Sunday, September 4, 2011

Some Random Observations/Links

Hey all! I'm blaming the holiday week/weekend for my lack of posting productivity this week. It's the first Labor Day in several years in which I'm not frantically prepping a new course or trying to catch up on all of the research work I didn't do during the summer, so I've been enjoying the time off ... and have not been wanting to think about academia at all.

But I did want to post something for you this weekend, so here are a few random links and a few random thoughts that have been clinking around in my head this week.

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First, I'd like to direct folks to the recent posts over at Anastasia's place. She is a former adjunct who just started a job teaching at a private high school ... something that's given her both financial stability as well as new working environment that it sounds like she's been very happy with.

She's also written a few recent posts about the reactions of her academic friends to her new job, and of the way that her former adjuncting employers have reacted ... by nearly sabotaging her hire at the high school by suggesting that they were going to hire her for a tenure-track job - before posting a job ad that was not at all related to her research and teaching interests. Of course.

I point you to her blog for a couple of reasons. First, because it's important for people to understand how the academic world treats humanities and social sciences Ph.D.s. People need to understand the reality of adjuncting, as well as the reality that for no matter how nice your university is to you and how many promises they make, they are not on your side. They are looking out for themselves, first and foremost. And this means that no matter how much they profess to like you and value your work, they will continue exploiting you as long as it suits their needs. They want to take your labor for as little output as possible on their part. All the promises in the world that they make to you won't matter if there is someone else willing to take over your teaching position for $3k per class, so they can avoid hiring you for $60k. It's not personal ... it's just reality.

But I also link to Anastasia to demonstrate to those of you who are coming here and thinking you have no other options to say ... you do. You absolutely do. I've been reading her blog for less than six months, and in that time she has gone from unhappily adjuncting to a full-time job that she seems to really enjoy. All of this, with a humanities Ph.D. There are options out there for you. It's not an easy process, but it can be done.

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This new post from PostAcademic in NYC really resonated with me. Since I do still have two grad student friends I spend time with, I occasionally do run into newbie grad students, or older grad students who are still madly in love with the Life of the Mind and are utterly convinced that academia is the greatest job in the world with no problems whatsoever. The conversations I have with those people almost inevitably become uncomfortable ... they will ask me, excitedly, how the market looks this year and about how my dissertation is going. Telling them that I'm not looking at academic jobs and am just working a nonacademic job in town, planning my next move? It makes them visibly uncomfortable. I can literally see their faces fall.

But not because I'm making them realize that their idealized future might not work out. No, no, no ... instead, they quickly reveal that they're either disappointed that I'm "quitting," or else reassure me that "all I need to do" is publish one more paper or teach one more class or something like that, and then I'll get my dream job! Just like so-and-so who graduated last year did, and just like they will next year!! I just need to give it one more shot!!


This conversation has played out so many times that I've found myself purposely avoiding fellow grad students when I see them out in public. The academic Kool-Aid these people have drunk is so strong that they just can't or won't see reason. Since they're in the academic bubble, I instantly become someone who "couldn't cut it" or "didn't try hard enough," and they will either try to give me advice or talk me out of my decision. In no way are they able to consider the possibility that I might have a point.

As PostAcademic says, I don't even try anymore. I quickly rattle off something about wanting a different kind of job. I dodge the questions about what, specifically, I'm looking for (since the further away I get from a job involving teaching/research, the more strongly the backlash comes in) and about whether I'm going to finish my Ph.D. (since telling them I may not finish almost makes their heads spin around). I just answer quickly, and then change the subject.

Perhaps I owe it to them to try to talk some sense into them. But as PostAcademic writes, I don't think it will do any good. I was them in the past - bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, optimistic, and sure that everything would work out and that I'd land my dream job. It took years for me to come around to where I am today. I doubt I would have listened to me as a young grad student, so I really see no point in trying, unless (like with this blog) someone comes around specifically asking for advice about life outside academia.

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New job market reports in sociology suggest that the market may be recovering. This article has been flying around the blogosphere and among grad students I know who are in sociology. Indeed, the news looks somewhat encouraging.

I'd temper the optimism, though, with a few points. First, it's very early in the job market season ... the bulk of jobs have yet to be posted, and there's no way to know how many searches will be cancelled outright, or how many jobs aren't truly open to all applicants.

Second, there is no distinction in that article or anywhere else I've seen about the breakdown between true tenure-track faculty postings and temporary postings. If there are more job listings this year, but a large proportion of them are for non-renewable temporary contracts? I don't view that as a positive sign.

Finally, anyone going on the market this year is going to be competing not just with other ABDs, but also with a backlog of postdocs, adjuncts, and unemployed Ph.D.s who failed to get faculty jobs over the last few years' terrible markets. So there may be more jobs ... but the competition is likely a lot stiffer.

Just some things to think about when you see articles like this, discussing how the market in one field or another is "recovering." The simple fact that there are numerically more job ads on the Chronicle does not mean that the job market is better.

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With the beginning of the new semester, my academic friends have been posting on Facebook about their late worknights, the return of the stress of teaching and doing research, and about looming deadlines. In contrast, I've been working until 5pm every day this week ... and then spending my evenings making dinner with my partner, walking the dog, going to the farmers' market, meeting a friend for a drink, or just running household errands. I'm still working a full day - in a job where I do help people, for the record - but my evenings? My evenings and weekends are my own.

It's been the single best part of this leaving process. I realize now how ridiculously unhealthy it is to work so incessantly that you can barely find time to feed yourself or to spend a half hour watching your favorite TV show. That is not a normal or healthy way to live, no matter what grad students might want to tell you. I am so much more relaxed, and so much happier, and feel more in control ... even as the job situation is in flux. It's just immensely gratifying to be keeping a normal working adult's schedule again.

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Finally, I wish you all a happy and relaxing Labor Day. I'll be back with some more posts this week - namely, I'm working on a post about how to deal with the mental second-guessing and regret that you might feel if you decide to leave academia. If you keep getting caught up in thoughts of how much time you've "wasted" in grad school or about those student loans you took out a few years ago, and how you really should just hurry up and finish and get a teaching position since you've come this far, even though it makes you utterly miserable?

Yeah, I have some ideas for how you can counter those thoughts and keep focused on what's best for you. I'll get that post up later this week.

Have a great holiday, everyone!

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