Saturday, April 14, 2018

Back where I started

So, we have 2018 and I'm an e-learning specialist at a university of applied sciences in Switzerland.

Last week I found my old business cards when I was looking for something else in my desk drawers. And I realized that exactly 10 years ago, I also had business cards as e-learning consultant of a university of applied sciences in Switzerland — in 2008, I was at the School of Social Work at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland (HSA FHNW), today I'm with the Bern University of Applied Sciences (BFH), at the Competence Center for Higher Ed Didactics and E-Learning. And the fun thing is: exactly 10 years after, I now have a 50% permanent position as I had then, I do similar things — although I'm not on my own as I was 10 years ago but a member of a wonderful team — , and even my salary is the same (yes, I also found old pay slips when looking for documents needed for the 2017 tax declarations).

So, what did I do in between — and was it worth it when I end up almost where I started? Let's look at the business card circle (the current card is at the top, the starting card is the one right to it and the circle goes clockwise).

The e-learning job at HSA FHNW wasn't my first one, but the first outside the University of Zurich (and I even had an e-learning job there from 2004 to 2008). After that I held various positions and did various things as senior researcher at the University of Basel, as acting professor at the University of Konstanz (I blogged about that experience and most of the posts are still quite relevant, I guess), as postdoc and scientific coordinator at the University of Stuttgart, as scientific coordinator and later as senior researcher at the Institut für Deutsche Sprache in Mannheim, as guest professor again at the University of Stuttgart, and as researcher at the University of Bern. All of those activities where related to my other live as computational linguist and writing researcher — I used e-learning activities and tools for my teaching, but I wasn't active in that area during that time.

I had left the e-learning business in 2010 for a chance to pursue my scientific career and to become a professor one day. Turns out, I didn't succeed.

Yes, I published a lot, yes I finished and defended my thesis (so at least I have a different academic title on my current business card), yes I grew an international network, yes I founded two workshop series (both of them have fallen asleep because of decreasing interest), yes I edited various proceedings (oh, and yes I know a lot about publishing and “added values” by publishers now and I do have an expletive explicit opinion about those and their work flows), yes I was what's called “an active member of the scientific community” (I founded and still run a doctoral consortium, I'm co-leader of a SIG, I was a newsletter editor), yes I was active in various scientific areas (computational morphology, writing research, document engineering, corpus linguistics), yes I taught a lot (as acting and as guest professor I did the usual German 9 hours per week (so 3 to 4 courses per term) teaching load and I taught one course per term at the other places), yes I have been acting professor, yes I reviewed for various prestigious conferences and journals — all those activities you find listed as recommended or even necessary on your way towards professorship. But I'm still not a professor.

However, I grew older.

And last year when I got the chance to “go back to e-learning” I decided to no longer actively pursue the scientific career road — my chances will not increase. I will not apply for grants any longer, I will reduce reviewing activities, I might continue publishing but will carefully chose where and how (considering issues of access and submission formats). I hopefully will continue teaching and I hopefully will get chances to do small scale research at the intersection of document engineering, linguistics, and writing research. I will not apply to scientific jobs — my list of rejected or even unanswered applications is long enough now. I'm not sure whether all of this equals “I'm leaving academia”, but time will tell.

So the question remains: was it worth it? I guess so. I got chances to do research, I taught a lot (and I didn't know that I actually enjoy teaching before!), I could present my research at various places I wouldn't have visited otherwise, and last but not least I got to know a lot of people with similar interests, some of whom I call friends today.