THE BLOG

Relocation, Relocation, Relocation: the Rise of the Peripatetic Academic

31/12/2011 01:12 GMT | Updated 28/02/2012 10:12 GMT

I feel like the interview is going well. One of the panel looks down at my CV. He reads my address and postcode 'London N8, that's Crouch End'. He looks up 'Would you move to Glasgow?'

After the question of 'will I get a job?' The 'would I move to ...[insert place]' is the next big question for early career academics. This isn't something I thought about while doing a PhD and it didn't come up in the workshops and seminars that I took part in. Maybe because those teaching us came through the system in a different era, where having a PhD was enough to give you a good chance of walking straight into a lectureship. Or perhaps because it was assumed that we would be willing to move. Also, London has many universities in commutable reach so perhaps I thought I could work in one of them. However, expectations for those going into the academic job market are changing.

This is a job where some moving has been expected, but it is much more extreme now for those starting out for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there just aren't that many jobs to go round. Teaching budgets have been cut, student applications are down and Higher Education Institutions are in a state of uncertainty.

Secondly, because of this uncertainty, more of the jobs that are available have fixed term contracts. So this means not only moving to x but moving to x for two years with your eye on the next job somewhere else. For example, I was lucky in that when I finished my PhD I got a research job in London, where I was already living, for two years. At the time this felt like the golden ticket. Two whole years! But of course, going into the second year of the job, this felt very different. I started to think about where the next job was coming from and panic about my publications being in the long and mysterious pipelines of journals, rather than out and available in the world.

When I told my friend, a lecturer, that I had a job interview in Glasgow, she said cheerfully: 'You can be LATs like us!'

'LATs?'

'Living apart together!'

My friend's partner took a lecturing job in the North East and spends half the week living up there. If you are in a couple with another academic, or another person whose job is immovable, then this is one way of managing taking a job faraway. I have a few sets of friends doing the same thing. This is a relatively small country with universities concentrated in cities - not like the US, a big country with universities in the middle of nowhere - and so this arrangement is an option for many. But Glasgow seems too far away for the LAT arrangement. The other option is to move.

In my working life, I study cities and people's attachment to place. David Cameron's comments about people needing to uproot and go in search of jobs (echoing the old 'get on your bike' Tebbit take on unemployment) show a complete disregard for the ways in which people's lives are embedded in place (I have many other issues with this pronouncement, not least because it shifts the blame of unemployment onto the unemployed but that's for another time). In terms of employment and mobility, my academic friends are lucky in that they have jobs where travelling backwards and forwards is just about financially viable.

If they do have to relocate then they don't have to live in the worst part of town. But the requirement to be movable is part of an increasingly precarious employment situation for those going into the academic job market. And having to constantly move and without job security can be a strain. My living-apart-together lecturer friend tells me a story about a friend of hers who moved three times to take up different short term lecturing positions around the country. He has now had enough and is working in a garden centre while retraining.

I speak to another friend who moved to the North of Scotland to take up her perfect job. Commuting wasn't an option and she took her partner and child with her. We talk about the trade-off of uprooting. Despite some difficult times, she seems to think that it has been worth it.

I come out of the interview. It's a beautiful autumn day and I sit on a bench outside the university. The university is on top of a hill and I look at Glasgow and across to the countryside. I like it here, I got a good feeling from the panel. You never know though, maybe all the other candidates have written a book already...

But 'Would you move to Glasgow?' 'Yes.'