Monday, August 27, 2012

Ask a Postacademic #7 ... and Yet Another New Blog!

Hey all!

Posting is going to be super-light and I won't be around much for the next week or so ... I have a busy workweek ahead of me, and then my partner and I are going out of town for a much-needed relaxing beach vacation over Labor Day weekend. Yayyyyyyyyy!!!!!

Anyway, I wanted to put something up quickly today and will probably try to dig up another postacademic rant or something similar to auto-post later this week, just to give you something to look at. But I won't be around much for comments or questions until next week. I've been feeling a little bit overwhelmed and "blah" lately, and am desperately committed to making this trip be as unplugged and relaxing and enjoyable as humanly possible. Wish me luck!


However, before I go I did want to link everyone to another new postacademic blog. Post-Medievalist is a humanities (obviously :) grad student who has already written a lot of terrific stuff at her blog ... so far, there are posts about academic guilt, about the stress that an international research trip placed on her relationship and finances, and a particularly insightful post that compares the process of leaving academia to a sort of lingering sickness that develops and worsens over time.

She also has an interesting post that touches on some things that I've thought for a long time about academia but have never really addressed at this blog - namely, the distance between what academics actually "do" (in terms of producing knowledge for dissemination to the wider world) and how much knowledge actually gets out there into that wider world:
One of the real, moral problems that I have with remaining a member of academe is the distance between my work and the general public. Oh, some of my ideas would filter into my classes, but my students wouldn't necessarily take them to heart. They have their own agenda and goals that have nothing to do with my ideas. While it is something, I don't want [teaching] to be my only means of communicating my ideas to people outside of the academic world.
As someone who loved teaching, I also struggled with this, and have felt some guilt about how little I miss teaching. Wasn't that my platform for "getting my ideas out there?" How could I not miss it? How terrible of an academic was I if I don't even mind having lost my platform for teaching students about how things actually are in the larger world? Don't I remember and miss those "lightbulb moments" where students Really Got It?

Well, despite those few lightbulb moments, I have to admit that most of my time in the classroom was a lot less enlightening than that. Most of it was just lecturing and note-taking and video-watching and feeling like a trained monkey in front of the classroom, trying to keep the students awake. My ideas might have been getting "out there," but most of the time they just floated out into the air in the classroom, ready to be forgotten as soon as the students walked out of class, started texting, and forgot all about my class for the weekend.

Don't get me wrong - being in front of a classroom was occasionally pretty cool, and there definitely were fantastic moments where I really got through to the students and helped the majority of them "get" a new concept or see a social pattern they hadn't noticed before. But most of the time, I definitely wasn't "getting my work and my thoughts out there" as much as I hoped that I would before I started my academic career.

Pi also had an interesting post about this kind of thing earlier in the week, but more related to how academics disseminate their research and "actual facts" around in the media. The subject is different, but the basic point is the same - academics all think that they're doing groundbreaking work and making a difference in the larger world, when in reality they aren't accomplishing much that people are noticing. For some people, that can get depressing.

Anyway, go check out Post-Medievalist's place. It's good stuff. As far as I can tell from what she's written so far, she hasn't officially "come out" as a leaver to her department yet and is still working, but is trying to write a resume and start looking for jobs. Welcome to the post-ac blogosphere, PM!


Also, I'm going to answer a quick question that was posed to me in an email this week ...
What are you going to do/have you done with all of your academic books? I live in a tiny apartment, so space is at a premium, and even when I was actually fully engaged with my work I knew that I was holding onto many books that I would never look at again but felt compelled to keep for professional reasons. Now that I will hopefully be finding a [new] job ... I'm fantasizing about reclaiming that extra square-footage!
Great question, AR. I, too, had a bunch of books that I never planned to reopen - even if I had decided to stay in academia. Once I was no longer going to have that faculty office with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, it was time to rethink my library. (Not to mention that I had a feeling of visceral disgust when I looked at some of the books that reminded me a little too much of my crappy dissertation or my shitty advisor. Heh).

Anyway, dealing with the books was simple. First, I went through my whole library and pulled out all of the library books. I returned them to the library ... slowly at first, and then ultimately dropping the last 25 or so off at once on one "fuck it - I'm done!" type of day last fall. :)

I went slowly at first because - surprisingly - it was kind of emotionally difficult for me. I'd had some of those books for years. Parting with them felt like parting with the last acknowledgement that I was an Important Grad Student. So I moved slowly at first, always reassuring myself that I could get the books back if I changed my mind. But instead, I felt more and more convinced that I was doing the right thing ... and dumped the rest of them.

For the books I owned, I first sorted through them and kept the ones I thought were interesting or might prove useful in the future. Books on topics I found interesting, and one basic stats book (since I occasionally use basic stats to do financial reports at work). I also hung onto a couple sample textbooks, just in case I wound up teaching a class again someday. Or, I don't know ... as evidence that I once was a college teacher or something, just in case I ever needed to convince someone. Who knows.

For the rest of the books - mostly heavy theory and stats books - I put them up for sale on Amazon, in the marketplace. (I know that there are more ethical places/ways to sell things than Amazon, but that's the one I chose). Selling the books actually felt good - I was giving them to someone else who could use them (other grad students, a few libraries), and got some money for them so that it didn't feel like a total loss for me. All told, I made a few hundred bucks on book sales. Not too shabby! (And for the record, selling books on Amazon is pretty self-explanatory and can work well financially, as long as you stay on top of mailing your orders and only sell books that have a high resale value).

After a few months had gone by and I sold all of the books that were clearly going to sell, I piled up the rest of the unwanted books and took them to a used academic book store that is in our town. I got a very small amount of money for them ... but that wasn't why I did it. I just wanted to get them out of my house, but didn't want to throw them away (for obvious reasons). If your town doesn't have an academic bookseller, then perhaps a regular used book store will want them.

So that's it. I still have some, but have offloaded a vast majority of my books. And it felt amazingly freeing. Now, I just need to finally get rid of the extra bookshelf cluttering up my study...


If I don't write more this week, have a great holiday weekend! And to those of you who are still plugging forward in the academic world, I hope your semester is getting off to a reasonably happy and stress-free start. Take care, everyone!


  1. Thanks for the shout out! I've been having a ball with the blog, and the post-academic community at large. It's been so freeing to know that I'm not the only one who has wrestled with the questions and emotions tied up with leaving.

  2. OMG, thanks for another "you are not alone" moment! It took me TWO YEARS to get all of my library books returned!!!!

    On non-library books, I've kept most, largely because I have the space where I'm currently living but also because I've switched to mostly buying e-books so the collection isn't growing. Also, I just kinda like having them around. They took me places, ya know? And good places, too, mostly, despite the evilness of academe. Since my field was literature, at least 2/3 of mine are fiction or poetry. No doubt, though, if I ever have to move someplace smaller, I'll be selling ...

    Have an awseome vacation!

  3. It took me a month to get all the library books back. I had two 4 foot high stacks of books but it was very freeing to dump them into the book drop.

    On the non-library books, I took many to a local bookstore that buys used books and has a deal with Google books. They bought most of my books and gave me store credit for them which I put on a gift card. Then I went onto Google books and bought ebooks with the cash. It got those academic-ish books out of my place and I got to buy some entirely for fun ebooks that didn't clutter up my place with the cash, while still supporting my local non-chain bookstore. Several grad students in my department also sell old textbooks on or the university's site. I vote: Take back the space!

  4. An interesting story...APSA scheduled a conference in New Orleans and won't cancel it even though it coincides with a hurricane! Some are saying that it is only graduate students who are willing to take the risk and who have no option but to go.