Do casualisation and slow academia mix?

Much of what I want to say here will be expanded in future posts, but I have to start with something. 

When my daughter was born ten years ago – as an aside, my having a ten year old child seems unlikely since I have not aged ten years since – I was a part-time PhD candidate, casual lecturer convening two units, and a contract researcher. I was refused maternity leave from the PhD (there’s a future post in that), I left my casual lecturer position, and I took parental leave from my contract research position. 

At the risk of over-simplifying this story, things did not go according to plan (at least one future post there). I resumed the casual lecturer position when my daughter was three or four months old. The lecturer I was replacing mid-semester had scheduled eight hours of lectures and tutorials in one day.

Image result for dali clock

I am eternally grateful to my mother who provided childcare and brought my daughter to me for a lunchtime breastfeed (cue future lactation post). This was a time of fatigue and frenzy; Acker & Armenti (2004) capture the essence of it in their journal article Sleepless in Academia.

Fast forward a decade – and, yes, it passed almost that quickly – I was job hunting last year (more on that unpleasantness later). To cope with an uncertain future I said yes to almost everything that came across my desk. You know the reasons: a good networking opportunity, chance to ‘maximise impact’, might look good on my CV, could be a job offer in it.

I took on too much. Writing this blog offers a glimmer of hope that I will avoid overwhelm (apparently it can be used as a noun now) in the future.

Last month at an early career event (here is the Storify version), I heard Andrew Barron talk about his five year planning. This comment has stayed with me:

It bears repeating: your two most valuable currencies are your time and your energy.

I did not spend wisely. But perhaps, in the same position – as a casual or soon-to-be-unemployed academic – I would do it all again.

Slow academia has been criticised as a privilege. Reviews of the book The Slow Professor (here and here including “I have never seen such a grotesque example of tenured faculty privilege”) are one example. (I will offer my thoughts when the book is no longer in my to-be-read pile). But the ingredients of slow academia – connection, kindness, resistance, creativity – are not solely for academics with permanent jobs. Yes, like most aspects of work, slow academia is better when you have job security. But, arguably, you need it more when you don’t.

So what might slow academia look like when you are job surfing? My first stop is CASA (a blog which makes a “home online for casual, adjunct, sessional staff and their allies in Australian higher education”) who model the possibilities so well:

We could ask for casualisation to stop being higher education’s blocked drain and bad smell, and instead be some kind of higher aim: an indicator of institutional health, the management of risk, and a standard on which universities could openly compete to do better.

My suggestions on where to start might seem banal, but I learnt them the hard way:
  • Find like-minded souls
  • Have a voice in your institution(s)
  • Nourish yourself

I will leave the detail of what these can look like to future posts. Until then I would love to hear your thoughts and experience: do casualisation and slow academia mix?


7 thoughts on “Do casualisation and slow academia mix?

  1. Pingback: Why slow? | The Slow Academic

  2. Wise words, Agnes!
    If we do not make human connection and we do not nourish ourselves (spiritually, intellectually and every other way) we are doomed – whether in academia or elsewhere!

    Louise Kaktins


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