I would like to acknowledge and thank the many academics who have reached out to me on this subject over the past few months. Once again, I am profoundly grateful and honoured by their strength and generosity. Special thanks to Ian Mosby for permission to include his story in this piece.
Everything in academia has its season: SSHRC applications, archival research, syllabus preparation, and all the other yearly routines that come with academic life. But for those of us who work as sessional instructors, the worst season, without a doubt, is job application season. These days, applications for even sessional positions can involve countless hours of work and upwards of fifty pages of written materials, much of which has to be customized for each individual application. The sheer amount of work is mind-boggling, particularly to those of us with friends and family who are not familiar with the academic world. I was personally shocked to find out that outside of academia, a job application usually only consists of a cover letter and a one or two page resumé. Can you even imagine?
These days, the components of a job application can vary significantly between institutions but generally include: a cover letter, a detailed c.v., letters of reference from referees, sample course outlines, teaching evaluations, a teaching dossier, and custom course outlines.. The intellectual labour involved in producing these kinds of applications is a major issue. But today I want to focus specifically on the emotional labour that goes into job applications. While most of the specific examples in this essay refer to the Canadian job market generally, and the field of history specifically, the issues raised in this essay are not discipline, or country,specific.
Understanding Emotional Labour in Academia
The term “emotional labour” is a relatively new one in academia circles, but it generally refers to the effort involved in caring. It is related to, but not the same as service. This often involves things like providing a sympathetic ear to a student struggling with homesickness during office hours, the expectation that requires female professors be “nice,” settling disputes between colleagues, having to swallow down anger following an insensitive remark from a senior colleague, and much more. Female, disabled, and LGTBQ+ professors, as well as professors who are Black, Indigenous or People of Colour often bear the brunt of this labour, whether this involves handling unwelcoming and exclusionary environments and attitudes, the expectation that many of us feel to “represent” our “people,” as well as the expectation that we are supposed to be educating others. Sessional instructors also often perform a disproportionate amount of this labour. Continue reading