Saturday, July 28, 2007

Being on the outside

This time last week I was settling happily into the meeting room at The Warehouse, home to Friends of the Earth at Birmingham. I was meeting with a group of 'Sociologists Outside Academia'.

The train journey there was a bit fraught as the deluge we had on Friday meant trains had been cancelled and suspended and right up till late Friday I was uncertain whether I would actually get on the train.

As it turned out the train arrived early, having made an unscheduled stop at Coventry (picking up another one of our group), and it looked like an unbelievably good start.

Except that a couple of people had had their trains diverted from Basingstoke/Winchester area to (believe it or not) London. One was too frail to consider completing the journey via London and gave up. The other persevered and reached us at about 2pm! Another, a wheelchair user, planned to drive from Bristol but the roads were not very friendly and decided against making what could be a perilous journey.

So it was a small group that met but we had a good time thrashing out some issues that we face as highly-trained researchers in the social sciences but for whom reasons like poor health and domestic responsibilities had prevented us from filling a full-time academic position.

It was a really refreshing time for me. Not least of all people sometimes attribute the genesis of this group to my rant in the Association newsletter about being not so much ignored as being such an anomaly at an academic conference that senior academics ensconced in their institutions did not know how to respond to my answer, "I'm a mother."

Any way we chatted about the various strategies we needed to pursue to gain recognition, to gain a foothold in independent research, to encourage senior academics to mentor us, etc, etc. and planned to organize something at the next conference so that 'outsiders' like us could feel comfortable there.

Then I made my way back to the station in good time for my train.

Nearly three hours later I was home. My husband and son picked me up from the station and the best bit was: the house was clean!

Husband promised to tidy up the house and 'my boys' had obviously been working very hard at clearing the rubbish away. I could see the floor!!!

Son, who is still struggling with his writing, managed to write a good account of what he had done with Dad while Mum was away.

I think I should go away more often.

Back to Organic-Ally.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

CRB-checked, at last!

I don't remember how long I've been working with teenagers and children as part of my church ministry.

Since my husband acquired a chronic disease I've resigned from working with teenagers but continue my work with the children.

Well, I finally got my piece of paper -- the official approval from this UK government -- that says I have been cleared to work with children.


Back to Organic-Ally.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Lawyers and professionals

For some reason my husband left the following article on the desk-top.

Why are lawyers miserable: want a list?

I read it and had a good chuckle.

I could identify with all that misery and money mentioned in the article.

No, I was never a lawyer. I was worse than a lawyer back in Singapore. I was a management consultant, and more specifically, a change management consultant.

While working with what was one of the top Accounting firms (we were an off-shoot of their 'Management Information Systems' off-shoot) it was not unusual to clock 80 hours a week. On days when a deadline loomed, we worked 'back-to-back' and managed to clock 100 hours.

We were fastidious about time-sheets and time-keeping. It was part of our 'company culture', so it has to be true. It meant working from 8.30am to a minute before 12 midnight (because the doors locked electronically at midnight), seven days a week.

We would take a booked taxi (waiting for us at the bottom of the office block) home, shower and sleep for few hours and were back at our desk at 8.30am sharp. Often lunch was taken at our desks. In desperation sometimes, we often sent out the tea-lady to buy food from the hawker centres.

The money was good. The money was very good. So very good that we had no time to spend it.

It became clear to me that this was not the way to live the rest of my life.

I shocked the establishment when I left without a job to go to. I had had enough. My father had died and my financial committments were significantly reduced.

That put my CMP (Country Managing Partner) in a sticky position. Normally staff leave for better jobs and opportunities and writing their 'exit emails' was easy. Siew-Peng? She's going to sit at home doing nothing.

Immediately there were fears that the other staff would become suspicious and wonder -- or be brave enough to now wonder aloud -- what went wrong? What is the real story behind her leaving?

Already there were clear feelings that the unearthly/ungodly hours we had been working were not sustainable. Our mental health and family life (if any) were suffering. My own gripe was that when I got back to work after cremating my father, I was put to work for such long hours instead of having someone else take my duties while I was still grieving.

At that point no one in the company had lost a father, and did not understand how I felt.

I was also on the wrong side of the political divide which meant that a promised promotion did not happen. So while I was made to design the architecture for a new computer-based training programme because I was "most experienced" at doing the job (and I was good, I know), I was also denied a promotion because I didn't party with the right people.

I had a series of 'exit interviews' (more than most other leavers) in which I told everyone what I felt was wrong with the company. Guess what? They listened. When I next went back to the office to visit some time after, lots of checks and balances had been put in place to ensure 'work-life balances'.

I don't know how long these lasted.

Still, it's good to know that my resignation left a positive impact on the working conditions of this particular company.

Back to Organic-Ally.

Saturday, July 14, 2007