...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Friday, June 06, 2014

What's up, doc?

Here I am reporting from the other side of the PhD-tunnel. I’m back from some months’ worth of well-deserved freedom with only job-seeking activities to constrain me. Hah!

For the past few months, I’ve been living through a strange combination of being free and yet being somehow very busy. Being free from work is definitely underrated! People should try it more often if they can. In the first month of joblessness I felt the immense freedom of nobody telling me what to do with my day. No more waking up thinking of the day’s work tasks! – at least for an undetermined amount of time. I especially appreciate having been jobless when mom, dad and my sister were here. We formed great memories of adventure and sightseeing, but we also got used to everyday life together.

However, I haven’t been totally free. I am free from most deadlines but there are other things that need to be fixed, like the paperwork at the unemployment office and unpaid projects at the university. It turns out that a lot of work inside the academe is monetarily unpaid. This becomes more obvious when you’re no longer on the university payroll. Book- and article projects that are “good for your CV” and contact-building are things that academicians may do “on the side” of paid work, “for merit”. So, besides the official work-seeking activities I do through the unemployment office, it’s also in my interest as an academician to continue work-related activity inside university. I do this by continuing my involvement in network projects, unpaid. Obviously this has been a source of frustration for me. At the same time, the unemployment office is keeping me busy with a stream of “competence-building” activities, as conditions to get my full unemployment compensation. All is well as long as I can maximize these activities for my own interests. But everything takes time and it sometimes feels like working a part-time job, besides doing the real job applications. To top that all off, when I finally did get paid by the university for working one day a week, the unemployment office said that I could only continue this work for 75 days. After this period, they ask me make a choice between being completely unemployed (as a condition to get full unemployment benefits) or live on this one-day-a-week salary. This system is sometimes hard to understand. And yes, that’s an understatement!

Enough of that. There’s more to life as a PhD than the mysteries of unemployment benefit rules. But sometimes I really do think that either the unemployment office or the world of the academe just really isn’t in tune with “life going on out there”. And for the most part, I still am free and have relatively much time on my hands.

Is life as a PhD different from life as a PhD candidate? Yes, in some ways. When I visit my old department, my former colleagues update me on their work, their conflicts with their supervisors and worries for the future. It feels strange to suddenly have a perspective that these challenges are things I’ve already undergone and thankfully never need to go back to. From this new perspective, I feel much more senior since I can understand their situation without being there myself. Colleagues used to ask me if I had “landed” in the feeling of being a PhD and I guess this is part of what it ought to feel like. Another difference is the kind of jobs I’m qualified to look for. When I look at university openings, I look through “Postdoc and lecturer positions”, skipping “PhD positions” altogether, realizing that I’m past that stage now. I’ve also grown more comfortable with being a PhD now. In my supervisor's speech at my party, she said that a PhD degree gave a person a social and cultural capital that nobody can take away in a world with sometimes fleeting standards. For me it feels like I know myself better having passed through the other side, and nobody can convince me that I’m any less than the person I am.

Which takes me back to another unemployment office story. They’re experts at looking down on people there, it seems. Job seekers come through the door with hopes of being able to show who they are and what they can do. But they meet a government worker who is often stressed because they think they’ve heard all the job seekers’ problems and counterarguments a thousand times before. The typical government worker there seems to want defend herself from personal attacks by acting as a custodian for the rules (Heard at an obligatory seminar: “Well if you’re not happy with these rules, you can get out the system! Varsågod!”). In short, for working with people in vulnerable situations, I don’t think the workers there always act in a professional way. They meet job seekers willing to show the what they’ve got, yet they act if these people have nothing to prove. Talk about a great way to start people out on their career! Not.

Anyway, I was out there one day because I got a standard letter asking me for a proof of “my grades” (!). I come to the desk and politely explain what I’ve come for.

Government worker: Oh, OK. Show me your papers.
Me: (Opening my bag) Well, I have the originals at home, but I did take copies.
Government worker: A-huh! Copies you say. Where are they then?
Me: You see, I thought the originals were much too valuable to take to a place like this. (PANG whiffing a copy of “FILOSOFIE DOKTORSEXAMEN” at her desk).

Man, you should have seen how she wasn’t as cocky anymore after that. 
Sad but true story.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haha! Very entertaining! I've also been unemployed for the last few months - but I found the Linköping ABF to be the opposite experience to yours. I found (most) of them surprisingly positive and patient, although maybe a bit too positive even.

Congrats on the doctorate!

7:24 PM


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