Shattered dreams.

For the first time in a few years, I applied for a job.

The ongoing crisis in higher education has finally destroyed what little trust I had left with universities. Given these circumstances, I came to the realisation that I am no longer willing to commit myself to a career in academia.

Before COVID, my aim was to complete my PhD with the hopes of securing a post-doc or lecturing position within a university. But that dream has quickly vanished. Instead, it has been replaced with a feeling of frustration and uncertainty.

Frustrated at the anger and pain I feel towards academia, I feel hurt. I was sold a lie, a romantic notion of research and teaching that never existed except within the collective imaginations of those employed by universities. I believed that if I worked hard enough, I would be offered a position myself, that I would be able to live this life of intellectual independence.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame the number of struggling academics currently working within universities. I understand that in order to survive, they must find a sense of purpose with what they do. But for me, that dream has been shattered.

A few weeks ago, I applied for a job. It was for the bike shed at CERES. The job itself would involve taking care of the workshop and managing volunteers. It also would include broader strategic visioning and advocacy. In my mind, this was the perfect job, it provided a blend between working with my hands, community organising, and the circular economy.

The interview was last Wednesday night. Before the interview I was feeling incredibly anxious, and I thought that afterwards, these feelings of anxiety would subside, but throughout my sleep I was haunted with dreams of all the things I should have said.

This job meant more to me than I had previously thought.

I realised that my anxieties were not specifically about the job, but rather, what the job represented. The job meant a direct pathway away from academia, whilst still maintaining a strong connection to my PhD. It meant that I could go part time, and ground my research with my work from the bike shed. It would provide me with an opportunity to make a transition towards a new life.

If I didn’t get the job, it would mean that I would have to start again. That the last few years working towards a career in academia would be – in a way – worthless. And right now, the problem I have, is that I don’t really know what I want to do anymore.

This is why I feel anxious and frustrated. What is the purpose of doing a PhD and getting paid near to nothing, if there is little opportunity in the future of getting a full time job within academia?

I recognise that I am very lucky to be in a position to even be asking that question, but despite my privilege, it is still an emotionally painful process of reflection, that given the current pandemic, I am unsure if I am capable of undergoing.

Despite all this, I still have a lingering hope. Someday in the future, I would like to set up a radical institution, one which challenges the university and its authority over teaching and research. I want to provide an alternative institution that is more democratic and socially engaged.

So far this has been a dream, but perhaps it is time it becomes a reality.