Don's Diary

November 25, 1994

MONDAY. This week I face redundancy at the tender age of 37 after 15 years in a research department at a provincial university, leaving me feeling disillusioned with the university system and its funding. Viewed with inevitable bitterness, it is my belief that the introspective dogmatism of some of these establishments can provide a disservice to education and research. Perform my final experimental run -- feel a bizarre affection for my spectrometer -- a Japanese brute that has caused me so much angst over the years. A last-ditch attempt to make the august pages of the Journal of the American Chemical Society -- the demands of Research Assessment Exercises are difficult to dispel.

TUESDAY. The results of my research evanesce into cardboard boxes and files for the move to another university, highlighting the plight of women in my position lacking the mobility to find work in other areas due to family commitments. Part-time work is often the only option. Scanning the employment pages of the scientific press betrays a dearth of part-time postdoctoral positions. Considering the more relaxed attitude towards hours of work in higher education and the frequent need for working "unsocial" hours to do experiments, this gives women an ideal opportunity. Research departments and libraries are accessible in the evening and weekends, surely a time for women with children to work? While realising that university pragmatism may dictate this to be unfeasible -- viz. health and safety rules, potential arguments about female exploitation -- it is worth considering.

WEDNESDAY. My last day, one of inexorable sentimentality. Saying goodbye must be one of the hardest pains to bear. The sadness of leaving a place and people that I had taken for granted over the years, and yet, subconsciously, knew had meant a lot. A folder of reprints covering diverse activities from purely academic to potentially beneficial biological areas is consigned to the archives. The names of co-authors recall memories of many international collaborations, friendships forged under the auspices of EC funding. Indeed it is possible that somewhere among these pages lie the foundations of projects for future European partnerships. Given the climate for industrial-led projects, basic academic research should not be neglected.

THURSDAY. I am unemployed. Feelings of hopelessness stirred by visit to the Jobcentre, where I was informed that it would be difficult to find me a job. School-leavers should be warned of the dangers of "over-qualification''. Unfortunately it appears that an increasing number of highly- qualified people are joining the dole queue, partly due to funding cuts in some university departments. The new "Job Seekers'' benefit has been criticised as a means of reducing the unemployment figures on paper but not in reality. Is it merely an act of tokenism towards people in my position, or does it signify a real attempt to help us by the Government?

FRIDAY. The relief of pulling on leggings and sweatshirt after a leisurely breakfast. Only comment from daughter -- once reassured about the financial situation -- is that she misses me getting dressed up in the mornings. Contrary to Jerome K. Jerome's observation that "it is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do'', my enforced leisure reveals the joys of swimming, cycling and maintaining the body beautiful. A relief from deadlines and departmental politics. Determined that life away from academia will not be unproductive. Exchange labcoat for an apron, happy husband returns home to dutiful wife and dinner ready.

SATURDAY. My situation elicits friends' sympathy. Assurances that I am happy invariably met with remarks as "of course, I couldn't be at home all day, although it would be nice for a while'' -- suppressed envy? -- or "the novelty will wear off''. The latter may be so, but I intend to enjoy my brief spell of self-indulgence before relaunching into the "real" world. Contrary to popular expectation, am determined not to retire hurt to the marital home, filled with remorse at the loss of a reasonable income and "fulfilling'' lifestyle. Now available for the minding of sick children and animals, no more crises of conscience about priorities of work or children. House is worthy of an advert for the latest cleaning agent, the laundry basket is empty for the first time in years and even cooking, a long-standing personal anathema, is assuming a certain intrigue.

SUNDAY. Launch offensive. Prepare letters and CVs to be sent "on spec" to companies. Their failure to acknowledge is dispiriting. Anticipation of my plight has meant months of scanning the professional journals and local papers and the growing realisation that over-specialisation will be a problem. But I view the coming week positively, no regrets at having to forego the daily onslaught of rush-hour traffic and car-park attendants. Conclude that a period out of work will be enriching, though it would be more gratifying to feel that I had a choice.

Jane Wyatt, Former research fellow in department of chemistry, University of Leicester.

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