Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I'm at work and just finished reading the "The Long Haul", an article published in The New York Times on April 8, 2010.  While reading it two paragraphs grabbed me, hit me on the head, and then placed me back into my seat with a new found reassurance in my recent decisions/revelations about my future career prospects.  Have a read:
Dr. Pannapacker has rebuked graduate schools for perpetuating a culture in which unattainable academic careers are portrayed as the only worthwhile goal, and for failing to level with students about their true prospects. With more transparency — if every graduate program published its attrition rate, average debt of its students, time to completion, and what kind of job its graduates got — undergraduates, he says, could make more-informed choices.
Academe encourages students to think of what they’re doing as a special kind of calling or vocation which is exempt from the rules of the marketplace,” he says. Those who look to work outside the scholarly world are seen as rejecting the academy’s core values. “They socialize students into believing they can’t leave academe or shouldn’t, which is why they hang on year after year as adjuncts, rather than pursue alternative careers.” 

Now, this is what I am talking about!  Over the past year I have been going through a see-saw battle with myself over my future.  I am coming to the end of a 10 year run in academics where, when finished, I will have accumulated 4 degrees in the same damn subject (but at least in different sub-fields to give myself some credit).  In that time I have been trained to think in these unrealistic, stifling, and bank breaking ways.  To mention that I MAY not want to work in academics the rest of my life left many other graduate students and some professors in a tissy - how dare I not want to work the rest of my life in an institution where I work 60+hour weeks for little pay in a competitive environment where only a few people will every read my work and I am always critiqued.  Even if I do get to the high status role as a professor I will be 60 and ready to retire since I would have had at least 1 heart attack, 2 nervous breakdowns, a head full of grey hair and a chronic pain in my ass from sitting in front a computer for my whole adult life.  Looking at it in this light I realized I am flippin crazy to invest all my time and energy into a disciple that doesn't want to return the love back.
Listen, I am not naive enough to think any career will love me back.  But I am also not naive enough (now) to think that just because I obtain this magical Ph.D after 6 years at Michigan State University I will somehow get a fabulous job in a university with my own office and instant respect.  And, I am not sure if I even want the dream to come true.  Working in the job I have now as part of my research showed me the value of my skills - those skills being reading and writing well.  It also showed me there is life and money outside academics...and I like it. I like coming home and (for the most part) having my work stay at work. I mean what a concept - most work is done at work and when you come home you can actually enjoy being at home.  I like having my weekends to myself and not worrying about the next paper deadline - ok I still worry since I am in the final year of my dissertation and I need to publish for technical reasons, but you get my drift.  I like the work I am doing and I can see the value in marketing the skills I have learned in this long ass process called graduate school.  And, you know what I actually want to make some money and do some good and not have my finances dictated by another university, period.  No, I don't feel bad about trying to make a comfortable living and enjoying my life.
I guess the point of this rant is to say that there is life outside of the academy.  If you do want, or decide to, go into academics I think you need a clear reason why and more than one exit plan once that degree is done.   In those different plans realize that non-academic jobs are out there and waiting for your CV/Resume to come into those doors.  You will be amazed at what you CAN do OUTSIDE the ACADEMY once you think outside the box. If your argument to me is that higher education breeds knowledge and eduction is the ticket to a successful life I counter by saying the real success is knowing how to use that education to YOUR advantage and not going along the same old tired ass narrative that historically and in the present day is still inherently prejudice.   Yes, I have gained plenty of knowledge along the way but knowledge for knowledge sake can be learned outside of four walls as most of the time the knowledge you really want comes outside of a classroom.    
NOTE: I do want to add - these are my opinions and I am talking about my experiences within the U.S.  I am not attempting to be comprehensive but really to work through how I am understanding my journey in higher education.  What I have learned in my time in the academy has been very valuable and I would not change it, but most of it was actually learned outside of the classroom and in my navigation of the politics and discrimination (based on class, race, and gender) inherent within the process.   The world "outside the academy" is not going to magically be better but it is a sector that I wish to explore and where I want to utilize my skills - that's all.  Having the article in the New York Times speak to issues that are talked about in lounges, coffee shops, and during breaks in class or at conferences is comforting as it lets me know that I am not crazy for thinking the way I do.  Work is work and to get anywhere in life there needs to be work done, but I want the work I do to mean something to me and not just be another checkbox on my CV.  Having seen a professor have a heart attack over the stress of the job, another be pushed out as chair because others in the department didn't like the "new guys" politics, and having been told to me face that I will never amount to anything in the academy I choose to leave it behind for a while when I am done.  I may come back, but for my own sanity and growth the separation between myself and the institution of higher education is one that needs to be done.  

No comments: