Friday, 17 October 2014

Clare Jackson reflects on: Is pursuing an academic career worth it?

Over the next few weeks the blog is going to run a series of 'Meet the Staff of the Sociology Department' posts. In this first post Clare Jackson reflects on her the trials and tribulations of pursuing a career in academia as a mature student:

'So what should you do when you are the mother of four children aged sixteen to one, have a full-time job and up against the challenges of mid-life?  Do a PhD.  Of course!  Then, two years in to the part-time doctorate, decide that you love it so much that you’re going to throw in your nice secure full-time job, sell your house, move your family across the country and take up temporary work to pay the bills.  Insane?  Probably.  Worth it?  Definitely!

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So it was that in 2005 I came to the Department of Sociology at York to start a part-time PhD using Conversation Analysis to study how gender is made relevant in talk.  In 2007, I moved from Carlisle to York, embracing a very uncertain future of temporary contracts as a Teaching Fellow in the department.   Another four years of study followed as well as a number of anxious summers when I wondered whether my contract would be renewed.  It was.  In 2012 I got to wear the silly floppy graduate hat of doctor-ness and earned the right to use a non-gendered form of address; Dr. Jackson.  In 2013, I was appointed lecturer in Sociology, and now have four children, a full-time job, and am still facing challenges of (late) mid-life… and I have a crazy, wonderful dog named Alfie.  I still do not earn what I did in 2007 when I gave up that nice, secure job.  But, I’ve been on an amazing journey and have inspired my four brilliant daughters to believe that anything is possible, and that achievement is not only for the young. 

The rewards of being Dr someone are many.  I got to completely terrify my new GP, who had assumed I was a medic of some kind.  I’ve never been treated with such respect in a medical encounter!  I did confess… eventually. I get to teach subjects I am passionate about, especially Conversation Analysis.  For the uninitiated, this involves listening to conversations, transcribing them in great detail and analysing them, searching for regularities so that we can describe how talk is organised in a way that permits us to make sense to each other.  It’s amazing!  The sheer orderliness of interaction is a beautiful thing.

I also get to research topics I am passionate about.  My current research focusses on decision-making that gets done in talk between healthcare professionals, women and their birth-partners in the labour ward.  We know that labouring women often want to be involved in decisions about how they give birth but that this does not consistently happen.  My research team are intending to record and analyse the interactions that take place during labour in order to describe how decisions are initiated, who initiates them and how they are responded to.  In preparation for making a bid for funding, we have been working on the data available from the Channel 4 programme, ‘One Born Every Minute’.  A clear finding from this (admittedly small and heavily edited) dataset, is that one way in which decisions are initiated by Healthcare professionals is through use of the phrase ‘we need to ….’.  In a sense, this formulation closes down the opportunity for women to decline whatever is being asserted as a ‘need’.  However, women can and do resist.

Oh, and I also get to do lots and lots of admin.  I am leader of the pathway for Sociology with Social Psychology, Chair of Mitigating Circumstances Committee and the departmental Exams officer.  This means that I am involved with almost all aspects of students’ progress from admission to graduation.  I am new to the exam role, and have quickly discovered that it’s not going to put me at the top of any popularity poll; I seem only to write demanding emails to colleagues stressing the urgency of some very tight deadline.  This means, many of emails begin with ‘we need to…’.  My colleagues can and do resist… for a while.'










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