I work at a university.
I have a PhD.
I do research. In my field, related to my field, things I am directly interested in, and things related to things I am interested in.
I write. Reviews, publications, notes. Journal papers, research reports, grant, award and ethics applications. Progress reports.
I read. I have days where I do nothing but read.
I travel. I have travelled around the country in the past few years.
I have an office, a computer, access to all resources I need to do my work, and to those I don’t need but are nice to have. Like a nameplate, business cards, and entries in the staff directory with my areas of expertise listed. I can order all the stationery.
I rarely have more than one meeting a week.
I do not have a formal workload allocation or work under a formal performance management program. I have no KPIs.
I have strong networks within and outside my field; effectively, a personal research-teaching nexus.
I work with some excellent people: smart, articulate, informed, engaged, hard-working, ambitious.
My workload is good. ‘Manageable’ might even apply.
I have time to think.
I may well have one of the best jobs in higher education.
I work at a university. I’ve taught and researched in universities for 10 years. I’ve had thirty-seven job numbers, filled out over two hundred time sheets. I’m often not counted in official figures, and when I am, it’s not as a full body but as a fraction.
I have a PhD. The work I do is not classified as ‘academic’, but as ‘professional’ or ‘general’. The PhD means I get about $5 an hour more.
I do research. I cannot talk publicly about most of the research I do because to talk publicly about the research is to own it. And I do not own the research I do.
I write. My name doesn’t always appear on the journal article. It never appears on the grant application. It can’t appear on the grant application.
I read. My reading is directed at understanding developments in what is now my sixth, maybe seventh, discipline. In my reading, I cross disciplinary and faculty borders; the scholarly equivalent of a long distance trucker, picking up projects and driving them, running with them; collecting so much useful/less, insider/outsider knowledge of academia, academics, disciplines, scholarly cultures, ways of thinking and talking and judging and being along the way.
I travel. Not to present at conferences but to support project teams. I set up seminar rooms. I hand out surveys. I talk to research participants about the weather.
I have an office; a computer; access to most resources needed to do my work. I haven’t handed out a single business card; no-one pays attention to the nameplate; and I can’t supervise anybody in my areas of expertise.
I rarely have more than one meeting a week. This is because I am not in a role that can Make Decisions. Also, I am not eligible to sit on any committees. (As a PhD student I was eligible to sit on All The Committees. And sit I did: academic senate, research & learning-teaching award and grant panels, the library committee, AUQA-now-TEQSA panels, grading committees. Etc.).
I do not have a formal workload allocation. I do not know what I will be working on from one week to the next. I sometimes do not know if I will be working one month to the next. My ‘performance review’ this year consisted of the statement “Let’s get as many things onto your CV as we can”.
I teach. When I want to, and no longer because I have to. I haven’t wanted to for a while. This is because when I was teaching, I couldn’t help thinking that I could do this work so much better, so much more effectively, if I had more support. I’m not just talking about professional development or access to the photocopier, although those things are useful. I’m talking about basics like sick leave so I didn’t feel as though I had to rock up to a tutorial wondering if today was going to be the day I threw up in front of a class. Or personal leave so I could attend a funeral. Or any kind of paid leave really, so full recovery and recuperation from lifework/worklife was possible without having to worry about Less or No Money For The Week.
After a decade of working in this place, I still don’t have paid leave. But there’s less guilt and angst around not doing quite right by students. I now have no contact with students; something I miss.
I have strong networks within and outside my field. This is because of the many projects I have worked on. It is also because I have Engaged, Participated, Listened, Nodded, Expressed Enthusiasm, Played Nice, Stayed Quiet, Never Said No. I Have Understood. I have ‘That’s interesting’-ed, ‘I can do that’-ed, ‘You could do this’-ed, and more daringly, ‘We could do this’-ed. I play very well with others, sometimes while screaming with frustration on the inside.
I work with some excellent people. People who care and worry, who look out for others, while slogging their guts out for what’s become a greedy institution.
My workload is good. My career prospects, trajectory and job security are not.
I have time to think. I think about the support received during the PhD; the intense and focused multi-team effort directed at squeezing us out of the system as PhD qualified researchers, with what I now realise was extra-ordinary attention and assistance, the likes of which we will never see again. All that care, and then as soon as you hand that thesis in…
Maybe I have too much time to think.
I have one of the most invisible jobs in higher education, and I’m not the only one.
Who are we?