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So many employment issues, academic politics...what can I do?

(22 Posts)
Essie3 Sun 01-Nov-09 20:33:23

I am aware that the answer is probably 'not much', but I need to vent, as I'm on the verge of a breakdown. This is long, sorry.

I'm an academic, in a niche field. For academic jobs, the emphasis is on publications and research; teaching experience useful.

I have a load of publications (coming up to 20, multiple award winning book amongst them) and I'm one of the world leaders in my area (I'm relatively young but it's actually a small field! smile) I also have 10 years teaching experience, and a doctorate from Oxford.

A long time ago I decided that I wanted to work close to where I grew up, and there's 1 university there. (My field is very small and I can only really work in 5-6 institutions, one of them being Cambridge; I'm not setting my sights that high!) So, because I was quite limited, I worked like a dog and got those publications, good ones; and waited... eventually a job came up in Dept 1, I got it, but it was a 2 year contract.
After 6 months, Dept 2 needed my help - I was the only person available to fulfil their teaching commitments (seriously!). So I went on 'secondment' tp Dept 2, taught there, did a good job.
Dept 2 advertised a permanent job, the area I had just taught in. Didn't get shortlisted; complained.
Dept 2 advertised 2 more jobs (interviewed at the same time) in the same area; I was shortlisted, but didn't get either. The jobs went to people with much fewer qualifications than me, and one of them had no experience at all (switched from being a lawyer). Incidentally, two were men, and one was a woman in her forties with a 'complete' family. Didn't complain or sue or anything because basically I need to work in the institution.
Went back to dept 1, who turned mean, I got pregnant, and was harrassed throughout. They made it clear 10 months before my contract was up that I was not wanted there. Stuck with it.
Dept 3 saw my plight, and made a position for me. After mat leave, I went back last January to Dept 3.

Dept 3: took a massive paycut, it's a short-term contract (again!) although they will have to advertise a job I can apply for at the end of this. However, they're trying to get me to change career basically. So, I'm in the wrong department, and the wrong faculty too (should be arts and humanities, am in social sciences, business and law), I'm isolated, I get lots of time to do research but I'm expected to teach a course which I have never followed (different discipline; I have no qualifications).

Have spoken to people at HR, who are sympathetic (and mildly horrified) but nobody can explain why I didn't get those jobs. It seems no jobs will come up again in Dept 2 in the near future. I have put my whole life into this, and I just don't want to give up.

But...now a job has been advertised in my area in another university. I feel I should apply; but I have a child now, I have a house that I'm unlikely to be able to sell; my DH works away so my mum does a lot of childcare, I don't want to leave the institution I'm in.

So basically: currently in the right institution but in the wrong department; new job is wrong institution, right department.

Anybody got any ideas, anything at all? I can give more details but just then I kept it fairly anonymous!

Thanks for reading - I see a counsellor next week as an urgent case.

Essie3 Sun 01-Nov-09 20:33:45

OMG, that was way huge!

fluffles Sun 01-Nov-09 20:38:17

sorry - haven't got a flippin clue what you should do.

how far is the new place from the current place? 50miles? hundreds of miles? what would it do to DH's job? is he mobile?

i know how you feel as although not an academic i have a similarly narrow speciality which is super-valuable but hard to find a permanent position with... am trapped at my current place till 2011 and will not get mat pay now as not enough time to get pregnant, have baby and go back before the end of the contract

i too wonder if i should stay or go.. and cannot find another job without moving cities so you have my sympathies.

Habbibu Sun 01-Nov-09 20:38:38

Hmm. Are you a UCU member? Have you spoken to them about it, in any of the institutions - or are all the depts in 1 university (am a bit confused, sorry!)?

Habbibu Sun 01-Nov-09 20:40:39

Is the other university commutable? The problem with academic jobs is that generally you do have to be flexible wrt location, which is a bugger. I know one couple who split their time between the South of Ireland and East of Scotland, with 2 small children.

Essie3 Sun 01-Nov-09 20:50:24

Message withdrawn

inveteratenamechanger Sun 01-Nov-09 20:50:53

Hi essie, I am an academic too, so feel your pain. It is a tough field, especially at the moment. I'm sorry you have had such a crap time - it must have been very hard, especially with your DH away a lot.

To be blunt, I think you should move. You sound like you are a real star, and you should be somewhere which values you. Being tossed between departments like this must have been awful for your self-esteem.

Departments 1 and 2 have treated you horribly. Department 2 had a couple of opportunities to hire you, and didn't. Department 1 have made it clear that they don't want you. And department 3 is not a good fit for you.

Also, I don't think there will be many arts and humanities jobs in the next 5 years or so (this is my area too), so you don't want to be stranded when your contract runs out.

I can imagine that it will be a real wrench to move away from your mum, but it is do-able without family support. I am a single parent with a small child, and I manage (although I do need to write a book review tonight!)

Sorry to be so direct - I hope I haven't offended you!

Good luck with the counsellor - I saw one when my relationship broke up and it was a huge help.

inveteratenamechanger Sun 01-Nov-09 20:55:35

x-posts there essie.

That does sound like a very tough call.

I wonder if they are exploiting you because they know you are limited on location?

Is there any way you could apply for a research fellowship that might get you through the next 2 or 3 years?

Or could you shift your research so that you are a better fit for department 3?

Sorry if these are all crap ideas, you have probably thought of them all.

bigstripeytiger Sun 01-Nov-09 20:57:09

It does sound like you werent valued enough by either dept 1 or 2.
Is there anyone senior in your field that you would be able to have a confidential talk with about the problems that you are having, in case there are issues with the jobs, departments that you arent aware of, or something else standing in your way that you dont know about?

Penthesileia Sun 01-Nov-09 21:06:16

This sounds awful. Sorry for you.

How long have you been there in total? I can't work it out from your post. There's new regulation (via the EU) that you can't be employed in a part-time contract for more than (I think) 3 years without being made permanent. Is this relevant to you at all?

I bet that - and I don't think this is a reasonable excuse at all, btw - Dept. 2 would argue that the two jobs which came up were not quite in your field and that, although with fewer publications, the people who got it were a better fit.

Without wanting to make you paranoid, are you sure your referees are up to scratch? A mate of mine was once rather screwed over by a referee being unhelpfully tepid (for no apparent reason that we could ever work out).

Can you see yourself in dept.3 long term? Is there going to be a job for you there, do you think? If so, I would switch discipline - I've done it: you don't have to let go of your original subject completely.

Good luck.

choosyfloosy Sun 01-Nov-09 21:21:22

What a horrible and shitty situation to be in, firstly. You do not deserve this.

Right, so back to Department 2. Who was on the panel for the 2 jobs you got turned down for? Was the chair/panel the same? Did you have feedback from those interviews and what did it say? ?

If the new job were at your existing university, would you be jumping at it? What appeals most about it, apart from the fact that it is a job in your field?

I think in your situation, I would make that appointment with the head of Arts and Humanities, but I would treat it like a campaign. I would tell HR beforehand that I was going, and give them a copy of the questions I planned to answer, and would also send them a writeup afterwards of what you and he said (copied to him). And I would be massively, massively upbeat to him - maybe even take him out to lunch (obv alcohol-free...) as this would mean it was neutral ground, not the forelock-tugging supplicant visiting the big boss. I might even visit the restaurant personaally to make the booking, to discuss it with the restaurant manager, and to ensure that we got a decent table and that I knew the lap of the land and the menu so I didn't actually have to spend any time reading it or deciding. I would dress in a fairly groomed and armoured way. I would say how very, very much I want to work at this university and at his department, and that I am at the top of my field at the mo (not working 'like a dog', note), but that said university doesn't seem to be trying very hard to keep me, and I wondered if he could shed light on this before I headed off somewhere else.

Wow, an essay (not too good a one). This is about you and your future. I wouldn't spend much time asking about past jobs to him, if he's 'slippery' he probably doesn't ponder the past much (his own past, obv - presumably the Belle Epoque or similar is worth pondering).

inveteratenamechanger Sun 01-Nov-09 21:29:16

"I would dress in a fairly groomed and armoured way. I would say how very, very much I want to work at this university and at his department, and that I am at the top of my field at the mo (not working 'like a dog', note), but that said university doesn't seem to be trying very hard to keep me, and I wondered if he could shed light on this before I headed off somewhere else.
... I wouldn't spend much time asking about past jobs to him, if he's 'slippery' he probably doesn't ponder the past much (his own past, obv - presumably the Belle Epoque or similar is worth pondering)."

Fab advice choosy! V. much agree about portraying yourself as a mover and shaker who is going to take her REF contribution somewhere else if they don't look sharp.

choosyfloosy Sun 01-Nov-09 21:38:44

Oh btw, if you do meet with the head of A&H, and he at any point says 'between you and me' or 'off the record', don't bite. Give a peal of laughter and say 'ooh, sorry, EVERYTHING is on the record with me'. Don't be drawn into a conspiracy. He is not your mate.

Sorry, just that i have dealt with slippery people before. Felix Dennis is the nicest smile

ilovemydogandmrobama Sun 01-Nov-09 21:59:16

Is there any way you could turn it around to your advantage? You are in a great position as far as child care, and family support, so you probably don't want to move, but perhaps work from home or find a position where you could focus more on research, network and generally contribute more to publishing papers?

Essie3 Sun 01-Nov-09 23:05:59

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inveteratenamechanger Sun 01-Nov-09 23:35:17

Essie, sounds like the meeting with the head of A&H could be extremely useful - good luck!

From the feedback they gave you, could it be that they think your research area is a bit "niche"? Which means nothing, of course, in my field people working on, say, gender can be considered niche by many of the old guard.

So it might be worth thinking about how you can present your research in your meeting with Prof. Big Shot as something that is relevant to the whole discipline - which I'm sure it is, but sometimes people need these things spelling out in words of one syllable. E.g. could you flag up ambitious future research directions, planned or forthcoming publications in general historical journals, and esp. "synergies" (ugh) with colleagues' research - they are very big on this at my place.

IMO, it would be worth seeing how it goes with the head of A&H before you target the pro-VC. Academic egos can be badly bruised by the perception that people have gone over their heads. And of course you can always set up a meeting with her if the A&H guy is unhelpful.

UnseenAcademicalMum Sun 01-Nov-09 23:49:55

Your university should have some kind of redeployment policy by law. This means if you've been continuously employed (and that includes maternity leave) by them for (I think) a year (but maybe its 2 years), they are obliged to find employment for you provided that there is something for which you fulfill the minimum criterion for the post.

Are you a member of UCU? If so and you're not worried about making enemies you could get them involved.

An alternative approach is to go after grant money yourself in which case you fund your own next position. You'll have departments fighting over you in that case and it looks good on your CV. The only thing with that approach is that funding can be very hard to come by.

EightiesChick Mon 02-Nov-09 00:09:28

Essie, coming in late here as another academic. You have got great advice already, and the suggestions about meeting with head of A&H are really good. Just thought I would offer my perspective, which is based on what's worked for me: I have ended up in something not unlike your Dept 3 situation, having basically developed myself into the role rather than got it on the basis of my actual research. It means my job isn't at all what I imagined for myself, but - I get to stay in an academic culture with access to resources, support for research etc; I get huge automony in my teaching, which is terrific; and I have been able to avoid commuting to another part of the country, which is very important now I have a young DC.

So basically, I would reconsider your role in Dept. 3. You've said you have plenty of time for research there, so that's a big asset for one thing. Teaching out of your comfort zone - not great, I know, but again, it can be done and even enjoyable (though the notion of having to do an additional degree isn't great - are there corners you can cut? Bad I know, but top-level teaching is, sadly, not properly rewarded when recruiting) Plus, there is always the possibility that you could show how valuable you are there and engineer a move to a more suitable dept, or institution (all-round more suitable) in the longer term. My own institution is restructuring at the moment and that will bring me closer to the place I'd actually like to be; that might be a possibility for you.

Basically I think you have to settle in to play a long game here. I appreciate that you feel you've already done that over the years, but as many of us know, the game changes once DC are in the picture anyway. I wouldn't write off the usefulness of being near your mum (speaking as someone whose family are all some distance away). Depts 1 and 2 have been rubbish to you, and you have to write them off (painful I know but necessary; again, I've been in this situation too). The new job is worth applying for, but be realistic about it being your dream, X Factor style. It will no doubt have all sorts of pitfalls. I would try and make the best use of the research time you have to position yourself for a canny departmental or institutional move that will tick more of your boxes for personal fulfillment and family suitability, but accept that this might be some time coming. In the meantime, just get by with the teaching as best you can, and batten down the hatches so that you can ride out the current economic storm in the relative safety of Dept 3. To be frank, if you were offered the job that will come up there, I would take it and start working towards a next move a bit later when your DC's older.

All this is just MHO, of course. Best of luck whatever happens.

Kathyis12feethighandbites Mon 02-Nov-09 10:13:29

Essie, I don't have much of value to add to the excellent advice here, but just wanted to say good luck & don't get paranoid - of course you are as good as your excellent research record would suggest.
People don't get jobs for all sorts of reasons and academic politics is a far more likely explanation than that you are actually crap smile

Incidentally, if it was an issue with a reference (as Penth suggests) it may not be malicious - sometimes you get a referee who, without intending to, just calibrates his/her references slightly differently from everyone else so they come across as lukewarm in comparison to others when that isn't what is intended.

Essie3 Mon 02-Nov-09 14:44:16

Message withdrawn

AvengingGerbil Mon 02-Nov-09 16:31:48

Essie, good luck with your campaign. Can I suggest you might want to pull this thread though, as I was easily able to identify you from the info given.

I wasn't stalking, honest, but it did seem you were fairly identifiable from what you said - historians in law dept in Welsh-language-promoting unis are not thick on the ground.

Essie3 Mon 02-Nov-09 20:16:36

Duh, thanks AvengingGerbil. Will pull the thread.

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