Blogconfidential: Should I stay or should I go?

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: Should I stay or should I go?

December 2, 2010

I am a young academic. I began a PhD on a full scholarship four years ago. After three years I was employed by a different university for a fixed term of one year.

Like many in my position, I threw myself into the job in the hope of a contract extension (and was encouraged in this by my head of school): sadly but perhaps unsurprisingly, the role did not materialise. I then took time off to complete my thesis as quickly as possible.

Although I travelled extensively during my studies, including trips abroad, I have now returned to my home city, a place I love and where my family live. I am single, young, with no mortgage or commitments...and currently no job.

Having looked at the employment options, I have come to the conclusion that there are no realistic academic opportunities for me within commutable distance. Given the state of higher education in the UK, I do not want to move to the other side of the country for a post that is also likely to be fixed term.

My options are limited: either move abroad or out of the academy.

My doctorate is in social science, so the logical next step would be to take a job in the public sector, but the few organisations I have approached in that area have all informed me that I am overqualified.

Should I seek an academic life abroad or am I simply being seduced by the grass-is-always-greener fallacy? If I leave these shores, I would be abandoning my family and friends.

This is a personal decision. It hinges, essentially, on how important your family is to you. From what you say, the answer is "very important", and few jobs are likely to compensate for leaving your loved ones behind.

That said, if you do stay close to home your options are limited. You are right in thinking that another fixed-term contract is likely, a position that would not provide any job security. With massive cuts being discussed, non-permanent posts are likely to be the first to go.

You say that there are no academic positions in the vicinity that are suitable. Perhaps you should consider retraining in a "helpful" profession, such as social work or counselling, where there are shortages? You may be eligible for a bursary in social work: with a PhD you would be seen as quite a catch, and you could always move back into the academy when the job market improves.

But if it were me? If I didn't have a family, I would go. There may be academic opportunities abroad in countries where the situation is less dire.

The UK treats its academics wretchedly, and we all know that the reforms to the system currently being discussed are not going to make our work conditions any easier.

If you make a reputation for yourself overseas you could always return. This option is worth investigating.

Email your dilemmas to margot.feelbetter@tsleducation.com

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