Friday, 30 November 2018

This Year: Guest post by Dorothy Donald

This is another guest post by Dorothy Donald

Please list publications since last review and planned outputs
Here are a couple of papers that came out just before I… stopped working. My planned outputs are the same as last year’s.

Please list your outputs for REF2020
What? No I can’t I don’t I – what? OK. OK, breathe. I’ve already got this list somewhere and it’s been OK’d by someone above my pay grade. Copy, paste.

List current grant funding, applications made and applications planned
I have no grant funding. I haven’t made any applications this year. My plan is my plan my plan my plan is I can’t I can’t OK come back to this later

Discuss teaching activities
They’re the same as last year. Oh, except we were on strike a few months back, then I did teach-outs. That was good.

Discuss student feedback – highlight examples of excellence
Some of my students like my teaching, some of them don’t. I’m not excellent.

Discuss contributions to the Department, Faculty, University and the wider academic community
Oh Christ, what counts as a ‘contribution’? I hate this.

Discuss other activities and esteem
…esteem…esteem… sounds nice

List your main objectives for the next 12 months
Fuck, I DON’T KNOW. Stay alive? I mean I know last year I said some optimistic shit about promotion and world-leading research group but honestly I just want to do stuff that I am proud of and not feel scared and hurt all the time. Will that do? Of course it won’t.

Any other points for discussion
I’m so tired

<delete it all>
<start again>

Monday, 26 November 2018

Finances, Mental Health and Academia - Guest Post by Lyra Swann

Many thanks to Lyra Swann for allowing us to post this thread that she tweeted two days ago. Lyra's twitter handle is @quantumofqueer, and you can find the original thread linked to above.   

Finances, Mental Health and Academia: A Thread

I've had a really difficult year. Severe depression. Marital breakdown. Several months' sick leave. Temporary homelessness. And despite all that, I finished my PhD.

Once my viva was done, I was free to apply for jobs. But I just didn't have the oomph. I was so utterly exhausted from the mangle I'd been through in the past year that I couldn't even begin a job search.

So I took on some university tutoring to pay the bills.

Turns out hourly paid tutoring *sucks*. The actual work itself is OK, tho tiring&repetitive. But it pays at £14/hr, and it's impossible to neatly fill a 40 hour week with it - there are always gaps between tutorials, and times when there's no teaching. And that means no money.

And then there are times when there's too much work, and I want to do all the hours I can because that way, I'll get enough money to live off, but I'm so damn tired that I can't do all the work, and then I berate myself for not earning enough.

And every time I go into a supermarket, all I see is 'too expensive too expensive too expensive'. Shopping takes so much energy, which is energy I don't have. Energy that I can't then put into job hunting.

The financial precarity wears me down. It panics me. It makes me less able to apply for jobs and less able to get out of this stinking situation.

This in turn makes it harder for me to look after my mental health. Which makes it harder to apply for jobs. Which means I keep working as a low paid tutor. Etc etc

I'm incredibly lucky. I have amazing friends and family supporting me. But what about those who don't have that support network? What about their stories?

Monday, 12 November 2018

It finally happened (oh yes)

This is another guest post by Dorothy Donald
I actually got to sit down with a consultant psychiatrist. He asked me all the questions I was expecting (How are you today, can you rate your mood on a scale of 1 to 10, what seems to be the trouble, what was your childhood like, are you shagging anyone, yes I am paraphrasing, and so on). He scribbled on a piece of paper, then turned the paper over and scribbled on the other side, smaller and smaller and smaller… then quit and got another piece.  He thought our meeting would take about 40 minutes. It took twice that long. I was pleased to be listened to, but also felt a bit bad for his next patient whose appointment got delayed.
He doesn’t know what to diagnose me with, which seems eminently sensible to me. Up for consideration are: autism spectrum disorder (which is in my family, but I don’t think I have quite enough of the markers to be diagnosed); PTSD (which I think is Consultant Psychiatrist for “Your parents fucked you up, Dorothy”);  personality disorder (which I think is Consultant Psychiatrist for “You persist in behaving oddly, Dorothy”); and treatment-resistant depression (which I think is Consultant Psychiatrist for “You’re shit out of luck, Dorothy”)
Or, as a dear friend of mine put it: “He’s going to throw the DSM at you and see what sticks?”
I go back in six weeks.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

The benefits of telling people you’re a miserable git, Guest Post by Hannah Dee

The benefits of telling people you’re a miserable git

Note: This is a guest post by a new contributor, Hannah Dee from Aberystwyth University.  The new site she mentions in her article is at

About 7 weeks ago I was at an event, at the Alan Turing institute in London, for inclusion and diversity activists. We were there to try and change the game about diversity in STEM using a kind of hackathon format - we’d pitch ideas that could make STEM better for minorities and old people and the disabled and women and LGBT+ and then maybe we’d get funding and change the world. 

At this event, for the first time in my life, I stood up in front of a group of strangers and talked about mental health. But let me backtrack a bit and give you some history.

I’m a depressed academic. I’ve been a depressed academic before (about 17 years ago during my PhD, about 10 years ago as a post-doc working abroad, 5-6 years ago as a new lecturer). I was, if I’m honest, a grumpy teenager although never diagnosed as depressed. 

My current episode is pretty bad - major depressive disorder, lasted more than a year now - and is currently being addressed with part-time working, an excellent counsellor and elephantine quantities of Sertraline. Not for the first time, I’ve told my line manager, close colleagues and a few friends. They’ve all been great. They’ve always been great.

I’ve done something different this time though and I think - on balance - it’s helped. My family found out. Yes, I probably should have told them earlier, but I didn’t want to burden them with my problems (a line of reasoning every depressed person will recognise). Gradually a broader set of colleagues found out, partly because I have been more open about telling people, and partly because of my habit of crying a lot. I think now, most of them know. A handful of students know too (see aforementioned crying habit). I’m less sure what I think about this but a few have been to see me and told me they appreciate knowing they’re not alone.

It turns out that pretty much everyone has been very supportive. It’s been strangely both uplifting and upsetting to find out how many other people have also been in this situation. Sometimes I feel like the “one in five”  mental health statistic seems on the low side, to be honest. Through telling people that I’m not well, in a sense it’s given less confident people permission to talk to me about how they feel.  I wouldn’t say we have a miserable gits club in our department but it’s getting close.

There have been a few “why are you depressed, you’ve got nothing to be upset about” and “cheer up love” reactions, but not many. 

So at the Turing Institute I thought one thing we could do for inclusion was to look at mental health, and in particular ways in which we could make STEM more kind. This was something we (PoC scientists, LGBT+ scientists, women scientists, miserable gits…) might have in common. More kindness and more understanding could make a lot of the challenging aspects of STEM less horrible. 

This is why I spoke about my mental health to a group of strangers - for the first time. As the “hackathon” progressed a group of us formed a team around kindness in STEM, and pitched our idea to the judges. We didn’t get funding but we went and did it anyway. 

Part of this has to involve telling our stories - if people don’t know what it’s like to be a depressed academic, or the only black person in your year, or mistaken for serving staff at a conference, then other people can’t help. is our project. If you want to write for us, get in touch.

I’m not well, still, and some days I’m not 100% convinced I’m getting better. Most days I think I am - to be honest, I’d have never got this much done, 6 months ago. I’m aware now of how lucky I am to have a good marriage, good friends and family, supportive colleagues, and the financial stability to be able to go part time. Occasional bad days still come along and blind side me and it all seems much worse. I am however doing something about it, working hard on looking after myself and trying to help others to look after themselves and others too. A big part of this comes from talking about it - from telling people what’s going on in my head, and then listening to what they think.

Thanks to Hannah for this post. We always welcome guest posts and can post anonymously, pseudonymously, or with your name.