Those of you who have been following my intermittent updates might have cottoned onto the fact that I was not happy. The irony is that I was not happy … with pretty much if not exactly the situation that I had been hoping for before the PhD ended.
I had been hoping to get some teaching opportunities so I could work towards an academic career and I did. I got a decent amount of work even though the money was not great. You would also know that I had been wavering over whether I should pursue the low paying (for the short to medium term) academic path or ditch it and go back to commercial work. In the event, I didn’t get much commercial interest and having committed to teaching careers I was loathe to renege.
And then the semester started. And the reality of teaching FOUR classes hit me. To non-teaching folk this doesn’t seem like much but these are three hour lectures in which I have to prep all the material (to keep a bunch of 18-21 year olds for whom English is a second language engaged fir said three hours). In addition, there were a tonne of admin tasks from the three low paying gigs. On top of that, I took on some freelance work because a) wanted the money b) wanted to hold on to the clients in case I didn’t get teaching jobs the next semester.
That’s the thing with part-time teaching. Until possibly you have built your cred, you aren’t guaranteed a job next semester. You aren’t even guaranteed that you’ll be offered the same course you taught before. Even when you’ve built relationships, budgets change. Contracts are also confirmed last minute so don’t know up to the last minute whether you’ll have a gig or not.
Given the negatives, I found teaching part time too much work for too little reward. I was told by teachers that typically only 10% of the class will be engaged. In Hong Kong this is exacerbated by teaching in English to kids who are not fluent in English and the three hour timings coupled with kids who sleepy because of staying up all night/extracurricular plus the new phenomenon of iPhones/laptops in class and the distractions. Students see themselves as customers to be entertained and know the power of the teaching evaluation. In addition, there is soooo much admin work and ironically the lowest paid job require the most documentation.
At one point, at the height of my frustration, I started applying again to jobs outside academia. A conversation with a friend persuaded me that I should use my network. I don’t know why I’ve been hesitant in the past – mainly the fiercely independent streak that wants to a) do it all myself b) not be obligated to anyone. The fact though is that building the contacts that I would ask for help has been work (some were old colleagues who know my work) and whether I am obligated or not, I help people.
Slowly I began to get call backs to interviews and then suddenly in a flood towards the end of November I found myself in high demand. It came to a point where I was juggling offers and dictating my expectations. I had started out putting out a very low salary expectation, convinced that my PhD made me commercially unhirable. The HR of one company actually wrote to me to ask why I had specified ‘that figure’. They disregarded it and made me an offer that not only met but exceeded my previous salary, one that I was convinced was over inflated and would not be able to match. That happened right after a meeting with a headhunter who told me I was undervaluing myself and should ask for more.
The fact is that I was desperate. I wanted stable employment and I was willing to compromise heavily to get it. I couldn’t play the bluffing game … until someone made me a fair offer and then I wasn’t bluffing anymore. I had been spooked by the lack of interest in the past few months, and I’m still not sure why that was but I believe it was timing. Closer to the date I was available, the offers really picked up.
With one offer in hand, I was in a position to negotiate. I had to turn down the first offer I got though I did give them the opportunity to up their offer. Every time I though I was done with the process, I got asked to another round.
Finally, I signed with the good offer that I had to work with the newspaper I had in the past. Their package was surprisingly generous, the only catch being that there might be some weekend work and the leave allowance sucks (but that’s HK). Even after I signed that contract, I was contacted by a company I had written off after the first interview.
I’ll admit I just wanted the process to end. V pushed me to continue, saying that I should be open to better offers – well, basically a better deal on leave and working hours. I had a meltdown because I just wanted to sign off and be done with it. In the end, I wrote back and told the company my expectations and they couldn’t match them, so it looks like I’ll be going back to journalism. Which I’m not unthrilled about.
I haven’t had time to celebrate, except the first flush of joy when those initial offers came in, because I’ve always been in a sort of limbo with new offers coming in that I’m forced to consider, but I have an inkling I’m going to be just fine. Exhausted, thrown in at the deep end, but okay.