What harm can it do? The emotional cost of asking for something in academia

Kylie Smith is Assistant Professor and the Andrew W. Mellon Faculty Fellow for Nursing and the Humanities in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University in Atlanta.

She is a historian, not a nurse, and loves working with nurses as colleagues and students.

Kylie teaches history, ethics and social justice to nurses, and undertakes research on the history of psychiatry. She tweets from @drkyliesmith. Her ORCID is 0000-0002-9249-0355


 

Photo by Keagan Henman | unsplash.com

In academia, people tell you all the time to just go ahead and ask for what you need. ‘What harm can it do?’, they ask. Or, being a woman, they say, “Think what a man would do and do that”, as though it’s literally that easy.

Of course, it should be that easy, but we all know that it’s not.

It’s well understood that women are socialised to undervalue our authority, to put other people’s needs ahead of our own, to think we are not worth what we are actually worth, to not want to be a bother, a burden, or to annoy people by asking. And we all know we should just be our feminist hero selves and get over it, as studies repeatedly show how embedded sexism is in the academy. Sometimes, though, there’s more going on than just gender socialisation.

A recent experience of mine demonstrated how many layers there are to a simple ‘ask for what you need’ instance, and how much more there is to overcome than what society has already told you. For me, I realised how much my own emotional baggage shaped my fears, and how very realistic fears generated by the deliberate precarity of the academic workplace make it genuinely hard to ask for what we need. Read more of this post

Forging your post-PhD, during your PhD

Dr Wade Kelly is the Senior Coordinator, Research Impact, at La Trobe University, in Melbourne, Australia.

Wade’s PhD research focused on how and why universities and academics engage with communities.

This is Wade’s personal website and he tweets from @wadekelly.


Photo by Wade Kelly – used with permission

I am, perhaps, a unique creature in academia, an avowed extrovert.

Being around others recharges me and gives me energy.

That said, the prospect of cold-contacting people has never been a thrilling proposition. I once had a survival job working at a call centre that conducted surveys. I realised very quickly how little I liked cold calls. At the end of each call another number would appear on the screen then auto-dial. As I heard the tones through my headset another lump would emerge in my throat — over and over.

The work was soul sucking. I only lasted two weeks. There are jobs you do to pay the bills and hope that you never have to do again, and that was one. It turns out, however, that the skills I acquired during my brief stint in a call centre would come in handy down the road over a decade later!

This post is about how I built skills during my PhD for the post-PhD job search.

In late 2014, I gave up my permanent position as an instructional designer at the University of Alberta to start a PhD in Australia. I was back to square one at the bottom of the hierarchical heap. I left the security of a job, home, family, and friends and found myself in regional New South Wales, Australia, in a town called Wagga Wagga. There, I quickly found that if you wanted something done, it was easiest to pick up the phone. People would sometimes take weeks and even months (six months for one memorable email) to respond by email, but phones were answered immediately. Learning to pick up the phone again was but one of the strategies I identified and employed early in my PhD and throughout.

Early in my PhD program my supervisor encouraged me to insisted that I complete a 3-year plan. It was the first week of my PhD and I didn’t know where to start, but her eye was already on graduation and beyond. She knew that in order to get the most out of the PhD beyond your time as a PhD student, you had to make the most of your time as a PhD student. My plan included stuff about writing the thesis, outreach and engagement, teaching, committee work, post-PhD job-searching, and much more. Read more of this post

Commuting stocktake: De-stressing my schedule

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 31 Oct 2019 as ‘Coping with commuting’. It is reproduced with the permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit http://www.researchprofessional.com.


Photo by Wade Kelly – used with permission

My commute is a big chunk of my working life these days. I’m more than five years into a job for which I commute about 3 hours a day (1.5 hours there and back). It’s usually a two-leg journey—train then bus—and occasionally a three-leg one—two trains then bus.

I love my job and the people I work with. It is a dream job that I didn’t think existed.

I feel profoundly grateful for finding a space in academia where I can make a difference and in which I am (relatively) secure. My manager is sympathetic to my commute and I am able to work flexibly on a consistent basis, whether that’s working from home or leaving earlier to avoid the peak-hour crush.

Even so, if I leave this job, it will be because of the commute.

I wrote about starting this extended commuting life back when I was a month or so into my job. Even though I have become used to it and, at times, even look forward to the gift of time to reflect or do such things that can be done on a train or bus, I know it takes a steady and often stealthy toll.

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A good example

Little Free Library, Madison, by Ali Eminov on Flickr.

Do you share your grant applications with people?

Writing an application from scratch is hard work. It is particularly hard when you haven’t done it before. That might be because you have never applied for a grant before. Thankfully, that only happens once. More likely, it is because you’ve never applied for a particular grant before. That might be because the scheme is new or because it is a new opportunity for you. It might be because you’ve moved to a new country, and need to put in an application to a funding agency in your adopted home.

One of the best ways to understand what the research funding agency is asking for is to see a worked example. The very best way is to read the guidelines (and I’m sure that you all do that). But guidelines can only go so far – sometimes they are a bit vague, or ambiguous, or repetitive, or just poorly written. Sometimes it isn’t the fault of the guidelines at all – the fear of the task (and the ramifications of failure) overwhelm your capacity to understand the instructions. In all these cases a good example can go a long way to helping the writing process. So where can you find examples of applications?

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4+1 reasons why you should not apply for external funding

Abel Polese

Abel Polese is a researcher, trainer, writer, manager and fundraiser. He is the author of “The SCOPUS Diaries and the (il)logics of Academic Survival: A Short Guide to Design Your Own Strategy and Survive Bibliometrics, Conferences, and Unreal Expectations in Academia”, a reflection on academic life, research careers and the choices and obstacles young scholars face at the beginning of their career. You can find him on Twitter at @Abiquitous and @scopusdiaries.


A broken pressure gauge
Pressure gauge, by Shane Horan, on Flickr.

Finally, the message came. Friends had warned you but you couldn’t help feeling disappointed when the request finally arrived. The dean of your school has asked you (and everyone else) to apply for external funding in the next few months.

You have nowhere to hide – stress and sleepless nights loom ahead. Maybe if you submit a few bids that are not funded, you can claim that you are doing your job. But the ice under your feet will eventually get thin. Is the alternative scenario any better? If you win, it will count to your next promotion (or tenure), but it will also mean more work. Evenings spent writing reports and expenditure claims instead of being with your family or friends.

You ask around. Many colleagues say that this is just the way things are. Others admit that they don’t fancy it but they fancy the risk of losing their job even less.

Unenthusiastically, you start gathering information on where and how to apply. You are already doing many things for free – this is just one more. After all, new academics must endure these things to get stronger. At least, that is what you have been told.


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Applying for that alt-ac job

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 25 July 2019 as ‘What we talk about when we talk about recruitment’. It is reproduced with the permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.


A cubicle corner, showing office stationery and a desk phone.
A corner of the office, by Lonnon Foster, on Flickr.

Recently, I started a new job. One of the first things on my to-do list was to employ someone to work with me. I thought that it might be useful to reflect on the recruitment process, particularly for academics who are looking for an alternative academic job (an ‘alt-ac job’ as some people call it)—an administrative job within a university environment.

Hiring, like everything, is cultural. Different countries do it differently. I’ve spent most of my working life as an administrator at Australian universities, helping academics with their research grants. All I can draw on is my own experience. Please keep in mind that this may not necessarily translate to your situation. Read more of this post

Research funding for casuals

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) invited Tseen and I to speak to precariously employed (casual) academic members. This post is based on the talk that I am giving today. Thanks to the NTEU Victorian Division for hosting this event.


I can’t save you

It Gets Worse!

There are serious structural problems in universities worldwide. The number of permanently employed staff is shrinking. The number of precariously employed staff (casual, adjunct, paid by the hour) is increasing. I can’t change that. This situation isn’t getting any better. It gets worse.

  • Unionism (like the National Tertiary Education Union in Australia) provides an organised industry-wide approach to the problem. The union is your best bet for speaking truth to power, whether that be in representing you personally when you have an individual grievance, representing all members in discussions with the university, or talking directly to the government about sector-wide issues.
  • I can’t do that. My advice represents an individual approach to a specific part of the problem. This post talks about how you might secure research funding, which might help you to secure more permanent employment.
  • However, keep in mind that I write from a position of privilege. I’m permanently employed as an administrator at an Australian university. I’ve been doing this, on and off, for thirty years. So I don’t know your experience they way that you do. Keep that in mind as your read this post – your mileage may vary.

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