I feel like a lot of 2021 was caught up in me being frustrated seeing a lot of my friends in academia struggle due to academia not having real support structures and vaguely handwaving at promising futures that are vanishing, which everyone quietly (or not so quietly) knows.

I don't know what to do about the futures of career paths stuff in general, but I can say something about support structures: most people at the dissertation/thesis stage really need something like a *project manager*.

In theory advisors play that role, but don't have the time.

Relevant to a project proposal I'm writing right now. Very much noted!

@cjd In general those who have succeeded in academia we know are those who ended up getting such a structure. We didn't have one for @mlemweb's PhD, so had to put one together ourselves.

The "Get Organized" episode of @fossandcrafts details some of our approaches:

However, undersaid in that episode is that the most important structures are making outlines, deadlines, and accountability.

We've played this role for some friends too because their schools didn't.

@cjd @fossandcrafts I recommend finding someone who ISN'T your spouse to play the role for you, it's not great for your relationship to do it, but it's what we had to do because we didn't have anything else, so I often volunteered for that role.

But it's much healthier to find an entity outside your living relationship.

On a side note, we've joked that maybe if you need such a project manager for your PhD, you could hire @mlemweb to do it, but maybe that's not really a joke!

@cwebber @cjd @fossandcrafts

Yeah, I would actually love to make a career out of being something of a 'project manager' for people struggling to complete their graduate work, but who is going to pay for it? Graduate students generally don't have much disposable income and departments (at least within the humanities) have no budget to pay for existing infrastructure let along adding more support

@cwebber Yes! The only way I got through my masters was by assigning a secondary advisor to be my project manager, then doing most of the project management work myself. If I hadn't recognized it as a distinct role, I would have failed.

@cwebber (I literally told her 'I'm going to send you my project plans, and a weekly writing update, until I finish this; we can meet if you like but I just need someone to be sending this to as I go.')

@cwebber yes! my most successful projects in academia were the ones where i either got to be the project manager (and not the "check in for 30 minutes every 2 weeks" type) or got to play a support role on a well-managed project, kinda helping out with technical stuff when the advisor was busy

unfortunately that's not the kind of work academia wants to see from its phd students. glad to be done with it!

@lm @cwebber

I will say, the best support I've seen for this type of stuff in my (admittedly anecdotal) experience is through university writing centers or libraries more broadly (for Digital Humanities projects), but even then you end up with non-specialists in your field and it's not always consistently the same person so the accountability just isn't there.

@lm @cwebber

Ok, after a conversation with @cwebber , the other place I've seen this type of support is from campus offices that provide accommodations for students with disabilities, which can be great. However, when you get to the thesis/dissertation stage, it isn't *just* students with learning disabilities that need support.

@mlemweb @cwebber i see it sometimes in large research labs where someone's cultivated a good culture, with multiple PIs and a lab tech or two. but this seems like a rarity, at least at my university

@cwebber Oooh! You succinctly explained what I did to finish my PhD! **I was my own project manager.** I sent out regular status report emails (accountability). One of my committee said he had a better idea my progress toward graduation than any students in his lab. Annually I would ask my committee for feedback on my evolving plan outline. I made the plan with major steps to completion, and I kept myself on track (despite a full-time job for the last 5 years: slowed me down, did not stop me).

@cwebber The universities are moving towards a staffing model that has a normal progression route for admins and managers, but imposes huge barriers that block progression from insecure academic posts. The result is a clump of professors at one end, and a herd of postdocs and TAs at the other. Managers work hard to breed suspicion and contempt between the classes. Not a healthy workplace, especially for a workforce that includes a high proportion of neurodivergent, queer, and otherwise vulnerable people. The academics loathe the managers, the managers despise the academics, HR acts as enforcers not enablers.... toxic.

@cjd @cwebber UK, but it also applies to the USA and Oz. Less true for the EU I think, but university systems vary hugely between countries in the EU.

@yetiinabox @cjd @cwebber If it's UK specific, I assume with "professors" you mean anyone from lecturer to professor, and both on research & teaching and teaching & scholarship tracks?
And what what are TAs? I assume it stands for "Teaching Assistant", are these typically PhD students?

@wim_v12e @cjd @cwebber I do actually mean full professors. In the UK there is no tenure, so full professors can be made redundant or forced out quite easily, and cutting payroll budgets is much of what HR does these days. Nonetheless, increasingly there's a polarisation between casual teaching staff - teaching fellows and the like - and senior academic staff. University management use targeted redundancies to keep high-profile staff who pay for their own posts through student recruitment, and push everyone else onto insecure contracts. The claim among management is that research actually costs the university money (!) and as a result the management strip much of the research monies away from the academics who actually win grants. I could go on, but I walked away from all this for a reason.

@yetiinabox @cjd @cwebber

You paint a very bleak picture. I don't think it can be generalised to all universities in the UK.

@wim_v12e @yetiinabox @cjd It may also be selective bias. For example, a long time I would say "FOSS is really welcoming to everyone!" because it was really welcoming to me at the time. And it can be, but I wasn't seeing yet the experiences of the people it wasn't being welcoming to. When I saw friends be hurt and leave, I started to shift my opinion.

But this doesn't mean things *have* to be this way! More welcoming communities have grown since then (and I've tried to build them too).

@wim_v12e @yetiinabox @cjd And what i don't mean there is "more welcoming communities that rejected FOSS to be that way", which I think is a frequent unfortunate takeaway. Instead, we can retool within the things we care about as best as we can.

But realistically, people only have so much leverage, and sometimes it can feel like the system is stacked against you. I wish that weren't so.

@cwebber @yetiinabox @cjd
Very true. When I moved to the UK and returned to academia, I can't say I found UK academia "welcoming", but I was lucky as the people I worked with were nice.

The UK academic system is currently definitely stacked against postdocs who want to become faculty. It has become very track record driven, because the way UK funding for univs works leads hiring committees to favour past performance in research over anything else.

Another quite fundamental issue is that in practice postdocs can't be hired on open-ended (closed thing in the UK to "permanent") contracts, and can not be promoted into lecturer positions.

Can you explain a bit what you mean by "support structures"?

@cwebber @wim_v12e @cjd On "welcoming communities": I have worked in a Silicon Valley startup, various INGOs, and several universities. When I was working with the various Association for Progressive Communications NGOs - PeaceNet, GreenNet, and so on, in the late 80's and early 90s - *that* was an amazing culture. It had all the sheer fun of playful tech,but everyone was deeply committed to doing good, and many of the folks I met there are among the wisest, most compassionate people I have ever known. It helps, I suppose, that this was back in the days of UUCP and FidoNet and such, and there was a community of seasoned activists who had seen, and learned from, past activist movements. Since then I have had the good luck to join some disciplinary communities, such as the global community of ethnobiologists, that have that same quality.

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