The view from a career crossroads
Five years ago today, I published a blog post about starting a part-time Master’s course. A lot has happened since then and I’ve, understandably, been spending some of my time post-graduation looking at how this qualification could lead me to a new career path. After finishing my first degree, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do and so ended up taking a series of admin roles with interesting employers. Each gave me enough money to pay the bills, a sub-40hr working week, and plenty of annual leave to pursue other things in my spare time. That thing called work-life balance? I’ve been nailing it since day one.
But… no one dreams of a career in admin. They say ‘do what you love‘, and I’d found a new love for academic research using libraries and archives. Finding out things you never knew before, making connections others may not have thought of, and then telling people about it (through talks or writing) gives me a fantastic feeling of satisfaction. So I decided to see if I could put my degree to good use and move into a new career.
First of all, I looked into becoming a teaching academic. Without previous teaching experience the only way in is via hourly paid lecturing work, so I applied for a role teaching cultural/historical studies thinking that I could perhaps do some hours alongside my full-time job. It turns out that this is not as straightforward as I first thought. In addition to the ‘computer says no’ barrier to paying someone who is already on a full-time contract for any teaching hours alongside that, there was also the problem of my lack of a teaching qualification. So many applicants now have this that I’m at a huge disadvantage without, but I can’t enrol on the PgCert Academic Practice without having teaching hours. This was how I discovered vicious circle number one.
After that, I investigated the options for working in museums, as I do love a good archive. Sadly, all the entry level jobs pay considerably less than I am currently earning and all the slightly better paid roles required a postgraduate qualification in Archives & Records Management. Undeterred, I investigated my options for this and applied for a distance learning PgCert with the support of both my line manager and MA supervisor. I had it all planned out, including taking time off work to volunteer in the LCF Archives to support my learning.
However, during my Skype interview, the course leader made it clear that my voluntary experience would have to be at an archive other than a fashion one, as the course focused mainly on documents rather than textile objects. Also, to get the accreditation I wanted for job applications, I’d need to do the Postgraduate Diploma which would involve even more time and money. I looked at the jobs this would qualify me for and they were mostly part time, plus the person specification asked for experience that I still wouldn’t have after doing this course. Vicious circle number two.
Finally, I explored the possibility of a career in academic research. All early career research posts are fixed-term rather than permanent (something which terrifies me, but that I’d have to deal with), and are usually post-doc which requires a PhD. Doing it full-time would be the most obvious option, but I can’t afford this as even the best arts and humanities funding opportunities would pay far less than one of those entry level museum jobs I had already discounted. Doing it part-time would require either reducing my hours at work (for reduced pay, obviously), or condensing 5 days of work into 4 so that I had a day a week for my PhD… for a maximum of eight years. If my employer agreed to this, and to paying my fees, I’d be stuck there. This is fine if you’re already an academic member of staff with a clear career path, but where would a PhD take me?
I suspect it might lead me straight back to square one – via a lot of hard work, huge amounts of stress, and one glorious day wearing a Tudor bonnet – where I’m still applying for the same types of admin jobs that I have experience for, except that I would appear to be massively overqualified for them. So, for now, I’m going to go back to what I do best and try to work out a succinct answer for anyone who asks “did you not want to do something with your degrees?” Maybe I should have dreamt of a career in admin? After all, I enjoy helping people by bringing order to chaos, it pays the bills, and it gives me plenty of time for having a life outside work… including being an independent scholar.