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.
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.