Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Overload and the fear of saying no.

I tutor at the same school as where I studied.  Most of the lecturers know me well as when I was going through they were my tutors, so I have no problem with picking up subjects each semester to tutor.  My only problem is when I am overloaded and I have to say no to a job offer, I probably won't be offered that subject again.  I know, poor me, too many subjects to choose from.  But it happens every semester, the budgets come out too late and there is this scramble by lecturers for tutors, the phone rings the emails come in and you draw up a weekly timetable to work out your availability, prioritising those subjects you enjoy or have expertise in.  If I can't accept an offer to tutor I usually recommend a colleague, one from a long list, who are keen to tutor.  Of course, when I see this colleague at the end of the semester (they're probably still waiting to be paid and don't know how to get their password, staff card or access their email), they possess a slightly more cynical outlook towards tutoring, but if the offer comes up again next semester of course they'll say yes.  And this is the problem, how do you say no to tutoring offers without a convenient excuse of subject clash or lack of expertise?  I struggle with this and by this time of the semester (week 6/7) realise I am overloaded.  My fear is that if I say no to a subject, I will have less and less offers each semester and when tutoring is your staple income and that only comes in 26 weeks of the year, you need to feel certain that there will be work next year.  So I feel some pressure to say yes to every offer and agonise over the ones I say no to.

Somewhat like call centre workers who fear saying no to a shift in case they are never offered another shift.  Well, it's not as bad as it is for call centre workers, one of the stories that came out of the Howe Inquiry was from a call centre worker who witnessed other workers wetting themselves as they were too afraid to take toilet breaks.  So while it's not great being a casual worker in the tertiary sector, it could be so much much worse!  This inability to say no to work is not restricted to casual workers at universities either, I see lecturers involved with numerous projects, unable to keep up with their workload.  We have a host of academics at our university who pride themselves on waking up at between 3am and 4am to get through their workload.  When I was working in practice I was proud that I had reached the point in my career where I could negotiate reasonable timeframes and requests for work from employers and clients.  Now I'm back to the early days of my career, saying yes to everything, working seven days a week and limiting my social life.  I have no problem with that as I am the bottom rungs of the academic career ladder, my concern is that there is no cessation of this work ethic throughout the academic career track.  And for what?  Some profound research finding?


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