I want to make a difference in academia – but I’m drowning
As the end of my probation period looms, the weight of expectations from my university leaves no space for meaningful research
To the outside world, my career progression from PhD to lectureship read like a stellar rise. Having made it through a couple of precarious years on temporary and part-time contracts, I arrived at an office with my name on the door and a lectureship at a Russell Group university. I’m now nearly three years into the role, with six months still to go on my probation period.
I recognise that I’m in quite a fortunate position with a permanent lectureship, given the realities of casualisation and temporary and fractional contracts common in the modern “Sports Direct” model of university. I have enthusiasm for my discipline and I hope to add to it in some way through my own modest contributions. But long probation periods hold back real job security – and sometimes I feel like I’m drowning.
With the Teaching Excellence Framework on the horizon, teaching is rightly becoming more important to universities, while students are acting more as consumers and seeking “value for money”. This means my university requires new staff like myself to gain teaching qualifications, to employ engaging teaching approaches, and become first-rate educators.
At the same time, the importance of being excellent researchers has not diminished. The second Research Excellence Framework (REF) may well offer early career academics a reprieve on the number of published outputs we’re measured on. But until that’s made clear (and depending on when you joined during the REF cycle), I am very much under pressure to publish, and am being measured against the same internal metrics as my established senior colleagues.
A lectureship should be an opportunity to develop an academic career and the job is, of course, a privilege in many ways. I am given independence and, on paper, some space to be creative. Yet we’re told by senior faculty that we should be capable of balancing the demands of teaching and administration, and have 4* research pouring out of us from day one.