Thursday, August 11, 2011

Exactly What I Needed Today... a reminder about what working in academia is really like.

Seriously. This morning my brother called to tell me he'd gotten an interview for a new job. He has his bachelor's degree and is ... let's just say, younger than me. A few months ago he decided he wanted a new job, applied for two positions total, and now has this interview. Of course, nothing is guaranteed ... and he had some networking help getting the interview.

But still ... it sent me into a bit of a "woe is me" phase this morning, where I started lamenting the years I'd spent in school and the debt I'd incurred trying to get a degree that is (at this point) utterly useless. And cursing him for being "smart enough" (even when I thought he was being immature and silly) to just get a job after graduation instead of chasing some "life of the mind" pipe dream through grad school. Because now he's moving up in his career, and I'm looking for an entry-level job ... a decade after when I could have gotten started.

So yeah. This morning was not my best morning. (For the record, this is the first time I've felt this negative in months, so the emotional roller-coaster is easing up a bit. This process does get easier).

But just as I was really building up the mental pity party, I got an email from Grad U, asking me if I was interested in teaching a class this fall because they suddenly have an opening. A brand new class that I've never taught, in a topic area that I don't know anything about. For a semester that would start in two weeks.

This is the third time in four years that they've done something like this - only the last two times, I accepted the last minute teaching slot because I "had to stay in academia somehow." So I am not at all surprised that they contacted me - I'm sure they think I'll accept, gratefully.

I'm not going to, of course. I'm done. I loved teaching, so I may try to teach a night class here and there in the future. But the idea of teaching at Grad U again makes me sick. But I'm glad they emailed me, because it gave me a few reminders about academia that I'd like to share.

First, the university is not on your side. I haven't heard from anyone in my department since I had academic interviews in February. Not a soul has contacted me to see if I got the jobs, or if I needed anything ... until they needed a class taught at the last minute. Suddenly, they're wondering if I'm interested in droping everything to prep and teach a class in two weeks. Oh, and of course, they "hope I'm doing well and working hard!"

Pardon my French ... but go f*ck yourselves, Grad U Department of _____. Really and truly.

Second, the last minute jobs will almost always pop up, if you don't make a clean break from academia. And they can keep you clinging desperately to the coattails of academia, thinking that perhaps you'll get one more chance! Maybe this will be your big break! Sure, it leaves you stressed and overworked while you scramble to do that last minute job properly ... and chances are, next semester or year you'll be scrambling for your next "last minute job." But it can be tempting to take these offers.

This is primarily why I urge people who are thinking about leaving to consider finding a job - any job - outside of academia that will let you pay your bills while you plan your next step. Taking the financial pressure off of yourself and giving yourself some space from your department can give you some room to think about what you really want ... and can allow you to say "no" to those last minute jobs, if they aren't for you.

I'm so glad that this email came through today. In the space of about five minutes, it brought me from frustration/guilt to a renewed sense of confidence that I'm doing the right thing. I may have a long road ahead of me, but at least I'm in charge of it ... and not at the mercy of a department and system of higher education that does not respect me or value my experience and abilities.

I'll leave you with two recent posts that seem relevant, from Escape the Ivory Tower. When contemplating the decision to leave or mulling over a job, don't let yourself defer your decision indefinitely or stay stuck in a position that's making your miserable. Be proactive. You deserve to be happy.


Addendum: about two hours after I wrote this post, I got another email about a one-year position with a 4-3 teaching load, two hours away from where I currently live. Start date is September 1.

Yeah. I'm done. These "jobs," this lifestyle they expect us to live? Is crazy.


  1. "I may have a long road ahead of me, but at least I'm in charge of it" For sure! That's one of the best parts of leaving. Grad U. hasn't contacted me yet about fall teaching (I was pretty firm when they asked me in the spring about my fall availability), but there was an evening class I used to teach that they always had a hard time scheduling. If they do contact me last-minute, my strategy is this: Ask for more money. If they really need the class taught, they'll come up with a way to pay an extra $1-2K per section. Even if they do contact me, I have no intention of actually accepting a class -- it'd just be nice to be the one in charge for a change. Which, you're right, is one of the best parts of leaving because, suddenly, you have options and leverage, which you will never have if you depend solely on academe off the tenure track for your livelihood.

  2. I like your strategy. It's true - leaving and having an alternate job (no matter what it is) affords us some leverage to decide what we will and won't put up with. If Grad U, for example, offered me the class I absolutely LOVED teaching as an evening course, I might consider it. But thanks to my decision to leave, I'm no longer forced to accept anything they'll throw at me.

    There are still down/angry moments, but it's amazing how much clarity has come with simply not being dependent on academia anymore.

    Perhaps this is why many departments discourage their students from getting outside jobs. Does that make me a conspiracy theorist? :)

  3. I understand your state of mind perfectly, unfortunately. I got the humanities Phd and ended up in a tenure track position and want to get out. I have been working on several things but am no where near t a point where I can just quit. And another semester will start soon. I have been really wallowing myself.

  4. I'm sorry to hear you've been having a tough time ... obviously, I can relate. I'm out of academia, but not completely to the place I want to be at yet (career-wise or geography-wise). It's tough to be in the middle of the transition but not finished yet ... I can imagine it's even harder to want to make the transition but to not be able to go yet.

    I wish you luck, and hope that at least the knowledge that you'll be leaving soon can help you get through the semester without too much despair... Thanks for reading!