5. Well/Being? – Alternatives

A blank sheet
I think being remote and having this kind of blank sheet has been a real good time to think, well, how do I want to design the next few years? So yeah, possibly the fact that I’ve just been working from the corner of the attic has given me that space to think in that way. There might not have beennthat much time had I been on trains and doing different stuff.   #22

Making a break
One thing that the pandemic has done is by making a break with previous ways of doing things, it has briefly allowed people to think about alternatives, alternative ways of doing things.  I think that could be quite powerful and I think that’s possibly where some of the connections for me lie – so after I got over it, well I don’t know if I’m over the shock, but after the sort of realisation that everything had changed so rapidly, you can say, think to yourself well things can change rapidly and if you don’t like something then you can do something to change it if you don’t like it. #3

What do I value?
I think it’s made me re-evaluate things that I value as an academic. Being able to be close to people. In some ways, I’m at the bottom of the academic pyramid and there’s a lot of opportunity to progress, I suppose.  But in other ways, I’ve reached the top of it, because I’m at a place that I can imagine staying at long-term.  I can imagine not leaving here.  So, the sense of permanency has changed in a way too.  And I keep trying to remind myself of that, because I think that that’s a way to balance some of the demands on our time and demands on energy that modern academia requires of us. #14

Not the be all and end all
I think it’s possibly made me a little bit more cynical about the university.  I was quite cynical before, but not cynical in a negative way if you know what I mean, because I don’t tend to think like that.    But kind of realistic I suppose in terms of what the university’s about, what it will do for you, what it won’t do for you.  I’m not an organisation person, I tend to base myself somewhere, but my interest is in work that that goes beyond organisations.  I’m not interested in universities particularly and I don’t have a great love for them, so I suppose in terms of identity it’s maybe cemented a little bit my feeling that it’s a vehicle for doing interesting things, or it’s one of my vehicles for doing interesting things.  But it’s not the be all and end all.  #2

A sharpening of focus
There’s probably two things happening at once, one is the little snippets that are seen, that I present to my colleagues which is that everything’s tickety-boo and going well, thank you very much and the students that I supervised that got prizes – so this kind of news is always the very positive stuff that’s shared in the department.  Then there’s the other side of things where I’m just like going I don’t really know who I am, but I kind of know more about what matters to me.  So, that sort of sharpening of focus and understanding about priorities, that’s been in the mix and coincidentally with the end of my probation, I’ll be more secure about the things that I say and do in my career over the next five years.  #3

A lone wolf
There has been a very top-down directive approach to this.  That manifested itself in lots of emails with instructions about how you will do things, rather than any discussion about, “What do you think?  Could we do it this way?  Should we?” So, I think for a lot of staff, well, certainly for me, I felt very disempowered by the decision-making process and I felt like that was a huge backward step in terms of staff engagement with change.  That really was very much the bottom of everybody’s list.  Ultimately, I think it has affected the way I think about the university.  I feel much more of a lone wolf. Disengaged is the word I’ve used to describe how I feel, I just feel completely disengaged from the institution now.  Very engaged with students, so that relationship has really sustained me I think, but much more single-minded. #20

How soon can I drop a day?
It has made me really think about what’s important in life.  I never thought that I would feel like retirement was an option for another ten years.  I’m not 60 yet, I’ve got another two years until I’m 60, and I just thought I’d keep going.  But now I am increasingly thinking, how soon can I drop a day? And what else could I do that’s more meaningful and less kind of, pressured is the wrong word, but something where I feel like I’m really contributing something and more interaction with people?  Something that matters.   #5

I just thought, I am leaving
It made me realise that I was actually capable of applying of applying for a better job.  That was a good thing, so I learnt a lot.  I was pushed to the limit but learnt I could do it.  I was resilient, I could be creative, I could think out of the box.  Several of my colleagues said they reflected on their life.  They thought what am I doing?  They learnt during lockdown that you are just a number to management and actually they could be a little bit more selfish and say do you know what, I’m actually going to leave and find something different.  I just thought I’m leaving, I am leaving.  I don’t know how I’m going to do it but …  That got me through it, knowing that they don’t appreciate me, I’m used, I will just be replaced.   #8

A moment of revelation
A heightened sense of vigilance meant I was on edge all the time and in order to get even a minimum amount of work completed, there was no time (or indeed facilities) to eat. One Saturday, whilst sitting at the sewing machine, I had a moment of revelation. I really didn’t want to commute any more. I had to look for a new job. My contract was nearly up and there was no certainty of funding from month to month. It was time to look at jobs.ac.uk!  I had my first ever Zoom interview. I knew the technology inside out and it was a student-facing role and with the relaxation of restrictions, there was real hope of small group face-to-face undergraduate teaching. I prepared meticulously for the interview, made contact with old friends who could guide me on latest developments in the teaching technologies to be used and spent hours watching myself on Zoom as I practised responses to questions.  I got the job (phew!) and departed within three weeks.   #26

They will always want more
I don’t care now.  It’s been a revelation actually, that I don’t need to climb the greasy pole, I don’t need to get promoted, I am comfortable with the grade and the salary that I’m on.  I don’t feel competitive.  I have really enjoyed taking pride in my work and not feeling so responsible for everybody else.  I’ve absolutely stepped back and just thought, “Do you know what, to get to the next level for me will involve me giving given more to this institution?”  And even more and more and more.  And it will never be enough and they will always want more and so no, I’m not chasing the money anymore. I’m going to do the research projects that I want to do and I’m not playing the REF game.  I will write stuff that I am proud of, that I want to publish, so in that sense, it has been quite empowering. I want to share that with my female colleagues actually. I mean, I was on for, “Right, next five years, I want to be Professor, I want to blah blah blah.”  Yes, quite ambitious really about what I wanted to achieve at the university.  I wanted to get into more senior managerial roles. And do you know what? I feel great!  Yes, I do, I feel really calm and it’s the right decision for me and for my family.  And it will probably mean that I’ll work for longer.  I was probably quite close to burning out actually and really trying to hit all of those goals, but you can’t.  Academic life is so hard.  #20

Structural inequalities
There have been times during the pandemic when I’ve considered leaving academia. And I don’t think I will be the only person that’s thought of that either, because it really did highlight some of the structural inequalities to me that I’ve always known about, I’ve always been affected by, but having it in so much focus … You know, with having kids, particularly when with both maternity leaves, things that probably aren’t necessary legal happened in terms of my roles and responsibilities as to what I left and what was agreed.  My first maternity leave, I went on maternity leave as Course Director and came back and was no longer Course Director. So, I’ve always been aware that there have been these things and there are issues about gender perceptions, particularly by some male colleagues.  #1



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