Reproduced here courtesy of @PrecariousUni
I passed my Viva 7 years ago.
Since then I have had over ten fixed term contracts of varying lengths and pay. The best (and worst) contracts were ones where I was paid a decent wage for a decent amount of time (3 contracts over 5 years at the same uni). The downside of this was that I became invested in my students, colleagues, institution. You have developed friendships, started to establish academic networks, provided modules that students love, started to supervise PhD students, then your contract is no longer renewed.
Or you are asked to do it all again with modules you know nothing about and more good collegial ‘citizenship’ work is the expectation. After five years of this I was literally hollowed out and stretched so thin, I had nothing left to give. During that time you apply for more secure jobs that come up at the uni you are invested in and you are rejected. Because you don’t have enough of whatever it is they are looking for. So you are a mess. And somewhere you know it and can see the damage it is doing to you. But you carry on. Till you find yourself crying for no apparent reason and spending six months unemployed gazing at the ceiling because you don’t have any fight left in you to try and carry on. Because you are heartbroken. Because the people who tell you they can’t hire you or who offer you more of the exhausting, shitty contracts, are the people you have had drinks with, debated ideas with, argued with, become friends with.
Permanent staff end up being complicit (which is the point of systemic inequality) but the person who is bearing the brunt of their complicity is you. And for too long I tried to make that right for them by being the all singing, all dancing wonderful colleague who would teach anything, have time for all the students and sit in the pub with them and laugh and smile whilst your contracted time vanishes like sand. Since then I have had another four contracts of varying lengths and I try not to get too invested in my students, colleagues, institution, because I don’t want the weeping and heartbreak to return. I don’t think I am strong enough to patch myself up again and and again. So I guess the long term outcome of continued precarious labour is that I have started to care a little less, remove myself from students and colleagues a little more.
And that is I think, the real tragedy: that to try and function in the beast of academia I have to not be who I really am. Because precarious labour individualises the broader systemic problem. The bits of me that are left, (after the Hydra has chewed me up and spat me out) knows this but still ends up thinking I am useless, shit, and undeserving of a proper contract, a friendly working environment, interested students and space and time to research and write.
I don’t have any great happy words to end this on. I guess because I am still precarious and still working within the beast.
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