Saturday, May 18, 2013

Why I Won't "Just Shut Up"

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)
-academia bitterness
-grad school problems
-hate research
-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) 


  1. Great blog post! I think that people like to tell others to stop talking since they fundamentally don't like it when others talk let alone disagree with them or have an alternative opinion.

    I've come to the conclusion that these people are cross since their lifestyle as they see it is being challenged. They're not really in academia to teach people but for the lifestyle it offers them...not the knowledge offered or the possibility of the life of the mind.

  2. Thank you. I'm happy for this debate to continue, no matter how heated it gets, but I am getting REALLY weary of posts with a "shut up" tone. As you point out, posts like this are genuinely NEEDED in a community that is full of frustrated people with no place to safely share their concerns.

  3. Thanks for keeping this conversation up, JC -- and for not shutting up! I haven't been much inclined to get involved lately, but, yeah, it's totaly redonkulous, as Rebecca said in one of her comments in the Chronicle piece, that anyone shoul be telling us to shut up. Says more about them than us.

    And thanks for linking to my "Stop comparing ... " post in the commments. It's a point that needs to be made repeatedly. I alreay have a troll on that psot, clearly coming over from the Chronicle piece, who wants to get into it. The negativity that comes from some of these people is baffling. If things are so awesome great for them inside academe, they should be able to take a little criticism. Something tells me things aren't really so great ...

    1. Ugh, I'm sorry you got a troll. I really didn't think anyone would bother going over to your place (or mine) to argue ... clearly I underestimated the level to which faculty are willing to take their defensiveness. :(

      But, yeah. I didn't ask to be part of this whole ac/postac war, but I'll stay and fight.

  4. Just to further buttress your attitude, I am one of those people who came here via one of those search terms at some point or another. Now I've left the cult, I'm on the road to re-achieving mental health, and I have an alt-ac job interview in the works.

    Reading this sort of stuff saved my life (figuratively for sure, possibly literally). Never doubt the impact of this sort of writing for a second.

  5. Dude, thanks for posting. You actually help me to feel better. It is amazing that this kind of stuff is not actually more widely discussed. In matter of fact, I've just seen a grad student jump from a parkade at a important Canadian University and talked to a prof that seemed to indicated he failed his comprehensive examinations. People keep pretending that they are happy and everything will be ok, but then you see this happening right there, in front of you, your workplace. OH, the guy died, unfortunately. Obviously, because suicide news actually encourage other people to do the same, this will go around as gossip and in the end it will be only another sad story that know one heard of or cared about. Keep posting and thanks for the good work.

  6. Hear hear!! This needs to be put on How to Leave Academia!

    1. Good idea, Lauren! I will crosspost it later this week.

  7. Amen, sister. Keep it up. If it weren't for blogs like this, I don't think I could have mustered the energy to defend and wrap up my degree; I might, instead, have quit in despair. Now that I'm out and working a regular job, life is immeasurably better. The most pernicious lie that academics tell each other is that non-academic life is intellectually unsatisfying and requires kissing up to bosses. Here's a secret: nope and nope.

    Here's another secret: for some of us, it's academic life that's intellectually unsatisfying. As JC has pointed out on innumerable occasions, most of humanity couldn't care less about the journals you've published in or the conference panels you've organized. There's so much more out there, and in your life, to care about. Come, rejoin the species. And when people react with outrage, shrug and enjoy your newfound freedom.

  8. Thankfully I will only have to pay for this intro to grad school. I don't believe I'm going to finish. My kids don't need me to be all stressed for the next two years. And I'm not so sure I'm going to be able to get the advance practice license I'm going after since a doctorate will be required the year I graduate anyway.
    I appreciate your blogsite and will be stopping by often.
    Monday I will be pulling out of this graduate program. Eating cardboard is what this feels like. I hate eating cardboard.

  9. I also read the article you are talking about. I'm never in favor of dissenting opinions "just shutting up." Any side of a discussion deserves a chance to prove it's merit in an ongoing debate. It's up to a discerning audience to decide what they believe.

    That being said, to play devil's advocate, I think the tone of frustration that can be found in Rebecca Schuman's article is due to the stigmatization of graduate students who have thought through what they are doing and are leading happy, fulfilled lives in graduate school.

    I don't blame anyone at all for writing a blog about why not to go to graduate school. But then I also don't blame Rebecca Schuman for presenting the opposing opinion, either.

  10. I found your site by searching as well and you're right it's because being a grad student sucks but nobody seems to be honest enough in the academic world to say it. Unfortunately I am still in a PhD program in the humanities. You know what I am really tired of, being told I am not competitive. I hear that shit constantly, I heard it when I applied to grad schools, I heard it when I applied for scholarships, assistant ships, fellowships, or any other kind of funding. So what exactly are they looking for? That's what I don't understand.

  11. You have seriously improved my day just reading this. I can't even. I have written so many things here and had to delete them because they are just too bitter and miserable. Consider this my love letter to you, and one big FUCK OFF to the entire academic system. May it someday burn to the ground so we can be rid of it forever and everyone can live in the real world again.

    1. I echo and second the rage Courtney.

  12. Keep writing! The fact that so many people are against you proves that you are now a REAL threat to the established order. Kudos!! Before they could dismiss us with impunity! Now there are actually marketing gurus who are spending their valuable time trying to uphold the name of their institutions in what I am calling the "blog wars". If they are finally start to sweat a bit the way we did for years, endlessly feeling insecure about their position in the academy, let them get angry! It will only expose them for being the true bullies that they are (oh my, the inmates have gotten uppity! What ever shall we do!). In fact, I say write as MANY documentaries, letters, essays, exposing the ivory tower for the worthless Ponzi scheming, sweat shop loving self-serving loaf of crap that it is. Remember, there are more of us than those admin types who are guarding the tower. The whole deck of cards is about to fall!

  13. I don't really have anything to add that hasn't already been said other than I'm another person that shares the same sentiments as most of the other commenters. It's not just the humanities though, there's no academic market for the "hard" sciences either. the academic system is all-around broken but they'll never admit it. People in my R1 dept. are committing to 2 to 4 year post-docs (i.e. grad school 2.0) as that's become the new "normal" for anyone event wanting to get considered for TT positions. because, you know, post-docs are more cheap labor for big universities to exploit. F__K that.

    For the record, I want to a small regional state university before starting my PhD at my current R1 and I got a wonderful education there. Best professors I've ever had. Education at an R1 (based on my anecdotal evidence with a sample size of n=1) is a joke. This place doesn't give a F__K about education. I would wager that a lot of R1s are fairly similar. End rant.

    1. I'm at an R1 as well and your entire post rings true for me.

  14. Yay for blogs like this. Finishing my SEVENTH year in grad school... and I can't even see the end. I am afraid to tell my committee that I will do a postdoc when hell freezes over. I will have a PhD in biochemistry when I am 34- that I will probably not use so that I can have kids before menopause. Every day I just ask myself why I threw away almost an entire decade of my life.

    1. Hey, I'm presently 34, and I'm only finishing a master's program in philosophy. With luck, I'll be a PhD by the time I'm 40, with zero value on the job market. I can't tell you the number of times people have told me, in all seriousness, that they would consider killing themselves if they were in my position. Maybe it's self-serving, but I think I'm a survivor, and I'm sure you are too. :)

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  17. It's good to know I'm not alone in feeling the way I do. I honestly have never been in so much misery in my life, and I've been through a lot, including homelessness, abuse, etc. You wouldn't think that grad school can top all of that, but oh it can.

    I have never been so busy and stressed, but yet so incredibly bored. The constant predictable behavior of most teachers and peers can really start to wear on me sometimes. If you really watch most peoples' behavior, most of it is about one-upping. And I can't stand that shit. And the way they tell you they want you to participate and communicate, but then belittle you or try to compete with you once you do. The petty, immature nature of politics, and the need they have for control just bores me to tears. While all of this may not sound like a big deal, it can just kill you inside if you are someone who chooses not to adhere to a "normal" mode of being in grad school. By "normal," I mean someone who runs scared all the time and never speaks up about anything. You better be a normal, scared ass kisser, or you're going to get a lot of flack otherwise.

    If your teacher ever tells you that all of this stress is to prep you for the real world, just know that grad school doesn't even touch the real world. Take it from someone who has lived and worked in the real word before going to grad school. The real world is not completely full of anal, competitive control freaks.

    While I am thankful to have something in life that I am passionate about, I sometimes wish I didn't so I could just get a far away from this toxic atmosphere as possible.

  18. I can't say enough how much I appreciate your vendetta to voice the downsides of grad school/academia. There is way too much pressure on the inside of the ivory tower to "stay the course" (e.g., help your professor's career).

    I personally had a great experience in grad school and it taught me a lot. Got a decent job on the other side. But there are many, many good grad students who go out jobless and become disillusioned about themselves when more focus should be spent on preparing students for the realities of the fierce job market.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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