...no, I mean: complain! The second task is to identify three of my least favorite things about my job. And here they are:
1. Money, money, money
I often say that most problems we have in the society sprout from two blights humans have set upon themselves. One is the illogical over-importance of gender. The other is the illogical over-importance money.
I feel the former has played a surprisingly insignificant part in my career so far, thank goodness. But the latter is a constant annoyance on every possible level.
On practical level: Writing grant applications is the only regular work assignment I dislike. It's boring, repetitive, time-consuming and pays off sooooooo rarely. I don't understand why, instead of doing my actual JOB, I should go through so much trouble just to receive an email that says: "Unfortunately, we are not granting your disgustingly humanist, weird-ass research a scholarship at this time. The foundation does not give feedback or rationalize its decisions. Maybe you should reconsider your functionality as a human being and do your taxes."
I could write an entire article in the time I use on grant applications each year. WHY can't there be a joint application process? Or AT LEAST unified forms and regulations? That is, why can't I send just ONE kick-ass application to all the foundations once a year (and receive just one depressing rejection slip, and eat just one pint of ice cream to dampen the burn)? It's in no way productive to rearrange my research plan into a variety of slightly different lengths every few months. I actually counted the files in my "PhD" folder, and I have over 70 files under "Grants". For contrast: I have only 17 files under "Dissertation". Yet, I'm sure my current employers would also rather pay me for doing research than for courting other financiers.
On an individual level: It's impossible to build a stable life on funding that's measured in months, not in years. I'm one of the lucky ones: I've scored three 12-month research periods in a row! Many have to scrape their living together from 3-month periods and part-time jobs. Graduation will be especially hellish. After that, the competition is even stiffer and most opportunities require moving to a different city or country. Who knows where I'll be updating this blog from in two years! Again, I'm one of the lucky ones: I never really wanted a stable life anyway, and I've always romanticized nomadic lifestyles. The thought of having my life all planned out at 25 and living in the same little town all my life would be FAR more depressing than not having a clue which continent I'll be living on and which research question I'll be trying to solve next year. Having to change to a completely different career (a freelance journalist? an editor? a translator? an antiquarian?) because of the lack of funding is a major concern for me, though.
On communal and ideological level: Nothing is more important to a society in the long run than research, science, culture and education. NOTHING. And I'm proud to be working for all four in one form or another. That the government sees them as a waste of resources is INFURIATING. I'm not saying that I, personally, save lives - although many scientists and educators do. I'm more in the life-building business - and this time, I don't mean that in a Frankensteinian way. Professor emerita Leena Kirstinä said in a speech she held two weeks ago that "literary research is a part of cultural infrastructure". We build, structure, define and examine what culture is. And in doing so, we build, structure, define and examine what makes us who we are. Without culture, we wouldn't really have lives to save. And a society that sees no value in anything I value and am is no society I want to be any part of.
|"I feel you, ex-flower. You're the only one who gets me."|
Nothing ruins a regular work day like not being able to concentrate when you really have to concentrate. Growing up, I've gradually learned that my nervous system was built to react at a very low threshold: my attention is drawn to anything and everything that jumps from the background in any way. If we were a troupe of hunter-gatherers, I would be the one keeping us all alive, since I would detect an approaching saber-tooth tiger by a small snap of a twig, or possibly even the smell. But since we are a troupe of researchers, having this fine, fine skill is mostly a huge pain in the ass. A loud bang of a door or a fit of laughter derails my train of thought immediately. So does the smell of food. If I'm especially sleep-deprived and irritable, I might have a hard time reading and writing if anything even moves in my field of vision.
It's no wonder, then, that I prefer to isolate myself when I'm working. Since I'm much more efficient when I don't have anyone in my immediate presence, I prefer to work evenings and weekends. And when isolation is not an option, I insulate with ear plugs or head phones - and an extra-grumpy face that discourages everyone from engaging with me.
Luckily, I only need that isolation for 30 to 60 minutes or so. Once I get going, I can mentally block things out quite well. And when I'm really deep in the zone, you could probably detonate a bomb in the next room without me realizing it. So, okay. Maybe I wouldn't have been the best night watchman for the gatherer camp after all...
(Many have put me on Elaine Aron's HSP-spectrum, but that doesn't feel right to me somehow.)
|"What is this "sunlight" you speak of?"|
Coming up with a third point was surprisingly difficult. I guess I could have opted to complain about the soul-crushing humanness of academia; how frustrating it is when personal relationships, grudges, ambitions, envy, fear, sloth or big egos thwart good sense and good research. But that would be unfair. It's not necessarily a problem with this particular job, but a problem you probably counter in any job imaginable.
So, I chose deadlines, even though I really have a love-hate relationship with them. They do help with prioritizing, setting concrete goals and getting things DONE, so I often take them on on purpose. However, the deadline days are always stressful days. It starts right when you wake up: "Uaaaagh, it's past noon already and I really, really, really have to send that thing out today... Oh, god, it's shit. Oh god, why didn't I take my time with it earlier in the week? Hurry, hurry hurry...and let's make sure we have enough food and tea to last us until midnight...!"
It's the worst when you have many on the same week. Or when they are so tight to begin with you could never do your best work in that time frame, not even with zero procrastination.
I'm pretty good at calming myself down, however, by asking myself: what's the worst that could happen if I missed this deadline?
Now, I have a good imagination. But I'm also a realist.