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Teaching in Higher Education
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Deferred time in the neoliberal university:
experiences of doctoral candidates and early
Agnes Bosanquet , Lilia Mantai & Vanessa Fredericks
To cite this article: Agnes Bosanquet , Lilia Mantai & Vanessa Fredericks (2020) Deferred time in
the neoliberal university: experiences of doctoral candidates and early career academics, Teaching
in Higher Education, 25:6, 736-749, DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2020.1759528
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2020.1759528
Published online: 06 Jul 2020.
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Deferred time in the neoliberal university: experiences of
doctoral candidates and early career academics
, Lilia Mantai
and Vanessa Fredericks
School of Education, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia;
The University of Sydney Business School,
University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia;
Learning and Teaching Centre, Australian Catholic University,
In the neoliberal university, how do doctoral candidates (PhDs) and
early career academics (ECAs) experience time? This analysis brings
together two qualitative studies in Australian universities: interviews
with 64 PhD candidates, and a survey of 522 ECAs on teaching and
research experience, and identity and career development. The data
is analysed using Ylijoki and Mäntylä’s (2003. “Conﬂicting Time
Perspectives in Academic Work.”Time & Society 12 (1): 55–78.
doi:10.1177/0961463X03012001364) categories of academic time:
scheduled, timeless, contracted and personal. Reading Derrida’s
Specters of Marx (1994) enables us to extend this framework to
include deferred time. We argue that the dominant aﬀect of
deferred time is anxiety. As political subjects of the university,
following Derrida’s line of argument, participants are in a deferred
state of waiting for academic careers that are yet to come.
Received 4 November 2019
Accepted 20 April 2020
Academic work; time;
doctoral candidates: early
In the context of the neoliberal university, how do doctoral candidates and early career
academics experience time? The accountabilities under which universities operate are
manifold, emphasising eﬃciency, eﬀectiveness, and quality, and assessed through
audits, metrics, and standards of measurement (Ylijoki and Mäntylä 2003; Menzies and
Newson 2008; Stensaker and Harvey 2010). A perceived lack of time is keenly felt by aspir-
ing and emerging academics, and competes with the pleasures of academic work.
We come to this study as early to mid-career academics whose everyday experience of
time, like our participants, is interruptible and contaminated by multi-layered tasks and
conﬂicting demands. In the analysis that follows, we bring together two studies: interviews
with 64 PhD candidates from two Australian universities on their doctoral experience and
researcher identity development; and a survey of 522 self-deﬁning ECAs from three Aus-
tralian universities on factors impacting work experience and career trajectories. A the-
matic analysis of time and temporality across these data sets provides rich insights
about participants’experiences of academic timescapes. Throughout this paper, we use
the terms ‘time’,‘temporality’and ‘timescapes’to signify the interconnected complexities
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Agnes Bosanquet firstname.lastname@example.org, 4FW913 Faculty of Human Sciences, Macquarie Uni-
versity, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia @AgnesBosanquet
TEACHING IN HIGHER EDUCATION
2020, VOL. 25, NO. 6, 736–749
of clock and calendar time, individual experiences, and the social and institutional organ-
isation of time. We utilise Derrida’s conception of time and deferral as a theoretical frame-
work to explore the conditions of anxiety experienced by PhDs and ECAs, particularly as
sessional staﬀmembers. We foreground their experiences as political subjects in the neo-
liberal university to prompt reﬂection on the systemic factors impacting individual percep-
tions of time in the academy.
Time in the neoliberal university
Higher education worldwide is dominated by the forces of massiﬁcation (increasing par-
ticipation), marketisation (competitive funding mechanisms) and globalisation (mobility
of information, ﬁnance and people). The umbrella term neoliberalism refers to an econ-
omic ideology dependent on fee-paying international and domestic students, and
labour market ﬂexibility through a casualised workforce (Meek 2000; Marginson 2004;
Brown, Goodman, and Yasukawa 2010; May et al. 2011; Ryan et al. 2013; Marginson
2016,2018). This context of neoliberalism oﬀers a way of thinking about higher education
that challenges understandings of emerging academic identities and the temporalities of
work. It positions doctoral candidates and early career academics as political subjects,
individuals embedded in socially and institutionally constructed structures of work and
power that impact their experiences of time.
Current research on time explores the acceleration and performativity of academic
work (Houston, Meyer, and Paewai 2006; Menzies and Newson 2007; Müller 2014),
including the altered timescapes of doctoral education (Manathunga 2019); gender diﬀer-
ences (Jacobs and Winslow 2004; Menzies and Newson 2008; Dobele, Rundle-Thiele, and
Kopanidis 2014); motivation, stress and wellbeing of individuals (Winter and Sarros 2002;
Kinman 2014), and strategies for slowing down (O’Neill 2014; Mountz et al. 2015; Shah-
jahan 2015).Academics report ‘stretching their time to accommodate the demands of
work’(Houston, Meyer, and Paewai 2006). In a report on the attractiveness of the aca-
demic profession, Coates et al. (2009) reveal low levels of job satisfaction and ‘perceptions
of increasingly unmanageable workload …at all levels’(15). The average workload for
full-time academic staﬀis variously reported as 49–55 h per week across diﬀerent
countries, with university workload allocation models underestimating the real time
taken to complete tasks (Vardi 2009). In a historical analysis, Tight (2010) found a signiﬁ-
cant increase in the proportion of time attributed to administration, fanning a perception
that workloads are ‘at untenable levels’(214). The issue of workload pressure is complex
and contested, but aﬀective experiences are revealing. Workload pressure has a negative
impact on well-being (Menzies and Newson 2008) and role overload has been shown to
reduce organisational commitment (Winter and Sarros 2002).
Exploring academics’accounts of ‘heavy time pressure’, Ylijoki and Mäntylä (2003)
articulate four categories of academic time:
Scheduled time refers to the accelerating pace of work, timeless time to transcending time
through immersion in work, contracted time to short-term employment with limited
future prospects and ﬁnally, personal time to one’s temporality and the role of work in it. (55)
Our analysis extends these categories to include deferred time. Baraitser (2017) describes
deferred or suspended time as marked by ‘modes of waiting, staying, delaying, enduring,
TEACHING IN HIGHER EDUCATION 737
persisting, repeating, maintaining, preserving and remaining –that produce the experi-
ence of time not passing’(2). Reading Derrida’s conception of time and deferral enables
us to explore the temporal anxiety described by PhD candidates and ECAs, particularly
as casual or sessional teaching staﬀ.
Derrida’s deferred time
Twentieth century French poststructuralist Jacques Derrida is associated with a branch of
philosophy known as deconstruction, broadly understood as a critique of Western philo-
sophical tradition and associated ‘inherited concepts’(Janover 2005, 225). A recurring cri-
tique is the Western metaphysical conception of time, through an analysis of the political
subject in relation to future possibilities. Underpinned by a nostalgic search for origins,
‘time’in this tradition is understood and privileged as presence (Derrida 1978, 369). Der-
rida’s critique disrupts linear time as ﬁxed in a pure and deﬁnable present, arguing that the
‘present’is always interrupted by the ‘past’and the ‘future’(see Derrida 1982,29–68).
Presence is always preceded by the trace of prior event(s) which prevents us from ever
being in a ‘pure’present (see Derrida 1973, 68). In Specters of Marx (1994), Derrida
oﬀers a critique of the ‘messianic spirit’of the Marxist promise, redeﬁning a politics of
time that emphasises deferral.
Derrida wrote Specters of Marx during a time of global optimism about the state and
future of democracy. He was thinking about the legacies of Marxism following the dissol-
ution of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, student protests in Tiananmen
Square, and other world events that marked change. Specters can be read as a kind of
anti-thesis to Fukuyama’s(1992) claim that history had come to an end, and that the
future of democracy had arrived in the form of a free market economy. Derrida rejects
this teleological understanding of history as progression, and oﬀers a future-oriented
movement of messianism to redeﬁne democracy as something which is always in progress:
‘The democracy-to-come oﬀers an opening of potential future(s), rather than a ﬁxed state
of being’(Derrida 1994, 81). This forward-moving politics of becoming rejects ﬁnality.
Rereading Derrida ‘now’, in the wake of Trump, Brexit, rising nationalism, climate
change and COVID-19, we approach the promise of democracy with a certain scepticism
and caution. In a post-democratic neoliberal society, we are still waiting for the messianic
promise of Derrida’s future of possibilities. In the context of this paper, we argue that this
deferred state of waiting causes anxiety for political subjects.
This paper brings together two qualitative studies: (a) a survey of 522 early career aca-
demics (ECAs) from three Australian universities on factors impacting work experience
and career trajectories, and (b) individual and group interviews with 64 PhD candidates
from two Australian universities on their doctoral experience and researcher identity
development. Both were guided by an interpretivist perspective which aims to understand
the world through individuals’lived experiences and postulates that events are seen diﬀer-
ently by people at diﬀerent times as they construct meaning (Schwandt 1994; Creswell
2012). The data presented here is multi-layered and represents the experiences of PhDs
and ECAs in Australian universities at a particular moment. This data is not intended
to represent a universal view of academia, nor to encompass the wide range of experiences
therein, but provides an opportunity for reﬂection with implications beyond these
moments. The multiplicity of ﬁrst-person accounts is purposeful, consistent with the
role of interpretivist researchers to ‘understand, explain, and demystify social reality
through the eyes of diﬀerent participants’(Cohen et al. 2007, 19).
While initially guided by diﬀerent research questions, as detailed below, a comparative
thematic analysis of time and temporality across these two data sets provides a focussed
account of participants’experiences of academic timescapes. Using more than one
source of data is complex, but the resulting rich insights and comparisons across the
stages of academic identity development (as doctoral candidates and in early career) are
Findings are drawn from individual and group interviews with 64 PhD candidates from
two research-intensive metropolitan universities in Australia. Participants were diverse,
including a third (32%) international candidates, and 17% part-time candidates. A third
were Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) candidates and the majority
from Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS). The majority of participants were
women (70%). The sample was not purposive nor intentionally representative of Austra-
lia’s PhD student cohort.
Participant recruitment took place via poster display and emails from higher degree
research staﬀ. Open questions investigated shared and personal PhD experiences.
Group questions explored candidates’needs and support, and individual questions con-
cerned personal PhD stories, support networks, and meaningful events. Data analysis of
transcribed interviews followed a thematic approach (Braun and Clarke 2013). Transcripts
were read carefully and iteratively; initial codes were generated; themes identiﬁed and
reviewed; and ﬁnally, a report was produced. Coding for themes was facilitated in QSR
NVIVO Version 10. This analysis focuses on the theme of time and temporality.
Early career academics
This qualitative data is a subset of a mixed methods survey of ECAs in three Australian
universities, including a high-ranking research-intensive university, a metropolitan uni-
versity co-located with business and industry, and a regional multi-campus teaching-
focussed institution (Matthews, Lodge, and Bosanquet 2014; Bosanquet et al. 2017).
The online survey (via SurveyMonkey) incorporated open and closed questions, and
emerging and predetermined approaches. ECAs were invited to participate via purposive
sampling snowballing techniques including institutional newsletters, broadcast emails,
social media and word of mouth. In recognition of the increasing uncertainty of academic
career paths, the study adopted a subjective and inclusive deﬁnition of early career. Par-
ticipants were evenly divided by STEM and HASS disciplines, 65% were women and
56% were in casual or contract employment.
The analysis focuses on ﬁve open-ended questions, which asked participants to (a)
provide a brief statement outlining career plans (443 responses); (b) describe their ideal
academic job (522 responses); (c) and (d) identify what they perceived to be the most
TEACHING IN HIGHER EDUCATION 739
(450 responses) and least (399 responses) important aspects of their work for career pro-
gression; and (e) describe what they most wanted to spend their time at work doing (522
responses). Responses were analysed using QSR NVIVO Version 10. Themes and sub-
themes emerged through iterative readings and coding of the data, which were further
compared intra-data. The initial phase of open coding involved sorting responses line
by line into high-level categories (such as workload, research or casualisation). Categories
were reﬁned and diﬀerentiated through iterative readings over time to determine descrip-
tive themes (including lack of job security, reluctance to undertake management and
administrative roles). The researchers collaborated to ensure intercoder agreement, or
consistency within the coding of diﬀerent themes and sub-themes.
Across the ﬁve questions –career plans, ideal academic job, most and least important
aspects of work for career progression, and what ECAs want to spend time at work doing –
the challenges of time were mentioned repeatedly. Previous thematic analysis (Bosanquet
et al. 2017) revealed four distinct yet interrelated themes: the uncertainty and insecurity
of casualisation; pressures to prioritise research over teaching, administration and com-
munity engagement; the challenges of workload and work–life balance; and a love for
academic work. Further analysis illustrated a meta-theme of time and temporality
that oﬀers insights into perceptions of time pressure and experiences of academic work
Academic time and temporalities
Academic time for PhD candidates and ECAs is structured by institutions (e.g. duration of
scholarship, deadlines, expected research outputs, teaching allocation, workload models)
or negotiated with supervisors and managers (e.g. committee membership, conference
attendance, professional development, casual tutoring, curriculum development) or a
combination of both. Applying Ylijoki and Mäntylä’s four categories –scheduled time,
timeless time, contracted time and personal time –reveals a focus on scheduled time
(the accelerating pace of work) and contracted time (short-term employment). Timeless
time (immersion in work), while pleasurable, is predominantly experienced as an
absence, but often perceived as a necessary condition for research productivity. Personal
time is valued but described as interrupting or interrupted by the demands of work.
Scheduled time is the dominant focus of both PhDs and ECAs in our research. Watching
the clock or calendar is linked to acceleration or intensiﬁcation, relentless pace and an
awareness of mismatched capacity and demands.
For PhD candidates, time is carefully invested in PhD research and other activities to
buy better prospects for an academic job in the future. Time is tightly regulated to meet the
expectations of candidature: ‘A lot of supervisors really don’t want to see you doing much
except for just focusing on the [PhD] work’and ‘You have to make sure that all the time
that you’re allocating is quality time.’One participant states:
It frustrates me very much because I don’t have the time. It’s been over a year since I’ve been
to a conference, which I think is pretty dire. I should have a chapter that’s ready. I should
have something published. I should be going to conferences and meeting people but I just
don’t feel like I have the time to do it. I do feel like it’s rushed to try and ﬁnish in three
years. I wish I had more time for the other stuﬀ.
Increasingly for PhD candidates, the driving force of scheduled time is marked by publi-
cations: ‘So what gets drilled into me by academics is that “publish or perish”and you hear
it everywhere: you need to go talk, you need to write, blah, blah.’
The perception of lacking time, or experiencing only scheduled time, leads to feeling
rushed and unsettled: ‘Just do it, do it, because time is ticking’and ‘I want to be constantly
ahead of everything.’Being behind, or ﬁnding the length of candidature insuﬃcient, is a
common sentiment, associated with feelings of guilt:
I’m at the end of my third year—and I already feel quite set back and I think I would have
liked to not have gone much longer than three and a half years but I’ll think I’ll go for at least
four. And I just can’t see that I’d be able to take on […] teaching at this stage.
Another candidate was positive about time spent teaching, with some hesitation (‘it’s bad
I feel like my teaching is also an incredibly important part of my academic development …
I’m only allowed to teach maximum ten hours a week because of the scholarship. And it’s bad
to say, but it’s probably the favourite part of the PhD.
In their scheduled time, ECAs struggle with competing priorities: ‘Dividing time between
teaching/ research/ service leads to a very split focus. And frankly it’s very dissatisfying.’
If I’m teaching then I’d like to be able to devote all my time to it. If it’s research then having
the time to do it well and with all my focus is the most rewarding. The schizophrenic split of
time and the negotiation of administration is what I have to minimise.
ECAs believe time spent teaching as requiring careful management so ‘that it becomes less
all-consuming (in time commitments to developing lectures and course content), and
therefore becomes an enjoyable co-occupation alongside my research activities.’
Another concurs: ‘Staﬃng levels at the moment are such that I never seem to have
enough time to actually work on my research.’Course administration was described as
something that ‘SUCKS the life out of academics and their time. There is no recognition
of this important part of the job.’
There is a sense that being early career means teaching takeslonger: ‘I have a Teaching
and Research position. As an early career academic however, most of my time is spent in
teaching (70–80%).’Participants ‘borrow’this time from their research workload
[Teaching] means lots of stress and unpaid work, which means my [research] is neglected. I
may be in the ironic position of being kicked out because I couldn’t devote enough time to my
own research because of the hours it takes (largely unpaid) to teach undergraduates. It’sa
vicious, unrewarding cycle.
ECAs perceive that time spent teaching limits opportunities for research: ‘In the short
term I aim to stabilise the amount of time invested into teaching so that I can focus
more on my research.’Another says: ‘I am too busy …immediate demands [of teaching]
make progressing research diﬃcult.’Underpinning this anxiety is the recognition of the
TEACHING IN HIGHER EDUCATION 741
value attached to research productivity. Almost three quarters of participants (385 or 74%)
see research as the most important aspect for career progression:
[My goal is] getting high quality publications in high impact factor journals. The problem is
that this takes a lot of time and has been a very slow process since my PhD three years ago.
Only now have I published my third paper in a journal. I think that young scientists who have
completed their PhDs need to be given more time to ‘prove themselves’and more job
Contracted time refers to short-term employment with limited future prospects. This is
keenly felt by ECAs, but PhDs also feel challenged to maintain employability and
manage precarious work, and share concerns about the future. PhD students recognise
pressures experienced by academic colleagues, which in turn shapes their career planning
and academic aspirations.
PhDs consider their candidature as contracted time: ‘I just think of it like a [9-5] job. I
turn up at the place, I do some work.’Another says: ‘The whole thing is you’re working
towards this deadline, and generally that deadline is “when’s my money going to run
out”as opposed to necessarily when my thesis is done.’
Of the 522 survey respondents who self-deﬁne as early career, 294 or 56% indicated
they have casual or contract appointments. Of these 62% have completed a PhD and
are job hunting for secure academic work:
I hope to ﬁnd a permanent position that allows me to do more research and writing, which is
where my prime interest is. At the moment I am a casual lecturer which takes all my time and
is ﬁnancially a catastrophe. I have many ideas for articles, presentations and organising a con-
ference but no time to pursue these goals.
Timeless time, or transcending time through immersion in work (usually research for our
participants) is predominantly experienced as an absence. For example, as one PhD can-
didate puts it: ‘I have no time for the pleasure of research.’Or, as an ECA wistfully com-
ments: ‘A few years in Italy immersed in my area of research would be good.’
PhD candidates express a desire for timeless time in which they can deeply engage with
research ideas. Participants lament the lack of time for thinking, experimenting and
writing creatively. One participant resents the little time available to explore and exper-
iment with research methods and tools for analysis, and limited opportunities to
connect with people socially and professionally without watching the clock. In a sentiment
that also applied to teaching: ‘One thing I really don’t like about the system here is that
there is no time to fail at all, and I really feel like failing is a huge part of everything
that you do.’Candidates complain about paperwork, bureaucracy, politics, and permission
seeking as interrupting immersion in research. For others, timeless time is interpreted as
pleasure in research, contributing to an identity as an academic:
When you don’t feel sick while you’re studying that means you are loving your studies and
there are very few people who actually like studying. Those who do, they are researchers, and
that is the simplest way of explaining for me. So I’m actually liking it. And that’s when
I feel like oh my god, I am turning into one of those nerds, but I like it, it’s amazing, it is
ECAs less commonly describe the pleasures of immersing themselves in work, other than
an unfulﬁlled wish for more research time: ‘If given the choice, I would prefer to concen-
trate on research and writing’and ‘[In my ideal job] I could have time to …focus on my
research, have enough funding to hire postdocs and RA to conduct part of my research
and help with minor lab issues.’The implication in the latter comment is that much
current time is spent managing ‘minor lab issues’or administrative work.
For Ylijoki and Mäntylä, personal time refers to one’s temporality and the role of work in
it. This recognises that time pressure diﬀerentiates based on individual, cultural and pol-
itical moderators (gender, age, employment and caring responsibilities being obvious
PhD candidates in this study ﬁt their research into the cracks of work and personal
lives: ‘I work everywhere and at any time.’Part-time students juggle PhD, paid work
and/or caring responsibilities: ‘You have to work around everything else, and let’s face
it, if a crisis happens at home, like something happens to your daughter or your
partner or something, well the PhD has to move aside.’Another says:
I get up early in the morning and do a couple of hours work before my daughter gets up, and
if she’s asleep that’s sort of when I work on the weekends, so it’s just ﬁtting it in, you know,
little bits and pieces unfortunately.
ECAs caring for children comprise 36% of survey respondents. They express hope for the
future: ‘I hope to achieve [career progression] while maintaining a sense of work-life
balance. This has become more pertinent since the birth of my daughter (currently 1
year old).’For at least one participant, the expectations of teaching and the contamination
of work and personal time prompted them to leave academia:
I have just resigned from my current academic position as the University / School has not
given me the opportunity for early career research. My teaching load has been too high. I
have also had diﬃculty negotiating a part-time appointment to allow me to juggle work
with my family life (two small children).
Others reveal a love for academic work, while expressing their desire for manageable
[I would like a] job in which it is genuinely possible to ﬁnd a balance between teaching and
research, and that doesn’t mean I have to take work home ALL the time. I am in this business
because I love teaching and I love to research—but I want to be able to do both well (which is
hard given workloads) …It’s also important to me that my time at home is time with the
kids, not time spent marking essays, or preparing classes in a panic etc.
This is a recurring image when imagining the future:
[My] ideal job would be to teach and do research in a pleasant, collegial and intellectually
stimulating atmosphere, where there was a reasonable workload and I didn’t feel the pressure
to give up family time evenings and on weekends to get work done.
TEACHING IN HIGHER EDUCATION 743
Ylijoki and Mäntylä’s(2003) framework of conﬂicting categories of academic time proved
insuﬃcient for our analysis. Applying scheduled time, timeless time, contracted time and
personal time to our participants remained tied to a notion of a ‘pure’presence that is dis-
rupted when read alongside Derrida’s critique of Western understandings of linear time.
Deferred time includes aspects of all of these categories, but is marked by waiting which
contaminates the experience of time in the present.
A deferred sense of time can be literal: ‘My PhD is submitted and I am waiting for
reviewers’comments.’PhDs in our study are anxious about the ‘ticking clock’and
highly focussed on the thesis deadline (scheduled time), but are simultaneously deeply
concerned about future work, a feature of contracted time, and feel pressured to ﬁt in pro-
fessional and scholarly activities to make themselves employable. The contradictions are
expressed as a deferred experience of time:
I saw PhD students, who are sacriﬁcing their [industry] jobs because they have committed to
this unproductive journey. They’re deﬁnitely losing money, they’re losing prospects in their
earlier job, so after they ﬁnish the PhD they have to start a new thing.
In this quote, completing a PhD (‘this unproductive journey’) becomes an act of deferral
between the ‘earlier job’and the ‘new thing’which may not be an academic position. ECAs
are similarly anxious about the ‘new things’they are doing, with time fragmented by teach-
ing, administration and research. This is compounded by uncertain work, where deferred
time is experienced in the hope for future career prospects:
In the immediate future, I am trying to secure a permanent position and/or postdoctoral pos-
ition. In the longer term, I am hoping to remain in academia …I am not ruling out a career
outside academia. The longer it takes for me to secure an academic position, the more I will
explore other options (though this is diﬃcult).
Quite frankly it is impossible to make [career] plans …I have become some kind of Universal
Academic that can be called in at short notice to teach: Mathematics, Statistics, Finance,
Business, Marketing, Engineering, Media Studies, and lately even Music Theory. This situ-
ation is clearly absurd, and I know I am not alone.
The aﬀective language used by participants on the job market makes the anxiety of deferred
time palpable: miserable, embittered, suﬀering, isolated, frustrated, worn out, stressed, and
dissatisﬁed. As one ECA put it: ‘The big question is how long one manages to “hang in”
before giving up.’Others expand on this experience and the option of leaving academia:
My greatest desire at this point is to secure permanent employment and no longer be on ‘6
month’or 1 year’contracts (as I have been for the last two and half years). The instability of
my current situation is quite stressful (I have no idea if I’ll still have a job in 6 months) and
doesn’t allow me, or my family, to make any plans into the future.
I would like to get an ongoing teaching and research position in a university …I recognise that I
am likely to work in a number of casual and short-term contract positions before that becomes a
reality (if ever). As I have a family tosupport, I am aware that I might have to face the possibility
of abandoning my plans and take work in another area or even a diﬀerent sector.
Another said: ‘I would like to continue as a research-only academic and should be able
to continue to do so for the short-term future. However, it is an unstable career path.’And,
in a telling response on experiencing teaching as deferred time that would be better spent
on research: ‘Teaching takes up a lot of time which won’t lead to anything.’
PhD candidates are focussed on completing ‘on time’while doing more than thesis work,
including casual teaching with an eye to academic employment in a competitive market.
Tracking and measuring time spent against the completion date is common, and activities
outside PhD research are measured against beneﬁt (for future careers) and cost in time
‘lost’. Time is divided into tasks, e.g. ethics application, formal proposal, submission of
drafts to supervisors, scholarship payment. etc., and other academic practices, e.g. teach-
ing, supervising Honours students etc. In a casualised job market, a PhD is perceived as
insuﬃcient, and developing a professional identity is uncertain. The ﬁndings reveal
anxiety in balancing immediate PhD requirements with the need to gain skills, experience
and networks as aspiring academics (Mantai 2019). Students sacriﬁce time, money and
wellbeing to make themselves more employable. Doctoral candidates who avoid time con-
tamination and achieve timeless time do so because they actively, although not happily or
willingly, say no to activities that may disrupt PhD progress, including teaching.
For ECAs, feelings of uncertainty and risk persist. ECAs experience time pressure in the
fragmented nature of their work, as they focus on the immediate demands of the teaching
and administration, but recognise the value of research for career progression. Scheduled
time is experienced as controlled by others. There is a palpable sense of struggling with the
diﬀerent responsibilities and the immediate demands of teaching. Being new to teaching,
and convening units in particular, intensiﬁes time pressure. Those who have successfully
attained teaching and research positions, or post-doctoral research positions, are often on
contracts, and daunted by future work prospects.
A signiﬁcant diﬀerence between ECAs and PhDs is the experience and perceived avail-
ability of timeless time. While PhD candidates report achieving some timeless time, ECAs
collectively state they do not. This may be because, for our participants, timeless time is
associated with research rather than teaching. ECAs recognise immersion in research or
timeless time as crucial for academic career progression, but defer it to meet the immediate
demands of teaching and administration.
Our participants strongly echo critiques of accelerated work, a cost–beneﬁt approach to
work, and an individualistic culture in the academy that favours productivity above all
(Trevitt and Perera 2009; Müller 2014). Both PhDs and ECAs share the precarious
environment of higher education (Ryan-Flood and Gill 2013; Burford 2015) and the press-
ures of focussing on performance, rankings, measures (De Rond and Miller 2005; Müller
2014; Burford 2015). Time pressure is keenly felt by casual teaching staﬀ(also known as
adjuncts, contingent, non-tenure track and sessionals), whose numbers are dominated by
PhD candidates and post-doctoral academics. The proliferation of terminology to describe
this position is illustrative, including the ‘frustrated career’(Gottschalk and McEachern
2010), the ‘post-doctoral treadmill’(Edwards, Bexley, and Richardson 2011) and ‘aca-
demic aspirants’(May et al. 2011). Casuals are frequently hired at short notice or after
teaching sessions commence (Junor 2004; Lazarsfeld-Jensen and Morgan 2009); take on
more than one job at a time (Standing 2011); and spend more time on the job than is
covered in their pay (Junor 2004;Percy and Beaumont 2008). Meetings, attendance at
TEACHING IN HIGHER EDUCATION 745
lectures, time for preparation, consultation and marking are often excluded from contracts
(Percy and Beaumont 2008).
The contention underpinning our research is that time in the university is experienced
in speciﬁc ways that constitute what it means to be or become an academic and to do aca-
demic work. Thwaites and Pressland (2017) write in the introduction to Being an Early
Career Feminist Academic:‘The neoliberalisation of academia demands a particular
kind of academic subject and particular temporality: self-motivated, enterprising,
highly-productive, competitive, always-available, and able to withstand precarity’(24).
As Shahjahan (2015) puts it:
Amid deadlines, fear of survival, and accountability measures, time becomes an important
tool for perpetuating neoliberal subjectivity. As hyperextensions of colonial time, neoliberal
logics operate to measure, splice, and commodify time in ways that [are] aﬀectively experi-
enced by individuals navigating the academy. (491)
Shahjahan (2015) describes the neoliberal colonisation of time and its impact on bodies
and identities. At its most extreme, academics ‘enact certain postures, language, and ges-
tures that increasingly manifest neoliberal subjectivity’; their bodies become ‘mobile
devices’for conducting neoliberal work (Shahjahan 2015, 493–494). Menzies and
Newson (2007) use the phrases ‘time compression’and ‘temporal alienation’to describe
this loss of presence with oneself and others. In this way, time pressure can be seen as a
threat to academic identity (Archer 2008).
In our analysis, deferred time emerges as a speciﬁc temporality. As a future-focussed
realm of possibility, it constructs an imagined sense of academic identity and work. The
unsettled academic identities experienced by PhDs and ECAs might be perceived as
freeing academic work from romantic ideals, unrealistic hopes and a nostalgia for a
better era that never really existed. The experience of academia in deferred timescapes,
however, heightens anxiety and pushes PhDs and ECAs out of academia.
In this paper, we analysed data from interviews and open-ended survey questions with
PhDs and ECAs using Ylijoki and Mäntylä’s(2003) categories of academic time –sched-
uled, timeless, contracted and personal –to understand the experiences of emerging aca-
demics in the neoliberal university. Expanding this framework to include Derrida’s
conception of deferred time enabled us to explore the anxiety described by PhD candidates
and ECAs, particularly as casual or sessional teaching staﬀ. As political subjects of the neo-
liberal university, whose temporality is externally driven, they are in a deferred state of
waiting for the ‘messianic promise’of secure academic careers and balanced working con-
ditions. PhD candidates imagine the completion of their thesis will bring waiting to an
end, but ECAs continue to experience short-term employment and worry about future
In arguing that PhD and ECA experience of time is political, our intention is to high-
light the systemic factors impacting individual perceptions of work in the academy. The
dominant aﬀect of deferred time, which contaminates the experience of scheduled, con-
tracted, timeless and personal time, is anxiety. Participants are in a deferred state of
waiting for academic careers and working conditions that are yet to come, but are
hoping for a better future. Like our participants who express their love for research and
teaching, we are hopeful. It is clear our PhD candidate and early career participants are
active agents in managing the temporalities of academic work, defending their personal
time and planning potential futures within and beyond the academe.
For close reading and constructive feedback that shaped the development of this article, thanks to
the School of Education writing group at Macquarie University: Mary Ryan, Liz Pellicano, Ruth
French, Janet Dutton and Kim Wilson. The authors gratefully acknowledge Jason Lodge and
Kelly Matthews who permitted the use of ECA survey data for this comparative analysis. Thanks
also to Alana Mailey, who undertook initial line by line coding for the ECA data.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author(s).
Agnes Bosanquet http://orcid.org/0000-0003-2563-6120
Lilia Mantai http://orcid.org/0000-0002-4603-3831
Vanessa Fredericks http://orcid.org/0000-0002-2741-5017
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