Academic job market, academic life, Academic research, Academic success, hybrid careers, professional roles

Step into the shoes of the hybrid academic-professional career

FullSizeRender 5

“Offering high quality research and teaching support requires a good level of understanding of academic practice. While not all professional staff need to be academic, there is a need in universities for a band of staff who bridge the two much larger groups.” – by Anonymous Academic, September 2017, The Guardian.

When I read the article ‘Work in an academic-professional hybrid role? Say goodbye to career progression’ in The Guardian a few weeks ago, there were many things that rang true. Yet I felt that ‘anonymous’ didn’t tell the whole story.

Sure, hybrid academic-professional roles can be neither fish nor fowl, the definition of a hybrid, really. Like ‘anonymous’ my credentials in the academic world aren’t shabby, and neither are my professional ones, either. I bring to my professional role in academia the expertise of someone with a doctorate and published and well cited research, as well as 15 years experience as a professional journalist on major publications.

But it all feels as stitched together as Frankenstein’s creature.

Then again, isn’t this the reality in today’s academic workforce?

‘Anonymous’ bemoans the fact that hybrids “struggle with identity, career progression and acknowledgement of the effort that goes into juggling the dual roles of being a professional and an academic.”

Sure – but it’s a damn sight better than the alternative – the nail biting hand to mouth existence of a sessional lecturer. I could easily go down that path and opt for sessional lecturing, having a place (well, hot desking) at the ‘high table’ of academia. Having – even if the umbilical cord is tenuous – an academic institution to link my name and research. In other words, get paid for maybe 24 weeks a year.

Or: I can do what I am doing. Have an interesting, ongoing professional position in a university where I can use my research skills, engage in teaching, communicate academic research and knowledge to a wide audience and write for a living. And do my own research and creative practice after hours, with the tagline “Independent researcher”.

I have two children to support as a single parent, so I figured I can suck it up and ditch the ego ride of calling myself a full time academic, a full time (albeit sessional) lecturer. Like the savvy hybrid, I can make the best of both worlds, and of course, the university benefits from my hybrid skills and expertise.

And, likewise, I benefit from an ongoing position at the university and all its benefits. And that is the way of the academic world of 2017.

“Researchers seem to be dropping like flies — leaving or just being left behind. Many reasons are to blame, including overproduction of graduates, casualisation of the workforce, corporatisation of universities, disillusionment, disenfranchisement, increased competition for funding or just natural attrition.” – University researchers Need More Than A PhD, The Australian Higher Education, October 18, 2017.

Mind you, this is nothing new to me. I have always been a scrappy hybrid – and with that comes hybrid vigour. Not for me the luxury of time off each week to study for my doctorate while I worked full time in an academic role. I have heard of the indulgence of a semester off (paid by the university) for academics to finish their doctorates – even after they have been taking their own sweet time doing theirs part-time.

This hybrid did her doctorate full time in four years – while holding down a full time professional job (and raising two young children). Did I mention I also taught a Masters subject on top of that work load? And published and presented at conferences. I got no time off whatsoever, save what I earned myself as annual leave and overtime – and my line manager took pity on me at the very end and threw in an extra few days leave when it looked as if I might have a meltdown. In fact, most of the time it was my workplace in the university rather than the academic staff who were most supportive while I completed my doctorate.

Of course, none of that guaranteed or got me a foothold  in academia after all. Reality check. That’s life. Welcome to Academia in the 21st Century. I shouldn’t complain – I was in print media in the glorious halcyon days – and everything is always about timing. But forgive me if I am snarky about the cushy ride delivered to others in academia, simply because they got in at the right time, not because they deliver any real benefit to the university. Hybrids can be like that – we want to shake up the status quo. Look at Frankenstein’s creature. Poor hybrid, more intelligent than the saps around him, a well-read autodidact who had to suffer fools. He didn’t take it lying down, either.

IMG_4151

Hybrids abound in universities, but we are not always easy to spot. Maybe we keep our heads low, because we don’t want to pay attention to ourselves – academics guard their turf more viciously than my Corgi defending the footpath outside the front door. They can also be incredibly arrogant and very defensive when finding they are dealing with a hybrid. Sad to say, maybe no one really likes a hybrid.

“If you don’t do teaching or research, then (academics believe) you are just a parasite,” one correspondent says. “When it all goes wrong, I have to bail the academics out,” complains another.” – John Gill ‘By the Role Divided’, Times Higher Education.

Not that we hybrids are complaining. At least we have job, and we are grateful for it. Theorist Donna Haraway famously said she’d rather be a cyborg than a goddess – well, hybrids would rather have professional jobs in academia than nibble at the edges of it, trying to survive as sessional staff with their hands out with begging bowls, asking for more, please…

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Academic relevance, Academic research, science fiction

Academic research that matters: women’s bodies and speculative fiction

51Lc7FlfDPL._AA300_Many times I find myself justifying the validity of a doctorate not only in Creative Writing, but also my chosen research area – speculative fiction.

I am reminded by many critics that I’m not doing something heroic like researching a cure for cancer or launching a satellite into space. And yet my research exploring animal and women’s rights in the creation of hybrids in science fiction has never seemed so relevant.

The critically acclaimed TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1980s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale depicts a chilling world where women are reduced to their basic biology as childbearing machines.

Women’s reproductive rights are denied in the face of a ‘greater good’ – a widespread decline in female fertility which results in fertile women being hunted down, captured, traded and forced to bear children for the elite via sanctioned imprisonment and rape. Women’s wombs and fertility are seen as such a socially and economically valuable commodity that these actions are justified and enshrined in law.

As Naomi Alderman argued in The Guardian what makes The Handmaid’s Tale so terrifying is that everything that happens in it is plausible. The politics of fear, she writes, are always the same. “They are easily recognisable in retrospect. They are easy to acquiesce in at the time. On the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, one popular placard read “Make Margaret Atwood Fiction Again”. There’s no gain the women’s movement has made that can’t be taken away – a fact that will sound terrifying to some and a gleeful plan of action to others.”

“We let them [women] forget their real purpose,” is a chilling quote from TV series, and one that resonates with many women who fear the draconian rules and backlash under the Trump administration when it comes to women’s rights. Kaylie Hanson Long, the national communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, says President Trump has laid bare the real motive behind the war on reproductive rights waged by antichoice politicians and extremist groups. ‘It has very little to do with abortion and everything to do with keeping women in our place by limiting our options and freedom.’

There is more truth to Atwood’s fiction than we care to admit. And more reason than ever to be proud of how speculative fiction we are writing and researching can test the future for us by critically exploring what is happening now and asking – and then?

Alderman argues: “feminist science fiction does tend to feel fresh – its authors have a habit of looking beyond their particular historical moment, analysing the root causes, suggesting how they might be, if not solved, then at least changed.”

Let us explore the many ways that women’s wombs are contested spaces both during the reproductive years and beyond.

Just as in Gilead, women’s fertility is privileged. As standard practice, the media has an ongoing fetishization of pregnant celebrities.

The spectre of Gilead is one all women live under. In Australia there is currently an HRT shortage that has been dragging on for months and affecting many women in midlife. Yet there has been no media outcry over this. We can view the lack of interest in the HRT shortage as a disregard for women’s health now that their reproductive days are over. Atwood argues that under Trump, women have been put on notice that hard-won rights may be only provisional. “It’s the return to patriarchy,” she said, warning that whenever tyranny is exercised, “it is wise to ask, “Cui bono? Who profits by it?”

This obsessive and misogynistic link between female worth and reproduction is also at the heart of the medical profession’s patronising conspiracy of silence about the long term health risks associated with vaginal birth.

Mavis King breaks this taboo, writing about ‘the things that can last a lifetime after a vaginal delivery, such as a weak bladder, reduced feeling or even pain during sex, a heavy feeling in the vagina where your insides feel like they are falling out (and quite literally can be)…If I had been presented with some clear and simple possibilities, which every obstetrician would know, then I feel I could have made a more informed decision and been better prepared for the recovery.’

Cui bono? In the UK, there are claims that women are being pressured not to have caesareans as part of an NHS culture of ‘policing pregnancy’ – this is because it costs the government money. The surgical procedure costs the NHS more than double a vaginal delivery. No wonder the alarm at the rise in caesareans worldwide. Of course, there are very good medical reasons for having a caesarean birth, and good reasons for not, but it is interesting, and not widely publicised, that there is a financial incentive on the part of governments in the worldwide campaign to stop women accessing this option. Women are pressured into vaginal delivery even when they will end up with life changing consequences.

In September 2017, Australian recipients of vaginal mesh implants gave personal accounts of their suffering to a Senate committee in Sydney. The women received the mesh in a bid to correct urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse as a result of damage to their pelvic floor after childbirth. The hearings come as 800 women fight in a class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, claiming their vaginal mesh implants have left them in pain.

Throughout their lives, women are silenced about speaking about their embodied experiences as women. We are shamed about frank and open discussion regarding birth trauma, the long term impact of vaginal birth, and caesarean birth (I was accused of being ‘too posh to push’ after Handle With Care my book on high risk pregnancy came out).

Once the reproductive years are behind us, we find that the taboo shifts to silencing, dismissing or trivialising women about the menopause.Research has found women find it hard to talk about experiences of menopause at work because they fear aged-based discrimination.

UK broadcaster Lorraine Kelly who went public with her struggle with menopause said that it is still the last taboo. “We still don’t talk about it, even with our own girlfriends…. It’s natural! As a woman you get periods, you have your child-bearing years, and then you have the menopause.”

Indeed, we haven’t come that far in the past 70 years when it comes to discussing menopause in the media. In 1948, when obstetrician Dame Josephine Barnes gave a series of talks on women’s health on BBC radio covering bleeding, hot flushes and hormonal changes, there was uproar.

Earlier this year the Australian Health Department confirmed a shortage in the Estradot oestrogen patch, along with Estalis, which combines progesterone.

Endocrinologist Dr Roisin Worsley said the shortage wasn’t being taken seriously by authorities and that this was because it’s a female issue.

The manufacturer Novartis advised in April that they were working to ‘resolve fluctuations in supply’ and estimated this would be resolved by mid 2017.

Yet the shortage of the commonly used transdermal patches continues, forcing women to seek alternative forms of HRT which can have increased side effects.

The Health Department has updated its advice that the transdermal patch shortage will continue until November 2017.

This means that if the shortage does indeed end before the year does, women will have been without adequate and consistent supply of the drugs for 12 months.

Imagine if Viagra manufacturing was disrupted for an entire year.

The trouble with all this silence about women’s bodies is that the many varied narratives and nuances around the different stages of women’s reproductive lives are lost. Only the most ‘sensational’ and ‘news worthy’ see the light of day. But just as not all women experience life changing birth trauma after vaginal delivery, not all women suffer from debilitating menopause symptoms. Just as not all men after a certain age need chemical assistance from the little blue pill to maintain their sex lives.

Let’s flip it around to see what applying a women-centric narrative to men’s health issues looks like. If menopausal women’s need for HRT to resolve complaints like hot flushes and insomnia isn’t considered important enough for the government to put pressure on the manufactures to come through with reliable drug production, then it seems only fair that impotent men’s desire for erections should be deemed similarly inconsequential.

Something however tells me that the reliable supply of Viagra will never dry up.