Being Jerry Maguire

For better or worse, my publication output is on hold until 2016. I have one article coming out in October this year [2015] in Thirteenth Century England XV, and a co-edited volume The Power of the Bishop in Local Society 900-1400 being sent to Brepols this autumn for consideration of the full MS, with its companion volume (of which I am also a contributor and co-editor) set to begin the same process in a couple of months. My monograph synopsis/proposal has been edited, tweaked and re-written to within an inch of its shelf-life. This is also going to be sent off this autumn and may the Pantheon of Academe have mercy. However, I still feel like I’m way behind in the publication stakes, and that’s generally because I have opted for impact and projects that will pay me, as part of my DIY career path.

I can’t afford to choose unpaid writing over paid project work. That said, I have no family/partner/dependents to support or help support, and I don’t live at home. I have my own place, a housemate who helps with the household bills and expenses, but no savings. I am beyond fortunate to have landed a permanent part-time receptionist job with Campus Services in my institution, and am working my way up within the division by virtue of working there for nearly three years now. (Yes: I am now a Casual Supervisor. Oh my, yes. I am mighty). I don’t know how many ECRs are in my position, but I’d love to hear from you and form some sort of support group!!

Here’s one thing I wish I’d been told before I started on the project stuff:

IF you’re already on the payroll of your institution, getting external funds paid to you via the School/College or other layer of Finance is RIDICULOUSLY DIFFICULTThis isn’t because anyone is being deliberately obstructive: our department and the Coordinator Sue Diment especially have been exceptionally helpful. It’s because the processes are tedious, there are complications, degrees of human error and staff shortages.

In any case, this has basically been me for the past six months:

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Questions that have arisen so far:

How do I pay myself and my project worker for time and expenses?

Paying myself is the most complicated issue I’ve run into.

  • Is it via a form? Which colour form? Where can I find said form?
  • Do I need to fill out something from the HMRC?
  • Can I invoice the University as a freelance person even if I am on their payroll and have a PAYE number and tax code?
  • Should I set up some sort of stipend? How?
  • Who authorises payments?
  • Do I need to discuss my contract with Salaries, Central University Finance, HR or the College Finance people? Or everybody?
  • What are the tax implications?
  • Am I in breach of contract with Campus Services if I’m being paid externally to work additional hours, but the external funding is being administered through my department?
  • HOW DO YOU CREATE AN INVOICE? [The brilliant official response to this one was: “We don’t actually have any invoice templates in the office… Try Word..?”]

How do I pay my project worker?

  • They are a PGR so can they fill in a Gold Form? If so, how does that affect the forms they’ve already filled in through the year as you can only submit a Gold Form 3x in a 12 month period?
  • Would it be better to set up something through the Jobshop, who can then pay her on a fortnightly basis via submitted time-sheets, authorised by the signatory in our department, and apply directly to our project fund pot to be reimbursed (plus the additional 75p per hour fee Jobshop charge for their services)?

Several weeks, phone calls, email exchanges and face to face meetings later, we have some success at last. The Coordinator of the University-wide initiative has finally managed to get my funding pot a project code, and now it should be theoretically possible to get the money out of it. I’ve been on the phone to Jobshop and set up an account for my project worker, and all the time-sheets are ready to go: the first one has gone off, in fact!

Lessons Learned

Next time I embark on a project, I will be aware that these are the types of financial problems you can run into. I’m on the back foot with this not having been funded for my PhD, but even if I had been, I don’t think I’d have been prepared for all the additional complications that being on the University payroll and no longer being a PGR can bring.

I’m not going to use this space to discuss whether that’s part of an institutional failure of ECRs and young academics, who are largely invisible in the departments as far as payroll etc are concerned, especially those with Honorary status or equivalent, as that has been discussed in other blogs and that would take this off on wider tangent. That’s another discussion worth having, though, and one that is being had in many places.

Therefore, I’ve now learned through my Ordeal By Finance that there are several things a project lead should do before embarking on a project, and should probably do at the same time as the costing stage of the application.

  • I will be creating an Excel database of appropriate staff members, their phone numbers, office room numbers, email addresses and the best times to catch them in.
  • I will contact Finance personnel directly rather than sitting in an email queue.
  • I will be more confident in knocking on doors and generally being a bit of a bother in the short-term to prevent long-term stalling. I will be bringing some sort of edible icebreaker and a positive, level-headed attitude with me when I do so.

I have set up meetings with the Head of School, and the administrators within the department have been doing their best to help. I will be making a huge Thank You Cheesecake for them come September. It hasn’t helped that it’s the summer now, and everyone is off on annual leave and the departments and finance offices are struggling with staff numbers as it is. It’s easy to blame administrators and managers, but there’s a lot going on within each level of administration – and moaning is fine, to a point, but it doesn’t help or get things done.

I’ve probably missed out a few things, but this is only my first time. Projects, even small budget projects, take a lot of time and administrative energy. They are great things to do, but get done at the expense of other things. I’m going back to being mercenary about what I do, and ticking all the boxes! All. The. Boxes.

My funding application for the ESRC devolved funding is next on the agenda, and I’ll be blogging my way through that saga as well!

Bon Chance, everyone.