Natalie Pietrzak-Renaud’s Experience

Posted March 11th, 2015 By OCUFA

I’ve worked as a contract faculty member for four years. I currently teach online first year geology course. I love my job because I strongly believe that it is important for people to know their physical world and how it impacts their lives without them even realizing it. I’ll never forget when an arts major combined her creative flare and her new knowledge in geology to generate a unique assignment. I’m extremely proud of the time I get responses from students that say “wow, I never knew”. It is at that moment you know you have achieved the ultimate goal of a university education, to broaden our student’s horizons.

If contract professors became full-time faculty, we could offer so much more to universities, students and Canadian research. As a full-time faculty member, I would spend more time meeting students and add current research discoveries to the course where applicable. It would also mean I would have time to research and publish. I can write papers and build my career as a researcher. On a more personal level, I would have the opportunity to I would have a normal work-life balance. As it is I work seven days a week and after my children go to bed to earn enough to live on.

Each week, I travel 40 kms to get to work and do 30 hours of additional unpaid work to support my students. In return, I have no benefits such as medical, dental, retirement or maternity leave. This is on top of <$10,000 in student debt I owe after studying at Western University to become an expert in Economic geology. My current income is insulting for the expertise I have to share and the amount of dedication I put into my degrees and to my commitment to my teaching. I currently have no job security, which makes it hard to support my family, ensure that I can provide for their future, save anything toward our own retirement.

Overall, I want to tell you that For both my two children I had to work when I was pregnant and when they were born midcourse offering. I took 5 days off after giving birth after each one and then was back at email communication, course development, meeting students as well as working my self-employed geology consulting job. I had to do this in order to retain authorship and the right of first refusal to teach the course I created and survive financially. I still have to apply each term and never know until a month or two in advance if the course will run.  It was extremely difficult to maintain my professional standards with so little sleep and the demands of a new and sick baby. Since I am contract and my husband is a consultant (no secure jobs out there for him either), we could not afford daycare so juggle with splitting parenting and getting family to babysit.  Our first born got sick after 3 months and she has had to be continuously on meds since then until her condition resolves. Her meds are expensive and since my husband, myself and our daughter all have pre-existing conditions, we cannot afford to buy health insurance.It has been four years of working seven days a week, most nights until 11pm in order to complete consulting work and teaching duties to earn a living. Since I did not “remove myself from the workforce to raise a child” I am not eligible for NSERC post-doc funding. My academic career prospects are pretty much dead. Researching and writing papers is a luxury and what I do on my “personal time”. I have no work-life balance and the prospects of not only a full-filling career but of any security for the future is slipping away. I am scared of what will happen to my family if something happens to myself or my husband. What future do we face in retirement of if we cannot work?

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