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Professional Homelessness

This is a conceptualization attempt emerging from: recent discussions with fellow ‘just finished’ postgrads; my family breathing down my neck about the usefulness of my degree (circumstantial evidence = zero), and last but by no means least the ‘you have to move out of the flat because I have to sell it’ phone call from our landlady. This is a reflection on professionalism versus incapacitation, professional homelessness and the  forlorn feeling that seems to creep into any conversation despite desperate attempts to cling onto positive language.

Professional Homelessness

Somehow since my final finalization of my PhD I feel utterly disconnected. An alien in an academic’s suit meandering through the masses of freshers that flood campus and city. An alien with no right to be anywhere. No right to be at any of the Higher Education Institutions I learned and worked in during the last five years. No right to be in any of the museums or shops I worked in, no right to the library. Reduced to the non-academic city libraries, I have no professional home at the moment. No place of work, of directed effort and this is a very painful experience—an imposter trying for a stowaway spot on an academic ship that goes nowhere.

I remember the last time I was off work for a summer after high-school. At least then, I was at the family farm. I made hundreds of glasses of fruit conserves and vegetable pickles, harvesting the apples and storing them for winter, learning type writing, collecting herbs and preparing remedies for the winter. Now I have none of this. In the city there is nothing to do but count the rain drops. (It is a bad day when the drama queen pops out of the prop box!)

Yes, I know I am starting up my own business but I still need, and not only for monetary reasons, some part-time work. I need something tangible a place in the world. Example: during my write-up I worked a 3 day a week maternity cover position, for three months, these were the most productive months of my whole PhD. I wrote 40.000 words in this time-span! A place to work is invaluable as a place of purpose.

I thought of starting the Professionally Homeless’ Association Anonymous  (PHAA). My introduction to the group would sound like this: I am an unemployed academic (Yeah, I know cry me a river and get back in line.) I am highly professional only that I have nothing to be professional for, with, in … I am professionally homeless.

This new employment (well unemployment) concept surely will find some foothold in public discourse. Not alone because professional homelessness sounds so much better than unemployment. Unemployment in the UK is also a massive stigma—really bad considering that about 25% of under 25 year old’s are holding this stigma. Unemployment so I am made to understand means you:

  1. smoke
  2. take drugs
  3. can’t be arsed (not my words)
  4. are useless
  5. and are generally a waste of space

The question is how do you get out of it, if professionalism means nothing? Professional capital is not getting you a job, not in academia at the moment anyway. Simply do the maths: my department alone lost more than 50% of its staff. Now these guys are on the job market with you, but there are no new jobs out (or very few and far in between). So what happens is: your former mentors and colleagues go for the entry level positions that you normally would go for, and of course are more qualified than you. What is left for you my dear fellow professionally homeless academic is the sour feeling of ‘not belonging’ of ‘begging’ for a job and eventually feeling like a puppy that got kicked and thrown out into the rain.

Okay, I put the drama queen back into prop-box. However, the fight against the windmills leaves me feeling incapacitated (entmündigt) because of questions such as:

  1. Can you have professional capital if no one acknowledges you have it?
  2. Are you actually an academic, if you have no ‘working home’ in a higher education institution anymore?
  3. Were the years of living on 50% below the poverty line, 24/7 work, no social life, gray hair, gaining weight, loosing teeth (sorry, sorry she keeps popping up—Shoo! Away with thee drama queen!) … I mean was all the hard work worth anything?
  4. Is an education really worthwhile, if it does not translate into economic rewards? (I mean the institution education—not the implicit learning experiences.)
  5. And the question my parents keep asking me. The penultimate question that made me wince over and over again: Was nützt der Titel ohne Mittel? (It translates roughly into: What for is the academic title without means?)

So if any of you share professional homelessness or professional displacement*, or if you have an opinion or answer to any of the questions raised or points made. Share, share and share! I did not want to disclose members of my social circle but I am by no means the only one experiencing professional homelessness. Any contribution would help to not feel so alone, and maybe out there in the conversation is a hidden solution.

* Professional displacement is a not as severe variant of professional homelessness. Here the victim (Oh yes the whole victimization and incapacitation issue needs much more attention!) has not lost all place of rightful association within a society, yet works in a field that has nothing or barely anything in common with the victim’s originally intended profession.**

** One could under certain circumstances even argue that this is a positive development and drag creativity into the discourse (just for the heck of it) but again this is a whole other issue.

Categories: Teaching

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Nathalie Sheridan

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