Unless you are a hamster, being in a hamster wheel is never a good thing (and I do sometimes wonder about hamsters, too). You run hard, but you are not getting anywhere. You run even harder, and you are still not getting anywhere. You realise it is pointless and stressful, but somehow stopping and jumping off doesn’t seem to be an option. The frantic activity is mind-numbing, but there is this overwhelming sense of having to keep going or worse things will happen. Yet it is not at all clear who exactly makes you run, and especially not why?

Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire
Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire
Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire

It pains me that, increasingly, I hear colleagues in universities describe their work lives as being in a hamster wheel, since the metaphor encapsulates very little agency, let alone satisfaction and joy. It is safe to assume that none of us signed up for anything remotely like that when we started our university careers. The majority of us are in higher education because we want to make a difference and we want to contribute to changing the world. And on the face of it, there is no better place for that than where we are. Being able to contribute to research, and thereby to finding novel solutions to truly important issues; helping students become the next generation of global citizens and leaders; contributing to society at large and being part of the development of the local community; there is hardly a more fulfilling way to spend your working days and your working life. Feeling that you contribute to something worthwhile and bigger than yourself is a hugely important factor in job satisfaction for every worker, as it certainly is for me. So why are so many colleagues in universities not satisfied? …


Simone Buitendijk

Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leeds.

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