Academic common room
Can part time academia work?
ruthypfdraper · 22/10/2021 08:51
Question in the title really...
I'm living with a chronic health condition. Need to prioritise my health and have days in the week when I can do things that help manage my condition. I've realised that academia has taken over my identity. I talk about it all the bloody time, have become such a bore. Like many colleagues, Covid pushed me to burnout. I love working with the students, especially personal tutoring. The autonomy and flexibility is also unlike any other job. But there is so much I detest - the last minute culture, endless marking, politics, never feeling good enough etc.
I am full time in a T&R role. Have worked part time before but in research roles or purely teaching posts. I need to work less and look after myself more but is it feasible in academia in a lectureship? If you manage it, please share how! Will I be forever frazzled and frustrated and resent putting in more unpaid hours? I worked so hard to get here but am at the point where I have to prioritise my health. Have had some serious scares recently which gave me a shock.
Any wise words welcomed.
damekindness · 22/10/2021 12:38
Anyone I know who has opted for part time hours has always ended up doing a full time job for a part time salary.
ruthypfdraper · 22/10/2021 12:47
And that's my worry. I'll be so sad if I have to give up what I've worked so hard for.
TalbotAMan · 22/10/2021 13:03
From personal experience and observing (now former) colleagues, it's difficult to make part-time work if you drop hours from full-time. People who were only ever part-time had a better chance of keeping a lid on work, but those who dropped down, including me, struggled.
I was fortunate to get offered a consultancy-type role in another organisation a couple of years ago, and dropped from full-time to a 40% contract. At that stage I wasn't clear that I could make enough from the consultancy role to go altogether, as the consultancy work is not guaranteed. It didn't really work and I came under a lot of pressure from the university to forgo paid consultancy work to do unpaid overtime for them.
Suffice to say that when they offered a voluntary severance scheme which I could dovetail with an early retirement pension and consultancy giving me more income than before, I was straight out of the door.
Someone who went to 80% in order to start work in her own consultancy business a few years ended up going back to FT because she found that the demand for unpaid overtime stopped her consultancy from taking off. She's still there but currently on sick leave due to burn-out.
ruthypfdraper · 22/10/2021 15:35
Thanks for responses. Hmmm. I have so many projects. Hard enough to fit them in as it is. But if I don't ease up I'll not get to retirement.
Lolojojonesi · 22/10/2021 15:46
I think if you're going part time you have to be very clear about what you are NOT doing. I'm not sure what percentage of your role is teaching, research and admin, but there's no point in giving up all of these 'equally', which is what management would most likely want you to do - this is why I decided not to go part time because it was clear that I'd be still doing a full time job but just paid less. Reducing teaching is the only thing that will realistically lower your hours.
An alternative is to focus all your energy into applying for research grants so you get a protracted period of 100% research time (if you're in an institution that allows you to do this). This has paid off for me for the next couple of years and is giving me a bit of time to think about how to approach academic life when I do go back to a mixed role
qudylogra · 22/10/2021 16:18
It would never be an option in my institution to reduce hours unequally i.e. less teaching but the same amount of research. I think it would cause considerable tensions if a department did allow this, as other staff wouldn't feel the work was being spread equitably.
People who reduce hours and enforce very clearly that they don't work certain days seem to manage their part-time workload better.
BuffaloHigh · 22/10/2021 19:48
I work part time (0.6 contract) because I have 2 young children. I was hired on a part time basis so a bit different but there are plenty of people in my department who have dropped to part time from full time.
It works and it doesn’t. I do work over my hours but doesn’t everyone. Teaching is worked out on a proportional basis and I share one of my admin roles with another part timer so that works. My days off are mine so I do check my emails and respond if there’s something v urgent but I definitely don’t attend meetings or do substantive work unless I really really need to (eg at big marking times). I publish enough although it takes longer and I don’t have time to be risky if that makes sense because it has to work out. But obviously if I was full time I could do more and I get frustrated sometimes that I have to say no to interesting things because I don’t have time. I do want to go up to 0.8 at some point but not full time, at least for a while.
It sounds like your current situation is unsustainable so worth giving it a go?
ruthypfdraper · 22/10/2021 20:00
Thank you all. Good to hear you can make it work buffalohigh. Sounds like your dept is supportive?
I am eligible for sabbatical next year, which would give me a break from teaching. If dropping to 0.8, things would take longer. If 0.6, I'd have to drop more.
It's not a 9-5 job is it? But maybe I'd be bored elsewhere!
handmadevintagecustom · 23/10/2021 18:02
I've done part-time in past and made it work, but you have to be very, very strict with yourself. I think it depends on the kind of person you are.
That aside, I'm in a similar position to you and have been thinking same thoughts. However, I have been think along disability lines. Chronic illnesses count as disabilities, so if someone has to go part-time because of a disability - isn't that discrimination?
I don't know the answer, but on those grounds I started looking at partial incapacity retirement but the rules and processes for that are so obtuse that it could be a risky strategy.
If anyone has any thoughts on the discrimination angle, or partial incapacity, that would be interesting.
PeterIsACockwomble · 23/10/2021 18:03
My experience of p/t academia is that it's f/t for half the pay.
TheCountessofFitzdotterel · 23/10/2021 18:05
I have known people who make 80% work if they can have a day on which they don’t work.
ruthypfdraper · 23/10/2021 18:13
Interesting handmadevintage. I hadn't heard of that. Will look into it.
I'm not very good at boundaries, struggle not to look at email. Workaholic - part of the reason I'm not well...
BuffaloHigh · 23/10/2021 18:24
You definitely need fixed days where you don’t work. I have my working days in my email signature, on my office door and in my module handbooks etc. Just trying to cut down work won’t work. Everyone will expect you to do everything.
GCmiddle · 24/10/2021 15:38
I have worked a 0.4 contract for many years, since the birth of my first child. I keep fairly rigidly to my 2 set days a week, though I am sometimes flexible when the need arises. I do some 'out of hours' work, but I have found that goes in fits and starts and I rein it back in when I think it's getting excessive. I definitely don't, and never have, worked full time for part time salary. You do need to be able to set firm boundaries, but I have found that colleagues and managers by and large respect them. It has done my career no harm and I have been promoted each time I have applied.
AlwaysColdHands · 25/10/2021 07:19
I’m pt and there are some peaks in the year where I definitely work more like ft (assessment times).
I have out of office replies on for my days off and these are really well respected by staff - but not students, who of course often send repeated emails (even though I’ve made it very clear to them that I’m not available 5 days a week).
For me the biggest issue is progression - really please to hear about the experience above from @GCmiddle because I cannot see any development opportunities for someone who is pt. everyone above me is ft, there is no culture of job shares or flexibility with senior roles.
For me, I’m pt as I have young children. But working ft was also bad for my health - on a 5 day contract I often worked more like 6. So accepting the downsides of pt work ( a bit of unpaid work, lack of progression) is the price I pay to safeguard my health and spend time with my children at this point in time - this is how I rationalise it and don’t resent it (much).
Don’t seem to have time to research / publish, but I didn’t when full time either because just loaded up with more and more teaching 🙄 Depends on the institution and discipline I guess.
0verth1inker · 25/10/2021 07:38
I am 0.6 in a teaching role only. I have a very good manager who really works hard to ensure my workload reflects this so I don’t feel I’m working hours and hours unpaid. As others said the issue is students who get frustrated if I don’t respond within an hour to emails let alone 2 days! They’re getting there though. You do have to be very defensive of your days off (I often feel guilty about this as the role of otherwise flexible and my manager is brilliant so I feel I’m being rigid but I have small kids so need to be). I’m not sure I’d ever want to do FT as it look stressful! My work/life balance is great.
murmuration · 25/10/2021 12:36
I've seen it both work and not work. Interestingly, the people I've seen it work for have all been male - before going part time they arranged to be taken off a variety of admin and teaching duties. I don't know if the women just didn't ask for this, or were denied...
I'm similar to you, OP - I have a chronic illness and I have to have regular rest periods. Luckily, I've had very understanding HoDs, and I was able to negotiate a flex time arrangement - I work full time but take one afternoon off a week (so 9 hours on the other 4 days). I track my hours to make sure I am doing at least full time (and it's usually a few hours over). I did speak to Occupational Health, which was terrifying, but I understand they are good some places. So you might consider either talking to OH or your line manager and see if there is an arrangement that can help you?
I find that I have to be VERY strict about my boundaries. I don't work or check email outside of working hours, on weekends, or on my afternoon off. I decline meetings on my afternoon off. I got a fractional central admin role, and it's been very interesting that my afternoon off is much more respected there than it is in my Department! Every once and a while I will shift days for very important things, but I have limits on that for my health and I really can't budge too far without being off work multiple days in the next week because I'm too ill - it's become clear that 4 hours off scheduled is much more efficient!
Are you currently working just working hours, or are you doing more (like the huge majority of academics)? If you are now doing evenings/weekends, you could start by protecting those times and see how difficult it is for you. Part time, I imagine, would be more of the same - don't think 'oh, I'll just finish this...' or 'I'll just quick check for messages' - actually do zero work on time off. Because of my boundaries, I am sometimes much slower on things than I (or my collaborators) would like - but I know that if I pushed through on one thing several more would be even worse off.
My health is poor enough that I really should be working part time, but I'm the sole salary earner in the household (DH is more disabled than I), so we can't afford it. I do feel that I've gotten a lot of practice in protecting my FT flex hours that if I did go part time I could actually manage it - but it would have to go hand-in-hand with reduced responsibilities.
ruthypfdraper · 25/10/2021 15:59
It's so tricky to work out how I would manage. I wonder how I would have coped without Covid, although in truth was showing signs of burnout before then.
Because work took over my life, I have few interests any more outside work. I find myself checking email at odd times out of boredom. I physically can't work evenings or weekends though. Too tired and can't concentrate in evenings, and weekends is protected family time. I used to email out of hours more, but realised I needed to convey to students a healthier work ethic.
I'm reading Oliver Burkeman's book on time prioritisation. It's giving me lots of pause for thought about the benefits of living in the moment. With academia we spend so much time playing the long game - planning when we'll write, when we'll get applications in etc. Plus we always have to look ahead towards the next marking period, next semester, next paper. It's exhausting.
When I was on precarious contracts I said yes to so much to keep my options open. Now I have many unfinished projects and part time won't help me finish them.
If doing this I'm going to have to be much clearer on my boundaries, that seems to be the common behaviour of those who make it work.
FrazzledY9Parent · 24/11/2021 12:18
I realise this is an old thread but just wanted to chime in to say that I am part time (have been a range of fractions from 0.6 to 0.8) and it works for me. You do have to be strict with yourself as a PP said. I have been able to progress in my career and take on senior leadership roles on a part-time contract. It has been a life saver for me as a single parent and also health-wise. I also enjoy my work much more and feel like it is sustainable to retirement age in a way that it wasn't when I was FT.
ruthypfdraper · 24/11/2021 12:37
Thank you! That is reassuring to read. I am looking at 0.6. But need to be really clear on boundaries.
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