The underpinning purpose of this diaristic post, I think, is to try to work through issues I currently face in my academic career and to see if I can resolve to either stick it out or to jump ship. Is it time for a new, more fulfilling challenge? If so, what?
I am deeply unhappy in my current job. The most disappointing part of this is that after five years of uncertainty, debt, precarious fixed-term contracts, being shunted around the UK (now in my fifth city in five years), and facing separation from everyone I love and have come to befriend every year, I finally have a well-paid, permanent job, whatever permanent means. In that job I feel demeaned, demoralized, unsupported and unmotivated.
My students are lovely and I wish I could be stronger for them. I work with some really nice people in related subject areas without whose support I'd have given up and damned the consequences before now. What I struggle to reconcile with is that I work in an environment - from what I've experienced in my specific workplace - that does not value research, researchers, knowledge, critical thinking, and fostering students' independent learning. I became a doctor of philosophy for the love of those things and for my belief that positive social change can be achieved when we are equipped with knowledge, understanding, and a willingness to learn from one another. I stand by that, and I don't care who thinks that's stupid.
UK universities are under tremendous pressure with the TEF-REF dual pendulums of doom swinging ever closer, which exacerbate, or are perhaps even a root cause of, the detrimental impact on utopian dreamers like me employed by institutions whose reactions to what they think will be the demands of these frameworks are much too heavy-handed and misdirected. In this world today, we need to remember the value of truly robust, liberal education - particularly in media subjects - before it becomes consumed beyond retrieval by the dictates of neoliberal capitalism. I feel like nothing more than a service provider. I am not treated as the experienced expert in and contributer to my field that I am.
I don't expect my colleagues or managers to care that I work on contemporary film and visual culture in conflict and post-conflict societies, that I philosophize on connections between media archives and systems of remembering and forgetting, that I work on affect and traumatic recall, or that in doing this kind of research I identify and evidence signficant patterns in visual culture linked with social change. Given my qualifications, publication record and teaching experience, it would just be nice to feel trusted to get on with my work. For the first time in my eight+ years of teaching in HE I don't feel trusted, and it is clear that my teaching contribution is purely there because it has to be. I have no doubt that some students resent the presence of film analysis and theory in their extortionately-priced degree. I am told repeatedly that my knowledge, classes and I are valued in the same breath as getting harangued for having the gall to spend time in the library instead of my noisy, freezing open-plan office, or being told I'm asking too many questions when I'm trying to understand the millions of systems and rules I'm told I have to follow. The dynamic reminds me of an abusive boyfriend who ten years ago told me constantly that he loved me but conducted himself through acts of emotional blackmail and derision. I do not do what I do to be thanked, but I expect to be allowed to get on with my job.
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a grafter and a workaholic. While it has reaped solid results, too many years of that have taken their toll. It is not lightly that I admit to a complete lack of motivation right now. I have quite a good and growing publication record for my career stage, and ideas for more that I'm dying to get to, including two more monographs. I am really struggling at the moment to find the time and energy for any research projects. I miss an awful lot of people and feel like life is passing me by. I am worried about the state of my mental health. It was all easier to cope with when work was a happier place.
I was so privileged to have the grace of both time and an encouraging research culture at my previous post at Lancaster University. I did some great teaching there which informed and was informed by my live research - ideal. My classes were of manageable sizes. Time to prepare thoroughly was a given. I had time to write, and to write well. My prior posts were also invaluable for the knowledge, experience and networks I developed. Although it is early, I fear I will never experience any of that in my current job, or will get one again that allows and encourages me to grow as a rounded academic. If there was a way to support myself so I could reclaim time to research and write, I would strongly consider it.
While on the surface anyone reading this with no background would be justified in thinking I'm just a moaner, I am too tired and too mindful of delicate situations to be more specific, and there is a lot more to it than what I have said here. If we stand by and accept every adversity, we will never make progress or see justice. The written word is a powerful weapon. I want to gain strength to speak out more. It is necessary.
Options for the future:
- Stay: Find creative ways of surviving in the job. (Easier said than done, and it is difficult to remain strong as a lone resistant voice, especially when already isolated from loved ones. Is it worth my health, which is already deteriorating?)
- Go: After five solid years of applying for academic jobs, could I really keep going?
- Reskill: Stick it out for another year and save for an MA in Museum and Art Gallery or Heritage Studies; reskill as a curator and make use of my skill-set in organization, networking, analysis, writing for publication and public engagement. Can I manage for that long? I am suited for this and passionate about it, but do I have the drive after everything? What if there are no jobs there either? Should I jump into the abyss anyway and play the fulfilment lottery?
- Sidestep: Look into careers in academic publication; ways of facilitating the work of others.
- Later, politics, but I'm not strong enough yet.