Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Postacademic Rant 6 - On Moving Anywhere

I'm visiting my family this week for the holidays, spending time with them and my partner's family and my old friends in the state I grew up in. I'll be here through the new year, getting some much needed relaxation and catching up with old friends until I head back home to get back to work and start the search for my next job.

It's worth noting, actually, that the city my partner and I would like to relocate to is near where we are this week. After having interviews in several locations where I'd never even considered living, we decided that now was the time to try to move closer to family and friends and to actually move to a city we'd want to live in, rather than to "any place that will have me as a professor."

And since this is the first time I've seen a number of my family and friends since last December (when I was on the academic job market), I've been having a lot of conversations with people about what I'm doing now and what comes next. In discussing the academic job market and why I'm done with it, one of the things that other people have found the most surprising was the fact that everyone on the academic job market is (more or less) expected to take whatever job is offered to them, regardless of geographic location or whether they'd be happy taking it.

My friends and family in nonacademic jobs find that to be ridiculous beyond words. To them, having no control over where they would live, work, raise kids, etc., seems unimaginable. They keep asking me: "Well, couldn't you just apply to Schools X, Y, and Z in this area?" When I explain that it's not how academia works - that I'm at the mercy of whatever schools around the country happen to be hiring during the year I go on the academic job market? They're amazed that anyone would settle for such a thing. 

So since I'm busy this week and probably won't have time or motivation for a full "new content" post, I thought that this particular postacademic rant would be particularly timely to post ... addressing the geographic constraints of an academic job search. As always, language is very NSFW.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Fuck the idea that I should be thrilled to move anywhere for any pay

The idea that you should be thrilled and ecstatic to accept any job is something that is, I think, unique to academia. I can’t think of another industry out there in which your lack of desire to go work a job in a town of 3000 people in the middle of North Dakota is taken as a negative commentary on your personal character and motivation.

Obviously, there are people who want to live in those rural areas.* And I’m sure that my desire to live in an urban area must seem crazy to other people, who might have a dream of owning a farm in the middle of nowhere.

But the thing is, it doesn’t matter where your dream location is, or even if you have one. The fact that academia tells its graduates that they need to seriously consider any job they’re capable of getting, and that considerations about geographic location and pay scale are frivolous things that shouldn't be seriously considered during a job search ... as long as you'll wind up with the job title of “professor?” That’s insane.

Can you imagine another industry in which someone would be offered a job that was geographically in a location that they’d never dream of living, and where the pay was insufficient to make ends meet, and where their significant other would be unlikely to find work …..... but where they'd be encouraged by every person who's been mentoring them up to that point in their career that they "have to" take it?

Now sure, there would be circumstances where that might be the best course of action - perhaps you've been unemployed for years or you have a medical condition that means that you need to secure a job with health insurance immediately. But for 99% of people, the idea that absolutely any job in your industry must be taken, even if you’ll be personally miserable and you won’t be able to pay your bills? Is absolutely ridiculous. And frankly, it's also condescending. Someone who’s gone all the way to a Ph.D. and has sacrificed time and money to achieve such an impressive credential should NOT be guilted into taking a position that they know they would hate and that would leave them impoverished, just because it comes with the job title of "professor." And fuck academia for making us believe that that's a rational thing to do.

Now, of course ... every school in a given country can't hire in every department every single year. And the solution certainly isn’t for graduate departments to keep funding graduate students for fifteen or twenty years, until their dream job in the dream location opens up and hires them.

But what needs to happen is for grad departments need to get the fuck over their belief that academia is the only job worth having - no matter where or under what conditions you're working - and to start giving their students more practical training that will serve them in a wide variety of jobs. That would leave students able to either (a) find fulfilling work outside of academia after graduation, or simply to (b) find a job that will let them pay the bills (in other words, not just adjuncting) if they want to take 4 or 5 runs at the academic job market in pursuit of a tenure track job. It's fine (in my opinion) if people want to keep taking shots at the academic market year after year. But they shouldn't have to teach six classes per semester at four different campuses for less than minimum wage while they're doing it, simply because such a job "keeps them in academia."

Again, grad departments need to get the fuck over their obsession with All Things Academia.

But as we know, they won't. They'll just continue to pretend that everyone can afford to just endlessly flail along in temporary position after temporary position, and that a faculty job in any geographic location in the entire world is a dream job for absolutely any grad student.

Suddenly, those studies and interviews that reveal high levels of alcoholism and depression among faculty make a lot more sense. 

*Important note: on this blog, I often hold up jobs in rural areas as bad opportunities ... because for "city people" like my partner and I, it would be. But I should also note that a job in a major metro area would be just as much of a nightmare for someone who loves wide open spaces and quiet country life. The point is that very few people would love absolutely any job anywhere ... and it seems that academia is one of the few industries in the world that refuses to acknowledge that. 


  1. This rant reminds me of a student from my University who accepted a job last year in Alaska. Let's just say the location wasn't ideal for him--he's miserable in the new job--but he is still touted as an academic "success" story. Sigh.

  2. Just wanted to ratify that snobbery goes the other way--it isn't simply the coastal snobs and Big City Folk thumbing our noses at rural people. I go to school in Expensive Small Town, which is 100ish miles from my home in Major Metro Center. I came in knowing I was a city gal, but prepared to give Expensive Small Town a chance and enjoy it on its own terms. No such luck. Not only did Expensive Small Town turn out to be an overpriced piece of crap, but I got assaulted with a barrage of hate propaganda about Major Metro Center, from a variety of sources. Save it, dummies. I'm not convinced that your day-glo teddy bear paintings trump the vibrant art scene at home.*

    *This ain't hyperbole. There really was an artist, prominently displayed in Expensive Small Town's public library during "Art Walk," whose oeuvre consisted of day-glo teddy bear paintings. Not like, "ironically," or Mark Ryden-style. More like "6th grader with (only) a modicum of talent" style. This local adult artist was loudly telling anyone within earshot how lousy the art scene is in Major Metro Center. This particular incident is far from isolated, and is emblematic of the poor quality of anything cultural those buffoons have to "offer" (film, food, etc.), as well as the inflated sense of worth that plagues those small-minded kooks.

  3. JC, thanks for your blog, I have found it very helpful.

    In my case, I am an European student who had previously worked for 4 years (I would say quite successfully if I look back) and already had a Bachelor/Master. Last year I made the great *mistake* to come back to school in order to pursue a Master's degree in a different field in a very prestigious American institution. I wanted to learn about some other field, live in a different culture (yet I had even lived in Asia) and also get a fancy name with world-wide recognition for my CV.

    This first semester has been a total nightmare... I learnt that I am going thru a depression... some days literally I could not get up from my bed...I even got to freak myself about comtemplating suicide at some point. Now I even feel uncapable to look for a menial job, back in Europe. And what really strikes me back... I feel like I never been to the US or to that University. Like it was not me and that time didn't exist... nothing like that happened to me before.

    Funny enough, I am still thinking if I am doing the right decision by quitting... yet I cannot think about being back to the University in 2012! It would be like a prison sentence. Stockholm syndrome, I guess.

    Good luck in your job hunting.

  4. This factor is the biggest thing that kept me from pursuing a PhD. I have older parents that I can't move too far away from and a spouse whose career is not easily transportable...plus I *like* where I live--I don't want to pick up stakes for the sake of a job.

  5. Very good question, and exactly what changed my whole view towards academia and Academic mapping. I had traveled *extensively* before deciding to go back to grad school, moved a lot at a kid etc. Needless to say, I knew what I wanted, I knew what I didn't want.

    For grad school... it is the same reason I chose to do an MFA route, which was the terminal degree in the field, despite the fact that I could have done a PhD in a few other subject matters. I was an English/Philosophy undergrad and could have gone either way.

    With the MFA, I knew it would be 2-3 years and out, and the terminal degree. And, if I couldn't get the job I wanted, I could just write or take some type of editing job. I even said if I didn't get in schools in cities I wouldn't mind living in, that it was "over" for me.

    Basically, you have to set up LIMITS of what you are willing to accept, I know so many of my friends who are unhappy living somewhere they hate. Meanwhile I have lived in a few major cities. No I'm not a professor at Berkeley or something, but guess what, neither are they! They might be teaching classes but it is usually at some crap hole city. Some, well...they don't mind, I definitely mind.