THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

September 6, 2012

Summer is the time for academics to let off a little professional steam and say what they really think.

"It's happening again. My Twitter and Facebook timelines are lighting up with reminders about all of the happy professional news that was announced in the Spring," writes Lee Skallerup Bessette, instructor of English at Morehead State University, on her College Ready Writing blog. Hosted by Inside Higher Ed, the blog highlights the frustrations she feels as an early-career lecturer.

It quickly becomes clear that Dr Bessette is looking a touch green as she describes all "of the new positions that are being taken up. All of the awesome classes that are about to be taught. All of the cool research being funded by grants and taking place within fantastic [institutes] and research groups...And I am filled with Envy."

She continues: "I am genuinely happy for my friends and colleagues; I know that they worked hard and are smart people doing smart work, and they deserve to be recognized and rewarded. But I am still filled with Envy, turning into a (surly) monster, filled with resentment and more than a little bit of despair. I work hard, I do good work, where is my reward?"

She adds that "what I envy is what these milestones, classes, or positions stand for. I envy the freedom that these opportunities represent; freedom to play, to explore, to innovate and be innovative in...research and/or teaching...The freedom to build and shape something meaningful. The opportunity to take the time to learn and discover, often in collaboration with...students."

Dr Bessette writes that she envies the feeling of career progression these positions represent - that progress is being made, recognised and rewarded.

Although she adds that she is not so naive "as to think that it hasn't been a battle for some, nor that these new positions and opportunities don't come with tedious and onerous responsibilities", it still feels to her that the gulf between the haves and the have-nots has widened.

"I have a ton a debt," she laments. "I make a little more than $32k a year. I teach a 5/4 course load. I don't know when I will have the time, energy, or monetary resources to apply for grants, network, travel, and do what I have to do to move onward and upward in my academic career."

Dr Bessette concludes that the current state of the US academy does not facilitate career progression.

"Higher education works the way it does right now because we are taught not to be ambitious, but that hard work will be rewarded," she says. "In academia, it is still believed that 'the perfect sentence' should be enough, especially for those of us struggling to make ends meet, let alone set aside the time to try and try again.

"You are leading the life of the mind, they say. No, I will counter, most of us are living the life of the barely getting by."

She concludes: "And maybe, finally, that's what I envy the most. [Colleagues] are thriving where I am just trying to figure out (still) how to survive."

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to john.elmes@tsleducation.com.

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