Tag Archives: career

Backre(action): nice blog

I like this person. She sounds fun. And she tackles a stereotype head on, without being afraid to acknowledge which bits of that stereotype may actually be true. Nice little read.

http://backreaction.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/can-we-get-some-sympathy-for-nerdy.html

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Academic Rapunzels, or Leaving academia – but hitherto?

This article is about the emotional effect of leaving academia. There is little actual talk about emotions in the article. It is largely an optimistic-sounding story of a career in science communication after a PhD. But why is there so much effort to justify this career “turn” and why is it so heavily about rebranding, organizing, management, objectives, timescales? Why is the first of three main lessons that unemployment is not the same as failure? A society must be very confused if enough people in it genuinely believe that work – or rather paid employment – is the sole kernel of their identity, and that unemployment equals failure.

So while the article sounds like a happy ending to a previously stormy journey through the post-PhD career, it is actually an article about what is wrong with the academic system. It is about leaving research, but not really leaving it, and instead finding work in the fringes, or what I like to think of as the scaffolding of research. It’s an article about an academic system which tricks a lot of people into thinking they are welcome, and then kicks them out because there is not enough space (or funding) for them. There may not be enough room in the lab, the lab is a cut-throat business, only the very best make it. Yet there is always room for one more in the scaffolding! We can always do with more people to take care of the scientists! These academic caretakers are doing a valuable job, some are happy and find their skills well applied, others swallow their disappointment because they are making a living and are even close to what used to be their dream. But why are there so many administrators, communicators, managers, strategists, and so few researchers, or “students” – as academic authors used to like calling themselves in papers only a few decades ago? And why is it mainly women who take these timid career paths out-but-not-really-out of academia, while male PhD holders end up in industry jobs in larger numbers?

The article reminded me of those multiple, identical articles I’ve read about how to find work abroad as a trailing spouse. The authors are all women, and they all say that while real jobs are hard to come by, look how great it is that we now control our own schedule and can work on our own macbook in a hipster cafe. And when you look at their signatures, they are all “freelance writers” or “professional bloggers”. And they do that because that’s what they chose to do. They combine work with family because that’s what they chose to do. And have time to bake cookies (and keep applying for jobs and not getting them) because that’s what they like. I am being cynical, but the point is: when lots of people choose something, they are clearly being reasonable. Being a para-academic who hangs on like Rapunzel on her own hair from the fringes of the academic scaffolding, over the abyss of unemployment, is clearly one of the open paths, or at least a path less closed than its alternatives.

I have no answers – only questions and quibbles.

 

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The disposable academic

An old article in the Economist about what happens after PhD (spoiler: not so good things)… still true.

http://www.economist.com/node/17723223

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But hey, they just need to learn how to sell themselves!

I read this cheery post on the careers blog at my university this morning and it made my porridge taste sour. What better way to start your working week (well, start isn’t the right word since most academics I know do at least some, and sometimes most, of their work over the weekend): let’s all join hands engage in some gleeful unreflective apology of our pernicious labour market system. 

Sure, I get it. You live in a market place, you must sell yourself, stupid. In this context, some of the advice in this blogpost is useful. It makes sense. We all do it. We all do it, whether we are good at it, whether we hate or enjoy it. But under the cheery businessy tone of such publications lies the creepy reality of academic marketisation gone out of control.

Oh and by the way, when will I have time to do some research, find/create/acquire/share some knowledge? After my market pitch. In my copious spare time. Over the weekend. Hey there, I am for sale, brains, research ethics and all. Who is buying?

http://careersblog.warwick.ac.uk/2015/10/19/sell-yourself-get-ahead/

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Postdoc and motherhood in Austria or Germany: is it good or not good?

Everyone agrees that postgraduate, postdoctoral and other early career researchers struggle with reconciling the geographical demands of their careers with personal and family life. A lot has been said (informally over a drink or during conference coffee breaks) and written (on blogs and in academic journals) about the fact that the current academic system is unkind and detrimental to researchers’ families, relationships, childbearing decisions, parenting, other care responsibilities, and mental health. Everyone (including myself) has a bunch of criticisms and reasons why the institutional conditions in academic employment are not optimal. But in terms of what these optimal institutional conditions are, can, or ought to be, there is no agreement! I find it fascinating how much opinions on this can differ. Here are two articles I read recently. I struggle to disagree with both. And yet, they have opposite arguments. The first one argues that in Germany mothers are pushed out of the labour market because of societal expectations to be “perfect mothers”, and in comparison, in France mothers are far more relaxed, they trust the state childcare services more, and return to work much earlier instead of “devoting themselves wholly to their offspring”.  The article is not specifically about academia, but I have heard similar sentiments expressed by some of my interviewees in Germany who, for example, felt excluded and unrespected by their colleagues after one or two maternity leaves. The second article praises Austria’s system (which is similar to the German one) and says that it enabled the author to combine work and family life.

Article 1 (in German):“Es wird ein Mutterkult betrieben”

Article 2: A European postdoc for the family, by Michelle Gabriele Sandrian

I guess all should be read in context. The second article (the one which praises Austria’s Mutterschutz law) is written by an American researcher who has been exposed to a much less kind system (to me it sounds unthinkable that in the US there is NO paid leave for new mothers AT ALL). However, it is very important to notice also the hidden injuries of the more protective German (and Austrian) system, pointed out in the first article by an author who has experienced motherhood and work in both Germany and France.

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A few related articles about Germany:

Gender Inequality in British and German Universities, Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, Volume 37, Issue 5, 2007

Academic career structure in Germany (online resource)

Gender Inequality in German Academia and Strategies for Change, 2001 (free PDF)

FRAUEN IN DER WISSENSCHAFT: Wo sind sie bloß?, Die Zeit, 13/2014

Attitudes to gender equality issues in British and German academia (in English, free PDF)

Paths to Career and Success for Women in Science, 2014 (Google book)

Kind da, job weg
Warum die Babypause zum Karrierekiller wird
Aussortiert und abgelegt

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The post-PhD career is [not] like a fairytale

Read this fairytale substituting “Ivan” for “PhD-student”, “Tsar” for PhD-advisor, “Firebird” for tenure, and “Gray Wolf” for the pitfalls of academic life. Don’t forget that this is a fairytale and in real life by far not all Prince Ivans marry the princess and life happily ever after. Not to mention that Elena the Fair may also be on the PhD job market and then they would have the Two Hero Problem. [I’m not even beginning to say anything about the gender politics of fairytales]. The crossroads is the “what now” moment after your PhD where all possible roads lead to problems.

Which head to slay first: PhD student adventures

Which head to slay first: PhD student adventures

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Ivan Tsarevich, the Firebird, and the Gray Wolf

(translation of a classic Russian fairytale edited by Anna Anashikina, reposted from http://www.therussianstore.com/blog/the-tale-of-ivan-tsarevich-the-firebird-and-the-gray-wolf/)

A Very long time ago in a certain kingdom there reigned a Tsar who had three sons, the first was Dimitriy Tsarevich, the second – Vassiliy Tsarevich, and the third – Ivan Tsarevich. The Tsar had a magnificent orchard, where grew his favorite magic apple-tree with golden apples. However every night a Firebird fell into the habit of flying on that apple-tree and tear away few apples. Its feathers were red-and-gold, and bright as a fire, her eyes were like Eastern crystals.

The Tsar ordered each of his sons to catch the Firebird alive and promised a half of the kingdom for that. The two elder brothers fell asleep while watching. On the third night the youngest son, Ivan, went to the orchard. He saw the Firebird, crept to it and grabbed it by the tail. But the Firebird managed to get free, leaving to Ivan only a bright tail feather. Since then the Firebird stopped visiting the orchard, but the Tsar ordered his three sons to find and bring him the Firebird alive for the half of the kingdom. All three sons saddled their horses and rode their ways.

Ivan rode far away and get to an open field, where he saw a sign-post with the following words: “If you go to straight, you will be cold and hungry; if you go to the right, you will be alive and healthy but loose your horse; if you go to the left, you will be dead but the horse will be alive and healthy.” Ivan Tsarevich decided to go to the right, he rode two days and on the third day he met a big Gray Wolf, who tore the Ivan’s horse in pieces.

Ivan walked all day long, he was very tired, and suddenly the Gray Wolf overtook him. The Gray Wolf felt sorry for Ivan and offered his assistance of taking him to his destination, since he killed Ivan’s horse.

Ivan Tsarevich got on the back of the Gray Wolf and they were on their way to a kingdom where the Firebird lived. The Tsar of that kingdom after listening to Ivan’s wish to take away the Firebird, agreed to give his Firebird to Ivan in exchange for a golden-crested horse from the neighboring kingdom. The Tsar who was the master of the golden-crested horse agreed to give away his horse in exchange for a beautiful Elena the Fair, who was the daughter of the next kingdom Tsar. However, with help of the Gray Wolf, Ivan managed to get the Firebird for his father, and the wonderful horse and Elena the Fair for himself.

When they came to the border of Ivan’s father kingdom, Ivan and Elena said good-bye to the Gray Wolf and stopped to rest. While they were sleeping, Ivan’s two elder brothers, returning from their unsuccessful expedition, came across the two and killed Ivan. They threatened Elena to kill her as well if she will tell anyone what had happened.

Ivan Tsarevich laid dead for thirty days until the Gray Wolf found him. The Gray Wolf got water of death and water of life and revived Ivan. Ivan got to his home palace on the back of the Gray Wolf just at the wedding day of his brother Vassiliy Tsarevich and Elena the Fair. There Ivan, with help of Elena, told his father what had happened to him. The Tsar got so furious with his elder sons that he threw them to prison.

Ivan Tsarevich and Elena the Fair married, inherited the kingdom and lived in love for many years.

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The slaves-who-are-masters of Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley: an army of geeks and ‘coders’ shaping our future” (click on the title to read article)

A vivid, if somewhat sensationalist, description of Silicon Valley by a non-coder, highlightting a bunch of interesting issues – the historical importance of the computer revolution, power, the drive to innovation and its directions, gender, age, work ethics…

“An ad in the back of the main San José listings magazine reads: “Computer Systems Analyst, Sunnyvale, CA. Bachelor and five years experience required.” What is this place? […] for all we see and hear about the Valley’s gilded apps and networks, glimpses of the people behind them are rare. Who are they and what does the society they have made for themselves (the template for our own) look like by light of day?”

Andrew Smith, The Guardian, 11 May 2014

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“An Aspiring Scientist’s Frustration with Modern-Day Academia: A Resignation”

“While there was a time when I thought that I would be proud to have the letters “PhD” after my name, this is unfortunately no longer the case.”  from “An Aspiring Scientist’s Frustration with Modern-Day Academia: A Resignation”, anonymous text posted in Pascal Junod’s blog

Have I posted this story of academic frustration yet? No?? Well, here it is… Read the comments, too.

http://crypto.junod.info/2013/09/09/an-aspiring-scientists-frustration-with-modern-day-academia-a-resignation/

 

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