have the experience in this field to move now.

ArbitraryUsername I think it could work to make a move of area, and I do actually know someone locally who commutes to the OU, though I'm not sure if the commuting part would work without a little wife, which this person has.

In fact, generally, though everyone says that it's really hard having two academics in a relationship, I think one of the reasons that it's so hard to be a female academic is that even if your partner is not an academic, they are likely to have an actual career and not just a little part time job.

namechangeforissue Fri 29-Nov-13 19:19:53

OK so this is the list of things I have thought I could do, but which aren't really that promising:

I don't really want to do OU/college/A level teaching in my subject (or a sideways move into school teaching), because though I like teaching sometimes, I don't want to just teach. I am also very interested in evidence-based everything and I think I'd get fed up with waffly education quite quickly.

My field is one in which some of our graduates go on to get professional qualifications, working for public bodies. I don't have that particular professional qualification but I have enough of a qualification that I could do some freelance work but it would mean setting up a client base, acquiring a lot of pretty expensive equipment, insurance etc., and then doing what would basically be rather low level research (we thought about setting up a service to do this in our department, and the expectation was that we'd get a PhD student to do the actual client work part time while studying for the PhD the rest of the time). That would be a bit of a step back, and I risk not getting much work and also being bored.

I have also thought about applying for just RA jobs (far below my current level, but avoiding the politics and potentially some of the other bits I don't like). I think I'd get slightly bored too, but the main drawback is these jobs are hard to get and involve moving around a lot. If we had to move areas, I might do this just to get a new job, but we don't.

I don't think I want to do university admin either, as there's all the politics and none of the fun stuff!

I could just stay at home (but my head would explode), or I could stay at home and write science blogs, but I can't see there being any money in that (which isn't a short term issue, but I do want something that's an actual career that makes actual money, to pay for nursery for a start, and to stop my head exploding.)

I have promised DH that I'm not applying for any more academic jobs right at the moment but I hate my current job so much I would walk out tomorrow if I could.

sinpan Fri 29-Nov-13 20:13:25

Where have colleagues gone? If options for moving within universities in your region are limited, colleagues must be moving on to jobs elsewhere?

Your department doesnt sound like the best possible fit for you if your HoD thinks your research is too 'applied.'Although this is often what funders like so difficult to know why he/she is not delighted. So much depends on your discipline, your HoD and your university so I cant comment. But I sympathise with your predicament.

lljkk Fri 29-Nov-13 20:21:12

I find your posts really long to read (sorry, poor excuse):
I think you must move to industry if you love research & hate publishing. If that's possible in your field(?)

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!

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

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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.

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.

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...

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

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.

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?

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.

chemenger 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.

chemenger 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?

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.

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.

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!

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