Shane Faherty, from academia/humanities blog Modern Distortions, discussing the disappointments of pursuing a Ph.D., the attitudes towards Ph.Ds in the post-austerity jobs market, and the inevitable trudge through call centres.

“When, at the age of 30, I started a Ph.D. in history in University College Cork I was pursuing a passion. Nobody does a Ph.D. in humanities for monetary gain, however, I did think that my employment prospects would be improved somewhat.

Little did I think that upon completion, four and a half years later, I would be facing into a year and a half of unemployment, underemployment and precarious employment where on two separate occasions I would find myself working in call centres.

The week I submitted my doctoral thesis in April 2015 my wife and I discovered we were expecting our first baby. The following week I was in the dole office. I didn’t expect to be there.

This should have been the most exciting time of my life. However, the multiplicity of feelings I was experiencing were underpinned by exhaustion and uncertainty. When I tried explaining why I was there tears welled up. The lady behind the counter told me to take my time. I told her I hoped this would only be temporary arrangement.

I applied for jobs. All sorts of jobs. I wasn’t expecting to get an academic position overnight but I thought I would get something that was halfway decent. I spent hours on some applications, days on others.

I didn’t even get an interview for any teaching or research positions but what was more surprising was my lack of success in applying for other work which I was more than capable of doing. It seemed the private sector weren’t falling over themselves to hire historians.

I got some occasional hours invigilating exams and doing instructional design work in UCC but nothing that lasted more than a few weeks. I graduated at the end of October, my family came down and it was a nice day, but underlying everything was a sense of anxiety. I still didn’t know how we were going to manage.

With our baby due in December I needed any kind of work fast. I applied for a temporary customer service role with Amazon in their Cork contact centre. This centre serves the UK marketplace. Seasonal work in Amazon is sort of an institution for a certain demographic in Cork.

My team were a mixed bunch and mostly overqualified. There was one other person with a doctorate but also a medical doctor, a computer programmer, a poet, a musician, a sports therapist and a variety of other people who really shouldn’t have been there.

They were a good bunch. Science fiction was openly discussed and critiques of consumerism were part of the daily routine…”

More here: Confessions of a Call Centre Academic by Shane Faherty

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63 thoughts on “The Precariat

  1. Daisy Chainsaw

    “a variety of other people who really shouldn’t have been there.”

    So who should have been there? The underqualified underclass who don’t have a PhD or even a Degree, perchance? They’re probably out doing other jobs and not being such a snob about it.

    1. Anomanomanom

      My thoughts exactly. Im sick of these whimpering little sob story’s. Yes you worked hard a PhD, in something that was just done because you like it, but maybe have common sense and study something that has practical use. Now honestly I do have respect for people who work hard towards a PhD but far to many people have a PhD in complete nonsense

      1. Dr. Cop On

        hmmmmm My PhD in Biochemistry and Developmental Biology got me a great job that I secured 3 months before I even submitted my (soft bound) thesis (I defended it on Annual Leave Days). So maybe it’s the niche field you’ve chosen to excel in combined with your ambition to be a post-doc academic. I couldn’t figure out from your writing but have you looked academically beyond Ireland? Ireland academia is a tough door to knock down.

      2. Joe

        a qualification doesn’t guarantee you a high paying job, this chap sounds like he wants it handed to him on a platter. typical out of touch academic.

    2. Cot

      Yeah, don’t like the tone here. Doing a PhD is a luxury, an expensive privilege. We should all have decent working conditions, PhD or not. You don’t need brains to get a PhD, you just need money.

      1. Rob_G

        “Doing a PhD is a luxury, an expensive privilege. “

        Particularly when you have a family to support; surely he could have spent the last three years doing something that would make him more employable(?)

        1. AlisonT

          I would love to know what value Shane thinks his years of Ph. D. work will bring to an employer. Lots of people have spent years on projects but can’t make a living out of it.

          1. nellyb

            Good you’re not a recruiter. But sadly, some of them are as clueless as you are about what transferable skills mean and its true value. Core competency for recruiters, by the way.

  2. dav

    This country never want’s to learn from it’s history. see how the blushirts create a property bubble like their fellow landlords in ff

    1. wearnicehats

      For the love of God, why have you put an apostrophe in “wants” and “its”?? I hope this guy’s dissertation had better grammar than 99.999999% of the people on here who like to comment. Why don’t you spend more time writing properly than trying to put “blueshirt” in every inane post you post.

    2. Rugbyfan

      dav……. that should read the world never learns from it’s history. have a read of This time it’s different by Reinhart and Rogoff.

  3. Harry Molloy

    I worked in a call centre after being made unemployed after the crash. Had two degrees.
    Was happy to have it so the gaps weren’t too great on my cv.

  4. Drogg

    Dude listen i feel for your situation but i am not going to sympathise with you. First off no one wants to hire a whiner, secondly stop looking for academic jobs they are like fupping gold dust you would want to be in the top 0.5% of your field to get one of those positions, Thirdly find a job you can integrate your skills into like research for tv shows or analytics for advertising agencies. Be adaptable, work hard and show how invaluable you are as things are soon going to be about more then just you.

  5. Rob_G

    I feel bad for the author; isn’t it terrible when you come to realisation that the world doesn’t owe you a living?

  6. bisted

    ‘…Amazon is sort of an institution for a certain demographic in Cork’…you sound like perfect material for the Soc Dems…have you considered politics? Unfortunately, we must point out, there is currently no vacancy on Broadsheet for failed politicos from Cork…

  7. Tony

    Just because you are naive and a bit moany doesn’t mean I dont have sympathy for your position. You worked hard and deserve to be able to provide for your family. Best of luck.

  8. Liz

    I’ve worked since I was 13, doing everything from babysitting to potscrubbing to door-to-door sales. I’ve mostly worked in pubs & clubs, had all the unsocial hours & sexual abuse that’s par for the course as a woman working with drunk people. All the while I studied, trying to get some qualifications that would let me escape into safe & secure employment. I started to get tutor work about 10 years ago, then research positions. As my qualifications & experience have increased, my pay has decreased. I earned far more working nights in a hotel 15 years ago than I did in learning support last year. I earned more as an SNA than I did as a university tutor. I’m earning more on a basic scholarship now than I did as a researcher.

    We are encouraged to invest in ourselves, to work hard & gain skills. Combining work & study over most of my adult life has been tough. It has cost money and time, the sacrifice of holidays and leisure. I don’t want a medal. I have no feelings of entitlement, that I’m somehow owed a job when I finish the PhD in 2 years. What I do want is a pathway. I want to know that as a result of years of effort that for the first time in my life I’ll be able to get a job that is secure and pays me enough to survive. To be able to afford the rent without fear, to save for a deposit, to fix the car when it falls apart. I don’t want a job in Amazon or in a pub or in Centra. Not because I’m too good for that work, but because I’ve been doing it for years and I’m sick of it and I want my hard work to finally pay off. I don’t look down on the people who work in those jobs. I just want something that pays better & that gives me options. Maybe I’m the eejit for swallowing the lie that if you work hard you’ll get rewarded. I’m not seeing rewards.

  9. ahjayzis

    How far and wide are you looking for an academic job?

    I mean Cork’s a very small city, one university, there can’t be much use hanging around for a position to come free in the faculty and hope they don’t hire in from another uni in another town.

    1. Spaghetti Hoop

      In academia, you have to look globally.
      Seeking work is an art in itself and the range of online postings is massive. I don’t like whingers and the expectation of a job flying in the letter box. But I do think the poster should get some training in job-seeking skills, where to look, being pro-active with potential employers, building a unique and convincing CV etc.
      Plus be patient. Nobody can live on fresh air but I’ve seen new parents become very resourceful and each of them (when there are two) working in different ways and using their skill-sets to put food on the table. Sometimes you have to park your lofty ambitions for the sake of your family……life doesn’t offer up babies and great jobs and a new house simultaneously. Babies grow up alarmingly quick and if you are working a 70hr week for top pay you may miss those special moments.

  10. Joe Small

    I have limited sympathy with the OP. As someone with a humanities PhD., its absolutely vital that you have some plan, or several plans on what you intend to do afterwards. Academic posts are few and far between but you can become embedded in an academic department while you’re doing your research if you’re good enough and persistent enough. If you’re doing a PhD as a hobby, then its best to do it part-time while you have a job but its essential not to make yourself completely unmarketable. Its not pleasant being refused jobs because you’re told you’re over-qualified but what exactly IS the OP qualified to do now?

  11. norman bates

    “underemployment “, says it all really, my father was a qualified carpenter, but spent most of his 20’s and 30’s as a laborer before the economy improved, unfortunately he didnt have the internet to cry about being under employed or how shaky his position was at times, he just had a family to support and a mortgage to pay.

          1. Nigel

            And your response was to ask why they couldn’t be like your father, who apparently endured his problems and difficulties in silence, while at the same time you seem to think that this person talking about their problem is a big enough problem for you to need to complain about it. Of the three, your father, the person above and yourself, which of you have, or had, real problems worth complaining about? And why is it better that THEY suffer in silence just because YOU don’t like to hear them talk about their problems?

          2. norman bates

            “And why is it better that THEY suffer in silence just because YOU don’t like to hear them talk about their problems?”

            You’re trying to make it sound like I’m angry at this guy for daring to complain about his current situation, but all I’m doing is pointing out that people have been stuck in his situation since time immemorial. you obviously have a hard on for me, so no matter what I say you’re just going to reply with “NO, UR MAD”, so enjoy the last word, and may god bless you.

          3. Nigel

            Norman: I just think telling people with real problems to stop complaining because you don’t like it is stupid.

          4. Nigel

            Surely you;’ll defend to the death my right to do every horrible thing i want against anyone who’d say mean things to me?

  12. Neilo

    Yes, look how well Chris O’Dowd’s weedy kid brother from another mother is getting on here at Broadsheet (but only if you can no longer afford sleeping tablets).

  13. Robert

    Sorry for your trouble pal. I can only imagine how exhausting a Phd might be, and the mighty come-down after completion. Being dragged along towards your goal for so many years and then having to start driving yourself along in an environment that’s less than encouraging. Hang in there, you’ll figure it out and when you do get rolling again the skills you developed will start to come in to play. It’s just a funk, but it’s really the domestic situation that makes it tricky. You’ve proven you’re hard working, smart and dedicated now it’s just a question of biding your time for an opportunity to come up where the employer is actually concerned about such characteristics. Surprisingly not as common as one might expect …

    1. Kieran NYC


      Best of luck to him. Hope he finds something soon.

      I know someone stuck in a similar situation and it’s very down-heartening.

  14. nellyb

    “but what was more surprising was my lack of success in applying for other work which I was more than capable of doing. It seemed the private sector weren’t falling over themselves to hire historians.”
    It applies to many professions, not just historians. Nothing to do with what you can do, but everything to do with people hiring. Private sector assumption is you’ll quickly jump the ship at the first opportunity of a better/interesting job, so they often don’t even bother with you. And they are not wrong. In fact very right.
    For the record – I was also surprised at over-qualification impasse. It made me chop and re-word my cv into most uninspiring bland document. It was a success, I had contracts through recession. Pay was utter $h&te, but it was better than a dole. Survival is an ugly business.
    Good luck with getting a job and congrats on upcoming offspring!

  15. JPH

    What is the point being made in this article? You’re blaming society/government for not giving you a well paid job? You gained no marketable skills doing the history PhD, you must have known that from the outset? So why both? If it’s a vocation, you’re to expect that you’d be scraping by post completion. Basically whinging in a public forum, looking for attention. There are people far worse off than you, people for whom any kind of third level education wasn’t an option at all. Shameful outburst.

    1. nellyb

      Point is lack of opportunities for no good reason and tremendous waste of local brains. But yourself and many in this thread chose to ignore it, preaching value of suffering instead. Leave it to the church, they have 2K years of experience.
      And I’ve never seen such severe reaction to PhD in History. What the fupp, people? Like if Shane was caught watching the bad type of porn. Cop on!

  16. The Real Jane

    I notice the only comment so far who was able to understand the point the author is making also doing a PhD.

    Also lads, can’t your no-nonsense common sense approach stretch to using apostrophes properly?

  17. Bob

    “but what was more surprising was my lack of success in applying for other work which I was more than capable of doing. It seemed the private sector weren’t falling over themselves to hire historians.”

    Companies weren’t falling all over themselves to employ someone who spent almost 5 years from 30 to 35 completing a PHD. Talk about clueless.

  18. Bleeschmn

    Why did the person who posted this leave out the criticism of Amazon and Eir call centre wording conditions for all staff, which seems to be the whole point of the linked post?

    I only have a PLC cert, but I wonder is Mike McGrath-Bryan one of those people who is worried that they’re under-educated but to scared to do anything about it and waits for opportunities to sneer at those who have the balls to take the gamble?

      1. bleeschmn

        Well if that’s the case, that’s fair enough. The additional text and the added bold text give the indication that it’s about something it’s not, and most of the responses seem to reinforce that it be interpreted incorrectly as a result. You can’t be held responsible for other people’s knee-jerk under-investigated reactions though.

        It’s unfair to assume malice on your own part in that, and I regret sniping at you, so sorry for doing that. I got the impression that you were engaging in the crab mentality, but there’s no evidence for that judgement.
        I hope the MA goes well, and wish you luck.

  19. Bleeschmn

    My other comment was rude, please delete. I just think that after reading the original, the whole point is about jobs with no rights that treat their staff like shit.
    I think it’s weird that those points were left out of this edit, and I think it’s trying to make it look like something it’s not so the usual self-styled working class heroes can feel superior.
    I did a PLC, I often fantasise about having pursued proper study, but I don’t have a chip on my shoulder and build up notional ivory tower academic strawmen to knock down. I wonder if anyone here might be doing that.

    If you want to see how crap some respected institutions treat their staff read the whole thing in the link. The point is that nobody should be treated like shit, and places that are making millions do it even though they needn’t.

    But let’s not criticise Amazon or Eir, let’s slag off someone who took a gamble, worked some shit jobs to fill the gap, and has the gall to describe in what way the jobs were shit.

    I’m actually a friend of Shane’s, and while I can’t blame anyone for thinking he’s a whinger looking for sympathy based on the dodgy editing job above, he’s not a whinger at all. The mad fucker is a glutton for punishment if anything.

  20. Shane Faherty

    I am not going to engage with any comments here. I will just say that many people who have commented would be better off reading the entire article before writing comments. The framing of the piece here, or the portion shown, does not represent it properly. Anyway, everything I need to say on the matter is in the original post. I won’t reply to comments here. I have a job to do, which you would know if you had read the blog post.

Comments are closed.

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