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Deferred time in the neoliberal university: experiences of doctoral candidates and early career academics



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.
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Deferred time in the neoliberal university:
experiences of doctoral candidates and early
career academics
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
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Published online: 06 Jul 2020.
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Deferred time in the neoliberal university: experiences of
doctoral candidates and early career academics
Agnes Bosanquet
, 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,
Sydney, Australia
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 Mäntyläs (2003. Conicting Time
Perspectives in Academic Work.Time & Society 12 (1): 5578.
doi:10.1177/0961463X03012001364) categories of academic time:
scheduled, timeless, contracted and personal. Reading Derridas
Specters of Marx (1994) enables us to extend this framework to
include deferred time. We argue that the dominant aect of
deferred time is anxiety. As political subjects of the university,
following Derridas 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
career academics;
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 eciency, eectiveness, 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
conicting 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-dening 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 participantsexperiences of academic timescapes. Throughout this paper, we use
the terms time,temporalityand timescapesto signify the interconnected complexities
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Agnes Bosanquet, 4FW913 Faculty of Human Sciences, Macquarie Uni-
versity, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia @AgnesBosanquet
2020, VOL. 25, NO. 6, 736749
of clock and calendar time, individual experiences, and the social and institutional organ-
isation of time. We utilise Derridas conception of time and deferral as a theoretical frame-
work to explore the conditions of anxiety experienced by PhDs and ECAs, particularly as
sessional stamembers. We foreground their experiences as political subjects in the neo-
liberal university to prompt reection 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 massication (increasing par-
ticipation), marketisation (competitive funding mechanisms) and globalisation (mobility
of information, nance and people). The umbrella term neoliberalism refers to an econ-
omic ideology dependent on fee-paying international and domestic students, and
labour market exibility 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 oers 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 dier-
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 (ONeill 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 stais variously reported as 4955 h per week across dierent
countries, with university workload allocation models underestimating the real time
taken to complete tasks (Vardi 2009). In a historical analysis, Tight (2010) found a signi-
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 aective 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 academicsaccounts 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 nally, personal time to ones 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,
persisting, repeating, maintaining, preserving and remaining that produce the experi-
ence of time not passing(2). Reading Derridas conception of time and deferral enables
us to explore the temporal anxiety described by PhD candidates and ECAs, particularly
as casual or sessional teaching sta.
Derridas 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,
timein this tradition is understood and privileged as presence (Derrida 1978, 369). Der-
ridas critique disrupts linear time as xed in a pure and denable present, arguing that the
presentis always interrupted by the pastand the future(see Derrida 1982,2968).
Presence is always preceded by the trace of prior event(s) which prevents us from ever
being in a purepresent (see Derrida 1973, 68). In Specters of Marx (1994), Derrida
oers a critique of the messianic spiritof the Marxist promise, redening 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 Fukuyamas(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 oers a future-oriented
movement of messianism to redene democracy as something which is always in progress:
The democracy-to-come oers an opening of potential future(s), rather than a xed state
of being(Derrida 1994, 81). This forward-moving politics of becoming rejects nality.
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 Derridas 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 individualslived experiences and postulates that events are seen dier-
ently by people at dierent 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 reection with implications beyond these
moments. The multiplicity of rst-person accounts is purposeful, consistent with the
role of interpretivist researchers to understand, explain, and demystify social reality
through the eyes of dierent participants(Cohen et al. 2007, 19).
While initially guided by dierent research questions, as detailed below, a comparative
thematic analysis of time and temporality across these two data sets provides a focussed
account of participantsexperiences 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
Phd candidates
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-
lias PhD student cohort.
Participant recruitment took place via poster display and emails from higher degree
research sta. Open questions investigated shared and personal PhD experiences.
Group questions explored candidatesneeds 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 identied and
reviewed; and nally, 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 denition 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 ve 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
(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 rened and dierentiated 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 dierent themes and sub-themes.
Across the ve 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 worklife balance; and a love for
academic work. Further analysis illustrated a meta-theme of time and temporality
that oers insights into perceptions of time pressure and experiences of academic work
for ECAs.
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 Mäntyläs 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
Scheduled time is the dominant focus of both PhDs and ECAs in our research. Watching
the clock or calendar is linked to acceleration or intensication, 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 dont want to see you doing much
except for just focusing on the [PhD] workand You have to make sure that all the time
that youre allocating is quality time.One participant states:
It frustrates me very much because I dont have the time. Its been over a year since Ive been
to a conference, which I think is pretty dire. I should have a chapter thats ready. I should
have something published. I should be going to conferences and meeting people but I just
dont feel like I have the time to do it. I do feel like its rushed to try and nish in three
years. I wish I had more time for the other stu.
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 perishand 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 tickingand I want to be constantly
ahead of everything.Being behind, or nding the length of candidature insucient, is a
common sentiment, associated with feelings of guilt:
Im at the end of my third yearand 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 Ill think Ill go for at least
four. And I just cant see that Id be able to take on [] teaching at this stage.
Another candidate was positive about time spent teaching, with some hesitation (its bad
to say):
I feel like my teaching is also an incredibly important part of my academic development
Im only allowed to teach maximum ten hours a week because of the scholarship. And its bad
to say, but its 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 its very dissatisfying.
Another says:
If Im teaching then Id like to be able to devote all my time to it. If its 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: Stang 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 (7080%).Participants borrowthis 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 couldnt devote enough time to my
own research because of the hours it takes (largely unpaid) to teach undergraduates. Itsa
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 dicult.Underpinning this anxiety is the recognition of the
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 themselvesand more job
Contracted time
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 youre working
towards this deadline, and generally that deadline is whens my money going to run
outas opposed to necessarily when my thesis is done.
Of the 522 survey respondents who self-dene 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 nd 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 nancially a catastrophe. I have many ideas for articles, presentations and organising a con-
ference but no time to pursue these goals.
Timeless time
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 dont 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 dont feel sick while youre 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 Im actually liking it. And thats when
I feel like oh my god, I am turning into one of those nerds, but I like it, its amazing, it is
ECAs less commonly describe the pleasures of immersing themselves in work, other than
an unfullled wish for more research time: If given the choice, I would prefer to concen-
trate on research and writingand [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 issuesor administrative work.
Personal time
For Ylijoki and Mäntylä, personal time refers to ones temporality and the role of work in
it. This recognises that time pressure dierentiates based on individual, cultural and pol-
itical moderators (gender, age, employment and caring responsibilities being obvious
PhD candidates in this study t 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 lets 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 shes asleep thats sort of when I work on the weekends, so its just tting 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 diculty 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 nd a balance between teaching and
research, and that doesnt mean I have to take work home ALL the time. I am in this business
because I love teaching and I love to researchbut I want to be able to do both well (which is
hard given workloads) Its 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 didnt feel the pressure
to give up family time evenings and on weekends to get work done.
Deferred time
Ylijoki and Mäntyläs(2003) framework of conicting categories of academic time proved
insucient for our analysis. Applying scheduled time, timeless time, contracted time and
personal time to our participants remained tied to a notion of a purepresence that is dis-
rupted when read alongside Derridas 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
reviewerscomments.PhDs in our study are anxious about the ticking clockand
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 t 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 sacricing their [industry] jobs because they have committed to
this unproductive journey. Theyre denitely losing money, theyre losing prospects in their
earlier job, so after they nish 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 joband the new thingwhich may not be an academic position. ECAs
are similarly anxious about the new thingsthey 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 dicult).
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 aective language used by participants on the job market makes the anxiety of deferred
time palpable: miserable, embittered, suering, isolated, frustrated, worn out, stressed, and
dissatised. 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
monthor 1 yearcontracts (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 Ill still have a job in 6 months) and
doesnt 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 dierent 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 wont lead to anything.
Deferred futures
PhD candidates are focussed on completing on timewhile 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 benet (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
insucient, and developing a professional identity is uncertain. The ndings reveal
anxiety in balancing immediate PhD requirements with the need to gain skills, experience
and networks as aspiring academics (Mantai 2019). Students sacrice 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
dierent responsibilities and the immediate demands of teaching. Being new to teaching,
and convening units in particular, intensies 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 signicant dierence 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 costbenet 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 sta(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
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 specic 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] aectively 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
devicesfor conducting neoliberal work (Shahjahan 2015, 493494). Menzies and
Newson (2007) use the phrases time compressionand temporal alienationto 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 specic 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 Mäntyläs(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 Derridas
conception of deferred time enabled us to explore the anxiety described by PhD candidates
and ECAs, particularly as casual or sessional teaching sta. As political subjects of the neo-
liberal university, whose temporality is externally driven, they are in a deferred state of
waiting for the messianic promiseof 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 aect 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.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author(s).
Agnes Bosanquet
Lilia Mantai
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... Within universities' traditional structures, the academics' key role was to facilitate the pursuit of these goals. While this may still hold true for many institutions untethered by capitalist dependencies, educational institutions today are driven by neoliberal governmentality, characterized by privatization, corporatization, marketisation, competition, economic rationality, efficiency, productivity, profitability, excellence, entrepreneurship, individuality, and self-reliance (Bosanquet, Mantai, & Fredericks, 2020;Lynch, 2006). Neoliberalism (as a radicalized form of capitalism) is grounded on a particular political and social ideology that perpetuates a necessary condition for increasing international educational competitiveness, profit, and discipline (Apple, 2001). ...
... As a result, doctoral students experience a 'process of becoming', which is affected by the conditions of the institutional environment in which they operate (Lynch & Kuntz, 2019). Considering the conditions of the current neoliberal university, understanding how such a process challenges and shapes emerging academic identities becomes vital (Bosanquet et al., 2020). ...
... From a different angle, Bosanquet et al. (2020) point out that Ph.D. candidates increasingly function within a logic of measuring time spent against benefits for future careers, while also tracking time against completion dates. Time spent outside what is counted as 'academic metrics of recognition' is considered as 'wasted'. ...
Situated within the emerging social science literature contesting the diffusion of neoliberal ideologies into academia, this study explores the effects of neoliberalism (in the face of Covid-19 as well) on doctoral students. It employs a qualitative arts-based approach amalgamating aspects of autoethnography, ethnography, ethnodrama, and qualitative interviews to co-construct empirical material on Ph.D. students' experiences and emotions. In general, the discussions with the doctoral students portray a rather hostile tourism academy, characterized by unhealthy levels of competition, questionable supervisory practices, and quantitative measurements of output that discourage intellectual engagement and creativity. As such, tourism doctoral students often experience negative emotional experiences, such as fear and anxiety, which in some instances also lead to high levels of stress and depression. Overall, this work contributes to our understanding of the effects of neoliberalism on tourism academia by unveiling the multiple power structures tourism doctoral students have to face throughout their Ph.D. journeys.
... Discourses of academic work, including the ubiquitous 'publish or perish' , are underpinned by competition and highlight the use of specific metrics of career success. Despite awareness of current academic employment prospects, some studies report PhD candidates and ECRs (of all ages) feeling confident about the job market if they have established a publishing track record (Bosanquet, Mantai, and Fredericks 2020;Dufty-Jones 2017). This regime of truth, described as the 'cruel optimism' of academia, leads precarious academics to maintain hope for meritocratic employment while pursuing an insecure future (McKenzie 2018). ...
... Research suggests the longer one spends in precarity following doctoral completion, the more difficult it becomes to find secure employment (Bosanquet, Mantai, and Fredericks 2020;Wolfinger, Mason, and Goulden 2009). Even in the small sample of participants in this project, we came across a wide range of academics in terms of their life-course. ...
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Despite the diversity of entry points into academia, little research exists examining the experiences and impact of precarious employment at different life stages. Drawing on interviews with 19 academics employed casually or on fixed-term contracts in Australian universities, this paper illustrates how precarious employment is experienced at different life and career stages. Using Foucauldian understandings of power and discourse alongside a life-course sociological approach, we explore how parenthood, relationships and life decisions are shaped by precarious employment in the academy. Discourses around academic ‘pipelines’ and ‘early careers’ obscure the experiences of those entering academia as a second-career; and those in long-term precarious employment. These employment structures have deep personal, professional and financial impacts. By identifying the intersection between precarious employment and life stages, we argue that an understanding of the effects of precarious employment requires further, urgent attention to support the diverse needs of academics.
... (for example, O'Neill 2014;Bosanquet et al. 2020;Harrison-Greaves 2016;Lasczik Cutcher and Irwin 2017;Collett et al. 2018).Mountz et al. (2015) make the case for slow scholarship together with a feminist ethics of care to challenge the neoliberal university: 'Good scholarship requires time: time to think, write, read, research, analyze, edit, and collaborate. High quality instruction and service also require time: time to engage, innovate, experiment, organize, evaluate, and inspire' (p. ...
... Indeed, it was the explicit role of the ECRs involved in the 2019 phase of the initiative to provide a unique perspective as future leaders of doctoral education. As ECRs we are primed to be constantly thinking about, worrying about, imagining and hoping for the future (Bosanquet et al., 2020). We look forward to the time when we can finally submit our dissertation, we wonder if we can actually make it to the end, and beyond that we worry about whether or not we can gain secure and satisfying employment. ...
... First, we unravel how and to what extent the neoliberal academic environment reduces criteria for meaningful experience and how this condition can impact doctoral students' experiences, mental health, and career achievement. We introduce a literature review on the effects of neoliberal managerial practices in academia on doctoral students (Bosanquet et al., 2020;Jensen, 2018;Herschberg et al., 2018). Second, we present the methodology and describe the results of our investigation on how a sense of void and emptiness, i.e., meaningless work, impairs doctoral students' mental health and raises their intention to quit the PhD. ...
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Although scholars have noted the detrimental nature of the various changes in higher education prompted by neoliberalism, its impact on the experiences of international Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students has yet to be adequately studied. Informed by Bourdieu’s concepts of doxa, field, habitus, and capital, this paper examines the ways in which neoliberalism as doxa in the Australian higher education field has colonised the perception and practice of Chinese international HDR students whilst some students were able to demonstrate resilience to the pervasive neoliberal practices. The paper draws on a larger qualitative research project including interviews with 18 Chinese HDR students from four Australian universities. Data suggest that Chinese HDR research students gradually developed intensified dispositions of self-reliance and self-exploitation in response to neoliberal academic practices whilst others were enculturated into a floating habitus (or vulnerable position) in relation to academic publishing as they attempted to negotiate the tensions across fields and over time. Data further reveal that some participants demonstrated resilience to neoliberalism when empowered by their supervisors with less utilitarian and more critically reflexive supervisory practices. The paper argues that the embrace of neoliberalism in the Australian higher education field has become widespread yet controversial, and that thinking and enacting resilience sociologically may de-neoliberalise the higher education field in Australia and beyond.
... Though these are financial examples, you can imagine all the ways that people try to stay employed in academia and protect themselves despite the challenging nature of our work. As an early career academic on a fixed-term contract, my precarious position impacts my wellbeing, what I choose to research, and even how I spend my time (Bosanquet et al., 2020;McKenzie, 2021). Later, I will unpack my survival strategies and how they impact my career in the visual-textual narrative provided in this chapter. ...
The complex role of academic language and learning (ALL) professionals in higher education is poorly understood, even though it contributes to key outcomes such as improved study skills, academic language enhancement, curriculum development and student retention. In this paper, we explore the multiple professional identities of people working in this field. Ten ALL practitioners employed in Australian universities took part in semi-structured interviews exploring their roles and the contextual constraints and affordances of their work. We elaborate on eight discrete subject positions that emerged from the participants’ data: the collaborator, the relationship manager, the applied linguist, the teacher, the content (non) expert, the academic, the strategist, and the expense. We draw on a critical realist frame to articulate the interplay between structure and individual agency within these identities, highlighting the range of expertise that ALL practitioners bring to the role.
This study aims to provide a complex account of a PhD candidate’s reflexive doctoral engagement process emergent from the changing doctoral environment vis-à-vis the neoliberal higher education context. Drawing on a critical realist theory of reflexivity, it analyzed narrative interview data collected with the participant over an 18-month period. The analytical focus was on how the student’s reflexivity mediated her exertion of agency within the structural affordances and constraints of her doctoral education to ultimately give shape to a unique doctoral trajectory. Findings revealed that the participant practiced distinct patterns of reflexive deliberations in three disparate but interweaving areas of her doctoral life: research progression, community belonging, and career construction. Notably, analysis highlighted the contingent and fluid characteristics of the reflexivity phenomenon and its context-dependent effects in the complexity of doctoral study. The study argues that a sociological view of reflexivity offers a novel means to understand the nuanced ways of agency-structure interplay pervading experiences of contemporary candidature.
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It is commonly believed that the doctorate prepares students for academic careers. While there is wide ranging literature about the development of doctoral students as researchers, preparation for the other aspects of academic careers, e.g. teaching, is mostly absent from the discussion. This qualitative longitudinal study investigated the shift from doctoral identities to academic identities using narrative inquiry. It examined the narratives of 15 doctoral students from two large Australian universities, who were approaching thesis submission and who aspired to academic employment. Two contrasting stories illuminated in-depth accounts of how academic identities were developed and experienced. Students defined their identities and assessed their academic development in relation to their perceived ‘market value’ in academia. To increase their employability, they engaged in university teaching and focused on strategic networking. Students regarded researcher development as the main focus of the doctorate as being insufficient for an academic career. This paper argues that doctoral education needs to facilitate student agency, encourage synergies between teaching and research, and support non-academic work experiences to strengthen researcher identity development.
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The world is rapidly becoming more educated at higher education level. In nearly all countries with per capita GDP of more than about $5,000 per annum there is a longterm tendency to growth of participation. The worldwide Gross Tertiary Enrollment Ratio (GTER) increased from 10% in 1972 to 32% in 2012, and is now rising by 1% a year. By 2012 the GTER had reached 50% in 54 national systems, compared to 5 systems twenty years before, and there were 14 countries with a GTER of 75% or more. The tendency to high participation systems (HPS) is common to countries that vary widely in rates of economic growth, education system structures, and financing arrangements, but share the tendency to urbanization. Possible causes include state policies, economic development, aspirations for social position, credentialism, global factors, and combinations of these. The paper describes the tendency to HPS, explores the possible explanations, and begins to reflect on the implications; on the way reviewing prior discussions of growth in participation including Trow (1974), Schofer and Meyer (2005), and Baker (2011). It closes with suggestions for further investigation.
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In the wake of contemporary new public management, the temporalities of academic work have undergone significant transformations. One key feature of these changes is a perceived acceleration of working pace. While this phenomenon is widely acknowledged in scholarship about the transforming universities, to date there are only few studies investigating its empirical details. Building on qualitative interviews with 38 postdoctoral life scientists in Austria, this article investigates how these researchers experience the temporalities of their work and career practices. Postdocs are particularly susceptible to the changing demands of academic work life, as they mostly inhabit fragile institutional positions while they aspire to establish themselves in academia. The experience of being in a highly competitive race that requires a continuously accelerating working pace as well as a strong focus on individual achievement is central to their narratives about working for a career in academia. Drawing on recent scholarship on anticipation (ADAMS, MURPHY & CLARKE, 2009), acceleration (ROSA, 2003) and the entrepreneurial self (BRÖCKLING, 2007), I develop the concepts of anticipatory acceleration and latent individualization to analytically capture postdocs' experiences of temporalities in the context of their work and career practices. In conclusion I discuss the possible impacts of these particular temporal orientations for the contents and formats of academic knowledge production and ask in how far concepts and movements such as "slow science" help to address effects and problems of these specific forms of acceleration and anticipation. URN:
In the twenty-first century, the politics of higher education in Australia and around the globe have become dominated by neoliberal agendas of efficiency, profitability and managerialism. This has fundamentally altered the ‘timescapes’ of higher education. In the case of doctoral education, doctoral candidates and supervisors are subjected to increasing time pressures and required to produce a wide variety of outcomes in very short timeframes. These managerial agendas of efficiency and speed impact upon all doctoral candidates and supervisors but present particular practical and epistemic difficulties for Indigenous, migrant, refugee and international students. In this article, I illustrate how fast doctoral timescapes encourage assimilationist pedagogies that have been shown to be especially detrimental for Indigenous, migrant, refugee and international doctoral candidates. Drawing upon a complex array of theoretical resources that investigate Lefebvre’s rhythm analysis and other authors’ notions of epistemic time and the ethics of time, this article argues for a reconceptualization of doctoral timescapes in order to promote a politics of temporal equity in doctoral education. This especially involves making space for epistemic, lived and eternal temporal rhythms in doctoral education policy and practice.
This thematic section emerged from two seminars that took place at Durham University in England in November 2013 and March 2014 on the possibilities for thinking through what a change movement towards slow might mean for the University. Slow movements have emerged in relation to a number of topics: Slow food, Citta slow and more recently, slow science. What motivated us in the seminars was to explore how far these movements could help us address the acceleration and intensification of work within our own and other universities, and indeed, what new learning, research, philosophies, practices, structures and governance might emerge. This editorial introduction presents the concept of the "slow university" and introduces our critical engagements with slow. The articles presented here interrogate the potentialities, challenges, problems and pitfalls of the slow university in an era of corporate culture and management rationality.
‘Early career’ in academia is typically defined in terms of research capability in the five years following PhD completion, with career progression from post-doctoral appointment to tenure, promotion and beyond. This ideal path assumes steady employment and continuous research development. With academic work increasingly casualised, experiences of ‘early career’ are changing and definitions in use by institutions and research bodies do not reflect the lived experiences of early career academics (ECAs). This paper presents five collective narratives and a thematic analysis of survey data from 522 ECAs in three Australian universities. The results offer insights into the diverse experiences of the early stages of academic careers and provide an opportunity to reconsider current definitions. We argue that the employment context in higher education makes it crucial to consider scholars’ self-definitions alongside existing objective indicators to redefine early career in academia.