The good, the bad and the ugly of being “casual”

I have been a “casual academic” for the last four years in Canberra. As such,  I have tutored, done research, lectured, presented in conferences,  written  and reviewed academic papers. To be a ‘casual” was not something I looked for, but more of a consequence of being a full time international PhD student in Australia.

Not long after starting my PhD, I took a casual teaching position to get to know Australian higher education better and gain teaching experience at Oz universities. At the beginning I was excited and happy to be doing that job. It allowed me to earn some  money, get to know people, improve my teaching skills and discover my potentiality as a culture mediator. To be honest, it  also allowed me to get distracted from my tedious PhD research and gain a hands on experience in the Oz higher education sector (as a Chilean, it sounded exciting few years ago).

The coming years have been less exciting. I have continued developing  teaching and social skills. However, the “not so good face” of being a casual became apparent. For instance, the flexible hours to work are not that flexible, classes timetables are usually made before you see it and you have little room to make any changes. Working collaboratively with other tutors or lecturers is almost non-existent. It is infrequent to have formal opportunities that promote real collaborative work. Somehow, being a tutor is  a “second class academic” . For example, although, I had taught most of the classes of one unit, my opinion in relation to the content, assessment or mode of delivery of that unit was rarely considered. Some people might argue that tutors are not hired for that. It is the lecturer’s role to decide on the curriculum. The little detail is that tutors enact the curriculum.

As a casual lecturer, I have been able to design my unit according to my knowledge and expertise. I have taught enthusiastically and done my best to engage my students in their own learning. This is definitely a step up from being a tutor. However, you are still a second class academic.  Teaching is not the most valued aspect of academic work and while your teaching goes up, your research goes a step down.

Working collaboratively with other members of your department does not happen. You are still a bit isolated from the faculty members and are still a peripheral participant.

I am not a PhD student anymore. I have completed my PhD, but I continue being “casual”. Now it seems that I am an “aspiring academic” ( see http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ877046.pdf). The future does not look very promising in Australia. Budget cuts  suggest that the tendency to have casual staff  will grow bigger. Meanwhile, this is a short summary of my  thoughts on the good, the bad and the ugly of being an aspiring academic on casual basis contract in Australia:

The good 🙂

  • NTEU membership is just $50 annually
  • You don’t have to attend staff meetings
  • You can quit with one hour’s notice
  • You can learn new skills
  • You can explore disciplines and fields different  from your research
  • You can expand your academic network
  • You can develo collaborative skills further
  • You can gain experience
  • You can improve your skills while you get a full time job
  • You can become known in your field

The not so good 😦

  • The obvious is no job security. You don’t know if you are going to be needed the next semester.
  • No mortgage ( no possibility of bank loans)
  • Lack of academic  respect from some permanent staff
  • Lack of potential research funding
  • No adequate facilities for work (no office or an inadequate work place)
  • Poor flexibility. Number of hours and schedule is usually given. It is either like it or leave it.
  • Little contact with permanent staff
  • No real career opportunities

 

The ugly @#$%&!

  • To be casual for ever. To get into the trap of accepting casual teaching jobs or as a research assistant and no developing my research profile.
  • To feel frustrated and anxious about the future. I feel dis-empowered about making career plans.

Conclusion:

In the end,  I have learnt a lot working as a casual academic. However, it seems that casual academic jobs is a cost-saving measure and not a flexible opportunity for work/life balance. I hope my career is not another frustrated career and soon I become a full time academic.  I hope that academics on casual contracts are treated respectfully and are given more real career opportunities.

 

 

 

 

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About Malba Barahona

Educational researcher, language educator. PhD from Australian National University. Passionate bushwalker and mountain lover. I procrastinate reading fiction, hiking, doing yoga, riding, having a beer and more recently decolonizing my existence. I write in English and Spanish in different blogs especially with the purpose of encouraging my students to write.

7 comments

  1. Reblogged this on Una chilena en Australia and commented:

    En todas partes se cuecen habas. Aquí escribí parte de mi experiencia y opinión de ser un profesor universitario en Australia.

  2. Hola Malba, justo hoy encnotre tu blog y he estado leyendo tus Post, muy interesantes y bien escritos, bueno te escribo para compartir mi experiencia y preguntarte tu opinion sobre un dilema sobre la carrera de investigador.
    Bueno como tu yo vine a hacer un doctorado a Australia tambien el cual estoy terminaando (Thesis writting state..) es en plant science and molecular biology. A lo largo de todos estos anos estando aca en Australia mi vida cambio bastante, conoci a mi actual esposa y hace poco nos hemos casado, ella es Australiana.
    El agno pasado fuimos a Chile (yo soy de Santiago) y bueno alli ella se dio cuenta del cambio en calidad de vida en relacion a Australia. Aprovechando la ida a Chile, tambien comence a ver las posibilidades de trabajos en universidad (especificamente donde estudie, U de Chile y INIA .. soy Agronomo de Antumatu), y bueno conversando con profesores me decian que el panorma no es muy auspicioso (contratos a honorarios, no puestos vacantes para profesores permanenetes). Bueno regresamos a Australia y yo y mi esposa postulamos a trabajos (justo en Chile habia una posicion de investigador en INIA y permanente que me habian dicho que tenia altas posibilidades de quedar) y mi esposa postulo a Perth a un contrato por 3 agnos. Dijimos donde salga el trabajo nos vamos los dos y si a los dos nos resulta nos vamos a Chile porque es un trabajo permanente (tomando los cons de que mi esposa no habla espagnol y el cambio cultural) .. bueno al final ahora estamos viviendo en Perth jajaja (el trabajo no resulto ..mucha competencia, nacional y especialmente de Espagna, personas con grado de doctor en ciencias queriendo ir a sudamerica en especial Chile). Aca en Perth he estado en contacto con investigadores en universidades y me han dicho que saldran unas posiciones en Julio contrato por 3 agnos. Soo el dilemaa. Volver a Chile o no en este momento. Por la beca deberia volver el 2015 pero el contrato de mi esposa termina en el 2016. Entonces si nos vamos a Chile hasta el momento los dos llegariamos desempleados. Ademas he visto segnales politicas en Chile que no van a favor de incentivar investigacion en ciencias biologicas (disminucion de FONDECYT fundings ya no hay ministerio de ciencias…). Mi propuesta a conicyt sera estar aca por el momento y ser de nexo y ver posibilidades de cooperacion con cientificos chilenos.. como manera de retribucion…. No se que pasaria con la restitucion de los fondos

    Bueno sorry por lo largo del comentario.. pero leyendo tus post vi que tenemos cosas en comun, entonces me gustaria saber que piensas al respecto.

    Saludos!!!

    • Hola David! Muchas gracias por tu comentario.

      Mi historia de vida personal es muy parecida a la tuya, también me casé con un australiano. Decidimos volver a Chile en enero del próximo año, aún no encontramos trabajo. Pero decidimos irnos de todas maneras. necesitamos cambios y yo estoy optimista . Decidimos irnos a otra ciudad, y no volver a Santiago. Yo me vine a Australia porque ya no soportaba a Santiago, así es que ahora menos que nunca volveré. Trataremos en la quinta región o en alguna otra parte cerca de la costa. Hemos ahorrado para mantenernos por un año sin la premura de un trabajo. Así es que veremos que encuentro. Estemos en contacto. Un abrazo¡

  3. Carolina E.

    Suena como si fueras de segunda. Una lata, aunque hay que sacar lo mejor de la experiencia, como tú lo has sabido hacer. Suerte al regreso.

  4. Hi Malba, thanks for sharing your experience. I can relate to what you wrote as i’m doing my PhD at the moment and also doing casual tutoring. Could you share if one is able to do casual lecturing without finishing PhD? if so, how to get the role?

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