Updated: Jul 28, 2021
When one door closes another one opens. I’ve used that phrase twice in the last few weeks and have lived most of my adult life believing it to be true.
I first contemplated the idea of applying for PhD candidacy in 2016. At the time I was working full-time as a content writer for an online education provider while studying for my MA. I loved studying for my MA so much I decided I would apply for PhD candidacy.
A lot has happened since making that decision and it’s been a long hard road to get here, but I’m pleased to say that now, five years later, and with grateful thanks to Federation University, my PhD dream is finally coming true.
And the fact that it is coming true is nothing short of a miracle.
Dire Straits (no, not the band)
There’s no question that Covid-19 has changed everything about our daily lives, from the way we work, entertain ourselves, interact with friends, and the way we study.
Students are forced to attend their classes online resulting in the loss of significant aspects of the learning experience such as full immersion in their learning, collaboration with peers, impromptu discussions with teachers, and simple human interaction. Instead, they are fending off endless distractions at home while worrying about unstable Internet connections and how they’re going to find an answer to that question that is driving them crazy.
After iron ore and coal, education is Australia’s biggest service export. It’s bigger than gas and gold. In 2019, the education sector contributed more than $40 billion to the economy. However, it became far too reliant on international students as its major source of revenue. Now, the sector is paying the price for that reliance.
Unfortunately, due to Covid, the education sector is in deep financial trouble. Our borders have been closed to international students for over a year, which means TAFEs and universities are losing money hand over fist. And what’s the first thing institutions do when they’re in financial trouble? They start looking for ways to cut costs.
Across the country, hundreds of courses are being cut. Arts courses are, of course, bearing the brunt of this hack and slash approach despite the fact that the arts and culture sector employs more than 350,000 people, (more than three times the number in mining and aviation). However, it’s not just arts courses that are being struck from curriculums. Business and STEM courses are also being excised, even courses or subjects that have maintained high enrolment levels.
Job? What job?
As a consequence of these cuts, academics and professional staff are also losing their jobs.
Like so many others who have been forced into unemployment, I was recently made redundant from my teaching position at Victoria University. It didn’t really come as a surprise. I had previously been informed that the course was in ‘teach out’ because it was no longer financially viable. However, sessional staff were assured they would be employed until mid 2022.
Unfortunately, that proved to be an untruth as we were informed three days before the commencement of the semester that our services would no longer be required.
I loved my teaching job at the university. Granted, the curriculum was a little outdated, and the course didn’t quite teach everything I believe new writers should know; however, overall, it was an excellent course and a great entrée into the writing, editing, and publishing industry, and I genuinely enjoyed working with the students as their skills developed and their confidence grew.
What I didn’t love about the job, was the associated administrative work and the many, many hours of unpaid labour that was expected of sessional staff. Many times, those unpaid hours made me question the value of the job, but that’s a subject for another post!
While all of this is dire for staff, it’s equally devastating for students. Many students were already experiencing financial hardship and had been forced to take on part-time or casual work alongside their academic workload. Now, in the wake of Covid-19, many have lost those part-time or casual positions.
According to a study conducted by the University of Sydney, PhD students (of which I am now one) are “bracing themselves for a financial crisis in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic” and that “45% are expected to be forced to suspend or withdraw from their studies in the next six months owing to lack of funds”.
Does all of this make me nervous? As a newly appointed PhD candidate, you bet it does.
Is it going to stop me from achieving this long-held goal? Absolutely not.
Nothing short of a miracle
At the beginning of my PhD journey, I was employed in a position that was relevant to my ongoing studies and which gave me the time I needed to commit to the undertaking. However, after several unsuccessful submissions to institutions around the country, I began to give up hope of ever finding a place, especially in light of Covid and the education sector’s financial climate.
Then, on the same day that I was informed my services were no longer required by Victoria University, I received an email from Federation University informing me that my PhD application had been approved. (I've been retrenched from three different jobs since 2016. Sigh...)
That old proverb of one door closing and another one opening is truly applicable here. And my sincere thanks must go to Federation University in Ballarat and my supervisors Mathew Abbott, Graham Jones, and Belinda Morrissey. It’s almost too hard to comprehend how fortunate I am to be studying this degree at this time. It is nothing short of a miracle.
To say the start of this latest chapter of my life has been rocky one is an understatement. Along with sudden unemployment I’ve also had to deal with an elderly parent entering the aged care system. Another industry in crisis.
However, as fraught and anxious as it has been, I’m excited. I honestly can’t wait to see where I go from here and what the future will bring.