Hi all! Long time no talk!!
So apparently I'm posting a little less frequently these days ... a pattern I'll chalk up to my growing determination to focus on my offline life. Rather than spending my days holing up in front of a computer when I get home from my computer-oriented job (which was reminding me a little too much of my days in academia), I've been trying to get out and do things more often ... or to just spend timeoffline when I'm at home.
So for the past few weeks I've been holiday shopping, and meeting friends for dinner, and reading fun books, and started volunteering for a local charity. All stuff that is helping me move fully away from the mindset that I'm still kinda-sorta an academic, and into the mindset of being a regular person who has a regular job and does regular things with her spare time ... rather than just coming home and going back on the computer all night long. So far, so good!
Now, don't worry ... I won't shut down the blog or stop writing. As I've mentioned before ... it turns out that, to my surprise, I like blogging! And I'm still interested in reading and thinking about academic structure and culture and about the changing academic job market.
So don't worry - I'm not going anywhere for awhile, dear readers. Posts may be a little less frequent, but I'll still be around.
In "me" life, things are just fine. Work is okay, family is good, life is pretty alright. Partner and I went out of town for a weekend and had a relaxing Thanksgiving, and I'm looking forward to Christmas.
And things here in Grad U City are good. An old grad student friend of mine was in town last weekend, so I had drinks with him and several of his (current grad student) friends. I was a little apprehensive about showing up as a grad school dropout ... but to my surprise, a few of the people started spontaneously talking about how nice it would be to have a regular job with actual free time for once. I kept my mouth shut about my own thoughts, but I admit ... I felt pretty good.
In other news, my close friend who's on the job market had her first interview, and is now in that horrible waiting period between the interview and finding out whether or not she got the job. I'm trying my best to help her stay optimistic, and I'm hoping she will get the job. The campus is in a city that's not too far from Grad U City, so I could still see her fairly frequently ... and more importantly, she really really loves academia and I really want her to succeed.
But while I'm watching her go through this, I'm reminded of how crazy and random the academic job market is. She got an interview basically by cold-calling a department because her application had gotten crazily screwed up on its way to them. We both think that the department mainly called her for a phone interview because, well, she made it clear that she really wanted the job by calling them. If she gets the job, she will fully deserve it and will do a wonderful job. However, it's a little bit disturbing that in a supposed "meritocracy" like academia, a terrific candidate like my friend (who has multiple publications, a very prestigious fellowship, recommendations from well-known faculty, and tons of teaching experience) might only get one interview because she, basically, drew attention to herself in an unusual way.
Sigh. I'll be honest ... my new life may not be exciting and thrilling and my job isn't groundbreaking ... but I really am just so relieved to be out of that world. I just noticed the other day that I've been getting fewer headaches than I used to, and I've been sleeping better and haven't felt compelled to visit my therapist in close to a year. I don't think that any of those changes are unrelated to my departure from academia.
In case you haven't been following all of the posts at Mama Nervosa, I'd like to point out Lauren's excellent post from yesterday. It was one of those posts that I find myself nodding along to, thinking "yes ... yes ... this is exactly how I feel!"
In it, she makes the excellent point that when she's critiquing grad school and academia, she's making a structural critique of it based on her own personal experiences in a very particular type of grad program - a Ph.D. program that is intended to lead one to an academic job. And she emphasizes that her critiques should not be applied to all graduate programs ... and may not be relevant to all people who want to enroll in Ph.D. programs. And she also points out that there are a lot of things she liked about grad school.
Basically, she's arguing that when we postacademics critique grad school and academia, we're not pretending our experiences are the gospel truth ... or that grad school and academia are universally terrible places for every single person out there. We're simply pointing out (what we believe to be) important and underreported observations about academic culture and structure ... but with the huge caveat that our viewpoints are somewhat subjective, and that it's up to everyone out there to decide what's best for them.
While I can't speak for everyone in this corner of the blogosphere, I know that I'm not trying to push a certain viewpoint on everyone who reads here. I'm just trying to give some airtime to an (in my opinion) underrepresented view of academia ... that it's not all sunshine and roses all the time, and that sometimes "everything doesn't all work out in the end," despite what your advisors tell you.
But of course, my experiences aren't universal truths, and I don't view the past decade as an utter and complete waste of time.
Like Lauren, I am incredibly glad I got my masters' degree and that I spent several years teaching and doing research. Those things have given me skills that I use in my current job and that I expect to continue using throughout my career. I'm glad I went to grad school ... I just wish I'd left after my fourth or fifth year instead of nearly a decade. :(
Also like Lauren, I met some really terrific people who treated me really well and helped me out and who I still count among my close friends. I also met a lot of misanthropic people who I couldn't stand, and I do believe that unlikeable people are disproportionately present in academia ... but that should not be interpreted as if I think that all academics are like that. Because I don't.
And also like Lauren, I do think that grad school (even a Ph.D. program in the humanities or social sciences) can be a good decision for some people. In particular - people who have a clear understanding of how terrible the academic job market is and who have a clear backup plan in mind for if (and probably when) academia doesn't pan out in the way they imagined.
...However, the current structure of higher ed and grad school virtually guarantees that no one entering a Ph.D. program will actually have that kind of preparation or perspective on what they're facing. Graduating seniors who are excitedly asking their undergrad professors for recommendation letters aren't also asking for Ph.D. job market information, and current faculty aren't usually handing out that information to their promising students.
So in general, I'll be honest ... I don't think entering a Ph.D. program in the social sciences or humanities is a great idea. But as Lauren points out - that's a structural critique of academia in general, not an attack on anyone who chooses to go to grad school. (After all ... I did it, too. Far be it from me to judge anyone else for heading down the same path I chose!) And it's a generalized viewpoint ... not one that relates to everyone's individual situation.
But I do strongly, strongly encourage anyone who's considering a Ph.D. program to think long and hard about it before enrolling. It's not like undergrad, and it's not a great life for everyone, and you're not guaranteed a good outcome in the end. If you fully understand this, then great! Go forth and enjoy yourself!
But if you aren't sure of what you'll be facing, then think long and hard. Once you're in, it's very very hard to get out.
Anyway, Lauren finishes her post with an interesting comparison of discussions about grad school and discussions about childbirth. I can't really relate to what she's writing, having not given birth myself ... but it did call to mind this old post at PAINYC's place, where she draws some parallels between the kind of things that people will say to you when you leave grad school and the things people will say when you tell them you don't want a baby.
These two posts have me thinking ... maybe there are some parallels between the decision to go into (or leave) academia and the decision about whether and how to be a parent. Hmmmm ... interesting!