First week off the job-life as an unemployed academic


This week I am officially unemployed. What does life as an unemployed academic look like? Well, in the first place not so very different from an employed one.

Sweden has a long school break so we’re just getting back into the swing of things here (read the kid is back at school). This is also the first week that I am officially without a contract and have to face the reality that came with grant decisions in November. But work as an academic doesn’t really stop when the money does. I have two masters students and a PhD to see through their defences this year so at the very least, I will continue to help them with their research and writing. Of course I also have a bunch of unfinished projects that I would like to invest in and get published. All this adds up to me doing lots of things that I would normally do as a part of my job.

Like most weeks back from vacation, this one has included catching up on email and working through lists of tasks. I’ve been doing a lot of editing and commenting on a masters student thesis to help her get to her defence. It hasn’t been too different from many weeks I’ve stayed at home and not commuted into work but I have tried to make some changes.

I made a resolution to not accept any reviews while unemployed. I thought it was a good idea to take this time to be a little more selfish and focus on getting my own papers out. So this week I said no to a review even though it sounded interesting and a good fit. I immediately felt terribly guilty. I guess I have a little to work on there.

Being officially off work means that I’m taking over more of the house and parenting tasks. I think it will be challenging to keep things “equal” between my husband and I as we go forward this year but for now it makes sense that I do school drop off/pick up and get a few loads of laundry done during the day.

I’m trying to do a little more for myself as well. Winter has finally arrived to Sweden and the days are still very short so I have treated myself to midday skiing at our local running track. This also adds to the goal of getting more exercise now that I don’t need to commute 3hrs/day to get to my office. My lists of things to get done also include some household and craft projects that have been on the backburner instead of just work. I’m hoping that by adding those priorities, I’ll make time for them. And every now and again, I’ve tried closing these last holes in our Christmas puzzle.* 2016-01-14 08.19.28

But a big question is what am I supposed to be doing? How do you find a work-life balance when you’re technically not working? As an unemployed person, I know generally I am supposed to be looking for work. As an academic that means applying for assistant professor jobs (which I’ve been doing for months) and writing grants for the new round this spring. If I look at it from the perspective of the unemployment office, I should be doing everything I can to get a job (any job) but as an academic, publishing papers might be the best thing I can do for myself. So I find myself working almost as I would if my position continued but also trying to let myself take this time to explore new options, take care of myself and see where my path is going to lead.


*I’m sure there is a metaphor in there somewhere about me figuring out what I’m doing…

7 thoughts on “First week off the job-life as an unemployed academic

  1. This sounds pretty much what I do while unemployed. We have no kids but of course I take more care of our home while my husband is at work. I have actually started to get more and more interested in cooking. I like to try new recipes for our dinner etc.😉

    But from the academic point of view I guess I will work on average half-day with manuscripts, analyse data, write reviews (I have always liked that) and of course check my email, Twitter etc for all latest articles and findings. I won’t get a new position or grant if I stop publishing and being active researcher. I’ve also been lucky to attend couple (cheap but very interesting) congresses despite being without official academic position.

    But now I need to get back to analysing my data. I want to finish that before preparing the dinner.🙂

  2. In general terms, being unemployed sucks but, as you rightly notice, it is also an opportunity.
    I think a good strategy is allocating your time so that you BOTH look for a new position and produce new science. It sounds easier said than done but, probably, if you explicitly allocate the time (for instance, mornings job search and afternoons research) you will manage. Yes, it will feel like you’re still working, just you can focus on what matters to you the most.
    Finally, on reviewing articles, I personally don’t mind and I think they can be useful. I guess the trick is not refusing reviewing altogether but, rather, keeping them to a manageable number so that they don’t go on the way of the two other activities above…

  3. Just curious, but what about money? Do you not need to earn it? Going into debt? It doesn’t sound like you’re very stressed about the monetary side of things. If I were suddenly unemployed, I’d have to get a job — any job — fairly soon. My income is essential to paying rent, bills, daycare. It’s a personal question, so obviously you don’t have to answer. But I’m always curious about different family strategies and different cultures in academia. Does Sweden make it so that being unemployed isn’t the high-anxiety nightmare it can be elsewhere? Or is it that your family can live on one salary? Again, just curious.

  4. I have just started the first week of my TeachNZ scholarship – staying home for the year to write my doctoral thesis – and is feels odd. I have done a little bit of writing each day but am slowly getting into the swing of it. It sounds like you will have a good year.

  5. I did this for two years – I spent 40% of the week working and pushing papers out, the rest looking after our son. I was incredibly lucky in having a supportive wife, but I had very nearly given up before I found a position. I still reviewed and made sure I was active in the community, even if I was at home. Finding the motivation to keep trying was the greatest challenge……..

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