3. Space/Time – Stretching Time

Space-Time stretching time

Because there’s no journey to make and I do wake up really early, I can be at my desk at 5:00, 5:30, 6:00 o’clock.  The trouble with that is that you feel guilty if you’re not still there then at 5:00 o’clock at the other end of the day.  And sometimes you don’t realise but actually I’ve been more or less sitting here for twelve hours.  I haven’t really had a proper lunchtime, because what am I going to do at lunchtime?  I could go and watch the television but then that’s another screen.  And if it’s nice you can sit outside.  But yes, the day does become very drawn out.  I feel guilty if I take a break and sit in the garden during office hours even if I started my day at 5 or 6.00 am because I couldn’t sleep (which is often). I also feel guilty carrying on with my work into the early evening if I can see piles of ironing or cleaning that needs do (which is nearly all the time). #5

Losing track of time
Lockdown changed everything.  As a full-time working mother, the closure of schools, cancelled after-school clubs and activities, and no commute all combined to give me more daylight hours to work in than I’d ever had. Thinking back though, I can see I was already flagging. My sleep was all over the place and by that I mean it took me a long time to get to sleep and I would usually wake up at some horrible sort of 4:30am, 5:00am and not be able to get back to sleep and then sometimes I’d go out for a run at that hour and sometimes I would be still awake and still in front of the computer at 11:30 at night.  #3

Transition x 3
In February 2020, I quit a non-academic research position and accepted a permanent academic post at a University in another UK city which would begin in June 2020. I planned a 2-month visit to family overseas before moving into my new home. I flew out on the 20th of March 2020 and got stuck overseas until late July 2020 as a result of the first lockdown. This meant starting my new position while overseas. At that time, I was transitioning not only from working in person to working remotely, but also from working outside of academia back to working within academia in a considerably different post. On top of the two transitions, I expected the remote work to be the same no matter where I was physically located but this expectation turned out to be misguided because the time zone difference was prohibitive and made me feel even more removed from my new colleagues, most of whom I’d not had the chance to meet at the interview.  #18

A day in the life…
Monday morning 9.00am: Term has officially ended and so in normal times I would be planning writing and research activities for the summer period.  I have, however, absolutely no motivation to complete any of these things! I am just exhausted.  Working at home is increasingly draining.  The city has had a big spike in Covid cases which means the children are back home again.
1.00pm – everyone is fed and watered and I’ve got the afternoon to try and get started on some other things.
7.00pm – I usually try to fill in the hours I have missed through the day at this time. It’s often quite productive and gives me some space to think instead of being responsive to emails etc through the daytime. I’m not sure it is something I want to be doing all the time though – work and home are definitely so closely intertwined it is hard to see the wood for the trees.
I had often joked that going to work was a break for me, and I realised how true that was when the balance between home and work was lost completely.   #20

Planning/not planning
My plans for the day – to get the ball moving on a research project that was supposed to be completed by now and to update my module for semester starting in 3 weeks, now seem very burdensome. This past year has taught me that a lot of being an academic is about planning: we are always juggling multiple projects, finishing things, in the middle of things, starting things. I saw a tweet recently which said “Being an academic is just saying I should be less busy next month over and over until you retire” and for me the pandemic has exacerbated that.   As I sit to rewrite my module from online to hybrid (having spent weeks last year rewriting from in person to online) I’m thinking about how difficult it is to plan anything around teaching when you can’t really plan your teaching.  #14

Keeping up
As the days went by I got used to teaching from home and even started to see the positives such as being able to put my washing on the line during break time and actually having a lunch break as when I turned off the meeting there were no students asking to see me for 5 minutes or coming to the staff room.  But then the Teams messages from students started coming, they were feeling anxious, overwhelmed, they were having arguments with their partners, they couldn’t keep up with homeschooling. I couldn’t keep up with homeschooling either!  #8

I’m rudderless, coasting along in a sea of monotony: wake up, listen to the news, make coffee, bring my cat to the roof terrace (he loves it there but is scared of the stairwell and won’t go out unless I bring him), watch a few youtube videos of comedians while eating breakfast, check my work emails, check my social media, check my work emails, check my social media, check my work emails, check my social media, pace aimlessly around the flat, clean the kitchen sink, check my work emails, hoover the living room, check my social media, check my work emails, and then I FINALLY sit down to do some proper deep thinking about research but its already the end of the work day and I’m exhausted from bouncing passively between distractions all day. Then, in the frustration of the accumulated lack of concentration, I protest with a long jog outside so I can feel like I still accomplished something during the day.  #18

One of the other impacts of COVID in terms of doctorate education is that because PGRs have had extensions and handed in later, things are bottlenecking with the people who weren’t so impacted. So, I am down to examine three this side of Christmas, and I’ve got three of my own that are going to be … well, one will be major amendments. Two, potentially four at full draft stage, and I’m down to chair three examinations.  So all I’m doing this term is reading PhD work.  I had to deal with a lot of students, particularly the funded students, complaining and demanding funding extensions, allowances, because, you know, they had kids at home, or they couldn’t go on a field visit overseas. And little recognition from them that, you know, maybe staff are in the same situation. And we don’t get any allowances or any extensions or support for it.  #1

Working overtime
So, today I should have been off work.  I worked on Saturday teaching, my programmes often have weekend teaching, and I, so I decided to take today in lieu and I had all sorts of nice things planned.  But yesterday my son’s school rang and I had to go and get him.  He had a headache and that is now a Covid symptom so we’ve had to self-isolate until such time as we get a negative PCR test result for him.  So I’m grounded and I’ve got loads of work to do and so here I am at the computer.  I’m sort of working and maybe sort of not …

End of the working day and yes, I have worked for most of the day even though I had planned not to.  This morning we got an invitation to bid for some quite important work with a deadline at the end of July and I had to organise some things pretty quickly because the person who would be the best, most obvious person to do it is actually working on another course approval.  So that was a bit of a panic, but we managed to work things out and I think we got there but I felt like, you know, I was kind of jumping through hoops today with my work.  I mean, I really wanted to clear some stuff, if I was going to have to work today, to clear some stuff, that means that I could relax a bit more in the time that I’ve got booked off towards the end of the week but that’s still not happened.  #7

Never offline
So yeah, life online. There are aspects that are good. I speak to my mum every day, we WhatsApp, we use video call, and that makes things easier. I also have a new nephew, who is a year old actually now, and I have never met him. So, that is the kind of thing that you know, the online spaces allow us to get a bit more connectivity. But it is also tiring, I am tired.  I had booked a holiday last year before the pandemic took hold, staying in a cottage in Ireland for a week, to be disconnected and to you know, get a bit of an offline experience. That didn’t happen, so I am craving that type of experience, really fully offline, no social media, nothing, but that is not possible now because our families expect us to be in communication. So, you know you still get exposed to things, because it is so conflated, you have friends on Facebook, academics as well, and all these networks kind of become one space, so you are always exposed to things.  There used to be spaces of sharing, of knowledge and all that and now it conflicts a lot with the personal and I think there’s also a lot of staged narratives . I avoid Twitter more but Facebook I can’t avoid as much because my mum is on Facebook and it’s how she often contacts me and she expects me to be online at that time all the time because we have like a routine.  I usually jog in the evenings so if I’m jogging a bit later she’s like, “Oh, what happened?  Did you fall asleep?  What is happening?”   #6

Doing more – and more
What has also struck me over the last month or so is how much I am fitting into a week compared to what I used to do.  For example, in the ‘old world’ the project wrap-up event and project launch would take all day, and would probably be held in London.  There’s no way I would have had other items in my diary on the same day. It would be easy to say that this was an unusual week but looking at my calendar it is pretty normal. I’m just doing more and have been for months.  Some of it is because tasks are harder and more complex because of Covid (for example the exam boards), but it is also because there seem to be far more opportunities during the current Covid arrangements – the lack of travel time and cost suddenly makes conferences and other events more appealing, international networking is easier and more attractive, there seem to be more funding opportunities and so on.  #19

In the ‘old world’ there would have been less ‘bleeding’ – once the term ends, usually all the teaching related tasks including the exam boards, which I run, would have been concluded, and the exam boards would also be more straightforward. In addition to this issue of ‘bleeding’, what has also struck me over the last month or so is how much I am fitting into a week compared to what I used to do. I’m just doing more and I have been for months.   #19

A full range of plans live at any one time
The workload is still at height-of-lockdown levels: we are still required to keep a full range of plans live at any one time, as decisions are often made and communicated late to the people who will be delivering teaching and learning; we are still working with students who are both on site and overseas, and in different time zones; we are working with students who are at different stages of their course, as their different circumstances impact on their progress.   #13

Brutal at times’
The end of the 2020-21 academic year, this year, felt brutal at times, with deadlines obstinately stuck for staff but elastic for students. Extensions were up 150% in my faculty, giving students extra time to complete their assignments and leaving some staff three or four days to read and mark thousands of words, log the feedback, prepare the sample for the moderator, moderate samples, input the grades, sync to the system and prepare the reports for the boards of examiners. All expected as if there were no social upheaval from a global pandemic anymore. The large number of furloughed staff from professional services meant that academic staff were picking up the slack in many aspects of this work. Mistakes were made. Tempers frayed. Terse emails in programme teams were whizzing around trying to get the information needed in time for the exam.   #3

Pandemic speed
Now pandemic speed’s become the norm and, you know, we’re still working as an institution at that expectation of pace but now it’s into a whole other area of things. It’s almost like you create the next crisis. So strategic change is the next crisis that we’ve got to work out … You’ve got that sense of “Well we lost all this momentum over the last eighteen months on all these things that are really important and now we need to catch up” and so it’s making a crisis out of strategic change. But on the other hand you’ve got that personal sense of “Well actually, come on, I’ve just bust a gut to help this institution, do I really care enough about it to get back up to that again and what have I lost and who’s supporting me and where’s that recognition?”   #21



Participants’ accounts
Changing spaces
Therapeutic spaces
Stretching time
Pandemic temporalities