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Another Anniversary

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Ten years ago today was my last day as a full-time university lecturer. Which means I’ve been freelancing for as long as I worked at Birmingham Conservatoire. Where did all that time go? Well, we can answer that as I’ve blogged about a lot of it on the way past. I’ve spent most of it working with singers and conductors, as arranger, coach and mentor, helping them do their thing with greater confidence, skill and joy.

When I left academia, I was often asked whether I saw myself going back. To which the answer was that I didn’t know. Ten years previously I hadn’t imagined going freelance, so I really couldn’t predict how I’d feel ten years on. Now that ten years has passed, I discover that I can’t imagine myself stepping back into full-time institutional life.

This is partly because I observe that the university lecturer's life has on the whole become a harder furrow to plough than when I was one. The commodification of higher education has increased pressure on staff in ways that encourage expediency rather than idealism if they are to avoid burnout. It was heading that way a decade ago: I think I realised it was a rigged game that was impossible to win when I had a an application for research funding come back with the highest rating, and marked as highest priority for funding – but received no funding. That’s not the reason I left, but it’s something I was happy to leave behind.

In more positive terms, I have so much more freedom now, and it would be hard to give that up. I genuinely don’t have to do anything I don’t choose to. When I find myself tired or stressed – as still sometimes happens – it’s either because something I chose to do turned out to be less fun and more onerous than I had anticipated, or because the things I chose to do piled up inconveniently all at once, leaving me short of headspace. (See under June 2019, ahem.) But it’s easier to live with that when you know it’s a consequence of your own choices.

And you can take the scholar out of academia, but you can’t take the academic instincts out of the scholar. I have a steady trickle of research- and assessment-related activities that keep me in touch with that past self: book chapters to write, conference papers to present, peer reviewing, external examining, random bits of consultancy work. So I don’t have to miss either the intellectual stimulation or the collegiality of that past life, but now I don’t have to spend May and June under piles of marking to get it. (Sorry, probably not a tactful time of year to mention that out loud.)

So, what will the next 10 years hold? My powers of prediction are as poor now as they were a decade ago, so we’ll have to wait and see. I expect there will be some musicking to be done to while away that time though.

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