Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On (Not) Putting up with Sh*t in Academia

I got my first official spam comment today! Does that mean my blog has officially "arrived" on the internet? :)

I will put up a more substantive post later tonight, once I'm at home. However, I did want to note that the angst and worry I've been experiencing these past few weeks has basically disappeared this week. I got a couple of job applications out, and had a relaxing weekend with my partner and some friends. I also talked to my part-time job boss about the benefits that I'll get once I go officially full-time later in the summer, and I'm feeling fairly optimistic that I'm not going to go bankrupt or become homeless while I make this transition, once I lose my connections with the university. It's not a long-term solution, but it's something sustainable for a few months or even a year, until I find something better.

I do have some student loans outstanding (yuck), so I'm going to "enroll" in some Ph.D.-writing credits this fall, just to defer the loans until I find a permanent position. (In other words, I'll be paying the university for absolutely no services). It's not ideal, and at this stage I'd rather be completely free of any connections to the department and Grad U. But at the same time, I have to be practical and do what's best for me in this situation, and deferring my loans for a semester or year is the best decision for me right now.

Along those lines, while you're eagerly waiting with bated breath for my next substantial post (haha), I urge you to go read this post at Anastasia's place. She has good news - she recently landed a full-time teaching gig (with fair pay and benefits!) at a private high school. This fantastic news has been met with some angst by her academic colleagues, who are concerned about what it will mean for her if she cuts all ties with her research and academic life. She has a great outlook on the whole situation that really resonated with me.

Basically, she writes (and I agree) that in academia, we learn early on that we "have to" put up with a whole lot of sh*t in order to be a success ... crappy advisors, poor mental health, no free time or money, emotional harm and disappointment from the negativity of the academic culture. This is just expected - and as she writes, as budding academics we are told that we just "need to learn to put up with sh*t," regardless of how bad it makes us feel. It's just part of the job.

But she goes on to argue that even if this is true - that the academic life carries a bunch of sh*t with it - it does not hold that we have to continue taking sh*t once we don't have to anymore.

For Anastasia, the point where she felt that she didn't have to take it anymore came when she got her Ph.D. Adjuncting for terrible pay and no benefits became the sh*t she didn't have to take, because she had the degree and it gave her options (and likely confidence to make a move). So she packed it in, applied for another job, and got it.

For me, my "I don't have to take it anymore" moment came when I was sitting at my house following an interview for an academic job I did not want, thinking about how miserable I would be if they offered me the job and I would "have" to take it. (Because remember - we "have" to put up with working conditions we don't like as part of the sh*t we "have" to deal with as academics). As I sat there, though, I started to realize (with help from my partner, which I'll describe in detail later) that I didn't have to take a job I didn't want. I had a job to pay my bills while I figured out what I really wanted to do. I had a job I could stand, and live in a city I can stand ... so why the heck would I consider leaving for something that I absolutely knew would make me miserable?? Why was I continuing to chase jobs in geographic areas I'd hate, while chasing down an advisor who would rather walk through fire than meet with me to get me through the program in a timely matter? Suddenly I realized - I didn't have to put up with the sh*t anymore.

Simply put, my part-time job gave me the out I needed. It let me realize that I didn't have to take whatever academia dished out to me, even if it made me miserable. It let me realize that it's possible to have a job where your boss treats you with respect, and where the working hours aren't expected to be 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It helped me realize that it's possible to see good work rewarded emotionally and financially, rather than having your work constantly criticized and compensated with poverty-level wages.

Basically, the part-time job gave me the confidence (and financial cushion) that I needed to just say "I don't have to take the sh*t anymore," and to give me the courage to look elsewhere for happiness.

It's great to see someone else acknowledging this mindset that I've had for awhile. No longer do I think that I "have to" put up with emotional abuse from advisors or with a system that forces me to beg for funding and continued employment semester after semester.

And I have to say, despite the moments of weakness, it feels great to just say "I'm not putting up with this crap anymore. I'm done." Absolutely great.

No comments:

Post a Comment