It’s the usual lunchtime get-together, and one of my colleagues seems to be dressed a little smarter than usual. But, as everyone is just sharing the usual friendly chat, I think nothing of it, beyond sensing a concern in the air to wind up the conversation a little more promptly than we might otherwise do. A few hours later, an email comes round congratulating said colleague on appointment to a permanent job. Clearly, the room had to be vacated for the interview …

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I have tried to present this little anecdote in such a way that the where and when are not obvious. That is because I genuinely have no personal axe to grind, and because the issues reflected here are ones that I believe need addressing in academia as a whole. My career since starting my doctorate spanned four institutions in three countries, three postdoctoral fellowships, and various teaching jobs. So I think I am at, least to some extent, in a position to generalize in that respect.

It should not take much imagination to work out the message that this way of doing things sends. This position had evidently been created, advertised, and – as the recipient openly admitted – allocated to one of our number, without any effort to inform us about this collectively; whether specific individuals were being excluded, I cannot know, so that seems the fairest way to put it.

The episode is indicative of problems the profession needs to face up to regarding trust and power, collegiality, career sustainability, and various others – and it also became part of a pattern that made me feel deeply uncomfortable in academia. It is also entirely unnecessary: a few words acknowledging the effect decisions like this make on people’s lives and careers, and explaining why an open competition was not being run – would have gone a long way.

I am not sure why I feel the need to get this off my chest at this particular point in time. I suppose old wounds are re-opened by returning to some proper research for a presentation in a few weeks; and there is that nagging wish that I had listened to what my instinct told me at times like this. Please listen to yours, if you ever find yourselves in a similar situation.