Skip to content

My Absent Career 14: The final decline

Once the Critical Reasoning project was done (a bit too early due to funding being overspent), I was adrift again, and (quite literally) checking out local bridges to sleep under once my flat was taken away. Fortunately one of the folk in the project was savvier than I and pointed out that I could access my superannuation fund in extremis and so I did, and shortly afterwards joined the exciting industry of call centre work. A year of that and I accidentally got work running the education program for a dermatology institute. That lasted another year, and then I started to get adjunct (or as we call it in Australia, casual) lecturing and teaching, which lasted until last year. Again, though, even as a middle career researcher and teacher, I was not considered for the permanent (or as we call it, “continuing”) position that removed all adjunct work. Age was the factor, I think, once more.*

So, there are two metrics in play here.

  1. The schedule for a normal career (in the sense of modal).
  2. The schedule for an academic career

Metric 1 is the usual time from graduation/PhD to a given position in an academic career. Metric 2 is the absolute numbers for those marker points.

It doesn’t matter if I (or anyone else in academe) have a high rating in published work, in citations, influence, teaching scores or just satisfaction of students. So long as my career path fails to approximate the “normal” path, there will be no career to speak of, in any institution. My main mistake was to fail to go to university straight out of high school, and my second to not do a PhD overseas, as Australian universities do not value their own PhDs as a rule. There are of course exceptions, and two of my colleagues are friends who have bucked this trend, and good luck to them. But because of my total lack of self-confidence based on what all my teachers said or failed to say to me, and my class and penury, I was never going to get a career in academe. I believe the tipping point is a doctorate after 40.

So, no job, no funding, no position (although I did get an appointment as an Honorary Fellow, although the news hasn’t reached the IT department), and no future to speak of. If I sound a little bitter, well, I am. But some of this was my fault and some of it the nature of youth culture. I was born around a century later than I should have been. However, at least I didn’t have to be a British Idealist. And I got to see Monty Python.

The annoying thing is that I feel like I am at my peak, although the normal path indicates I peaked long ago. In some disciplines it is legendary that one will make no advances after some ridiculously young age – 25 or 27, and so on. I am yet to see hard evidence of this, and even if the modal peak is around then, well, that’s what distribution tails are for.

* I do not resent either the head of discipline, who was placed in a horrible position by university HR policies, or the successful applicant, who is excellent in her career and well deserving of the position. I would have chosen her or one of the other interviewed candidates.