Although I don’t write in the area, I’ve been interested from the start of my career in academic labour and although I’m a so-so academic, I’m an excellent observer and the more literature I read about academic labour, the more I think there is a hidden class of academic, I’m not sure what to call this hidden class, I’m also not sure if they are simply a product of my imagination but the more I observe the more I am convinced they exist and walk amongst us.
My issue with a lot of the academic labour material is that it depends to concentrate heavily on traditional academics and a rather narrow cast of stock characters – the exploited adjunct, the selfish research superstar and the burnout who wanted to change the world but couldn’t. Increasingly (and positively) there is more intersection with gender, race, sexuality but still broadly tied to our stock characters. Now given that the exploitation of adjuncts underpins and props up the University system, it seems right to me there is a heavy concentration on that group (similarly for attempt to move us away from thinking of the academic in relation to white straight middle aged men). However it equally occurs to me that a lot of debate is about how to get the selfish research superstar to help the exploited but this conceptualisation misses out another group who I think in many respects holds more power to enable change.
I’ll be perfectly upfront and say there is no rigorous research – this is pure deductive reasoning based on observation, interaction with others and interaction with others as a trade unionist representing members. With that caveat, you are well to rubbish or ignore this. This seems feels right to me.
So who is this invisible academic who I think is missing from the literature? I think they have (most of – but not always all) of the following characteristics:
- They never are people who went ‘straight through’ – they always are people who have come back to academia after doing something else as a career;
- They tend to cluster around ‘professional’ areas (management, health, COMPSCI);
- They did a PhD because it was offered and someone else was paying or it was very cheap;
- They have no intrinsic motivation in research so either do very little or do enough to be ‘respectful’;
- They however know that it’s important to *sound* interested in research so have a good understanding of the process and wider context;
- They have no little or no interest in who the names in their field and the concept doesn’t mean much to them;
- They have little or no experience of being an adjunct because they were a) recruited for their professional experience and b) if there was no full-time job, they would just carry on in previous profession;
- They don’t tend to suffer from burnout (in the sense of the gap between expectation and reality) because they had no particular expectations from academia and their unit of analysis isn’t other academics, it’s their previous career;
- They tend to position themselves as the person or people in the department who keep everything running because they see that as way to off-set relatively weak research profile;
- They tend to put more stock in an individual concept of professionalism that any sense of duty to a wider nebulous field;
- They are very political at local level because they see that as the most natural way to ensure their employment continues. The Dean always knows their name even if he doesn’t know yours;
- The dean knows that they can be trusted to make things go away (within limits) and are discreet.
Maybe this invisible academic is in my head… maybe.
So from a teaching perspective, last year was an interesting year – I won another Student Led Teaching award and I am currently short-listed for ‘Most Innovative Teacher in Higher Education’ by the THE …which is nice.
However it has been pointed out to me that I’m not great at sharing practice so I’ve set up actionable simply to share tips on using technology to save time and enhance teaching (and I’ve been asked to do some tips for research so will do). A new tip will appear every week and every single tip can be put into action immediately. The first four weeks are already up and available. Actionable isn’t intended for navel-gazing or long diatribes about practice – its presented on a take or all leave it basis. It’s also partly to do with my frustrating with a lot of #Edtech conversations at the moment which are so high-level as to worthless to someone wanting to try out something new. There is a place for that, it’s just not at Actionable.
Congratulations! you’ve hit the jackpot, you’ve managed to land your first academic post (or hold an offer of a post). Try my handy quiz to see if you are ready for what awaits you.
- What is the difference in benefits between being in TPS and USS?
- Your first job is going wonderfully, your head of department is very happy with your progress. Sadly you get knocked over by a bus and die. What pensionable benefits do your children receive?
- Sticking with pensions. If you make an additional contribution to your pension via payroll, this reduces your overall tax bill – true or false?
- You can get a tax rebate for membership of many professional bodies and membership fees of a recognised union such as UCU – true or false?
- Rank these investment types in order of risk – Cash ISA, Cash, Money Market Funds, Stocks and Shares ISA.
- Your starting salary is £32,000. Your wife/husband is a basic rate tax payer and earns £7,200 a year. They can transfer some of their tax allowance to you – true or false?
- Are you financially better off on £38,000 in London or £30,000 in Cumbria?
What’s that? you thought this was going to be about teaching or research or complex department politics. There are many many people better placed than me to advise on that. In the same way that you need to take care of your research agenda, you also need to take responsibility now for ensuring that you are not eating dog-food on retirement or if you suffered some career-ending illness.
The answers to all of my questions is the same – I’m not a financial adviser, so speak to someone who is (oh ok I’ll give you one – yes you can claim back membership fees for various professional bodies and trade union membership – get guidance here).