This is the first post I’ll put out as a series in the course of the Reflective Writing Club (#cccwrite) which I found thanks to Laura, the dearest source in my G+ stream of old. Thanks Michelle for arranging all this!) I (for now) work at a university writing center in Germany and I occasionally teach writing in digital environments. I encourage students to blog for 12 weeks rather than hand in a seminar paper – and tbh one of the reasons is pure selfishness, as I enjoy reading blogs way more than seminar papers. (And, as far as I can tell, students enjoy writing blogs more, too.) I signed up for #cccwrite, because I like blogging in a community: the writing prompts and comments hold it together, they give things pace and six weeks sounds doable.
Now the first prompt has us reflect on a point in time in the past: What do I know now which I wish I had known back then? Oh boy. How do I do this without coming across like a total grouch? I’ll try honesty, for this is the reflective writing club, after all. I’ll mimic Lisa, who chose to go back ten years (and who aptly enough for this post of mine specializes in employment law).
early academic life was fine
In 2008, I had just finished my Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics and American Studies. I had been working at university from my first semester on and I just loved it. With Willis J. Edmondson and Juliane House I had two incredibly inspiring mentors, I learned a lot, started tutoring and soon enough got a foot into teaching. Passing on the spirit and motivation that my mentors had instilled in me was always such a pleasure. The years up to my Master’s were a breeze and if I could relive one episode of my life, this would probably be it.
I’ve always known academia as a field where if one door closes, at least two others spring open. That’s why I hardly ever questioned the direction. To me it seemed pretty obvious I’d pursue my PhD, and so I did. With a false start in a field I didn’t enjoy (sociological educational research) and relocation in pursuit of a job at one of the imho best writing centers in Germany that time, it took me eight years from start to book. I came off alright, I guess, but looking back I have to admit that my PhD years also knocked me out of the skies as far as higher education as a profession is concerned.
then reality struck
I’ve seen people treat people in manners undreamed of – and I still see it every day. I had been socialized into academia on quite different terms: my mentors always made sure to treat their students as individuals and aimed for a climate in which tasks, organisation, culture, relationships and individual people would work together in an emotionally acceptable manner and for the benefit of the institution. Now I know this is not the default setting of tenured academics or those competing for tenure. At least not in my neck of the woods.
New public management is taking a serious toll on higher education. While some of the rhetoric gives away the commoditization of education and higher education institutions increasingly seem to be run like companies, some practices would make absolutely no sense in commercial economy. One example – and you probably have something similar in the US: in Germany, since 2007 we do have a law called “Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz” ( “sciencetimecontractlaw” – now isn’t German such a pretty language… -.-) which regulates time
limitations on contracts of academic staff. Roughly speaking, you have six years before your PhD and six years after to work in the academy on a part time contract. If you’re not granted tenure by then, you can basically pack up and leave.
While in other companies employees get more valuable with every year of experience, to the academy experienced staff get more inconvenient when it’s time for permanency. I myself do have a couple of years left, and, lucky enough, I don’t worry too much any more. But I am working together with excellent academic staff lead on a merry chase by managerial types and presidential departments. And it’s not isolated cases – it’s systemic.
I need to be in emotionally acceptable environments and I am currently not. So: had I known ten years ago what I think I know now, I’d probably have chosen a different course of study, one that still would have allowed me to act on my love for language, but one which would have steered me clear of academia way earlier.
There we go. Do I come across a total grouch yet?