change · emotional labour · risky writing

Ch-ch-ch-changes: Contract to Contract

I am moving.

More precisely, I am moving from Dalhousie University where I have been a contract employee for four years. On July 1 I will take up a 12-month contract position as an Assistant Professor in the English Department at Mount Allison University in beautiful Sackville, New Brunswick. 

I am thrilled about the move, thrilled about working in this new department, and beyond thrilled to make my new home in the centre of the universe (The Black Duck! Sappy Fest! Struts!) I am truly excited about the possibilities that await me there. For example, in terms of teaching responsibilities for the first time in the five years since completing my degree I will be teaching less than 200 students in a term (indeed, in the whole year). In terms of my personal and social life there is more happening in Sackville than almost any other place I have visited. And in terms of my research I am hoping that the additional time, the presence of such a rich intellectual and artistic community, and the smaller professor-to-student ratios will allow me to finish the two manuscripts that I have under contract as well.

At the same time, it feels risky to leave a place that I have lived, worked, and developed communities in for four of the last five years. I am not leaving for a tenure track job, if I was my decision to leave Dalhousie would have been far less emotionally challenging.

The other piece that feels risky is writing about my shift from one contract to another, from one university to another. Yet, I’m emboldened by two things. First, since beginning to write for Hook and Eye I have tried to talk frankly and publicly about my own experiences as a precarious worker. Second, the job I’ve been hired for is Canadian literature and gender and literature. As Heather has written, we need to continue talking about work and women. So here I am telling you: I’m excited about my new contract, my new colleagues, my new home, and all the incredible benefits to my personal life as well as my professional life. And here I am telling you that I am sad that the conditions in the academy are such that the kind of leave taking I’ve just experienced are more than common.

That’s the thing about contract work, though: in addition to the constant scramble for employment, you also have to think about those things that fuel your ability to work. In other words, you have to think about balance and those things that help you breathe.

So here’s to change. Sackville, I’m yours.

9 thoughts on “Ch-ch-ch-changes: Contract to Contract

  1. Congratulations, Erin, on your move. I'm glad you have this opportunity to shift and make room, even if a new opportunity means the end of another opportunity, and there is going to be a sense of loss, of course. But a new beginning is always a gift.

    You will thrive, I know it.


  2. I'm so pleased to hear that what sounds like a fantastic opportunity has landed in exactly the right lap. I can't wait to hear how your year goes in such a lovely place and with such great people. Wishing you more permanence too, always.


  3. Congratulations, Erin! I did some contract work at MTA a year or two ago, and I really enjoyed it there. The students are fantastic, and your colleagues will be so friendly and supportive.


  4. Congratulations, Erin! I wish you well in your new post 🙂 I really appreciate your openness and honesty about what it is like to be an academic in a position of precarity. Not enough people are really willing to talk about what that entails. Your posts give those of us who are graduate students a lot to consider while we move forward. I am sure you will be brilliant. And without a doubt, you will seize all sorts of new opportunities, and fit in well. The benefits for your social life sound quite promising, too!


  5. Sincere congratulations on the new position. Your new university, and new town, seem very lovely. But I honestly have to say that this makes me a little depressed. After four years as an LTA at your current university, they just…let you go? They weren't able or willing to move you into a more permanent position? That seems so unethical to me. Contract employment seems to be the way the universe is tending (not just academia, many of my friends and family also have contract positions in other government and private-sector jobs), but in many many cases, the hope and promise is that those jobs convert into permanent positions. I guess that's just not the case in Academia. It's just…even more depressing than I thought. I guess I'd hoped that the human connection actually counted for something.

    I also have to mention that I'm envious of your mobility. I have a partner, and a young daughter, and I'm not sure I could move somewhere with only a year contract. If this is the reality of academia, I might have lost the game already.


  6. As someone employed at Erin's soon-to-be-former place of work, Jana (and Erin, if you will permit me): yes, the powers that be did just “let her go,” promising further contractual work but no commitments, despite Erin's truly jaw-dropping contributions, remarkably passionate interventions by colleagues and students, and the threat of suspending a curricular initiative of Erin's design that – and this IS profoundly unethical – that the university has promoted as a recruiting tool.

    At the end of the day, the dean deemed there were other fiscal priorities. And no, those didn't include “the human connection.”

    It's been very disillusioning, and all I can say is, Erin made the right decision. Dalhousie made the wrong one.


  7. That really is unethical. . . reading that bit actually made me sick to my stomach. Best of luck to you, Claire, as you are still there. And again, best of luck to you, Erin!


  8. Dear Stephanie –

    I'm no longer there, either!

    But I can't claim Erin's strength of will in deciding to move; my partner accepted a job elsewhere (and they offered me a spousal appointment). Otherwise, I'd likely stay and fight, although I would also need to resist becoming embittered. There are some excellent initiatives at Dal, but it is, as it often is, a matter of seeking those out, often outside one's own department/faculty, to find like-minded folk for strength.


  9. Oh congratulations, then, Claire, on the appointment! Pennsylvania is wonderful. I hope you enjoy living and working there 🙂 And you are right about the need to look outside of your own department/faculty–that is true of any institution. Best of luck!


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