Friday, 3 February 2012

Empathy overload

This post has no place here. I usually refrain from posting about things that are unrelated to my commute, but today just seemed like a day in which I felt I needed to write for therapeutic purposes, and I can't be arsed to start another blog.

It may not have been mentioned before, but my job is in academia. By description, I'm supposed to lecture a bit and research a bit for a total of 37.5 contracted hours per week. I recently got a "promotion" which added the additional description of curriculum content for the degree programme and recruitment activities. What this actually looks like in reality is a 50-60 hour week during term time, with 90% of my contracted hours devoted to teaching, prep, or grading. The rest of the time is spent in pointless meetings, generating paperwork and reports mandated from bureaucrats that have never met (and probably never were) students, and putting out fires. We have a shortage of technicians, which are apparently surplus to requirements in a science faculty; we do all of our own administration. A new multi-million universal computer system that should solve all of our problems is installed and scrapped at least once a year, so that no useful information can ever be accessed from it, even if you can figure out the user interface that has clearly been designed by an ESL monkey with an IT qualification. During non-term time, there are incessant meetings to discuss more useless policies and mess up anything that might actually be working. There is also an expectation of attending conferences and networking with other institutions and researchers in my field to stay abreast of new research and to contribute to it. Sometimes the fees and travel are covered by work, but society memberships are not. Mine this year were about £500.  In my "spare" time, I'm apparently supposed to be doing groundbreaking research and publishing it. But groundbreaking research isn't valued by the Research Exercise Framework because it hasn't been cited by hundreds of other people yet. Also, bringing in grant money via applications that take several months to write and have about 5% success rate is expected. Oh yeah, and I also have a young family and rather enjoy life, so I've got to squeeze that in there somewhere.

However, these are not the things that have ground me down so much that I no longer want to open my door. I'm responsible for about 130 students. In the last 3 months, I've not yet had a single day that hasn't involved a student crying in my office. If they were worried about deadlines or anything that I have control over, this wouldn't be an issue. Although I'm quite hard-nosed in the classroom, as a person I've always been the type that people confide in. This is a trait that I value about myself, but recently it's been more of a curse. They also hate to disappoint me by not doing their best in my classes, so often decide to explain why. I've had a string of students coming to me with severe medical problems, severe mental and emotional problems, caring responsibilities for disabled or terminally ill parents, partners in prison, rape, molestation, domestic abuse, and a host of other things. I'm not old enough to be their mothers (yet), so they seem to regard me as a non-judgmental big sister/authority figure. Most of the time, they do not want professional counselling or anything more than someone to care. The problem is that I do care. A lot. But I don't have the time to process all of these horror stories in between all of the other things that I'm expected to do. Most of the last two years has been utterly exhausting, and it's not because I average 6 hours of sleep per night, it's because I'm emotionally drained, then feel guilty because I seem to be numb and have no room left for listening to my friends and family. By the time I get home, I'm a soulless, selfish robot.

So, to those of you that read this blog for my (sometimes) witty and pointless train musings, apologies for this post. And to those of you that I love and care for but have felt like I haven't been listening in the way that I normally do, even more apologies. I can only promise that when this term is over and the new adventure begins, that I will do my best to be back in my normal sarcastic-but-ultimately-caring role as your friend.

PS- The writing of this post was interrupted by another student whose life is a wreck. At least she didn't cry. I distracted her with research stats and chocolate. 

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