Not grumpy but full of gumption 2

January 21, 2005

Optimism is like chocolate: it is very pleasant but in large quantities can cause indigestion. Jim Mills tells us that young, successful academics in their early careers are quintessentially different from their "fiftysomething" colleagues who moan about lost times when universities were sanctuaries for free spirits. I find this partisan optimism rather misleading.

I am lucky enough to work with several "senior" colleagues who are committed, enthusiastic and productive. I do not live in the best of all possible worlds (Candide's type of optimism), but some generalisations can be spurious. I know of colleagues in British history departments who work 60 hours a week. Their weekends are spent writing. They earn considerably less than their contemporaries in law, accountancy and management. Being a thirtysomething myself, I meet with "academic friends" who report year after year of temporary contracts, unemployment and meagre salaries, particularly in London. Some of my contemporaries have left academia for more secure and better-paid jobs in other sectors (including secondary education and university administration).

Giorgio Riello
London School of Economics.

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