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I attended a departmental meeting today in place of the student rep who couldn’t make it. It was very interesting to see what is going on at UCL IOE and the department from the staff, manager and strategic perspective that you are not always so aware of as a student where your life revolves around yourself and your lovely project. However, it made me feel really depressed and realise that I don’t think I will be able to get a job in a university after the PhD, especially not a prestigious one like UCL, but I suspect not in any other establishment either.

Why I hear you ask?

Well, I’m not really much competition to other candidates for jobs that may come up in the future, although I must point out that I did not do a PhD to get a job because I was fully aware of the too many PhDs, not enough PhD level jobs situation. So I’m realistic. I’m not an amazing student that staff have their sights on as a ‘future star’, I have no teaching experience and to be honest am too scared to teach (well, undergraduates in particular), I don’t have any ‘REFable’ publications and I can’t see that I would ever do any ‘groundbreaking work’, I don’t have a massive urge or drive to be promoted to whatever sort of higher up positions there are in universities.

But I don’t particularly want to be a high flyer. I’m happy to be ordinary. I just want to be a researcher as I have done since I was 16. I would like to work in a nice place (ideally a university or somewhere that is for adult learners) and to be in a team that does interesting work and where I can be an apprentice as well as help others learn too. Ideally it would be a permanent research assistant job where the employer is keen to help each assistant grow in their experience and seniority rather than kick them out when the contract is over.

I don’t want to be an academic star. I’m happy to be anonymous.

I don’t think that this humble aspiration is achievable these days and maybe it never was, but in the meeting there was talk of preparing for REF2020, setting up of early career forums to help people get published and get funding and get promoted and all that.

Perhaps I am just feeling my age…. I am 35 this month but I know Professors who are only 5 or 10 years older than me and younger people who have more experience and done amazing, impressive things that makes them stand out. As time goes on and my PhD journey is in its middle phase, soon I will need to start looking for employment. But there are not many jobs about anywhere it seems, not only in higher education, and with this Tory government things are bound to get worse.

I get a feeling of the grimness of the late 1970s and 1980s. It feels really strong. Can you feel it too?

I know I am very very lucky to have funding to do a PhD, so I am happy as can be at the moment and do not want to come across as ungrateful, I’m just expressing the massive feeling of sadness that comes over me from time to time regarding my future (un)employment, which I am mentally preparing myself for. And since I was around in the 1980s, growing up on the dole, it feels like when this PhD is over, my life will come full-circle.

I am reading a lot about widening participation, non-traditional students, access and such like in higher education for my project. The idea of a non-traditional (undergraduate) student is not a clear cut category. So a traditional student (in the UK, USA that is – other countries might have other ‘traditional’ characteristics) is a young male from a middle class background who is white.

Non-traditional students are defined with many characteristics but one of the main ones seems to be that they are first in the family to go to university or what is known as first-generation students.

I was thinking about my own situation. My parents were both mature students in around 1993 when I was 13. Both from a working class background and they were the first in their families to go. But that meant that me and my sisters were probably defined as a more traditional student because of the fact that both of our parents had been to university. So how does the concept of ‘first in the family’ apply when your parents went, but when they were in their 40s and just 5 years before you did?

The fact that they went just 5 years before me doesn’t mean we all suddenly became middle-class and all the social and cultural capital that goes with it… but it must be quite usual for children of mature students to then go to university as the idea of going to university becomes normal and achievable – but I haven’t found any research on this yet. But if someone is researching the children of mature students, do let me know what you find!

 

© Annika Coughlin 2014

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