I was thrilled when I was offered my current job at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford. But I always knew it was something of a ticking time-bomb. Due to the way the post was funded, it would be full-time for the first eight months, and then revert to half-time (0.5 FTE, or Full Time Equivalent) for another eight months. I couldn’t afford to live on half wages. But it will be fine, I thought, I’ll just get a second part-time museum job when the time comes.
It was all fine in the end – I managed to get a second part-time job. But it wasn’t the easiest position to get into, and it continues to present a particular set of challenges. In this two-part post I will discuss my journey.
When I was looking for full-time jobs, I could be fairly free an easy about the geographic area in which these could be. I live in Surrey, but was applying for stuff all over the place: Cambridge, Birmingham, Leeds, Edinburgh. I took a job in and moved to Worcester. I nearly moved to Oxford too, but for various reasons (i.e. money) I decided to stay living in my family home and commute to work.
Now though, with a good part-time job in Oxford which I didn’t want to give up, I was anchored. Whatever second job I found, it had to be compatible with Oxford, which meant it had to be within striking distance of Surrey. While that did include London (where there are lots of in-sector jobs), it meant that most of the rest of the country was closed off to me. Essentially, the pool of jobs available to me had shrunk in proportion to my sudden lack of travel-abillity.
As I said, I could not afford to live on half-time wages. An extra day of work a week (0.2FTE) wouldn’t have made an awful lot of difference. In strictly monetary terms, an extra two-and-a-half days (0.5 FTE) would have been perfect. In practicality though, it would mean spending one day doing a half-shift at one place, and another half-shift at the other. Unless my second, hypothetical, 0.5 FTE role was in Oxford city centre, it simply would not work. The only real option left to me was to find a job that was 0.4 FTE – two days a week – and no more or no less. This was another filter to shrink the pool of potentially available jobs.
So I was looking for a 0.4 FTE role in the South East, in a notoriously competitive and over-subscribed industry. Not exactly easy. You can imagine my delight, then, when I saw a job that fitted the bill. The right number of hours, and less than thirty miles away. Further, it was in my professional area (collections), and paid comparatively well. Great, I thought. Let’s pull out all the stops and make sure that I get this friggin’ job – I needed it.
I started nailing the preparation – preparing my answers to potential questions, rehearsing in front of the mirror, and doing a lot of research on the place. In the course of this research, I discovered that this ostensibly independent museum was in fact largely funded by the Church of Scientology. That put something of a downer on my spirits, because I didn’t really want to work for a weird cult.
I prepared to withdraw my application. I had a not insubstantial row with my partner over it – she said I needed the money (which I did), I argued for the precedence of my moral objections (I can be pig-headed). In the end, I went to the interview. I had prepared a humdinger of a bastard of a devil of a question for the panel, all about financial donors and editorial control, etc., so that I might go out in a blaze of glory. Naturally, I chickened out of asking this question. I behaved myself like the very worst sort of chicken-hearted knave.
In the end, I wasn’t offered the position anyway. It saved me from making a difficult decision. I still don’t know what I would have done had I been offered it – but I’m 60/40 in favour of having refused it. That’s by the by. The facts on the ground were that I still needed a 0.4 FTE position in the South East.
Would I lie to you baby?
Months passed before another suitable vacancy appeared, but eventually one did. Good money again, and working for a prestigious institution whose mission I could really get behind. I applied, I got an interview. I attended and it seemed to go pretty well – the panel were nice, and I felt that I could answer most of their questions. Most of them.
There were some really difficult ones. Their post was permanent, so what was I intending to do when my position at Oxford came to an end? I was already travelling a lot between Surrey and Oxford, could I manage the travel from Surrey to them in London on top of that? And you know we’ll require you to go to Southampton and Cheshire from time to time too? And perhaps Essex. And Yorkshire. You okay with that, hun? What were my longer-term plans? I WANT A BOYFRIEND NOT JUST A SHAG, they seemed to be saying.
By this stage, Oxford had been making noises to me about a contract extension (still at 0.5 FTE), but I had nothing firm from them yet. When the panel asked me outright when my contract ran out, I think that’s when they went off me a bit. They knew what I was after, which was a bit of filler, and that just didn’t match with their post. I could only commit to five months, for a permanent post that had objectives stretching years into the future. I wasn’t offered the position. While I was annoyed to be back at square one, I think that the panel made the right decision in not selecting me.
Goodbye Ruby (Collections Committee) Tuesday
Another few weeks it took for another suitable job advert to appear. Just down the road too this time! I applied and then I was called to interview. No difficult questions about longer-term plans on this occasion, and by this time my extension at Oxford was a lot more concrete. I was offered the job – hooray! ACCEPT ACCEPT ACCEPT! I was now going to be Documentation Assistant at an independent charitable boarding school in West Sussex. Founded in the 1550s, they had a long and interesting history and I was dead keen to get started. Sadly, I can’t say exactly where it is because of social media policies and the fact that I do sometimes discuss inappropriately saucy things in this blog, like kissing or jazz.
Then there was the issue of how to divvy up my days between Oxford and Sussex – and it very quickly proved bothersome. The school were fairly insistent on Tuesdays and Thursdays – but Tuesday was (monthly) Collections Committee day at Oxford. I asked my Oxford line manager to ask our Director if we could move the Committee meetings (which also meant getting the agreement of our Assistant Keeper and Conservator) and I asked the school (future line manager, HR, and Trustees) if they could be a little bit less insistent on Tuesdays. The negotiations continued for weeks, with me stuck in the middle as the go-between. It got sorted eventually, but it was a lot of bother and stress that I could have done without.
I now have two jobs, and was a little more financially secure. Life still isn’t exactly easy though, as I will expand upon in the second half of this post.