Prekarität und Widerstand: eine kleine Dokumentation

Bild: flickr -Giulia Forsythe

Alltag im akademischen Betrieb. Drei Wissenschaftler einer renommierten US-amerikanischen Universität wollen ein Forschungsprojekt zur Europawahl durchführen. Dafür brauchen sie Arbeitskräfte, die für sie Befragungen in Berlin durchführen. Was tun? Sie schicken eine Ausschreibung über eine bekannte Mailingliste für SozialwissenschaftlerInnen – Versehen mit freundlichen Aufforderung an potentielle Interessent*innen, die Befragungen umsonst durchzuführen und die dafür nötigen Transport- und Arbeitsmittel gleich auch noch mitzubringen.

 

Hello,

My co-authors X, Y, and I (University of ABC) are currently working on a field experiment that we are implementing during the European Parliament elections this May in Berlin. We are providing a randomized sample of households with information about invalid voting and measure its impact on voting behavior. We are seeking about 15 research assistants in Berlin who help with the following time-sensitive tasks (both require traveling within Berlin):

1. Visit sampled addresses in Berlin and collect the names shown at the door (from 13 – 20/21 May).
2. Conduct a short follow-up survey with households after the elections (1 to 2 days in June, dates TBA).

Compensation:
Our funding is very tight, which does not allow us to offer more than a small expense allowance. However, the non-material benefits might be much more important (and beneficial) to you if you aspire an academic/research-related career (especially if you are planning to apply for grad school abroad, e.g., in the UK or the US):

  • Acknowledgment in publications: We will acknowledge all RAs with their names in the acknowledgment section of future publications.
  • Valuable insights and hands-on research experience: Participating in someone else’s research helps improving one’s project. Also, it is a strong signal to others that one is serious about research.
  • Entry on CV: Having worked as a research assistant for a project that is co-authored by world-renowned professors looks excellent on a CV.

Requirements:

  • Time for a brief introduction meeting on 12 May + about 5 hours per day (flexible) between 13 – 20 May (+ one-two days in June.
  • Erasmus and other exchange students are more than welcome to join for the first task. The second task requires fluency in German.
  • RAs should have a „semester ticket“ as well as access to a bike/vehicle (car, scooter, …) because the addresses that need to be visited can be in the outskirts of Berlin.
  • If possible, a phone/tablet with mobile internet access.

Interested / more information needed?

Please send an email to z@abc.edu with the subject line „RA Berlin“ and a two-liner on why you are interested in joining/what you study. We do not need a cover letter or anything like that. If you have already prepared a CV, please attach it to your email. We will not conduct interviews, but CVs might be helpful if we need to make a selection (depending on how many people express interest). Everyone who reaches out will receive more information ahead of the first meeting.

Please feel free to circulate this call widely.
Thank you very much.
Best wishes,

Z.

Eine Antwort lässt nicht lange auf sich warten – von einer Person, die in die Zielgruppe fällt, und die sie über die fragliche Mailingliste verschickt hat. Es handelt sich nicht um eine Bewerbung, sondern um ein Absageschreiben an den potentiellen Arbeitgeber. Wir haben es mit Freude gelesen und dokumentieren es hiermit. (Die Namen der involvierten Personen sind Uni Kassel Unbefristet bekannt; um insbesondere die antwortende Person zu schützen, die sich gerade um Jobs bewirbt, haben wir uns für eine Anonymisierung entschieden.)

Dear Mr. X, Y and Z,

I am writing you with regards to your job application for your research project regarding the European Elections. I am an M.A. student who will finish his studies soon. I am currently in the process of applying for jobs after my graduation.

This is already the second job ad I’ve received via Email-lists this week which is just simply outrageous. I am outraged by the fact that you seem to think that „non-material benefits“ seem to be enough to motivate me to work for you or let alone make a living. I hope you know that we need to eat, pay our rent, pay our health insurance etc. somehow.

The job ad you are posting clearly shows that you do not take into account how you perpetuate academic precarity and take self-exploitation of young academics for granted. We, if there is something like a „we“, are an increasingly anxious generation as the securities of former career paths have been constantly eroded by neoliberal restructuring and economisation of education and research. Even people who are older than me suffer from the constant insecurities of temporary funding and constant search for new jobs in academia. So of course you can just throw me or others a bone and say that the exposure and experience I will gain in your research project might give me an advantage in the competitive environment of academia. Somebody will probably be eager enough to worker under the conditions that you offer. Or somebody can afford to do that, because they come from a material background that just allows them to perform unpaid labour. I am not willing nor able to do that.

Given the the tone of your job posting you seem to know what you are doing is wrong. I am not lazy or unwilling to work and I have proven that to different professors or heads of NGOs again and again. I am just not willing to stay silent and accept the fact that making it in academia just means that I have to get into self-exploitation. Self-exploitation seems to be the new normal. But this is just not acceptable. I am not thinking that you are the embodiment of the exploitative boss, you might even be nice people, but taking it for granted that somebody will work under the conditions you propose makes you a supporter of the exploitative and precarious working conditions which result in burn-out, depression, anxiety, material constraints etc.

You can make a difference, because you are in a position of power. I can only rebel. I would be very happy to see that you use your position and power by taking on the responsibility to make a first step towards a change.

I would propose that you match your available budget with the scope of your research and pay your research assistants adequately. The current hourly rate of student research assistants at public universities in Berlin is (if I am not mistaken) 12,50€ per hour.

Be it in academia or in the non-profit sector: People in position of power, i.e. the ones setting the rules of employment and setting the wages should never forget: The ends do not justify the means and the mission does not justify exploitation.

Sincerely,
JN

 

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