Autocorrect frequently makes me aware that ‘carer’ and ‘career’ are only one ‘e’ away from each other. Sometimes I feel almost goaded by the similarity. Yet it is undeniable that both terms have loomed large in my life in recent years.
I was promoted to Senior Lecturer at the start of 2020, very shortly after achieving Senior Fellowship of the HEA. I had anticipated that making Senior Lecturer would be a personal milestone, representing that I had achieved the academic career I had long been working towards. I thought of my PhD supervisor when she became Senior Lecturer and how this seemed to entirely validate my view that she was bossing it at being an academic.
However, the promotion has meant some complicated feelings and reflections for me on the carer/career front.
Firstly, I have to acknowledge that being a carer has held back my career, especially on the research side of things. With no funding for care costs and the rapidly changing nature of Al’s health, I have rarely attended conferences for a while now. When I last did an overnight conference stay of two nights, for the Social History Society conference in Keele in 2018, Al was more independent. But the conference was very hard for me, despite coming home early. Since then, SHS has not even been option. I’m nagged by a feeling that I don’t have much going on research-wise at the moment as I struggle to offer research the sustained attention it needs to develop. This is my own perception, despite meeting the criteria for research activity needed for my promotion.
I feel held back by the hours spent caring at evenings and weekends and my need for relatively strict boundaries on my working hours. I have fewer published outputs than peers which mattered when it came to apply for promotion.
This is all related to that pesky imposter syndrome.
‘I can’t do it.’ ‘I’ll never be good enough.’ ‘So-and-so has their book out and I’m still on this same damn article draft even though they got their PhD/job after me.’ We compare and feel like we come up short, even when the comparisons are full of hidden variables. As a first gen student (but thanks to older brother not quite first in the family to get a degree), I get imposter syndrome about my background, and did throughout my PhD.
Now I have added imposter syndrome as a carer. Sometimes I feel like academia just is not for people like me. Evening seminars, multi day conferences, expectations of working evenings and weekends are all part of academic culture – one which is being increasingly called-out, but is slow to change. The culture of academia we have is built around privilege and assumptions that academics have partners and families to do domestic labour and childcare while they tirelessly pursue knowledge. It struggles to accommodate messy, complicated lives. Lives like mine full of medical appointments, disability admin, care work and compromises.
I’ve known academic parents dialling down the evening seminars/ conferencing while their children were small and then doing more as children get older. Women in academia pay penalties on their careers if they have children. We know this. What does that mean for me as I look at a future of indefinite caring?
I thought, or rather hoped, that gaining recognition for my efforts in recent years by making Senior Lecturer would help me feel that I belong in academia. I’m not sure it has. I’m not sure what will, or what can. An overhaul of the culture and institutions of HE? Sure, but honestly, right now making dinner and finishing my marking seems like just about as much as I can manage. That’s the thing with this caring thing, you get bogged down in the realities of everyday life. The rest is frankly academic.