So I've been thinking quite a bit about the whole U of M/postac kerfuffle over the past few weeks, and have been following the continuing debate over it (this reaction was particularly great) as well as the conversation surrounding Rebecca Schuman's new article in the Chronicle (behind the paywall, unfortunately) - which includes, incredibly, a full professor at an R1 university trying to invalidate her argument because she made a snarky comment about a few pioneering theorists. Sigh.
Anyway, I wrote my last post because I wanted to defend myself against the (untrue) assertion that I think grad students are all privileged jerks who can't get real jobs. As I wrote two weeks ago - that is not, never has been, and never will be true of my thoughts on privilege in academia.
But now that I've gotten that out of my system and have been following the ongoing postacademic debates, I've been thinking more and more about the silencing attempts I've been witnessing. First, of course, we have Amy Pistone telling all of us to shut up on an official graduate school website. Then, we see professors trying to deride and belittle critics like Schuman in the pages of a major magazine/website. And so on and so on. The critiques of postacademia, then, seem to amount to "shut up and stop talking!"
(I mean, unless I'm way off base, I haven't seen any other critiques of our work out there. No one can refute the horrific job outlook for many disciplines, nor can they argue with the fact that some people don't like certain types of work (even academic work) ... so all they're left with is "Well, I love my work, so you just shut up and stop talking and everything will be fine for everyone!!")
The more I've thought about the people who are saying those things to Schuman and William Pannapacker and the other critics of Ph.D. education, the angrier I've gotten. And now I feel compelled to write about why I haven't stopped updating this blog even though I'm officially out of academia, and why I'm not going to shut up and stop talking anytime soon.
Now, the whole grad school should-you-or-shouldn't-you-go debate isn't mine. I'm not going to tell anyone that they should or shouldn't go, and I've never really focused on that dilemma on this blog. Everyone is different, and there's no universal "yes" or "no" answer to whether someone should go to grad school. I do wish that fewer people would enroll in Ph.D. programs, but I have not and will not sit here telling individual people to not go or to drop out. You won't see that here.
But I will continue to sound the alarm about the collapsing academic job market, and I will continue to provide a safe commenting space for unhappy academics and grad students to come, under the cloak of anonymity, to find support and commiseration for how they're feeling.
Because here's the thing, current academics who are telling us to shut up and stop talking ... you have no idea how much of an audience there is for what we're writing. Whether you're a happy third-year grad student or a tenured professor ensconced safely safe in your office ... you have no idea about two things that a lot of people in your line of work experience every single day - (1) how demoralizing and exhausting it is to be adjuncting for years while taking 4 or 5 shots at the job market; and (2) how much some of your colleagues and students dislike the work that you love.
I can't speak directly to #1, but many other bloggers and writers can. I defer to their expertise.
But I want to talk to you about #2. Because I do know about that one.
Here's the dirty little secret I'm going to share with Pistone and the other smug academics out there. Despite how much you might love your work and academia in general? However much you might believe that any sacrifice is worth it as long as you can teach Ancient Greek Basketweaving for one more semester? Many of your colleagues and students don't feel the same way.
And however much you might believe that that crappy adjunct gig is your (or your student's) ticket to the tenure track in a year or two? Many of your colleagues and students don't believe that, or are unwilling to sacrifice their lives for additional years to find out if it is.
We postacademics know this because we hear from those colleagues and students. When your unhappy, frustrated colleagues or students reach their wits' end with academia, and when they crash into the brick wall of your smugness and your blindness to academia's structural problems and your silencing of anyone who questions the academic cult, they come to postacademic blogs for relief.
Because as every single postacademic (or wannabe postacademic) knows, there is absolutely no room within academia for critiques of the industry, questions about the ethics of adjuncthood, discussions of alternative careers, or any suggestion that academia might not be the most wonderful, perfect, fulfilling job in the world for every single person.
So the unhappy academics bite their tongues and they stay quiet, and then one day (like each of us did) they stumble across one of our blogs, and then they find the rest of us, and they express gratitude that they have found a place where their feelings are validated and where they aren't made to feel like a stupid sellout who isn't "good enough" for academia.
So we postacademics keep writing, because those colleagues and students of yours deserve to know they're not alone and they're not stupid. Because god knows they aren't hearing that from you.
When I started this blog in March 2011, I thought that perhaps I would get a few hits here and there from people who googled "leaving academia"and other similar things. Primarily, though, I thought that this blog would be a space for me to write down my thoughts and feelings in relative privacy. I didn't give out the address to anyone I knew - not even my partner or my best friends.
I remember posting my first entry, and then making and eating dinner, and then coming back to look at my blog stats about 3-4 hours later. And lo and behold, Blogger showed that I had about 50 hits from google searches. Whoah, I thought. That must be a mistake.
Over the next few days, the hits kept coming. Within a few weeks I was getting 100 hits per day. I got my first comment a month later - "you said exactly what I was feeling!"
To my surprise, there was an audience out here for this kind of thing.
Today, this blog gets around 200 fresh (non-bot) hits per day, even when I don't write anything. If I write a new post, the views spike to around 500-600 (and that was before the traffic spikes I've been getting recently from my postac friends on twitter).
For the record, I am not bragging. I've never tried to get a lot of traffic ... I don't self-promote or blogflog anywhere, and I don't write for pageviews (if I did, I'd certainly be posting more often than once a month!!!).
But I am telling our critics that no matter how much they wish it weren't true, there is an audience out here who is looking for people to tell them it's okay to quit (or simply to not like) academia. And for them - not as much for myself anymore - I am going to keep writing.
And the more you criticize the postacademic community and tell us to shut up and stop talking, the more I put myself in the shoes of your unhappy colleagues and miserable students, who hear you and then continue to think they have no one to talk to. And that motivates me to keep writing.
Here is a list of the search terms who have brought people to this blog in the last week:
-i hate grad school (8 searches)
-leaving grad school (10)
-grad school depression (6)
-am i failure for dropping out of grad school (2)
-don't care about grad school anymore (2)
-getting out of academia (3)
-i don't want to finish my master's degree (2)
-i don't like my research (2)
-phd student isolation (2)
-academia shitty (2)
-grad school problems
-always feel unsure nervous grad school
-depression in phd program
-love my topic hate my program phd
-nervous breakdown because of phd help
-graduate school loneliness never had a problem before
-help i hate grad school
-why do i hate grad school
-help for grad school self-doubt
And my least favorite search term - the one that makes my heart drop every single time I see it (because no, this is not the first time it's appeared in my traffic):
-grad school suicidal
The people who are googling these things are not having their minds changed because of what I write. They are already feeling that way when they arrive. So it doesn't matter if I shut up or stop writing. Those people are still out there, and they still deserve to know they are not alone.
(Also, please take a look at my "You're Not Alone" series, as well as the extensive list of search terms that have landed folks at the 100 Reasons Not to Go blog. ... Still think that if we shut up, no one will have negative thoughts about your beloved line of work??)
As for the origins of these unhappy people who google their way to my blog? Is it really just one lonely, bitter grad school dropout living in his mom's basement, passing the time by looking for someone to validate his anger?
Nope! Sorry to disappoint.
Here are two Google Maps (pulled directly from StatCounter) showing the (North American) cities from where visitors to my blog came over a 33 hour period earlier this week (May 15th & 16th). As you can see from my archives, there were no new posts on those days.
67% of these visitors were making their very first visit to my blog, and 51% of them landed on an archived post rather than on the front page.
I could pull one of these for any given period that you want ... and they always look similar. People come from all over, and new people arrive every day.
And perhaps most importantly ... 29% of the traffic in those 33 hours came from college or university campus IP addresses - from tiny schools, larger state schools, and three different Ivies.
This is why I am still blogging. And this is why I will not shut up.
Because there is an audience out there for this. And no matter how much you might wish it to be true, smug academics? Taking away the articles and blog posts about leaving academia won't get rid of the crappy academic job market or the fact that a lot of people are unhappy in academia but cannot talk about it from within the cult of academia.
So if you don't want to hear what we're saying, don't listen. See that little "X"
at the top of the tab next to the words "From Grad School to Happiness" at the top
of your web browser? Go ahead and click it.
But you don't get to tell us to stop writing for the people who need to hear what we're saying.
Ed. Note: If you are new to the postacademic world and like what you're reading, please check out our collaborative website and e-book!
You are not alone, and we are here to help! - JC (1/5/14)