Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Working Hours

I’m sure the nice administrator in the university department where I work thinks I am an idiot. Today: some confusion over how much I should be paid for the hours of Masters student supervision I did for them this summer. I submitted a claim for [a number of] hours; the nice administrator came back to me, telling me that I can only claim [less hours than that] per student, which came in at about a third less than what I thought I was getting paid. Cue much polite protesting and ‘querying’ from me, and much copy-and-pasting and brandishing of email written by boss at the start of the summer, which clearly says how much I am to be paid, and which clearly says that I am, indeed, right. (And not an idiot).

Alas, I am actually wrong, despite being right. Apparently the boss ‘jumped the gun a bit’ in stating the said figure in the email in which she invited me to do the work; University regulations have actually set my fee at less than that, and so that is how much I will be paid.

This is a bit of a pickle, because I have already done all the work, and have indeed gone to great lengths to ensure (I don’t know why) that the nice students have got exactly as much help out of me as this time allowed. Not that I worked super hard, or anything, but still, I did the work. (Cue much apologizing from course convenor, and much promising that we will sort it out, somehow.)

This is not the first time I have had a run-in with the nice administrator over my pay – and it always seems that the fault is mine, for thinking that I am supposed to be getting paid more than I actually am. Previous run-in went something like this. Me: ‘Hi, I got your email. Um, I’m not supposed to be getting paid [5p] for this work. I’m supposed to be getting paid [10p]. Look, here and here is dated proof that I am getting paid [10p].

Nice administrator: ‘No, you’re meant to be getting paid [5p].’

Me: ‘Ummm…’ [leaves in polite confusion; thinks for a long time, counts on fingers; realizes with sinking heart that I am, indeed, going to get paid 5p.]*

Makes me feel nostalgic for that 9-to-5 admin job I had recently (which was temporary and which, alas, finished; and I wasn’t upset about that, to be honest, because it wasn’t really all that. But it did pay you for all the hours that you sat with your little bottom in that office chair… and it even offered the delightful possibility of spending a few hours every week actually sitting in the office and getting paid whilst filling out those additional hours claims forms. A really lovely ‘I’m-getting-paid-twice-right-now’ sort of feeling).

I love my few little hours of university teaching a week, I really do. I chose to do them, I willingly chose this life, I didn’t exactly fight tooth and nail to get into, like, a job in finance or something. Because I like this – I like the part-time lifestyle, and I like the feeling you get when students understand something and you know you’ve opened their minds, and yours.

And it is thanks to my links to this university that I managed, at one point, to get a whole load of money to write a book. And that was pretty special.

But note to self: maybe it’s time to move on. As lovely as this job is, earning [5p] is getting a bit boring. Arguing over ridiculously tiny sums of money is boring. Note to self: stop doing this lovely charity work for a university, and move on. Creative business beckons. Commissions slowly start coming. Step up the creative business. Start leaving the ‘underpaid lecturer’ business.

A student asked me once after class if she could come to my office hour to discuss some work, and we walked down to the office together. We chatted; she told me how much she was enjoying the course. I asked her what she might do after university.

‘This might sound silly – but before, I thought I might like to be a [insert cool-sounding job title here]; but now, since I’ve been doing this course, you’ve, like, really inspired me, and I think I want to do what YOU do!’

You’ve really inspired me; I want to do what YOU do. I basked in those lovely words, happy as pie, ignoring the thought that came to me, and only later did I really feel the pang of conscience; she thinks I have a real career where you get paid! I should have told her the truth! I should have said RUN, DON’T WALK, CHOOSE THE COOL JOB, DON’T DO WHAT I DO!... Instead, I sort of compromised and gave her the nice spiel about how she should keep both interests going, blah blah, because you never know where the jobs will be in a few years’ time, and who knows, perhaps she’ll do [cool job] first and then one day try academia.

You see, I seem to have this thing where I sort of pretend to my students that I am ‘better’ than I am. I might wear a suit jacket to class, to give them the idea that they are being taught by a proper grown-up (the suit jackets are actually hand-me-downs from my Mum; I realize that wearing them makes it seem like I could actually afford to buy lots of them myself). I prepare well. I try to give the impression that I am a ‘real’ lecturer. (Maybe I’m just giving MYSELF that impression.)

But maybe sometimes, like that one time, I should actually say: You know that I’m a part-time lecturer paid by the hour, right?... It’s a lovely life and I chose it, and I have a great time teaching you and I never wanted a full-time academic job, but you should know that I don’t earn a proper salary from doing this. I have to do a whole load of other things on the side to be able to do this.

I hope her other career really takes off, and she only thinks of academia nostalgically, when she is a bona fide [cool person], on holiday somewhere nice, swilling her glass of wine and telling her cool friends that she used to like writing essays and what a shame she never stayed on to do more; safely protected from my own fate by a devastating wall of ‘I wish’, and ‘if only’.

Hell, I might get her to hire ME one day.


Disclaimer: This is not a rant against academia in general, and should not be read as such. Like I say, I don’t want a full-time academic job, I’m certainly not doing the things that would get me one of those, and so if I am indeed earning 5p an hour,* this is by my own choice. (I might just make a different choice soon, that’s all.) Although it is a shame that universities have figured out at some point that you don't need to pay hourly academics properly and they'll still work hard to do a good job. That bit was our downfall.

*About that 5p thing: obviously, I exaggerate the small size of my paycheck for comic effect. However, this number does adequately convey my frustration at having spent my morning arguing over a relatively small sum of money, after previously negotiating that small sum and then being told that I won’t even get paid that. Think I might start valuing myself more. Might even ask for 20p in my next job.

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