Today, I'd like to introduce everyone to The Anti-Academic, who has been blogging for several months now (although it took me this long to catch on and actually link to hir blog, duhhh...).
Anti-Academic is a professor in the UK, and is currently planning hir escape from academia after slowly coming to realize that zie no longer enjoyed the work and simply needed something different. Zie details that in this post, which I thought was especially insightful. In particular, the section about growing exhausted with the lack of variety in academic jobs really caused a lightbulb to go off inside my head.
Because I've written, many times, about how I grew over time to hate academia as a profession, but I've never really been able to articulate why that was the case. And when I think about it in more detail, it doesn't really make sense. Sure, I hated doing research. But I loved teaching. And yet I don't regret leaving at all? How does that make any sense??
Well, I think Anti-Academic has hit on one reason that I don't miss it that I hadn't considered before - the lack of variety in an academic life. I enjoyed certain aspects of the job, but by the time I left I was bored and unenthused ... and didn't see either of those things changing as my career would progress. How could it, if I'd forever be doing the same things that bored me to tears in 2010?
Now, you might be thinking that I'm crazy. After all, academics work on different projects with different colleagues and teach different classes every single year! That's variety!
That's very true. You do have some variety in your day-to-day work as an academic. But the overall tasks are just about the same - month after month and year after year. Whether you teach an introductory class on Tuesday mornings in the fall semester or a seminar class on Wednesday nights in the spring semester, you still have to write a syllabus and exams and prep class activities. Whether you're writing a presentation about medieval basketweaving for a departmental seminar or about Victorian literature for an international conference, you're still just writing a presentation ... probably in the same format you've used for 50 other presentations. And whether you're working at a tiny school or a huge one, in the U.S. or in Europe? You're still working with the same kind of people (academics) doing the same activities (research and teaching).
On a day-to-day basis, then, the work can have some variety. But in the long-term? Not so much.
After all, even if you leave a job at Midwestern State University for another one at Big City College, you'll still be doing the same basic things. Teaching, writing, research, presentations, advising, committee work. If you change academic jobs a few years into your career, you won't be going to a new firm that's making/selling a different product or service, where you could learn new things and do different types of work. You'll still be in a university, "selling" education and research.
And if you get promoted within your organization from assistant to full professor, your job description won't change much. While in the outside world you could be given an entirely new set of job duties or put in charge of a whole team of people with a promotion, a promotion in academia means that you're doing basically the same work ... just with a fancier job title. Unless you become the president of the university, you'll still have the same basic job duties and colleagues and underlings, year after year after year.
Now obviously, that might be perfectly fine with some people. They truly love the work, and they love stability, and they can think of nothing better than teaching and advising and reading and writing every day, forever. That's great! Those people should at least consider staying in academia.
But some of us? Some of us need variety and change. Some of us need to know that things will change over time, that the work we're doing now won't be the work we're doing forever. And that's okay, too! It just might mean that an academic career might not be ideal for us.
I'd never really considered it until I read the Anti-Academic's post, but that's another reason I'm leaving. Even thought my current job is a little boring, I know that I won't be at this company forever, and I won't be doing this exact same work forever. There is variety in my future, and I think I'm realizing now that I thrive on change (or at least the possibility of change). I don't know where my career will go from here, but I know that I won't be doing this exact work at this exact company forever. And that feels pretty awesome in comparison to how I felt two years ago.
So go over, say hi to the Anti-Academic, and add hir to your bookmarks!
We haven't done a "You're not alone" post in awhile. So here you go - this week's group of search terms bringing people to this blog:
-grad school leaves me exhausted
-what to do if you hate your masters program
-constantly worried in grad school
-grad student cattiness
-happier after quitting grad school
-when you know that grad school sucks
....as well as the everyday searches of "I hate grad school," "how to leave academia," and "grad school sucks."
Every day, like clockwork, these searches bring people to this blog, from different places around the country. So remember - if you are feeling alone or feeling like you're the only person out there who isn't liking grad school or academia ... you aren't. Trust me.
Finally, here's a quick link to a post at Inside Higher Ed, which discusses a recommendation by the American Historical Association for grad programs to start publishing a thorough and complete listing of grad student placements going back at least ten years.
In other words, they can't cherry-pick that one graduate they landed at Harvard eight years ago as evidence of their "history of excellent job placement by our graduates!" Instead, they would have to put that Harvard prof right up next to the 27 adjuncts and 10 people working at libraries or museums or hotels or fast food places or wherever.
The point, obviously, is to make sure that incoming students have a clear and straightforward picture of what their job prospects look like after graduation.
Of course, the article mentions that many departments are reluctant to publicly post the data (or that they do, but that it's "not public." Which, of course, raises the question of why you'd even collect the data in the first place if you had no intention of publicizing it. But what do I know ... after all, I'm a grad school dropout. :)
On one hand, I do think this would be a good move for departments to make. Of course, you can't force people to make one decision or another, and if an undergraduate is truly determined to get hir Ph.D. in history and "be a professor," there's little anyone can do to dissuade them.
However, I think that departments should publish their placement information. It's important that they at least get that information out there for prospective and current students to see. From there, it's out of their hands whether people heed the warnings. I'm sure most people won't ... but at least nobody can say that they were misled about what a future in academia holds for them! And at least the graduate departments could say that they tried to warn people about the market.
So while I'm not optimistic that many (any?) of the departments will actually implement this recommendation, I hope that I am proven wrong. It would be wonderful to see departments trying to be honest with their students for once, rather than engaging in and encouraging magical thinking.