Monday, August 20, 2012

New Blogs (and Crappy Advice from Advisors)

Hey, everyone! Sorry for my relative lack of posting this month ... it's been a crazy one!

Today, I have two new postacademic blogs to link you to, along with some brief additional commentary stemming from a conversation I had with a grad student friend of mine this week...

(Seriously, I cannot believe how many postacademics we have out here! Maybe the group of us will someday be able to really get the word out that Grad School Is Not Necessarily A Great Life Plan, or that Academia Kind of Sucks For Some People. Maybe...)

Also, don't be surprised if you see me ramping up my complaints about academia in the next few months. My one good grad student friend is on the job market this year, and is currently at the annual national sociological conference, starting the process of trying to network herself* into a job somewhere. As someone who occupies the weird space of (1) having gone through the whole market process, having been reasonably successful with interviews, and having survived, but (2) ultimately winding up very cynical about the whole thing, I've become a huge sounding board for her. Which is great - I genuinely want to help her stay sane through this whole process and to help her keep some perspective on the whole thing ... while genuinely hoping that she is able to get an academic job, since that's what she really wants.

But as you'll see in a minute, these conversations are also drawing my attention - yet again! - to the ridiculousness of the academic job market and to the utterly cruel and deluded things people will say to you while you're going through it.

So I'm sure I will have Many Further Thoughts About Academia and the Academic Job Market (tm) to share with you over the next few months.

Blog intros after the jump...


The first new postacademic blog is Doctor Outtahere. She only has a couple of posts so far, but she sent me an email and she seems very committed to continuing to create and strengthen the postacademic community out here. And I hope that she keeps writing, if only to keep giving us observations like this:
This is your one life. It owes you nothing. You owe it everything. Don't fall asleep at the intersection.
And like this:
I don't love scholarship enough to give up everything again (and again) and follow it to the ends of the earth. 
You will never lose me as an intellectual peer. I am an intellectual for life. But - as Eudora Welty once wrote - "there are other ways to be." Intellectuals, artists, geniuses, they're everywhere. 
If you've been reading here for awhile, I don't need to tell you how much I love and agree with that statement. There are smart and creative and engaged people everywhere. I promise you that.

And guess what? I, too, still consider myself an intellectual. I still have the same brain, and the same ability to think critically and to put ideas together and to craft arguments and to write (hopefully fairly well). I left grad school ... but I didn't remove my brain from my head and put it on the floor. I'm still smart and engaged with the world around me and interested in the same topics I was interested in before. I'm just not interested in academia anymore.

And if you leave, it'll be the same for you. You'll still be an intellectual, just like Doctor Outtahere.

Anyway, thus far on her blog, she has just made the decision to leave and is beginning to break the news to other people. So head on over there and offer your support/advice!


The second new blog is called "What Do You Do With an M.A. in English?" ... although I sort of prefer the URL title of "AnotherPostAcademicBlog." In fact, I'm just going to call hir APAB for now :) Zie has already left academia, and is currently temping while trying to figure out what zie wants to do next with her life.

Zie has a lot of posts up, so I'll let you head over there and peruse hir stuff on your own. But I did want to highlight one post zie wrote, since it ties in so neatly to a conversation I was having about academia with my Job Marketing Friend earlier this week.

In the linked post, the blog author writes about several faculty members at hir grad institution who openly encouraged their grad students to either live apart from or break up with their significant others, so as to not get distracted from their studies and their all-important academic work.

APAB, thankfully, recognizes this for the complete and utter bullshit that it is (probably illustrating how zie was able to see the light about academia and to leave), and notes that
I realize that work/life balance is not always a field of daisies in the "real" work world either, but I don't know any of my non-academic friends who have been told to give up their relationships and hobbies by their bosses if they want to advance in their career. 
Neither do I, for the record. As I've written many times before, the world outside of academia is not the plot of a sitcom. There are mean bosses, of course ... but most of the time, people (including bosses) understand that you will have relationships that are important to you and that you deserve free time to devote to those relationships and to hobbies you may have.

Academia doesn't really support that.

And to this argument, I have another anecdote. Job Marketing Friend and I had dinner last week, and were talking about her recent meeting with her advisor, in which they discussed the job market and the schools she was planning to apply to.

JMF's advisor told her that she should consider applying to the jobs that were posted in two particular foreign countries. JMF has dual citizenship in one of the countries, and quite a few friends who live in the other country.

But JMF also has a partner who is not willing or able to move to a foreign country due to family and personal reasons. She also wants to remain in the U.S. so as to stay close to her family and the 98% of her friends who live here.

So she said that to her advisor. "Well, that would give me a few more possibilities, but [partner] wouldn't be able to come with me and I would probably only get to see my parents a couple of times per year. So that wouldn't work for me. I want to stay in the U.S."

Of course, being the professional adult that she is, and being married and a parent herself, JMF's advisor responded, "...Oh of course! That makes perfect sense!! Let's focus on these U.S. applications, then!"

Hahahahahahahahaha ... yeah right. In actuality, her advisor started telling her that she was going to have to "make sacrifices for her career" and that she and her partner would "figure out some way to make it work." And reiterated the advice to apply to the foreign jobs. "You'll figure out a way to make it work!"

Only in academia is "not living in the same country as your partner" considered to be a sacrifice that must be made for your career. Only in academia is your desire to "live somewhere where you actually want to live" some kind of signifier that you aren't serious enough about your career. Only in academia are you expected to totally forego all of the things that make you happy about your life and to sacrifice all of your personal relationships at the altar of the almighty faculty position. UGH.

Luckily, I think that JMF felt better after she talked to me and got some reassurance that it wasn't crazy to want to live with your partner. But, damn. As APAB writes in hir post from last week ...
Not cool, academia.

Go forth and check out the new blogs! And if you're reading here and thinking about starting one? Jump on in ... the water's fine!! :)

*You should not assume that my Job Marketing friend is female. Or male. I just got weary of writing the gender neutral pronouns over and over again. The next time I write about Job Marketing friend, she will probably have a new imaginary gender.


  1. I've been feeling guilty about leaving academia, mostly because of my supervisor's stance that I owe it to academia to become an academic (because of all of the funding that went into "producing" me). But that Eudora Welty line is exactly right. There are other ways to be. Just because a person has no desire to be a professor doesn't mean that person has no desire to use her/his intellect or to make use of his/her skills.

    Thanks as always, JC. Leaving academia really, truly is like leaving a cult.

  2. I can empathize with your friend. In my graduate program, we have an exchange "fellowship" with two foreign universities. As a part of the deal, several graduate instructors from their programs teach at our university, and we send a few of our instructors to them. In theory, it works out for everyone.

    I was more or less railroaded into going when I was doing my M.A. I was living with my boyfriend (now my husband) at the time, and I didn't discuss it with him. I felt pressured by the department to put in an application to go even though I didn't really want to, and even though it put a LOT of pressure on our relationship.

    I am currently facing a similar problem. My current adviser is telling me that I *need* to participate in the other exchange program while I work on my dissertation because 1) that's where the manuscripts are and 2) there is the unspoken threat of a terrible job market. In all, I feel like a checker piece that is being shuffled around to the benefit of the department. Any conflicts that exist with my personal life aren't considerations. My husband has intimated to me that the emotional distress he suffered after I left the first time is enough for him to consider divorce if I were to decide to leave again. This piece of information, however, would not interest my adviser. The other problem is financial. Participating in this exchange means living on about 200 euros a month after rent. This is not a living wage in the city I would be in, manuscripts or no manuscripts. Sacrifice? HA!

  3. Although, I haven't check the 'Doctor' blog (thanks for the heads up, JC!) I am enjoying APAB tons, and JC... Did you know that your writing skills are superb? Thanks!

  4. My advisor also tried the argument about how much funding went into my training. If I remember correctly (this conversation happened a long time ago now), I pointed out how much income I had foregone by pursuing an academic career. Certainly that would be my response to that particular argument now. My own investment in my academic career (however you want to measure it, and money is the least of those measures) was far greater than anyone else's, but academia didn't recognize any obligation on its part to give me a job.

  5. Think about "why" they NEED you. The system relies on its "cogs" in the academic machine in order to keep producing. Ken, I absolutely agree with you in that academia doesn't believe it has an obligation to employ you. It DOES, however, feel a desperate NEED to keep you in the system so it can keep moving in its archaic direction, dinosaur the system is.

    I truly believe that the entire system, everything from giant international research universities down to the single building junior colleges and for-profits, cannot sustain itself for much longer. I think its a system working on outdated beliefs that only worked in another economy, in another place, in another time. It's only a matter of time before the system crumbles under its own weight of excess and wasteful behaviors. And by "wasteful" I mean the wasting of pure human potential, both in the faculty ranks and how the students are treated.

    I work at a CC and it really does feel like I"m on the Titanic. Any changes that are put forth are simply clay patches for leaking holes that get bigger every day.

  6. This is the Anonymous poster from August 20th, 11:49 PM. Thanks for the insights, everyone. Ken: that's a great point and a fabulous counterargument. I think many supervisors see their doctoral students as vehicles for achieving intellectual immortality (e.g. they believe that because they trained us, our teaching and research will exactly mimic theirs when we become professors). So, I suspect that a good part of my supervisor's insistence that I owe it to the system to become an academic arises from her disappointment at having "wasted" six years of her life training me. Since my career trajectory won't end up directly benefiting her, her efforts were ultimately all for nothing. Etc, etc.

  7. Thanks so much for the intro, JC! And yeah, I guess I didn't think about providing a short way for people to refer to me when I came up with that title - oops! APAB will do just fine :).

    And wow, your anecdote about your friend is really crazy (same for Post Medievalist's story) - why do academics do these things to their advisees?! Is it that they are really willing to make these kinds of sacrifices themselves and just can't believe others aren't? Or is it that they want to blame their students' inability to find jobs on the students' refusal to make sacrifices instead of on the fact that the job market sucks, so that they can feel better about continuing the whole endeavor to educate more PhDs? (Sorry, that's a convoluted sentence there.)

    And in reference to the commenter whose supervisor claims that zie "owes" something to academia for all the money spent on hir - I think Ken's response is great. It's also not like grad students just sponge off their departments for 6+ years - we contribute a lot to the department and university through our teaching and research. As other bloggers have written, grad school is a job, not some kind of nice present we were lucky to receive out of our grad dept's beneficence.

  8. Oh, didn't you get the "By the way, you'll likely have to relocate to another country, live apart from your family, and make a minimum wage lifestyle work if you REALLY REALLY BELIEVE IN THIS CAREER" memo when YOU applied to grad school?

  9. Just want to say I love the blog! It's been a reassuring daily visit as I move towards leaving my postdoc and creating a startup company. You've covered pretty much all of the issues I'm having as a type I leaver other than perhaps (for obvious reasons) the additional bureaucratic headaches the NIH grant structure presents to academics in STEM fields.

    One note on the last point in your post today... at least speaking as someone coming a STEM background, the zie/hir gender neutral pronouns are kind of odd and force me to re-read a lot of sentences (my eye gets caught on the z!) Is this a standard in the academic social science field? I'm much more used to seeing people either use they/their or just alternate genders between examples.

  10. Wow, I am so flattered that you mentioned my blog! And thanks for pointing us to another one to check out...I'm always scouting for internet compatriots! You're awesome, and I love your blog. Thanks again.