I have been working as a sessional tutor and lecturer for the last 5 years and the working conditions, the utter lack of benefits and employment security beyond the semester combined with being underpaid, but asked to do so much is disgusting opportunism by those universities I have worked for. It is a total abuse of the academic landscape by the university sector, knowing how desperate junior academics are to get a foot in the door. You are asked to do so much preparation to put lectures together, general administration etc., yet get paid for when you are physically there and no other benefits whatsoever, not even working space most of the time. I’m pretty sure universities realise the amount of work needed to coordinate courses and how inadequate the sessional pay contract and conditions are is in the face of that, but it suits their economic models to “casualise” the sector more and more, without seeing the psychological and financial outcomes for many of us that undertake such roles.
Furthermore, teaching takes so much of your time, well beyond being physically on campus that it is also impossible to take another job to supplement your pay. In fact, in most cases I never knew if I had employment for the following semester until the preceding break, which is a tremendous source of anxiety especially when undertaking your PhD at the same time. You just can’t plan ahead. Not knowing where your money for rent, bills etc. will come from is so stressful. There has been so many times where I was depressed and anxiety ridden thinking ahead of future bills that would arrive. It was even more heartbreaking when the university I had regularly worked for for 4 years couldn’t show the decency to communicate with me that there would no sessional role for me in the following semester. Not even the head of the politics department returned my calls when I wanted to inquire about any future employment. Silence was assumed to communicate I would have no future role. This was extremely unfortunate given my four years of regularly tutoring and coordinating units at the university. However, I was not surprised, as I know from experience that it is a very unfortunate climate for academia.
The most heartbreaking is knowing that now that I have finished my PhD there are very little positions available for someone like me at this stage. I will have to continue to do the sessional rounds for the next year or two, continue to build up my publications and hope I am then competitive enough to land a post-doc, which is only 2 years long anyway with no security beyond that either. Is it worth it? I guess that depends on each person’s situation. For me, it’s not, not the conditions for junior academics in Australia. I’ll look to take advantage of my networks overseas for positions. If that doesn’t happen then I’ll consider other areas to find work. It’s too hard and the burden on my mental health is too much of a trade-off to battle to stay in academia.
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