Got this in an e-mail from an academic buddy – his view of the Lecturer’s union striking.
I am an academic at a leading UK university. Obtaining an academic position is not an easy thing to do and I have worked towards it, pretty much non-stop, since I left school. You will probably need a First Class degree to get onto a funded PhD course. Assuming your doctorate goes well, you need to find a postdoctoral position. There are probably four times as many new PhDs as there are postdoctoral opportunities, all being sought by highly-motivated, breathtakingly intelligent young people who have just obtained their degree. The competition is intense beyond belief.
If you get your postdoctoral position, it will probably be for a term of one to five years, during which time you have to build a publication record that makes you worthy of an academic position. With short postdocs, you might need to re-enter that competitive job market to get a second contract. You need to build enough experience – maybe three or five years’ worth – to be in a position to apply for an academic position, but not too much. Someone who doesn’t manage to get an academic position after six or eight years is at a huge disadvantage compared to the bright young things on the up.
The academic positions are, one again, about one-quarter as plentiful as the postdocs reaching maturity, and even if you get one, it will likely be fixed term. Use this term wisely – by bringing in a lot of funding, for example – and you just might obtain a permanent one.
The rewards though, are immense. I get to work on the thing which is most important to me in the whole world. I get to travel the world. I get to leave work at 2pm if I feel like it, even though I never do. The freedom is there.
I get to make, with my own mortal hand, things that will change the future of science. This, to me, is the most incredible thing that I could ever be allowed to do. These objects are going to be paid for by taxpayers – productive people who work hard only to have a slice of the fruits of their labour hived off and given to me. I am humbled by the trust put in me to use this money as wisely as I possibly can, to advance human knowledge, and I remember the thirty-odd hugely talented PhDs to whom I have, personally, denied the opportunity.
Today, I got an email calling on me to strike. It said that I should consider this hard-won chance-of-a-lifetime to be, well, a job. A job, like in Marks and Spencer’s. That I should consider a few hundred pounds, extracted from people who have had to actually work to fund my dreams, to be worth more than this chance of a lifetime. That I should spit on the thirty poor sods that didn’t get this chance by refusing to use it to its fullest possible extent, and on the people whose jobs went to the wall to pay for the taxes I spend. Somehow withholding marking of students’ papers and delaying their careers, the better to line my own pocket with other people’s money, is portrayed as a virtuous deed.
I am, quite literally, open-mouthed in disbelief. These people have, like me, been given the chance of a lifetime and they are prepared to waste other people’s money, to waste other people’s time, over a few percent on their investments. I can imagine more selfish acts, but not many. These, by the way, will be the same people who rail about the evils of the bankers. Say what you like about the bankers, they didn’t blackmail anyone to get to where they are today. Good luck to them.
So, when you see the lecturer’s unions on strike next week, remember that they don’t speak for all of us. Some of us have work to do.
A view from an academic, who wishes to remain anonymous, but I can confirm is working on stuff, that when he tells me about it, I’m awed at how cool it is. Think about stuff your 8-year old self wishes you did for a living, and that’s what he does for a living.