It’s now been some time since I was a postgraduate representative on the School of Earth and Environment Postgraduate committee. Sometimes passed time can be great because it puts rose-coloured glasses over an experience and all you can remember are the best parts. Sometimes it just makes you forget. And sometimes, just sometimes, it makes you wonder why you bothered.
I, along with the other postgraduate representatives, worked hard to try to make the School a more hospitable environment for postgraduates. We organised seminar sessions, symposia and BBQs. We fought with the administration about access to resources and payment for teaching. We tried to engage with as many people as we could, and we tried to improve the PhD process. We met with resilient and resistant academics.
And now, three years after starting my tenure as a postgrad representative, and six months or so after finishing it, our School is looking down the barrel of that thing that messes up all efforts for change – a restructure process.
I went through two restructure processes in the short three years that I was employed in the public sector. Each time a restructure is kicked off people become concerned about their employment prospects, money is wasted on rebranding and reorganisation of office space, and every little bit of administrative improvement that had been in the works becomes low priority and disappears completely.
And I can’t help but feel that the same might be happening to my dear school. Twelve months after the initiation of our new PhD policy I’m not sure there has been an attempt to assess its effectiveness, or even an indication that people have adhered to it. Instead, people are (understandably) worried about how they will sit in a new structure and whether they will be affected by the wider ‘functional review’ that aims to cut 300 full time staff members across the university.
After attempting to put in place processes to support PhD students I’m just not sure the academic staff members are any more interested in creating a Phd community than they were three years ago. And the other students seem just as unlikely to help out. This isn’t a reflection on those individual academic staff members or students but is a reflection of a workplace culture that doesn’t appear to value the experiences of postgrads or create a sense of improvement around administrative processes. Instead, there’s the ever-present chop-change framework driven by interests at the top, who assume that the next change will bring increased efficiency.
But I can’t say that I look back on my time and consider it wasted. I enjoyed getting to know postgrads from across the School and I think we put on a few really good shows. It might not have been worth it in the long run, but I think it was worth it at the time.
(Clipart from here)