This week, I contacted Grad Department for a minor clerical reason ... basically, I needed our graduate program director to sign off on something for me.
The (very kind) director, who I don't work with and don't know very well, responded by asking me some questions about what I was doing now, when I'd be defending, etc. They were all reasonable questions; no problem. It's natural for people in my department to be curious.
To answer the first question, I just said I had gotten a nonacademic job that I liked very much and left it at that, with no details. I deflected the second question by asking what the procedure would be for defending if I was out of residence next year (just in case I do eventually defend - that's not the plan right now, although I don't want anyone in my department to know this).
Grad director wrote back telling me that it was "such a shame" I was leaving, since "my research was so interesting" and "my teaching evaluations were excellent." And how there were still a few jobs being posted this year, and what was the harm in putting some packets together just in case? Because I had so much to offer, and academia would be so sorry to see me go!
Oh, come on now...
I struck out on the market last year. No one has seen me on campus since February. I haven't spoken to my advisor since the winter. I haven't published a paper or taught a class or showed up at a seminar since the fall of last year. I skipped the last national conference for the first time in five years. I couldn't be more removed from academia at this point, and I haven't produced one single bit of academic work - either in teaching or research - in more than a year.
But "academia would be sorry to see me go????" Really???
I've got news for you, Director ... I'm already gone. And no one seems to miss me.
And that's fine. I'm okay with that ... I've moved on. But this interaction reminded me of another thing that drives me up the freaking wall about academia - another reason I'm leaving.
I am so, so, so, so, sooooooo sick of the pointless empty praise and encouragement to "keep on keeping on" we get from other academics ... who often barely even know us. Unless you're flat-out plagiarizing your dissertation or on your deathbed, any suggestion that you might want to leave your program or academia in general is always, always met with these kind of responses:
- "Our program always lands its graduates at good places. You'll land a great job. Just keep working!"
- "Even if you only get a temporary position, that will just help your CV look better in the future!"
- "It's normal to be overworked and stressed out! That's how we all feel, and it just means you're doing good work! Keep on going, it'll get better!"
- "The market is always rough - this year is no different."
I'm fucking tired of all of this nonsense.
First? It's useless, since (1) these people barely know me and (2) kind words from a virtual stranger aren't going to help me land an academic job I'd actually want in this market.
But more important than these platitudes being pointless? They're harmful. As long as Bigwig Professor X is standing there telling every grad student that their work is "groundbreaking" and that their teaching is "excellent," they can cling to hope that their hard work will pay off and they'll land a dream tenure-track job in a wonderful city and live happily ever after.
Let's look into a grad student's brain for a minute:
Professor X is praising me, so I must be fantastic!! I will overcome the terrible job market and the randomness of the whole thing and succeed!! I will!!! Because Dr. X told me that our graduates always get jobs!!Any possibility that student has of thinking about other job options is out the door, on a wave of positive nonsense from a bunch of faculty who haven't been on the job market in decades.
I mean, sure, I want to live in a big city and can't stand the idea of being more than a couple of hours from my family, and I really don't want to have to teach more than two classes a semester and I definitely want a tenure-track post, and when I look at the job postings this year it seems like finding all of these things in one place is going to be really really difficult and that there are more and more temporary positions than ever and that most of them are in rural areas....
But nevermind that. Professor X says everyone gets good jobs, so I'll get a good job. I just need to stay positive and quit being cynical!! Time to go work on my dissertation!! [skips away]
What grad students need isn't endless platitudes about our important research and stellar teaching and how we'll "make it if we just keep working!" What we need is a realistic view of the academic job market and some information about how to seek a job outside of academia if we wind up wanting or needing one.
In short, we need concrete help ... not meaningless encouragement. Faculty need to get their heads out of the clouds and realize that this system is not a meritocracy, and that for quite a few of us, everything is not going to work out fine ... even if we "do everything just right."
And that's yet another reason I'm leaving. I'm tired of the head-patting we grad students get from faculty who really should learn to be more realistic. It feels childish and silly to have an adult ignoring the nasty realities of the job market to tell us that "everything will just work out if you just work hard enough!!"
Sure, your advisors may honestly believe what they're saying, and may very well have your best interests at heart and genuinely think that you will get a good job. After all, they like you, and they probably do think you're doing good work (no matter how sure you are that they secretly think you're an idiot). I doubt that there is an advisor in the world who actively hopes that their students wind up unemployed or underemployed.
But what they don't realize is that there is a larger structure out there that has rendered their platitudes and reassurances meaningless. This larger structure is called the system of higher education. And despite how much these faculty want to pretend that higher education is still about good research and high-quality teaching? It's just like everything else in society these days - more profit for lower costs.
If schools really cared about the "life of the mind" like your faculty pretend, they'd be cranking out tenure-track job ads like wildfire, since the number of people going to college is skyrocketing, as are tuition and fees.
But they're not. Instead, we're seeing adjunct and VAP job ads outpacing tenure-track ads, to the point where temporary and contract faculty now teach 75% of all courses in the United States.
So despite what your faculty advisors tell you, most universities don't care about your stellar research or your awesome teaching. They care about staffing their classes for the lowest price ... and if you're not willing to take that crappy $30k/year VAP post? Someone else will. Someone whose record probably looks pretty much identical to yours, in fact. They, too, probably have stellar research and an awesome teaching record. It just doesn't matter anymore.
So rather than echoing the same pointless nonsense ("Work hard and it'll all work out!" "Your work is fantastic; you'll definitely get an amazing academic job!!") faculty should be paying attention to how the market is working now, and giving their students realistic ideas about what to expect ... and information about how to market themselves for other jobs or to gain transferable skills and experience if the market doesn't work out for them (or if they choose to go another route).
They should do this, but they won't. And that's reason #9 why I'm leaving.
I'm done subjecting myself to the culture of grad school, where "things will always work out if you just work hard enough!" ... and any failures are your fault.
I'll leave, and happily let Grad U Program Director and all of zir colleagues reminisce about the good old days when grad students worked so much harder than the slackers today ... after all, that must be why so few of them land good tenure-track jobs these days, right?? It couldn't be that the system is broken or that some people want different things.
Grad Director is right. My research is great, and I'm a good teacher, and I'd be a good professor. Unfortunately, the broken system isn't going to allow that to happen in a situation that a Type 1 leaver like me would find palatable. So ... I'm leaving. Because the silly platitudes just aren't enough for me anymore.