Terra incognita, here be dragons

The end of summer 2017 brings some good news: UCD’s School of Geography has hired me as a Teaching Fellow for two years. After about 30 months adjuncting across the Dublin region, three job interviews for other posts and about 25 applications I am in steady and salaried employment until August 2019. I was in UCD last academic year too but only as an occasional lecturer (effectively piece work) for a number of modules. I really enjoyed that experience and in TCD at the same time. Both, in their own ways, contributed to the accretion of valuable teaching and administration experience – ‘essential’ in today’s ‘job market’. From the point of view of money, working two jobs works out about the same as my new post does but it is the assurance of a monthly salary, particularly during the summer time, that matters most. That and the slightly less effort involved at working one job, not two.

My position in UCD requires me to teach some new material and some older. It is mostly about embedding geographic information systems (GIS) across the other schools of the College and University, ensuring students are coming out of their degrees with adequate and up to date skills in GIS and data visualisation and to aid the school make the best use of new GI technologies. The school has recently made two permanent hires, one of which is explicitly about developing and applying geospatial analysis tools and methods. So these are exciting times to be involved in a range of activities that embed geospatial process and tools into the broader academic community. The possibility of becoming a kind of ‘public geographer‘, both in the sense of engagement with an extra-academy audience and a geographer of public interest ideas, comes into view. Two years from now, that may not make any sense but there’s an inkling of this idea in my head. This is terra incognita, here be dragons.

Hundreds of thousands of words have been written in recent years about the fate of universities. Tales of pointless administration, stifling bureaucracy and metricated work patterns are as commonplace as fidget spinners. Kelly J. Baker among others has been consistently good on this. We don’t often hear from those currently working in universities as lecturers but examples are legion. It seems like UK universities are undergoing a crisis of confidence right now, perhaps brought on by the deep connections between researchers there and elsewhere in the EU in light of impending Brexit. In the US, where large numbers of meaningless and expendable courses are being taught by larger numbers of part-time and casual staff with no prospect of being hired, universities are becoming little more than a reflection of an economy in rapid decline. Elsewhere, the nature of truth itself is under attack from people who would rather ‘hear both sides’ in lieu of supporting a disparate reactionary politics. In Ireland, there may be a battle ahead on the introduction of a loan system to cover fees which is a goal of a government determined to privatise as much debt as they can before they are replaced by an equally objectionable bunch of conservatives. Once again though, many senior academics won’t publicly object to the burdening of loans on the student body: interests are now tightly bound to maximising the number of students attending – just not for their own boutique modules. For this small group, someone else always does the teaching – their colleagues, adjuncts, postgrads. More particularly, replacing the numbers of lecturers lost at the start of the crisis in 2008-10 with newly-trained academics seems to be variable across departments and schools. STEM and Law seemed to have done alright in recent times: I cannot say for sure that arts and humanities have done as well.

In the last 8 months or so I have done a lot of good and positive work: I recently sat down with my writing partner to review progress over this period. In the next four months however, I have an amount of work to do. Outside of the new job, I have papers, to start, to finish and to re-submit. There’ll be film screenings to contribute to and organise. There is a public seminar on Herbert Simms to pull together for next spring. There are two half-day conferences to attend. Many things are still in hand with the WP and I have a 100k cyclosportive coming up in September. It is not the worst position to be in; I have great support from many people around me. I would never want to convey that I achieve these things on my own. None of us do, that’s what makes it socially useful.

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