Journalling 005 - Reflections on Career Path
You get two in rapid succession this time, since I cheated on the last one and spent the bulk of the dedicated time ahead of the scheduled journalling hour. This prompt is to reflect on career and to write a timeline of it. I’m going to keep this one short to start with, and then maybe add more in later since I’ve been ranting about how the power of the Internet is that we’re free from static paper-emulation and that content can be dynamic etc. Time to put my money where my mouth is I suppose.
My labour in the sphere of what you’d probably call ‘career’ has, by-and-large, been concentrated in the academic sphere to date, but it’s worth reflecting on how I got here.
2002 - 2008 (Middle and High School)
The reason I’ve went this far back is that I have very distinct memories imagining various careers and lifestyles for myself at this age. Now, 6 years is a long time and where I grew up in Northumberland we still operated on a three-tier school system. So not only does this time period consist of over half a decade at formative years, but it also covers two different schools and the growth involved with moving to a new one.
Early on in Middle School (aged 10 and 11) I was primarily interested in Mathematics. I’m not sure why, now. I remember, though, that by the time I had hit aged 12 this had shifted significantly towards English. My favourite subjects quickly became English, History, and Science. In fact, actually - Maths became my least favourite subject aside from PE and it’s more patriarchal cousin Games (sports). I was known for a being a tubby in the Middle school years. It was during this time that I got drafted into the school Christmas Play, this time taking the form of a Pantomime version of the Nativity story called “A Lad in a Manger” and I fell in love with acting. I kept this up for a while, and enjoyed performing in the play the year after this. That being my final year at the school, I didn’t know if I was going to continue. At this time I very much wanted to embark on a career in acting, on the stage as opposed to in films. I dreamed about it regularly.
My final two years at the Middle School also saw me develop a very sincere love of creative writing, and I spent a lot of time devising stories and plot lines with some writing friends. At this point, I was always more excited at the macro-scale world-building than the gritty wordsmithing. In my final year (aged 13) I became Head Boy as well. This didn’t really lead to anything except a bit of an inflated ego going into High School, which was sharp sorted out.
I began High School with much the same enthusiasms I did when I left Middle School, and did well across the board in all subjects. I did exceptionally well in the subjects I was passionate about. The British School system, whilst fundamentally broken was basically built for people like me. I did well at exams, and in classrooms. At home, my parents were from working class family backgrounds, and they’d used their drive and limited class-mobility to provide us with a slightly better environment than they’d had. Namely, a supportive one for doing well at school.
During High School I began to care more about my writing than I did about acting. I did join a local theatre group (BATS) to continue with that passion, but I co-founded a Creative Writing group with peers and support from a teacher and this formed the basis for what I wanted to do for a career. I would run home from school, and sit in front of the family computer for hours and hours; writing out various chapters of my envisioned fantasy epic. Being a published author drove me, and the thing I wanted to do most for a career in the whole world. The other thing that I got into, was HTML. Whenever I wasn’t writing terrible fiction, I was writing terrible HTML pages. You can read about how bad I was here. I didn’t particularly envision a career in web development, however, and I needed a back-up plan if the world didn’t recognise my literary genius… At this age, I hadn’t yet begun to question my parents’ fallibility; and my passion for the Sciences lead my father to get excited and convince me that I wanted to be a Pharmacist. His reasoning was “Pharmacists get paid a lot of money, and they don’t get the blame as much as Doctors do as they just dispense the drugs” Obviously I can’t just blame him, but I took that logic to heart; why wouldn’t I? My parents obviously knew best, they had jobs, and I was good at the sciences (very good). This caused me a lot of pain later on.
My GCSEs came and went. I sailed through them on my ability to revise a bare minimum, and do well at exams. I came out with some sterling grades (especially in Chemistry and English), and made my way to the 6th form sign-up day at the school.
2008 - 2011 (6th Form College)
Between receiving my GCSEs and signing up for A-levels, I scored a job working for the local Domino’s pizza franchise. This provided a little pocket money, the knowledge that I didn’t want to make pizza for my career, and (as I would learn later on) - the ability to undergo severe physical discomfort by gritting my teeth to earn under minimum wage due to my age.
When I began 6th form college, I took what I was good at and (thought) that I enjoyed. This happened to be Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and English Literature. I still had the mentality of a successful GCSE student, though, and didn’t put in any effort beyond getting myself some stationary. That in combination with my new proper girlfriend (ooh) and my job at Domino’s, meant that my college work didn’t really take priority - after all I managed to do well at GCSE without effort! I got way more into computing at this point, and had begun to be using Linux as my main OS since about April 2008 at the end of my GCSEs. At home instead of homework, I’d be reading wikis on file permission systems, and playing around with “penetration testing” software.
I got smacked around the head with my first exam results - essentially Ds and Es in everything except for English Lit (B) and Chemistry (U). This was the first time in my life I’d ever failed at anything ‘academic’ and the experience promptly forced me into my first ever genuinely reflective period. I realised two things. First - that I hated the idea of being a pharmacist, and studying chemistry and physics; wanting instead to work with computers (although at the time I didn’t think I’d study at degree level). The second, that people re-sat Year 12 at 6th form all the time and I wouldn’t be alone if I did this. So I went to the college heads and told them what I wanted, they agreed to let me resit the year.
So resit it I did, and I was a changed Marshall. I re-sat the year with a Double Award in ICT (giving me two A-levels at the end), I-Media (a meaningless course I basically took to fill the timetable and because it complimented ICT), and Science in Society (scratched my itch in science mostly). Armed with the knowledge of how to balance priorities now, I managed to sail through the ICT tasks, and did pretty well in SiS. I-Media bowed before my years of experimenting with Open Source media software and file formats; Audacity, GIMP, OGG, etc. I worked hard, bonded with new friends, and basically had a lot of fun in my two years of 6th form. I even developed a work ethic, staying behind in Computer Clusters on non-Pizza days to finish sections of reports.
I began to tire of the endless slog that seemed to be school, though, and was put off of the idea of university initially. I won’t pretend that the idea of debt scared me - I never even really thought about it. I was tired of taking work home with me and not being paid. I looked into apprenticeships in being a ‘tecchie’, the support for organisations and schools. Luckily, a friend who was ahead of me in 6th form had been through that system and served as a warning of what could happen - there were very few jobs in it, as tecchies often buried themselves in until ready to quit and it was a recession. Positions rarely opened up, and rarely in towns like Cramlington.
As my grades were pretty solid, and I began experimenting with more computing things like Python scripting, I took the idea of attending university seriously. After a quick discussion with a few peers, and teachers, I decided to give the whole thing a shot and applied to a bunch of local universities; with the idea of having Newcastle as the dream (good credentials) and Teeside as the back-up (living away from home). I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career at this point - only that it involved technology, and that I wanted to put off the decision for a few years. It was off to uni then!
2011 - 2014 (Undergraduate Degree)
I managed to score an offer from Newcastle University and consigned myself to spending 3 years of being that student who lived with their parents, and who got the bus every morning. I have to admit, it put a bit of a downer on the whole experience. That I’d just broken up with my then-girlfriend (pretty messily too) didn’t really help matters. My saviour came in the form of my current flatmate, I, who was moving into a flat ran by his landlord father and was in search of a flatmate. I ran some quick maths, quit my job at Domino’s and moved in.
Actually, quitting didn’t really happen. I handed in my notice and worked it. I then ran into an old manager I’d had, who was opening up a new store in the centre of Newcastle. I hesitantly agreed to work for him. Turned out to be a good decision, and I managed to have the money for an actual social life during the first few years of my degree.
In terms of a career, I envisioned a post-degree career in the Royal Navy. I’m honestly not sure where I came up with the notion. None of my family were particularly militaristic. The idea pretty much arrived in my head fully formed. It made sense both financially (security was more important than luxury to me) and in terms of lifestyle. I’m a creature of ritual and routine, and I liked the idea of long stretches of working with breaks in them. I got as far as signing up, and undergoing the medical, physical, and aptitude tests (passing them), before I met a person who changed my life entirely. I’ve said enough about this event tbh, and risk trying to make it out to be something that it wasn’t. What this meeting did for me though, was open my eyes to feminism and the influences of patriarchy. This lead very much down a road to where I am now. The effect this had on career plans was a bit prospect-killing. I didn’t want to serve a nation that the workers didn’t own, and especially one ran by a Tory government and a decrepit monarchy.
In the 3rd year of my undergraduate, I realised that I needed to delay for another year in order to ensure that I had time to think about stuff and potentially get a foot in the door somewhere. I transferred from the BSc to the MComp, which would give me a funded Master’s degree and a year to think about things.
In my 3rd year I also found myself really enjoying the Interaction Design and HCI modules. Coincidentally, the lecturer for the second semester module told us about a Centre for Doctoral Training that they’d managed to get funded - giving people the opportunity to apply for PhDs in the area. I looked at it. I liked it and, after speaking with the lecturer and the Prof who was head of the lab, I applied. I somehow managed to get through the interview process (I genuinely think it was because I was technical and they needed technical folks for the inter-disciplinary model) and I was in! I transferred back to the BSc and collected my certificate from a desk in the Uni office.
2014 - 2017 (Present at time of writing)
I started the MRes with anticipation and excitement, as it looked like I was going to be having a chance to develop full fledged projects using my technical expertise. The MRes year itself was incredibly challenging, and changed me in a lot of ways. I was introduced to a vast quantity of different and deep worldviews. My conceptualisation of Satanism was challenged. My understanding of feminism deepened. When I began the MRes I was a whiny fledgling; and the challenge forced me into a very serious period of reflection that lead to me seeking a greater understanding of strength, and the hero’s journey that I found myself on.
This is the journey that I still find myself on today. Very much entrenched in the Road of Trials. I came into the MRes not particularly knowing what I wanted from a career other than “build cool stuff and help people”. That mantra stays with me today, although I think the way that I envision it playing out has changed. My PhD thus far has only involved building stuff at the very recent stages of it (Feb ‘17). My work with charities, specifically a charity, has lead me to question my desire for an academic career. The whole process of applying to be an RA seems to be pretty straightforward, but there is very little security in that role and acquiring a permanent position (ie Lecturer) seems to be a tooth and claw process. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naive about positions in or as a charity – getting funding for those seems to be equally as tough. Both domains talk about ‘impact’ a lot. Both offer opportunities to do the things I want to do - build cool stuff, and help people. Both involve taking less money than working in the private or government sector. Neither provide particular job/funding security. The Third Sector does seem to offer a reprieve from the self-centred, career-driven, realm of academia. There are those in the sector that try to climb ladders, and end up as CEOs etc; but it seems to be the expectation that in academia you climb over each other to grab at lectureships handed down. Survival in the Third Sector doesn’t seem to depend on climbing ladders made of your peers’ potential, but treading water.
Both gloomy images. Let’s see what happens.