CYGNA: How do I keep my job (in academia) in uncertain times?

Reports on our 34th CYGNA meeting discussing jobs losses in higher education in COVID-19 times

Since founding CYGNA in 2014 we have had 30 physical meetings, followed by two virtual meetings in May and June on Coping with a Pandemic and MBTI & Stress. As both meetings were a big success, we decided to continue with our virtual meetings in the new academic year and maintain the monthly schedule, planning for no less than ten CYGNA meetings this year, organized by diferent teams. Watch this space!

The September meeting was on Female leadership in Higher Education. In October, we decided to tackle the "hot potato" of job losses in higher education. As you can see above, we had a full house again. Out of the 53 CYGNA members who had registered, 39 were able to attend, though one had to leave before the picture was taken. Not bad for what is typically one of the most stressful months of the academic year.

This time, nearly half of the participants were from outside the UK, including from Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Taiwan and the USA. A special welcome to Anna Hsu, Anastasia Christou, Christa Sathish, Emilie Lapointe, Ilju Kim, Maria Kapsali, Marian Crowley-Henry, Marian Jones, Satkeen Azizzadeh, and Sophie Jané who all attended for the first time.

Axele Giroud, Professor of International Business at the University of Manchester, had kindly agreed to coordinate and chair the session this month. She did an excellent job in organizing the speakers, managing the session, and make everyone feel appreciated. Three of the CYGNA team, Shasha Zhao, Linn Zhang, and myself provided back-up and technical support. Argyro Avgoustaki unfortunately had to teach.

Shea Fan: Job losses in Australian HE

Shea Fan, Senior Lecturer at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia, provided us with a very moving and personal reflection on job cuts at her own institution. Many academics have to reapply for their own jobs, competing against their colleagues for scarce positions. She gave us a very insightful and realistic analysis of the situation, without anger or recrimations. Shea is one of my former PhD students and I was very proud of her; I would have offered her a job on the spot!!! You can download her presentation here.

Mariana Dodourova: Brief no-nonsense overview of the current UK HE environment

Mariana Dodourova, Head of the Department of Management, Leadership and Organisation at Middlesex University London, provided us with an excellent overview of recent developments in UK higher education. Her presentation was aptly summarised by the slide below: storms have been gathering over the higher education sector in the last decade. However, they have come to a head with the COVID-19 crisis. That said, there is a little ray of sunshine as well in terms of future student recruitment. Most of all, the current crisis provides us with unique opportunities to learn and innovate. You can download her presentation here.

Marian Jones: Time to leave, or time to change?

Last, but not least, Marian Jones, Chair of International Business at Sheffield University, provided us with a sobering reflection of how COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on female academics, especially, though not solely, those who are mothers. In one of her slides she cites research that found that for every one hour of uninterrupted work that mothers do, fathers are able to do three.

As a contingency to working out how to keep your job, she urges us to consider: a) how through the pandemic, we might find opportunities to influence change in higher education to value and fully acknowledge women's contributions; b) how  we view ourselves, our skills and roles in Higher Education; OR, c) whether leaving at this time might offer more promising opportunities. You can download her presentation here.

Q&A with the speakers

Marian's presentation neatly segued into a very lively 40-minute Q&A session with lots of discussions about alternatives for academic careers, such as research administration, secondary school teaching, editorial and publishing work, consultancy/training (many universities are employing consultants/trainers for expertise that is available internally!!!) and offering free-lance online courses to a range of institutions.

More generally, as Axele Giroud aptly remarked: don't underestimate the skills you acquire when working in academia, you need to be a designer, a project manager, an analyst, a writer, an entertainer, a manager, a visionary, a mentor, coach and counselor, as well as many other things. Many of these skills are transferable.

We also talked about the need for a fundamental rethink of academia and our jobs within it, about the need for academics to take collective action, the role of collective intelligence, and the need for women to support each other, but also to ensure they are not (yet again) carrying the major burden in "academic housework" as well as domestic housework. It is wives of the organization all over again. You might want to reread Anne Huff's 1990 piece on this here: Female academics: Wives of the organization?

Resource references

The Q&A and chat were overflowing with suggestions and I didn't catch them all. So if you have any further suggestions, please write to me.

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