I have been awarded a Professorship this week after a decade at my university. This has radically changed how I view myself within the institution and given me an enormous confidence boost. It has also stopped me looking elsewhere for posts and made me realise that the looking I was doing whilst I was awaiting the outcome was part of a process of protecting myself from disappointment. I have been at my university for a decade now and waiting for the outcome of my appointment to Professor was like waiting to see whether a partner was committed to me or had been cheating all along. I have my appraisal coming up soon and one thing I will do will be to try and renegotiate my salary, something I am not looking forward to. As I have spent a lifetime in public sector roles the opaque nature of salary once someone gets into leadership is something I still struggle to deal with. How to ask for a pay rise, without apologizing, saying it’s not important really. I have only tried it once before and it went horribly wrong, but I know a man would ask. #4
I think it’s given me back a bit more confidence in terms of being a researcher as opposed to a teacher. So, I’m in a teaching-focused contract, so a lot of my focus had been on being a good teacher and being very centred on the university as a place. And because perhaps – well, not perhaps – because of either childcare reasons or healthcare reasons associated with pregnancy or whatever, I found it really difficult to go away into different places and to travel distances to build the sort of research networks that are needed. But that’s not been an issue this year. So, it’s given me confidence to talk to other researchers that are interested in my area, and to build up and work with them on collaborative projects, because there’s a sense that I don’t have to travel for six or eight hours on a train to go and have a collaborative research meeting. We can do it quite well on Teams. So, I’m not having to say no to as much, as I would have had to in my research basis, which is nice. So, it’s given me that confidence in myself – and I think probably, when I apply for promotion, I’ll apply to go back on research and teaching as opposed to just staying on a teaching focused contract. #14
I have really flown, I think, in terms of my reputation. I don’t know whether, were we not in a COVID world, I would be doing well anyway, but, yes I found there were almost more opportunities available. I recorded a guest lecture for an Indonesian university last week. I’m now in a group that talks about racism and fuel poverty I’m leading a network around climate justice. And that network wouldn’t have come together in the old pre-Zoom world because we wouldn’t have had the confidence to, kind of, talk openly and so on. And I’m not one to, kind of, walk away from an opportunity. So, setting up and running a national network is just really super exciting and, you know, we only got two grand to do it, but it has just opened so many doors and it’s led to various other grant applications and things. So, perversely, academically, this has been a very good time for me. And, again, I think it’s come with a bit more confidence as well. #19
I became a workaholic
I think maybe how I coped a little bit with the pandemic is I became a bit of a workaholic. So I would be working on journal papers, I’d be working on volunteering to work on research bids to apply for the extra money for like the COVID calls for the UK RA COVID call research. So I always talked about it as like my paid work and then my unpaid work. I became really obsessed with being like super productive during that time. Because you know my contract was fixed-term so I knew it was going to expire June 2021 so my mission was to try and make myself as employable as possible. I went through some strange times, like getting up at like four in the morning because I couldn’t stop thinking about a certain idea and writing it down, very creative and productive period for me. It’s just like I know I have to publish, publish, publish or I won’t get another job. It’s always hanging over me the fixed term contract thing and now I’ve got a little baby as well it is just like really important that I find follow on work from that contract. So yes, if that means putting in some hours whilst I’m on maternity leave for some job security then that is how it has to be. #23
A quiet space = premium real estate
I’m always very quick to acknowledge and make clear my position as someone who’s unencumbered, you know, I don’t have kids, I don’t have any sort of real caring responsibilities longer term or anything like that and I’ve always had maybe not the luxury of space but in some senses certainly no matter how tiny the space, but a quiet space and that, I think, is, you know, that’s sort of premium real estate territory in terms of what we need for writing. In objective terms, the various lockdowns have proved fruitful for me in terms of writing and publication, but it is also important to me to understand and to communicate that overwork, and immersion in work has been a coping mechanism for me, something that helps me feel in control and like I have purpose in what can be and indeed is a tumultuous world. The freeing up of time usually lost to commuting, which probably makes up two hours per day, including ‘packing up’ time has been helpful. #27
An unencumbered individual
I think my academic identity has changed during that time but I wouldn’t attribute it to the pandemic directly. I think my profile has improved and I’ve found myself in permanent secure employment that has really helped, that’s given me a lot of confidence that precarious working actually did break me for a while. It was very, very difficult so in that respect, that has been very helpful. But of course, there is that linkage, I guess the linkage is tenuous but it, it is there. I guess something that it has made me think more about is or more deeply ingrained in me, is as this unencumbered individual. So where other people have been scratting about to look after their children or who are married or who have families or whatever, it is, I think it’s solidified my identity as sort of a bit of a lone ranger. Do I feel happy about that? Honestly I don’t know. #27
My first full-time job
I actually feel like my academic identity has grown because I’ve done so much work and got my first full-time job. I’ve done so much networking and like online, writing groups and reconnected with old colleagues and one of the papers that I’ve written is with them. So I’ve sort of reconnected and done a few seminars and so yes, that’s grown in that sense. But I guess I do know that what I’ve missed out on which is like coffee in the coffee room, whatever you call it, we used to have 11 am coffee everyday so everyone would have a coffee and just like mingle and chat with colleagues and it was really nice and get a lot of support and stuff that way. #23
Writing for publication? No chance!
Bizarrely, research wise, it’s probably been quite productive because a lot of the noise about being at work was taken away and because I did feel quite disempowered and disengaged from decision making processes that I would normally have been quite engaged in, I just used that time differently. And I have found myself becoming much more selfish in terms of my work and much more, “What do I want to do?” And that’s what I’ll do. Now I know that many of my colleagues have been like that for many, many years and it is a feature of academic life. But I’ve never been like that. It was hard to write. So, writing for publication, absolutely no chance. You’re looking at little blocks of time in-between feeding everybody and I can’t write like that. And so I was much better at task oriented activity. So even putting a bid together was okay because you could just focus on, I don’t know, numbers of interviews or what the sample’s going to be. Whereas the being able to pull ideas together to write for publication, I have no idea how people have done it. I mean looking at stuff that people have chucked out about COVID and I’m just thinking, “How? How do you do that?” They must either be 102 with no dependants or living in a cave somewhere! #20
Who will get the academic prestige?
I look at all the publications about learning and teaching in the COVID emergency and you think, “Well if you had time to write about it you weren’t helping people with it at the time.” In the field that I’m in there’s that kind of juxtaposition, the people who were sitting back and doing research on it versus the people that were on the frontline supporting people, and I think it’s really stark about the choices that people made at that point but then the longer-term implications of that begin to feed through. So if you’ve spent eighteen months putting a huge amount of energy to supporting people, when what you’ve done has been phenomenal, you’ve transformed an institution and supported colleagues but you’ve not done the writing and the publications – then when it comes to promotions and people’s careers, how far will that be valued versus writing and publications? Who will get the academic prestige? I think there’s a real tension there about the choices that we make and how institutions appreciate, or the sector recognises and supports that. #21
Spring 2021 lockdown. Home schooling returned. That was incredibly hard as the softly-softly approach had been replaced by a resumption of pre-COVID expectations about school work. The same was happening at my institution. The weekly Fika coffee meetings of Spring and Summer 2020 were a distant memory. One email urged us to look after our well-being while the next advertised a grant deadline 12 days hence. I despaired when I heard a colleague had published 18 articles in 12 months. I’d managed 2. He later told me that there had been a book too. I have had a couple of projects that are just basically, you know, barely holding together with international colleagues sort of limping really slowly along and I just, I don’t know if the momentum’s going to sort of really be able to be something that they can pick up #3
Different barriers now?
Clearly, academic promotion and the activities that are involved in preparing a case for that, I think women are going to be disproportionately affected, in the same way that they were previously. And maybe we were used to the way we’d worked previously, so we knew what the barriers were, and we’d found ways of trying to address them. Now the barriers are different, and it’ll take some time for us to find ways to seek to address them. It’s very easy to talk about it solely as the problem for the mother, yeah? But I don’t think it’s just mothers. I’m sure there’s gendered stuff going on for women who haven’t got caring responsibilities. In terms of productivity I do think I get more done than when I’m in the office because I don’t waste time walking around the campus going to get coffee those sorts of things I’ve got better at going with the grain of my energy doing what I’ve got most energy for but I still don’t spend enough time doing deep concentrated reading and writing. #7
‘Nowt in the pipeline’
I am so very tired. At the same time, I am aware that pausing isn’t good for a research career. Two periods of maternity leave made me realise that. I was lucky, I managed to keep going with research last year as the pandemic hit and also had papers already under review. I even managed to complete a new journal article earlier this year which has been accepted for publication. But I know that having “nowt in the pipeline now” will mean that the COVID impact will show in my professional track record for the next couple of years at least. I won’t have a gap in 2020 or 2021, but if I can’t find the energy and time to start something soon, there won’t be publications from 2022 onwards. The pressure of ‘publish or perish” lurks in the background always. I have missed funding bid deadlines, again. I have missed deadlines to submit for professional recognition, again. … and it isn’t over … Yes, I think it will be because I haven’t done an external funding bid, because I just haven’t had the time or the headspace. It wasn’t possible. And I actually found this summer, although things have calmed down a little in terms of pandemic, and it’s almost more back to normal, I was just too tired to dream up a new project and do anything. Another colleague is talking about how great it was not having to commute and how they could just sit down and get on with their own research and write things. Male and female colleagues, but colleagues without caring responsibilities. So, for them the pandemic was a real opportunity, I think, to focus on their research. #1