Redefining early career

Colleagues and I have a new paper out: Redefining ‘early career’ in academia: a collective narrative approach.* This is a paper I am proud of and, perhaps not coincidentally, it is one that has taken many years from the initial research conversations to this publication.

In brief, we want to redefine early career to encompass the experience of academics and aspiring academics who do not meet the dominant definition of ‘five years post PhD in a Level A or Level B position’.

(This image is from the wonderful BLASST cartoons).

The paper is based on qualitative data from a survey  of 522 early career academics in three Australian universities, presented as a series of collective or composite narratives based on multiple survey responses. Here are two of the five narratives as a taster:

ECA1 completed a PhD six years ago and has since had casual teaching appointments at different universities (some concurrently):
I’m not sure I have academic career plans anymore after more than six years of semester-length sessional teaching appointments. My earlier dreams have been shattered. I have done a lot of teaching over the years to support myself during my PhD and since. I put a lot of effort into teaching because I love doing it – and I suffer professionally because of that. It takes all my time and is financially a catastrophe. Once you focus on teaching it is difficult to remain competitive in the academic job market because the immediate demands of teaching make research difficult. I would like a permanent position because without it I am crippled. It’s very hard to explain to outsiders like friends and family and this has led to a certain isolation. In the ideal world I imagined when I embarked on the PhD I would have been in a Level C position by now and I would have been publishing and attending international conferences keeping abreast of developments in my field and mentoring future scholars.
ECA3 has a PhD, a young family and is on probation in a Level B position.
When I first started in academia, my career aspirations were to climb the academic ladder, probably in about five years. But at this stage in my life, I just want to keep my job and get off probation. I am a female academic with financial and caring responsibility for my family. I had difficulty negotiating flexible hours to allow me to juggle work with my family life. I firmly believe in a work/life/family balance and I see many academic staff sacrifice this balance due to work pressures. It’s important to me that my time at home is not time spent marking essays or preparing for classes in a panic. My aspirations now compete with my desire to keep my family intact. I do not want to be in a managerial position. Let those who enjoy admin and management do those tasks and leave academics to be academics. I have been told that I should think about travelling overseas, something my family won’t do. I love being in academia but the cost is very high. My ideal job would be to pursue research and teaching at an institution that supports career progression, pays reasonably, has minimal bureaucratic nonsense, and does not require me to compromise my family (unfortunately, I am not sure such an institution exists).
Stories like this are one of the reasons I consider slow academia important, and this year on the blog I want to make space to explore whether how it is possible to be simultaneously slow and successful.
* If you do not have institutional access to the journal HERD, and find the paper blocked behind a paywall, free access is available to the first 50 readers (per author I believe)  from this link. Thanks to my co-researchers Alana Mailey, Kelly Matthews and Jason Lodge.

6 thoughts on “Redefining early career

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