I’m in the middle of a two-week vacation fill-in on a nearby rural route. It pays for 5.5 hours per day, but there are so many flyers (which have to be collated with the letter mail) that it’s averaging 7.5 hours, which also includes parcels. Then, I found out yesterday that I won’t be back on my usual 4-hour suburban route next week, and I was supposed to be on that one until August. They apparently want me to “reach out” to other post offices to find more assignments. I have no idea what they’re doing, have been doing this for about ten months, and still have no permanent status, benefits, pension, or route of my own.
I find it amazing that academia abandons tens of thousands of people every year and that some fields have almost no contexts for other types of career paths. I wish I had pursued an alternative career path as much as twenty years ago. In addition, if I had never pursued graduate school at all, I could have started working as a Customer Service Representative for the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, an Order Support Agent for a call centre, or a Rural & Suburban Mail Carrier for Canada Post in my twenties and been approaching early retirement by now. I also wish I had continued composing music to a much greater extent after my twenties. I’m 56, have a Ph.D., and have accomplished a great deal, but I have never had any kind of continuing full-time job that pays a living wage.
Alternative-academic and non-academic career paths—and ways to collaborate both with other scholars and with those outside academia—should be discussed and enabled. Those considerations should begin during the time-frame when doctoral candidates have traditionally worked on remarkably narrow concerns in their doctoral seminars, research and teaching assistantships, exams, and dissertations. Fewer people should complete doctorates and attempt to become professors. Post-secondary education usefully establishes and consolidates one’s interests, as well as the ability for critical thinking. However, pursuing it beyond a bachelor’s or master’s degree is unnecessary. I wish I had realized that a long time ago.
Spending hundreds of hours every year doing academic work on book chapters, journal articles, and conference papers when I don’t even have an academic job — and am thus doing it all for free — is highly exploitative. So, after my current projects wrap up in the next couple of months, I’m not going to do these things anymore. I want to do more academic research and writing, but the system is not set up to pay anyone directly. That needs to change.
Of the eighteen people contributing to the forthcoming Cambridge University Press book on progressive rock, sixteen are university-affiliated academics (so it would be reasonable for them to expect to do such things as a part of their employment), one is VP of Education at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and one is a computer technology order support specialist making the equivalent of about $11 U.S. per hour. Guess which one resents doing academic research and writing for free, given that it has nothing to do with his employment?
[With all due apologies to Monty Python!:]
Denied the opportunity to use his talents in the paid service of his profession, the unaffiliated musicologist began to operate what he called ‘The Operation’… He would select a book or journal editor and then threaten not to send in his chapter or article if they paid him. Four months later, he started another operation, which he called ‘The Other Operation.’ In this racket, he selected another victim and threatened to send in his work if they didn’t pay him. One month later, he hit upon ‘The Other Other Operation’. In this, the victim was threatened that if they didn’t pay him, he wouldn’t send in his work. This, for the unaffiliated musicologist, was the turning point.
With millions of people applying for government support and millions more (like me) still earning non-living wages to provide “essential” services, it is time for Canada to have a guaranteed annual income. Give every adult $2000 a month from now on. Make it taxable, so people who already earn a lot don’t get to keep much of it. Cut the red tape. Cut the bureaucracy. Easily cover the cost by cutting the costs of having to run so many different government programs (EI, CPP, OAS, GIS, CERB, CESB, provincial welfare and disability systems, etc.).
I’m glad that the Canadian government is finally replacing the Phoenix pay system. On my eight-month Master of Library & Information Science co-op placement at the Parks Canada National Library in 2017, it seriously messed up my pay. They’re replacing it with something from Germany-based company SAP. However, as someone who now uses SAP’s incredibly complex main product every day at work, I have to wonder if they can really build a system that will make sense. Part of the problem with Phoenix is that the necessary training by IBM to use it correctly was simply never done. Hopefully, SAP can build something that won’t require much training and that will just work.