I’m struggling with my thesis edits. I’m struggling not just because I have to rewrite the entire thing in six months when the first draft took three years to complete, but because of what happened to me in those three years, what I had to endure there and then in the viva that have made it really hard for me to sit down and rewrite my work in a way that is satisfactory to the people that control whether or not I get my degree.
This week the University and College Union called a strike at universities across Scotland over the rising cost of pensions and other pay and working conditions (this is the very simplified bare-bones way to explain it. You can find a more detailed explanation here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/). UCU issued a news update this week that I think really explains it well:
A Guardian editorial said the marketisation of universities had seen a new breed of vice-chancellors emerge aping the language and salaries of a business CEO complete with an entourage of financial managers and marketing gurus. However staff had been left behind as their pay fell and an intellectual precariat was stumbling from year to year on temporary contracts wondering where the next teaching gig was coming from. While the Financial Times said that the industrial action carried wider significance than the fate of a disputed retirement plan, and had exposed the precariousness of Britain’s higher education system as it has become more of a marketplace.
So what does the strike and the fight for better pay, suitable contracts and fair working conditions?
Everything. See I am on one of those temporary contracts. I am paying a lot into my pension that could be helpful in paying my student loans. Full disclosure, I am not a member of the union so I am not allowed to strike even if I wanted to. But that is neither here nor there. What I want to focus on is the last sentence in the paragraph from UCU. The working conditions of the UK’s higher education system.
See the thing is, it is not just the staff who are suffering. PhD students are also suffering. The expectation, the pay, and the complete disregard for the mental health and wellbeing of the students undertaking the role. These were battles that I had to face almost daily for four years and when I spoke up to the people that were in a position to help me, they either laughed in my face or told me not to worry. No one took me seriously. No one even acknowledged the possibility that my worries now may become actual problems in the future. At one point I was working on five different projects to scrape money together to pay my bills every month. I burned out twice. I cried every Friday with a therapist.
I made it all the way to a viva only to be told what I had done wasn’t even half good enough. I was failed by a lot of people, mainly my supervisors, and I could get in a lot of trouble for even putting that in writing. Yes, it is true that I could email my supervisors and ask for help. The thing is, I don’t even know what to ask for. The only one who would even respond would tell me that I know what I need to do and I just need to do it….and I really wish that was true. I have no idea what I need to do because I did what was expected of a PhD student, the examiners hated it, and now I am trying to do something that leaves out a lot of important information…..oh yeah, and I need to not mention the methodology that I used to collect the data because the examiners hated it.
It really hurts when people call me Dr Wilder….one because technically I am not, but two, because it is a slap in the face to be seen as an expert when I was told behind closed doors I wasn’t good enough, even though half the choices made were not made by me.
But dealing with that reality is not getting me anywhere. That attitude led me to not working on my thesis, making poor dietary choices, weight gain, ridiculous anxiety and my current (and starting to feel like permanent) grumpy state. So I am trying to refrain that narrative. But it’s hard. I want to go on strike and refuse to work under these conditions. I want to fight the people that put me in this position in the first place.
I want to not be afraid that I could lose my job because I cannot meet the needs of a system that does not care if I pass or fail as long as they get paid….and since they already got paid, there really is no reason to help me.
I am not really sure why I dumped all of this on my blog about being an expat. It isn’t fun. It isn’t happy. It isn’t even insightful. But I guess it makes me feel better to know that I am not incapable of writing. This is the most writing I have done at one time in months, and maybe, just maybe if I can go on strike against the conditions that I was forced to work in before and see this as an opportunity to really get a PhD with my work saying what I want to say and start helping university’s help their students with assessment and feedback. I think I am good at what I do. I think that once I put this nonsense behind me that I can continue with my work in an environment that supports me, encourages me, and is allowing me the chance to do things that I am good at and try to help people who want to enhance their assessment and feedback skills.
I am ten posts short of 500. I have no idea how I got to 500 posts, or what that special 500th post will look like, but I am excited that I am almost there. Maybe it is another sign from the universe that I can get the writing done and I can show the examiners that I earned the PhD that cost me a lot of blood, sweat, tears, friendships, and mental health.