[csaa-forum] Re: glass ceilings

Tony Mitchell Tony.Mitchell at uts.edu.au
Tue Aug 17 12:09:32 CST 2004

Just a brief response to Rowan's email (and an acknowledgment of John's 
unique and scandalous situation - John is one of our most important 
jazz and popular music researchers and it is outrageous that he cannot 
make a living from his work, which includes the recent Currency 
Companion to Music and Dance in Australia - a major project on which he 
worked for 7 years on the breadline) - more optimistically perhaps (but 
not much) my university has advertised 2 level A positions in Cultural 
Studies in the past 2 years. The first had over 70 applicants, the 
second had 58 - an indication of the severe employment drought in the 
area - but in both cases the job went to a (female) candidate who had 
not yet completed their PhD, despite the fact we had applicants with 
books, etc.

On 14/08/2004, at 3:03 PM, John Whiteoak wrote:

> Just to add another perspective to that of Rowan.  I completed my PhD 
> in 1993 (having entered uni as a mature age student with no secondary 
> education to speak of )  and found a publisher of repute soon 
> thereafter, and a half time academic position. My department was 
> closed as redundant at the end of the 90s with much public outcry and 
> gnashing of teeth.  I am still an  honorary research associate with 
> another uni department but this has very minimal advantages apart from 
> being somewhere to give away  my annual publication listing as 
> research quantum for that struggling department.
> Yet,  I somehow continue to very much enjoy academic research and 
> writing (supported by the dole, very modest needs. chooks and a 
> garden) and especially the situation of being able to spent lots and 
> lots of quality time researching  and thinking about whatever topic I 
> am most interested in.  Because of this freedom,  I can produce work 
> of a reasonably consistent quality and never have to submit copy on 
> the mere chance of it being published.. There are always several firm 
> requests in the pipeline.   From the perspective of book and article 
> publication profile, mine is therefore an ongoing success story, 
> except that I live and will die in (financial) poverty.  This is 
> therefore one way of getting by and it works well for me--and the dead 
> have no needs.   Best
> John Whiteoak
> r.wilken at pgrad.unimelb.edu.au wrote:
>> Hi all, while a newcomer to this list and a relative latecomer to 
>> this discussion of academic life and publishing, I would like to add 
>> my own observations (both bleak and optimistic).
>> I can relate to the need to find respite on a Welsh beach (although 
>> at this time of year a Melbourne beach would do just a well), for I 
>> am what academic job ads describe as a PhD candidate 'near 
>> completion'. At present, however, this seems more like a euphemism 
>> for 'the slough of despond' or 'utter confusion'; that which is 
>> supposed to be winding up is taking on Sisyphean proportions. (By a 
>> perverse and possibly dubious kind of logic, my partner - who has her 
>> PhD - says this is a sure sign I am near the end.)
>> My own despondency is, I suspect, not helped by a greater sense of 
>> futility in the face of a very unpromising academic employment 
>> climate. More than once I made the naive mistake of thinking that 
>> academic job ads were genuine when they stated that a job was open to 
>> PhD candidates 'near completion'. In truth, however, this statement 
>> seems more like a joke in poor taste, one designed to make postgrads 
>> with academic aspirations miserable and spend time they can't afford 
>> applying for jobs they won't get. I have learnt this by trial and 
>> error. The feedback I have managed to gather (and believe me, getting 
>> any comment on unsuccessful uni job applications is no mean feat; 
>> feedback is, in my experience, reluctantly given if it is given at 
>> all) has been especially dispiriting. I have come to accept the 
>> statement that 'it is not a question of quality, it is just that 
>> applications that don't have a completed PhD won't be considered'. 
>> Why then bother including it at all? But I have more!
>>  trouble with the following: 'in addition to a completed PhD and 
>> established publication record, you will be better placed if you have 
>> one or more books published with a major publisher.' And this is for 
>> a Level A position, and before the main selection criteria are even 
>> mentioned! Mind you, mine was an honest mistake, as I knew of at 
>> least person who had secured a position without either of the above 
>> (although I'm beginning to wonder if this was in fact a dream I had 
>> ... or an urban myth). Nevertheless, such tales do lead one (or at 
>> least me) to wonder if the whole academic job market is either 
>> horribly riddled with politics and nepotism, or a complete - and 
>> completely mysterious - lottery. And so it has come to pass that, 
>> even with a soon-to-be-completed PhD and what I consider to be a 
>> fairly healthy publication record, the university employment horizon 
>> is looking increasingly bleak (aside from the treadmill life of the 
>> sessional, that is, whose prospects, it seems to me,!
>>  vary little from those of the seasonal fruit picker). So, and without
>> meaning to sound too downcast, at age 35, and in light of the above, 
>> I am having to reluctantly face the prospect that my dream of 
>> entering academic life possibly won't eventuate. Even so, it is a 
>> prospect I continue to resist (in spite of the many hurdles that 
>> prospective academics are made to jump through).
>> All of this has made me think afresh about what I hold as important 
>> in my life, like my family and thinking/writing. With respect to the 
>> former, having two small children is a great tonic for a whole host 
>> of disappointments (one example is seeing the excitement of my 2 year 
>> old when he recognised for the first time the letter 'L', the letter 
>> his name begins with; moments like this put a lot in perspective and 
>> prompt an appreciation of the simpler things in life). With respect 
>> to the latter, I am trying to remain creative and write as much as 
>> possible regardless of the forum. In other words, while it has taken 
>> me a while, I have come to a similar conclusion to Phil Barker when 
>> he writes that the Academy does not have to be the only place where 
>> thoughtful intellectual work can take place. Nor do I believe that it 
>> is correct, as Mel fears, that having a job at university is the only 
>> way that your thoughts can have any public legitimacy. The real issue 
>> I think, as Phil suggests,!
>>  is not so much the forum for the expression of these thoughts but 
>> how, as an independent scholar/researcher/writer, one can support 
>> this intellectual output. This is indeed a difficult issue, and I 
>> don't pretend to have the answers, but I'm hoping that the following, 
>> with which I will conclude this lengthy post, might at least 
>> encourage Mel and others.
>> Some time ago, for my own amusement and encouragement, I began 
>> compiling a list of writers I admired who worked outside the academy 
>> and/or held down not-so-glamorous jobs to support their writing 
>> (doubtless it will grow to become a very long list given the economic 
>> realities of most forms of creative output, but writing in 
>> particular). For example, there is Naguib Mahfouz, admittedly not an 
>> 'academic', but a Nobel prize winning novelist who worked for the 
>> Egyptian public service in the mornings and wrote in the afternoons 
>> and evenings. Then there is Roland Barthes who, unless I am mistaken, 
>> did not secure an academic post until quite late in his writing 
>> career. There is also Georges Perec, one writer I find particularly 
>> inspiring; this keen observer of the everyday and master of the 
>> literary constraint worked for many years in a medical library 
>> writing a weekly crossword and numerous other pieces while travelling 
>> back and forth each day on the Paris Metro.
>> Cheers,
>> Rowan Wilken.
>> r.wilken at pgrad.unimelb.edu.au
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