A few random thoughts for today......
First, let's take a look at the google searches that have been bringing folks to this place over the past couple of weeks. I'll be honest - this group of them have been more striking than usual. I was expecting the people showing up here over the summer to be less stressed out and negative about academia, and more relaxed. After all, it's the summer! That doesn't seem to be the case, unfortunately:
-i am miserable in grad school
-i want to drop out of grad school
-academia overwhelmed workload
-feeling angry for no reason grad school
-i hate being a researcher
-what to do if you hate your grad school program
-am i weak for quitting phd
-academic job market stinks
-my phd research is worthless
-i feel like my research is shit phd
It's also worth noting that the two posts at this blog that have gotten the most pageviews since I started - and continue to get fresh new pages views every single day - are the ones in which I wrote about how I hated my research and about how grad school messes with your mental health. And when I say that they get more page views, I mean that they each have more than five times as many page views as any other post on this blog.
That's right. A post about how much I hated my academic work and a post about how I think academia gives people mental health issues are, by far, the most highly-trafficked pages on this blog. For every view that another post on this blog gets, each of those get five or more.
Think about that for a minute. There are a lot of secretly unhappy academics out there if an average of 5-10 people per day are reading a post on a random blog about how much some stranger hates their research or how crazy academia makes them feel. I've never really talked about how much traffic this blog gets before, but ... yeah. On top of people reading whatever new stuff I post, the blog gets at least 5-10 pageviews on those two old posts, every single day. Chew on that statistic for a few minutes.
Now of course, I'm not telling you this to brag about how much traffic my blog gets. I'm telling you this so that you will understand that if you're unhappy in academia, you are not alone. No matter how content and fulfilled everyone around you claims to be, there are other people out there who think like you. People who sit in their offices and run the google searches above, who are miserable and stressed and are looking for a way to deal with all of it. They're all out there with you in the academic world. You may not know who they are, but you are not the only one who feels that way.
And if you want to leave, you can do it. We all did it, and all of the people at VersatilePh.D. did it. And you are not crazy or stupid or a loser for wanting to leave. I promise.
In other news, I had dinner with my professor friend from out of town earlier this week. Zie immediately started in with news about an academic job posting that zie saw that zie thought I might be interested in, and about a project that hir colleague was working on that I should see if I could get involved with.
I've explained to this friend three different times that I'm done with academia and that I am happy and content in my new job. And that I don't feel any desire to go back. I don't know how many more times I need to say it before zie believes me. So this time I sort of cut hir off and said, abruptly, "...I'm done. Really, I am. I'm happy and I don't miss it and I'm just honestly done with academia." Then just sat there, staring at hir. I felt like kind of an asshole for being so blunt, but my partner had convinced me that apparently I need to be blunt with this friend to Really Get My Point Across. So I was.
Hir response: "okay, okay! I was just checking. Just making sure."
I wonder how much longer I'll have to keep explaining myself to people until they will finally, really and truly, believe that I have left and I am happy. Because it's getting a lot aggravating to keep explaining this, over and over again.
In horrifying news, Dr. Piglet recently wrote about the outcry that popped up in academic circles when the University of Birmingham (in the U.K.) posted an ad for an unpaid graduate or postdoc-level research position.
Unpaid. That's right, folks. After doing unpaid internships in college and then making shit wages in grad school, the University of Birmingham thinks you should then go out and do additional academic work for free ... just to further your career, of course. Just to prove your dedication to academia (because you haven't already proven your worth throughout all of those other years), so that maybe someday they (or some other university) will consider you for a paid academic position.
Or, you know, probably not. But if you're a grad student with no other job prospects and you're looking at this ad ... you might as well give it a shot, right? Take one more shot at that academic career that you've always wanted. Just hang on and do this work for free for one year, and maybe -just maybe - this gig will be the line on your CV that pushes you over the edge to that tenure-track job next year. It could happen, right???
I'll have more to say about this magical thinking later. For now, let's just focus on this "wonderful" job opportunity (which was, thankfully, pulled down after an outcry in social media).
You know what mostly strikes me about the fact that a prestigious research institution though it was totally appropriate to try to "hire" someone to work for free for them? What strikes me is that the only way that they knew they could get away with posting an ad like this is because they know there is a pool of desperate grad students and adjuncts out there who will do anything - anything - to stay close to academia in some way.
Think about it. In any other industry, if you posted a job but noted that you wouldn't be able to pay the person? You'd probably get a few applications ... but they'd all come from people who you probably wouldn't want to hire anyway. They'd either be really unqualified or would be people who were only going to keep your job until something better comes along in a few weeks or months. And that's certainly not someone you'd want to waste time hiring and training. Better to just offer a salary and get some serious applicants, you know?
But in academia, you can post an ad for a full-time unpaid job and be pretty certain that your applicants (1) will be qualified (because there aren't enough academic jobs out there!), and (2) will stay in the position through the full contract (since there wouldn't be any new academic opportunities until the following academic year). So from the university's perspective, it's a win-win. Don't waste any money paying anyone, but get the work done anyway ... by someone who will do a great job because they're desperate to pad their CV for their next shot at a real academic job.
I am SO glad that the university pulled that ad. Because if that ad had stayed put, and someone had taken that job, it would be just a matter of time before every university followed suit and the "low people on the totem pole" in academia would no longer be adjuncts, but would instead be people with graduate degrees who are working for free.
And I swear to god, it's getting to the point where if I hear one more person talk about how universities are interested in teaching and learning and the "pursuit of knowledge" and other wishy-washy crap like that, I'm going to scream. Universities are trying to take in the most tuition dollars while paying as little as possible out in salary and benefits. Take in more revenue than they put out the door. Just like every other company out there. Every one of them. You don't have to be trying to earn a profit to be trying to cut labor costs and take in more funding. And that's exactly what universities do now.
And as long as there are desperate grad students and adjuncts out there who are being fed the myths about the academic market and the "horrors" of outside jobs, universities will continue to get away with it.
I'm realizing, more and more, that the only way to potentially stop this cycle is for those of us who have left to continue speaking out about our (normal, enjoyable) experiences in the outside world ... and for those who are being exploited (like the folks at the Adjunct Project and Homeless Adjunct) to keep speaking out about their working conditions and the hopelessness of adjuncthood.
Perhaps if we all keep yelling from the rooftops, things will change. Until that happens, though, I have a bad feeling that this might not be the only "Wanted: Someone To Work For Free" type of ad that we will see coming from the hallowed halls of academia.
Because there's no labor cheaper than free labor ... and there's no one in the academic world more desperate for any opportunity than an academic who failed on the market but has no other job prospects.