I suspect it wouldn’t be news to anyone reading this that the austerity measures being instigated by our present Con-Dem coalition have decimated funding for academia, and for the humanities in particular. Times, we are told, are going to be more difficult than anyone can remember, worse even than under Thatcher. Those were straight cuts; these, as they ring-fence medicine and the sciences, effectively remove 80% of the funding from the Humanities. The Arts and Humanities Research Council, the central funding body for funding humanities research in the UK, may no longer exist come next year. No one knows just how things will play out, given the furore over increases to student fees, and alternative sources of funding will be found. Nevertheless, jobs, and perhaps departments, will be lost. For Religious Studies particularly, this may turn out in the long run to strengthen the stronger departments (Edinburgh, Lancaster, Lampeter, et al) at the expense of smaller and less prominent departments. Or it might strip the field of the possibility of any research other than that funded by special interest bodies (Islamic and Christian organisations being the most likely).
All of which makes it surprising to me to find that, for the holder of an MSc in Religious Studies (hardly a badge of employability in most peoples’ eyes) there is plenty of work out there.
I was 30 when I entered academia; now, I am a 35-year-old PhD candidate, a home owner, and about to have a second child. My Old Lady has been perfectly supportive, but the fact is, we have very little money, and this can only become more of an issue as inflation rises, VAT increases, and she takes a year off to nurse #2 son. I have worked part-time as a chef for some 15 years now, and while I cannot fault my employers for their willingness to accommodate my complex life, nor do I dislike the work, which is real work, the catering sector is terribly paid and has worse conditions than any other sector. It’s soaked with alcohol and drugs, there are no unions, and it is tacitly understood to be a way for either those who want to be doing something else and those who can’t do something else to find employment.
I had a plan when I entered academia. The intention was to leave catering towards the end of the three years of my PhD. At the moment, officially enrolling on the PhD programme in January, I have definitely: one chapter in an edited volume; work assisting with preparing a manuscript for publication; adult ed classes commencing in Sept; and Edinburgh Uni tutor work commencing 2012. That suggests that, barring major disasters, I shall leave catering a year from now. But I have also applied for two OU tutor jobs, and should I get them, I’ll be leaving catering in the spring, within a few months of commencing the PhD.
That’s more than I ever hoped. And in a recession, too.