Why I am working part-time?

Why would an aspiring successful academic decide to work part time? Isn't that the kiss of death for such a career, an admission of failure?

Ancient History

My diary entry from Sunday 26th July 1981 starts:
Didn't sleep well & woke up @ 3.30 drenched in sweat. Got up @ 8.20, had a shower,... Felt sick all day.
I had Glandular Fever (Infectious Mononucleosis). For several months I had relapses (typical of Glandular Fever) when I became exhausted, had swollen glands etc. Between these relapses my general level of energy slowly got worse and worse until I was very tired all the time. I didn't really notice how bad it was until one day I woke up and I wasn't tired (this happened a few times subsequently but I wasn't able to figure out what triggered it).

Diagnoses and treatments

I've seen many health professionals over the years and had quite a few diagnostic procedures and treatments. The better ones have had no effect, the others have made things worse. I was eventually diagnosed as having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, the main symptoms affecting by work being fatigue and cognitive dysfunction. A recent study in the UK noted that improvements in health of CFS sufferers was not correlated with the number of health professionals seen. Here are a few of my experiences.


I've seen plenty of doctors over the years and have had plenty of standard diagnostics tests done. I'm as normal as most people, possibly more normal. Only one interesting fact was picked up - high levels of serum biliruben. Yes, I have Gilbert's syndrome! Named after Gilbert, who first noticed it, it has exactly one known symptom: high levels of serum biliruben.

Coeliacs disease

Quite a few years ago my mother was diagnosed as being a Coeliac (gluten intolerance) and since there is a familiar link in some cases we though my problems might be related. Perhaps this was the answer! I was tested (it turned out negative like all the other tests) by having a small bowel biopsy - a procedure with supposedly no side effects. Apart from being very unpleasant, and getting a dose of radiation, it took about six months for my bowels to settle down subsequently. Many years later, after suffering stress-related stomach pains over a long period, I was diagnosed as having a peptic ulcer (the unpleasant experience of having a tube shoved down my throat again). I was positive for Helicobacter Pyloris and was treated with a bunch of antibiotics which had a dreadful effect on my health for weeks. In retrospect I believe my stomach lining was damaged by the original biopsy, allowing H. Pyloris infection and ultimately much pain and ill-health. So much for no side effects!


I am a vegetarian and many people who know little about diet suggest that eating flesh might improve my health. At one stage my mother, who is also a vegetarian, couldn't eat gluten (wheat, barley and oat products), also had a lactose intolerance (so dairy products were out) and had trouble digesting fats (so pulses and nuts had to be limited) but her dietician never suggested resorting to eating meat. Besides I developed CFS when I ate meat and becoming vegetarian made no noticeable difference to my health.


The first "alternative" medicine practitioner I saw was a naturopath. Diagnosis was buy taking a (not very thorough) history and use of iridology. The diagnosis there was something wrong with my immune system, which I still agree with. The treatment, nettle extract, made me the sickest of all the things I have tried. I stopped taking the extract and didn't go back. I was subsequently told that its expected for things to get worse before they get better with such kinds of treatment. This reminds me of my guaranteed cure for headaches (it also works for any other malady): bang your head against a brick wall until the pain stops (or the malady is cured). It works every time the treatment is carried out as prescribed.

Chinese herbalist

This was one of the more interesting experiences. I was diagnosed in the traditional way - by taking my pulse. A brief, superficial history was taken by someone who spoke some English and translated into Chinese. I think the diagnosis was something to do with the spleen. This is a popular diagnosis for all kinds of symptoms, since most people have heard of the spleen but are not quite sure what it does, exactly, and thus are are unlikely to disagree with the diagnosis. After being given an impressive mixture of dried roots, berries, bark and unidentifiable bits and being instructed on their preparation (and paying my money) I went home and followed the instructions. The brew tasted foul (I think those bits I couldn't identify were Rhinoceros dung, but can't really be sure). The lack of noticeable effect was later attributed to the fact that I added some honey - the herbs apparently don't work unless the full horror of their taste is experienced. After finishing this course of herbs and going back to report the lack of progress I was given another mixture. This had a spectacular effect, though not quite what I desired - the worst farts I have ever smelled. I didn't go back.


I have seen psychologists individually and as part of groups. While this has been beneficial for my personal development (and the financial development of the psychologists), it hasn't helped my general health.


At one stage I was diagnosed as being depressed and was having trouble sleeping. I took anti-depressants for quite a while. It helped my sleep patterns but that was about all. Fortunately the side-effects were very minor.


I was diagnosed has having CFS by a physician. While it was relieving that my pattern of symptoms had been noticed in others and had even been given a name (in fact, several different names), it didn't result in a cure. There is no current consensus about the cause of CFS and little useful consensus about effective treatments. When I was diagnosed I was told rest was important. More recently light exercise seems to have been shown to be beneficial in most cases. Scores of other treatments have been suggested and seem to have had benefits in some cases but there is no general consensus on any of these.


Life as an academic in our department has become much more difficult and less rewarding over the years. This is also true of most other departments in the University of Melbourne, most universities in Australia and in the rest of the world. Our teaching load per staff member (number of subjects and students per subject) have increased dramatically in the last five years. Administration loads have also increased and pressure to do more research, publish more and get more grants has also increased greatly. Academics like doing research and publishing papers, thats why we are here instead of earning twice as much in industry, but we have less and less time to do so. Its is not a relaxed, healthy, fulfilling work environment. Whose fault is that? I'm happy with the way the department is run, but some faculty and university decisions have had a dreadful impact on our department and no greater good that I can see and successive Australian governments have been bleeding the tertiary education sector dry, inspired by the global trend of economic rationalism.

It has become more and more difficult for me to cope with the work load and stress. Avoiding stress the main thing CFS sufferers should attempt. In recent years I have typically had my heaviest teaching load in first semester. I have managed to struggle through it somehow, often spending weekends in bed, but my health has suffered in the following months. By the time my health has got back to a reasonable level its been first semester again. Like many current practices, it was not sustainable. So, I'm now officially working 1/2 time. I hope to relax more and regain some fitness which hopefully will result in better overall health. I might even get more research done than in the past...


This web page is a "coming out" in some sense. I've always found it difficult to tell people I have CFS. Doctors have a poor understanding of CFS, but at least most of then realise it. The general public understands even less but half of them think they know the cause and/or a cure for it. When I have been un-well in the past I have usually told people I get sick a lot and its nothing too serious and I'm vague about any further details. Now I can point them to this web page instead.