Insomnia After H(on)ours: Prospects of Postgraduate Life

by Victoria Reynolds

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Read Professions of Power by Humphrey McQueen

Late-night obsessing about becoming a postgrad isn’t good for your health. Vague dreams are all very well, but concrete visualization becomes highly stressful.

Now, you’ve got a good First, so a scholarship’s looking promising, but then how many other people of all ages and walks of life will be busting to get one ? After all, budget cuts are forcing universities to make coursework programmes either full fee-paying, or to ditch them altogether, which is putting more pressure on research degrees. And there’s all those exteachers and exmiddle-managers and expublic servants and others out there, flapping about trying to, what is it, “reposition” themselves?

You could get some teaching work to supplement a scholarship, but there’s some pretty nasty experiences to be had — postgrads presiding over what’s still laughingly called a tutorial of twenty or thirty terrified school leavers inadequately prepared with only sheets of discussion questions set by the “real” academic; all the while also struggling up the greasy pole by racking up research points. Bit of a jungle really…

Tutoring has become like getting a woman-what-comes-in-and-does: dirty and unrewarding work, but someone’s got to do it. That way of thinking has become part of the main game, especially in the Big Eight Universities, while they trumpet themselves as launching their students and researchers into a cutting edge, world-class future.

Forward planning: what about next year or the year after; what’s that going to look like ? Can you nip ‘n’ tuck things so the ole CV starts looking competitively healthy? Might have to set up an equation for time — a sort of cost-benefit analysis: x for “own research”, y for “conferences” (will you get money to attend?) z for “casual work” (the terrified school leavers, mountains of marking for a pittance, and maybe lit.searches for someone else’s ARC project).

The glossy PR about postgraduate life look and sound pretty seductive. But does it translate into hard cash details ? You are a mature-aged student in 1997; you should be about mid-40s when you get the doctorate if you don’t drop dead first. What then are the prospects of an academic job in a drastically shrinking academic sector? Most likely more of the same casual work — the terrified school leavers, marking for a pittance, research for someone else’s ARC project. You might be on $20,000 plus a year, which means the HECS debt will kick in for all those years of valuable higher education. So if the kids are still studying then, and the mortgage is only half-paid… oh, bugger it. Is there a drink in the house?

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