What’s Fit to Print

Sometimes when you have news it’s hard to know how to tell it, especially when you’ve gone quiet and stopped writing and let things pile upon things until you don’t know where to start.

But hey, I have news. I GOT A JOB.

As of tomorrow, I’ll be Program Lead & Designer for UPEI’s new Work-Integrated & Experiential Learning initiative. It’s a change leadership position, at the intersection of the digital and professional learning portfolios I’ve been working on building the last few years. So that’s cool. And it’s PEI-based, working for and with someone I’ve known and liked ridiculously much for YEARS.

(Though we head to Massachusetts for training Saturday, at the uncivilized hour of 6:30am. We’ll see how much we like each other after ten hours in a car.)

I haven’t had a formal institutional position since my last long-term contract ended in the spring. I’ve had four or five different contract jobs in the interim – some short-term, some longer, some research-focused, some teaching or strategy-focused – but no institutional ties beyond the summer course I taught. That felt weird. Precarity is weird.

Precarity is hard to talk about. And there’s not much time to talk in, if you’re lucky, because you’re busy hustling and delivering and invoicing. And waiting. (I knew about that part. I’ve been speaking/consulting for a good few years now. I hail those blessed institutions who pay people fast).

But I always had at least a part-time institutional position or a post-doc or grad student status, something that sorta legitimated me in higher ed. Low-tier ties, but still. Ties. Then I didn’t.

And so suddenly I found myself hustling twice as hard but it was the precarity that kept me quiet. I did work I loved with government and the public service for the first time this summer. But I didn’t know how to talk about it. I got involved in a couple of formal leadership training initiatives for the first time. I led workshops on social media and digital literacy and professional learning, in addition to teaching and speaking and facilitating #DigPed Vancouver. I even designed and led a province-wide participatory event called #LearnDay, as a volunteer gig.

But I didn’t blog about it. Because I didn’t know how to talk about it here.

Not just because precarity is weird but because higher ed continues to feel more like a zero sum game every day. Not all narratives or career paths are legible to those whose labour is more protected than mine has been. And when the end of your story or trajectory is not clear, it is easy for others with more power to write you off, thus limiting your capacity to continue to BE viable outside an institutional identity.

But I am beaming tonight because literally just about EVERY wild little side hustle I’ve ever taken on will inform and enhance my capacity to do this job I start tomorrow. Because it’s that kind of job. Messy. Broad. Uncertain. Exciting.

I’ll still be precarious after tomorrow. My contract is only a year. I still don’t know whether there’s scope for research capacity in the role. But I’m grateful to have the opportunity.

I am also embarrassed by my own giant sigh of relief at sliding back under the falsely protective wing of institutional identity. But there it is. Phewf.

And that’s the news, as is fit to print. It’s a start to finding a place to speak and write from again, I hope.
(It’s also an opportunity to ask if any of you have ties to Work-Integrated or Workplace Learning programs or Experiential Learning programs that I should be checking out, as my role will be to work with my team and with campus and the broader PEI workforce to develop a model. SEND ME ALL YOUR GOOD THINGS. THANKYOU.)

16 Comments What’s Fit to Print

  1. Laurie

    I’m in that precarity and have been for some time and I can’t thank you enough for helping me understand it better just now. If you receive a rambling email from me, I apologize in advance. Good luck in the new gig!

  2. Sue Beckingham

    First of all congratulations! You will be amazing and take this project to new heights.
    My colleague Prof Colin Beard has inspired me for years and has written extensively on experiential learning. His work is well worth looking at. https://colinbeardblog.wordpress.com/
    For work based learning out students return from year out work placements and write reflective portfolios, then mentor 2nd years to inspire them to apply for work placements.
    For work related learning I work with the our team called the Venture Matrix to identify clients (small businesses and charities) to create authentic projects. For example developing a digital marketing strategy. Here’s more about the VM https://www.shu.ac.uk/Study-here/Why-choose-us/Employability/Employability-is-built-into-your-course/Venture-Matrix
    Hope this is helpful! Good luck in your new role.

    1. bon

      thanks, Sue – for the congrats and the experiential education resources. lots to think about and lots of conversations to have in designing next steps for this initiative…will start with Colin Beard and may circle back to you!

  3. Stacy Dunn

    Hey Bonnie, when you are a few months into the job, The Employment Journey on PEI would be interested to do a story about this program. Best of luck with it. — Stacy

  4. Bob Gray

    Hurray! Very pleased for you and a real coup for the U. Happy experientialing! I miss interrupting your ruminating in your office for some giggling. Sending sincere hopes that you get a taller chair this time, or a shorter desk. :-)

  5. Maha Bali

    Congratulations Bonnie, and really powerful points about precarity – thank you for writing and sharing them, inasmuch as you could (it’s difficult to write about when you’re in it, and difficult to fully do that when you’re out of it, so you hit it perfectly there).

    I don’t have a program here like you are heading towards, but I remember reading about something you might find interesting called SCV (socially critical vocationalism in Higher ed curriculum).

  6. Tanya Dorey-Elias

    Congratulations Bonnie!

    So much of what you say I recognize. Precarity is awful, especially when it feels folks with more power can arbitrarily limit your future opportunities. For me, at least, that has been worse than awful.

    I’m about to start a new job outside higher education creating a workplace training team from the ground up. Our focus will be competency based (experiential and blended) learning.

    I have been lamenting the lack of connections between higher education and business. If businesses will build their own complex learning organzations and programs rather than partner with higher ed, where does that leave higher ed? Where does that leave *learners*??

    Would love to talk more soon. All the best as your start this new role. You will be amazing.

  7. Sheila MacNeill

    great news Bon, and thanks for sharing your experiences. Isn’t it weird that activities like personal blogging which are still pretty much under the institutional radar kind of need that security to exist. Looking forward to reading about your new adventures

  8. Alan Levine

    Totally Fab news, especially because it’s at PEI and that you have something that calls on your skills and interests.

    I admit I had to confirm my understanding of “precarity” by looking it up. It’s a situation that usually sounds precarious. And it often is.

    But it’s not always so negative. I’m 5 years a non-card carrying member of the precariat. The background worry of “what happens after X runs out in Z months?” never goes away. While waiting for an international check to clear I was looking at the bare bottom floor of my savings and leaning on credit cards.

    But when I walked away from my last regular paycheck, I asked 3 friends for advice you had been doing it a long time (order of 10 years). There’s a lot of practical, logistical advice. It’s not always dire. It’s not for everyone. And my experience cannot be extended much beyond me.

    I gotta say I cannot see living any other way. But I might question a wee bit that the only way to be legitimized is by association with an institution. A paycheck. I’m not clear the exact why of doing various contracts and volunteering meant you could not write about it. Maybe it twas time. By what is writing about your work there and different than writing about things you do for the place that writes a check?

    The real legitimization, IMHO, in the precariat is what you do for yourself.

    It’s not easy, it’s not for everyone, but if you can get over the hump of most worry, it’s hard to ever see going back.

    Regardless, the most important thing is your joy for a new gig. So light up the blog, eh?

  9. Gardner

    Congratulations, Bonnie. This is great news and they’re lucky to have you. Yes indeed.

    I love what you’ve said about what you didn’t say, and why. Precarity is a great description of all sorts of liminal positions, whether the boundaries are contracts, invoices, or vocational overlaps/splits/conflicts/collisions that leave one wondering what to say, and when, and to whom.

    Purely personal stuff below, not about you, but thought stimulated by your post:

    Many years ago, in the golden days of my (sometimes precarious) naivete, I just said, and didn’t think much about the saying so long as I was reasonably sure I was being kind and hospitable and non-snarky. I figured the “to whom” would be “anyone who sticks around to read my stuff.” Lately I’ve been overthinking it all, or at least I think so. The saying is important, though the hospitality is hard these days, as life during wartime (metaphorically or literally) tends to be. Yet hospitality is never more important than during wartime (literally or metaphorically).

    But now back to you: first and last, congratulations! Sounds like a great working relationship and a great fit. And I don’t think about institutional affiliation — though I do value regular paychecks! I read these words today and they resonated strongly: “organizations derive their peculiar importance from their position as mediators between social change and social structure” (Michael B. Katz, Class, Bureaucracy, and Schools: The Illusion of Educational Change in America, Praeger, 1971). All sorts of organizations out there, of course, some of them more visibly institutional than others. Still, I’m attracted to that idea of necessary mediation between necessary yet perhaps antithetical goals. Your new job looks like a greatly mediational opportunity. So again, congrats, and best of luck on this new stretch of the river! Report back!

  10. Lori

    Well Bonnie come on over and hear about some of the work we have done and are doing at Workplace Learning PEI – love to have you!

  11. Ken Bauer

    Congratulations Bonnie
    I made the decision to stay at my stable position here about 10 years ago. I was tempted to go full time into the self-employed area as I had a small business with 3 employees for a few years while doing the professor thing (actually while in grad school too).

    I decided that the stability was important to me (and my family) and that I would try (still pretty successfully) to supplement income and excitement with other activities on the side.

    Well done and I look forward to hearing more!

  12. Reid Riggle

    Congratulations Bonnie. Living with ambiguity is not easy. Hard for me to imagine how you feel l, as I have worked at the same place at generally the same job, for almost 30 years.

    I appreciate your courage and wisdom. I hope your new gig will be productive and lead you to the next turn in the road.



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