Guest blogger, Trish Lunt, writing from Australia.
As an older, part-time, sessional academic with a late-onset penchant to complete a PhD, I am chuffed to have the opportunity to contribute to this shared space for women in academia.
I am a casual academic – by function, and sometimes by nature1 – one of the (far too) many staff contracted for minimal periods for short stints of teaching in established courses in the Australian university sector2. Often, disillusion with the deficit of permanent (‘real’?) jobs (let alone career opportunities!) in Australian universities overrides the passion for and personal rewards achieved through intermittent but life-long teaching and learning (especially for a very! late baby-boomer like me). Consistently rationalising impermanence and displacement as ‘career flexibility’ can be draining. It is difficult to find, let alone sustain, a sense of belonging in this situation.
Small fish in a big pond
There are few rewards for casual staff where tenured positions are abysmally limited, even more so in the field of Children’s Literature scholarship which is generally held in little regard. However, over the past 5 years, I have been privileged to belong to a small team of dedicated academics in a small field in a small university where casual staff (who are often doctoral students not otherwise employed) take up the bulk of the teaching load with no guarantee of employment from one 12 week course block to the next.
Inhabiting this liminal space within the university system is a group of dedicated, committed, and highly productive people who not only support each other in their teaching and research, but work cooperatively as a team, led by the indubitable commitment of the only tenured staff member for a cohort of over 400 students. As much as I dislike the stereotype of the caring/sharing/non-self-serving female archetype, I often think that this team works the way it does because most of the casual appointments are held by women3.
Playing the funding game
Of course, casual academics do not share the value-added benefits of tenured staff: conference funding, research release, financial incentives. Sometimes, however, it is possible to play the university at its own fiduciary game. When grant money became available in 2009 to support the academic incentive of a Teaching-Research Nexus (where the often unstated links between teaching/research and staff/student learning, are acknowledged) a stunning proposal was put forward by the small fish. To the mutual benefit of the university, the field of scholarship, and casual staff, the plan was to fund conference attendance for casual staff, as a model of a teaching-research nexus in practice.
Casual staff were financially supported to present their research in an international forum, modelled research practice and conference presentation to undergraduate students, reported on the outcomes of the teaching-research nexus project to other university staff, and are in the process of co-authoring a paper for submission to a refereed journal.
The win/win scenario
- Low-cost for high gain
- Modelling Teaching Research Nexus in practice
- Improved international reputation for scholarship in Children’s Literature
- Publication in an refereed journal regarding shifts in educational practice
- Seen to support emerging researchers
- Happy casual staff
Casual Staff benefits:
- A week in the German summer during an Australian winter
- Participation in international conference of high repute
- Capacity to share (personal) research expertise in classroom
- Co-authored publication in refereed journal
- Feeling of belonging to research community, within and outside of the university
- Feeling rewarded.
Trish Lunt was born in 1963 and spent her childhood keenly reading Enid Blyton before graduating to Reader’s Digest Condensed Versions. Though a life-long learner, she was a late entrant to institutionalised academia after having children and returning to study to complete a Master of Arts. She is completing a PhD and teaches children’s literature analysis on a casual basis at an Australian university. Her current scholarly interests include Indigenous Australian textualities, globalisation theory, and the role of children’s texts in the socialisation of the child reader.
1. Ironically, I have taken a short break from casual teaching (and doctoral research) because the bleakness bit me.
2. The increased casualisation of the Australian academic workforce is known as Getting the Best of You for Nothing.
3. The university for which I bleed has recently been named an Employer of Choice for Women which recognises 26 weeks’ paid maternity leave in a workplace where women make up the 60% of the workforce, and the dubious honour of having women in 34% of tenured academic positions compared to the national average of 25% (!!).