Updated : Sun, 09 Mar 2014 23:16:31 GMT
In the US, people are obsessed with work. Your job is your identity. But all that is changing in this economic funk
If you've ever spoken with an American, likely one of the first questions they asked you was "what do you do?"
In the US, we're obsessed with people's jobs. We want to know all about it. We insist that you tell us what "career tribe" you're in â€“ white collar, blue collar or new high-techy collar. What's your exact title? How do you spend your day? Are you someone speaks the language of law, tech, finance, media, marketing, education, military, government, the arts, etc? Basically, we would like everyone to walk around with their business card attached to their forehead, but since that's a bit over-the-top, we try to glean the same information by asking questions â€“ often lots of them â€“ about your work.
Most of us mean well when we ask these questions. We're trying to get to know you, and in our country, your career is a major part of who you are. Until it isn't. How do you define yourself when you don't have a job â€“ or, at least, you don't have the one you want?
The US, like many countries, is still in an economic funk. Friday's unemployment figures reiterated just how gloomy it is for many people. The economic situation is also posing a cultural problem for Americans: how do we adopt to a world where people aren't living for their jobs?
"People in their 20s and 30s are starting to give up on work as a primary way to center or ground their identity. You can't define yourself by work when you don't know if you're going to be employed," says Dr Jennifer Silva, a sociologist and author of Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty.
She did in depth interviews with a hundred Millennials to try to understand how they are shaping their lives in this environment. One question she asked as part of her research was the simple: "who are you?" Three-quarters of the young adults she spoke with didn't mention work at all in their response. Instead, they would emphasize what Dr Silva calls "narratives of personal growth" such as feeling they had matured in a relationship with a relative or lover or had some sort of self-discovery.
It's a remarkable shift in America's mentality. The younger generation isn't nearly as fixated on jobs for the obvious reason that they have a much harder time finding stable employment. Instead, they are trying to find a different kind of meaning in their lives.
This phenomenon isn't exclusive to young people. At the same time that they struggle to find jobs, the Baby Boomer generation is starting to retire. This, too, is dramatically re-shaping America's attitudes about work as people who had long careers are deciding enough is enough or being forced out. They also have to come up with a new identity that isn't all about a job.
"A lot of people are asking this question: what is my purpose in life post-retirement? It's no longer about careers, but opportunities," says Rabbi Levi Brackman. He's conducting a study of people who are 55+ to help them figure out their "next stage purpose" (you can still participate in the study here). However, one of the most surprising things he's found so far is just how many people still want some kind of career, even in "retirement". It's ingrained in the Baby Boomer generation to want to work and to think of work as a huge part of defining who you are.
The problem is there aren't nearly enough jobs for people â€“ young or more mature â€“ who want to work. I've been keeping an eye on what's known as the labor force participation rate. It's a measure of how many adult Americans are working. For much of the halcyon days of the 1980s and 1990s, 65 to 67% of us had jobs. Now we can't seem to get that figure higher than 63%.
That might not seem like a large drop, but let me put it another way: if the US had a 67% labor force participation rate today, about 10 million more people would be working. The even scarier part of this is that forecasters don't think things are going to improve much for those who have dropped out of the labor force. The jobs aren't coming back fast enough, and the ones that are back aren't exactly ones that make people excited to talk about what they do.
Hedrick Smith, author of Who Stole the American Dream?, put it this way:
One of the reasons labor force participation was so high in the 1990s was people saw jobs were available and the pay was going up. Now you see exactly the opposite. The median family income is down, and the bottom 90% of Americans have seen their income go down since 2002.
People are beginning to ask: what's the point of work? What's the point of trying to get ahead when even those who are working hard are falling behind? These are questions Americans aren't used to asking.
Few understand these shifts in the American economy and work mentality better than Sara Horowitz, founder of the Freelancers Union. She is an expert in the "gig economy", the notion that people have to piece together a lot of different jobs to get by. She points out that 42 million Americans â€“ about 30% of the workforce â€“ can be classified as "independent", meaning they're freelancers or self-employed. "It's becoming a part of almost everyone's life and career now, whether it's in between jobs or supplementing or freelancing is your career," she says.
Uncertainty abounds about the next pay check, and on a cultural level, fewer people are that "company man" or "union woman" like before. Now you have multiple identities because you're often working on several different gigs each year and trying to pitch for more projects on top of that. As Horowitz explains:
Post World War Two, it was worth sticking in a job that had benefits and paid the mortgage and gave retirement benefits, but those jobs are few and far between. So people are saying, what is the new reality?
The Freelancers Union just launched what they're calling the Quiet Revolution for people who want an entirely different economic model where you are encouraged to use credit unions and food co-ops as a better way to make your money go further, help employ more people and get a new sense of identity.
Americans simply aren't working at the levels they used to, and it's creating economic issues and cultural ones. Instead of asking what do you do, perhaps the question to pose is what keeps you busy? I've found it often makes people think beyond just their job â€“ or lack thereof.
Publ.Date : Sat, 08 Mar 2014 13:34:56 GMT
Pay PhD students teaching university courses a living wage, or risk pricing most of us out â€“ and shortchanging our students
Many universities employ PhD students like me as graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) to teach on undergraduate courses. Yet at my university â€“ a Russell Group institution â€“ and others, we struggle to make ends meet because we are not paid for the majority of the work we do. Meanwhile, despite our efforts, students are not getting their money's worth.
Putting in the hours
It's worth crunching the numbers to demonstrate this gap between work, earnings and the price students are paying for their education. According to my own experience, and that of other PhD students working as GTAs in the humanities, we complete anywhere between 67 and 185 hours of work when teaching a single course.
Yet we are paid for only 33 hours of work for an 11-week course: that's just three hours per week that covers one hour for teaching, one hour for preparation and one hour for marking. We are paid for the seminar teaching hour, and then the rest of the time we need to work is guesstimated as two additional hours per week.
The reality is that we must actually complete between six and 11 hours of work each week to do everything required of us: potentially almost four times the hours we're actually paid for.
GTAs in the humanities do a huge amount of work behind the scenes: reading the course material alone takes a significant amount of time. A single week's reading for a course often includes long (400+ pages) primary texts and extensive supporting critical material. In addition, we have to hold office hours, complete course admin, attend training (before the course, and during it in the form of marker meetings), and attend the lectures each week.
But where's the pay?
At my university, and at many others, GTAs are not paid for any of this extra work. We need the teaching experience to pursue a career in academia, but the teaching wage is not enough to live on.
Some PhD students have research council funding, but these awards are scarce. Many PhDs who work as GTAs also hold down part- or full-time jobs to support themselves. Balancing work, PhD study and teaching means many postgraduates are stretched to the limit. Full-time academics must also balance the pressures of teaching and research, but salaried staff earn enough to live on, and don't need further jobs to supplement their income.
Academia risks becoming (even more) exclusionary if it continues not paying GTAs for the hours they work. Taking on these roles will be the privilege of those who can afford to work unpaid. Those who cannot afford to do so will be priced out of building their CVs through teaching altogether.
Students deserve better
This issue also affects the quality of teaching undergraduate students can expect. The amount of time allocated to GTAs for marking is often so low (one hour per student, per course at my institution) that we regularly exceed it because we want to give high quality, thorough feedback. Humanities undergraduates learn in large part by receiving detailed feedback on their work â€“ something they are within their rights to expect, since they now pay fees of Â£9,000 per year.
A quick calculation, however, shows that at our institution, under Â£50 of a humanities student's annual fees is spent paying a seminar leader to teach them on one module. This academic year, I received around Â£533 for teaching one course at my institution. An average seminar group has 11 students, meaning the GTA effectively costs each student only Â£48.45 for the 11-week course, or Â£4.40 per week.
Despite the terribly low value universities appear to place on their GTAs, undergraduates receive high quality teaching, because we are hardworking and conscientious: we want to do our best for the students. The value of the education GTAs provide undergraduates with is worth much more than Â£48.45 of their Â£9,000 annual fees.
The situation is similar at many other universities up and down the UK, where GTAs are a large and vital workforce. Yet we're also a very cheap workforce, and some of my colleagues have shown understandable reluctance to make demands of the university that they hope may employ them on a better wage in the future.
Damage to mental health
All this puts a huge amount of pressure on GTAs who are working many more hours than they are paid for. This is a major contributing factor to the mental health issues among PhD students that the last Academics Anonymous article highlighted. While full-time, salaried staff continue to strike over the 1% pay rise and prepare for a marking boycott, the issues underpaid GTAs face go largely unnoticed. We have made these matters known at my university, and our contracted hours are currently undergoing a thorough review. But there are many institutions where the practice of not paying GTAs for the hours they work is still ongoing.
That universities appear to value the teaching we provide at around Â£4.40 per student, per week, is worrying. It also begs the question: where does the rest of these students' money go?
Would you like to write for Academics Anonymous? Do you have an idea for a blog post about the trials, tribulations and frustrations of university life? Get in touch: email@example.com.
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Publ.Date : Sat, 08 Mar 2014 09:30:00 GMT
To mark International Women's Day, headteacher Sarah Raffray shares her top tips on how to encourage and inspire the next generation of women
International Women's Day (IWD) is taking place today and this year's theme is inspiring change and the need for further action to embed gender equality across the globe.
While IWD celebrates important milestones and achievements made by women all over the globe, there's still work much to be done to ensure women and girls enjoy basic human rights, such as the entitlement to education and protection from violence. Closer to home we should also inspire female students, empowering them to not only make a difference to their own lives but to the lives of others.
Here are five tips for encouraging female students across school:
Develop a culture of lifelong â€“ not just boardroom â€“ success
Schools need to be honest about the uncertainties and pressure women can face when making important career decisions. But it's also important that they create a safe environment where students feel open to discuss the challenges and benefits they may face. Freedom of choice is a huge part of achieving a happy and successful life. While aspirations to become a chief executive of a FTSE250 company may be suited to some students, others may have ambitions to concentrate on family life.
Schools can create this environment in a number of ways. They could encourage their school counsellors and councils to discuss the pressures women may face and ways of coping with these; host an open careers forum run by professionals who can offer bespoke advice; and create opportunities for students to engage in relevant and challenging work experience. Schools can also consider introducing specific events focused on empowering young women, for example, we hosted an an open forum to discuss the challenges facing women in the workplace and how to achieve success.
Boost self-esteem and confidence
Building a positive self image for girls needs to be woven into the fabric of education. Many girls suffer from self-esteem and confidence problems and need a supportive and engaging community to develop these essential traits. Strategies to promote self-awareness and effectiveness, for example through school councils or through broader engagement with the qualitative aspects of school life, such as mentoring younger girls, can be useful. It's important that all aspects of achievement and performance are equally encouraged: monitoring by staff and an open-door policy with the headteacher and senior leadership team should also be promoted to ensure girls have access to important support as often as they need it. Our Big Sister programme, where girls are encouraged to explore all aspects of their strengths from politics to nurturing, has been especially effective for us.
Teach global citizenship
It can be useful to instil compassion and sense of citizenship in students so they understand that while they may have a relatively advantaged position, there are girls and women across the world who suffer injustice on a daily basis. It could be as simple as promoting students' charitable pursuits via the school's newsletter or local media, or encouraging students to engage in politics through organisations such as the UK Youth Parliament. Either way, providing students with an opportunity to make a real difference gives them an appetite for bringing about change in all areas.
Introduce positive female role models
IWD is just as much as a celebration of female achievements as it is a reminder of the work that is left to be done. In the spirit of celebration, teach students about some of the everyday women who have achieved astonishing things â€“ even if they are not included in the curriculum.
It is also important that students, particularly girls, are exposed to accomplished female role models on an ongoing basis. While successful women in the public and political arena are great examples to inspire students, there are also examples closer to home. Teachers are inspirational role models and can imprint important behavioural patterns. Schools could invite mothers with diverse experiences to participate in careers events, offering students advice on interview practice as well as giving them an idea of the variety of vocations or lifestyles that may suit their skills and preferences. Make workshops and seminars a regular feature in a school where girls are consistently exposed to spokespeople or invited guests who epitomise the values that the school is trying to promote.
Female empowerment all goes back to creating a school environment that allows girls to be themselves, feel comfortable to fail and learn from mistakes. While academic accomplishment is vital, schools have a role to nurture students so they can become well-rounded and compassionate individuals. You never know, one day their achievements may be celebrated as part of IWD.
Sarah Raffray is the headteacher of St Augustine's Priory School in Ealing.
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Publ.Date : Sat, 08 Mar 2014 08:00:00 GMT
Jeremy Tiang: Unlike the US, Singaporeâ€™s language policy reflects the diversity of its people
Publ.Date : Sat, 08 Mar 2014 11:30:02 GMT
This international womenâ€™s day, activists and advocates reflect on achievements in gender equality since the seminal Beijing conference in 1995
Publ.Date : Sat, 08 Mar 2014 08:00:21 GMT