Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Holiday Reflections

So, I'm a dork about the holidays. I'll admit it.

Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the "winter" holidays - Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve. If I celebrated Hanukkah, I'm sure I'd love that one as well. I love the food, spending time with family and friends, and even wintry weather (as long as it doesn't linger too long after the holidays are over...) I love shopping for gifts and decorating the house and picking out the perfect bottle of wine or appetizer to bring to a holiday party.

I'll even listen to a Christmas carol or two for the week or two before the 25th. I'll admit it.

This year, however, I've found myself thinking a lot about my transition out of academia as I'm going through my holiday to-do list. This was kind of confusing at first -- see, the leaving process just hasn't been at the forefront of my mind in recent months. I've just been concentrating on working and on enjoying my life a little bit, and on getting myself ready for the post-New Year job search again. But suddenly in the past few weeks, I've been reflecting on my decision to leave and have been thinking about what it was like to be on the job market at this time last year.

It's been weird ... and I was getting a little worried, honestly. Oh no ... what if I suddenly turn around after the holidays and find myself wanting to go back to academia?? I was getting worried that my subconscious was trying to reactivate the old academic guilt again. You should just give the market one more shot. ....... Come on, just email your advisor. He'll be happy to hear from you!! ....... You know, this is the best job in the world, right? You'll want to come back again...

But just yesterday, I realized that the reason I've been thinking about academia recently isn't because I'm nostalgic for it, and it's not because I want to go back.

It's because this is the first year out of the last 5 or 6 in which the holidays I love are not tied up in my brain with a giant, all-encompassing pile of academic guilt and work. I'm pretty sure that my brain is now primed to think about academic work when I start preparing for the holidays!

And on the flipside, I think that I almost can't believe that this is really my life now ... that there isn't a pile of endless work waiting for me at home and a lineup of professors ready to nag me for revisions and then reject the pages and pages of writing I come up with. That if I want to leave work today and Christmas shop for two hours, I can. That if I want to go home and do absolutely nothing other than curl up with a book and a cup of hot chocolate, I can.

I don't think my mind is used to it yet!

The past few holiday seasons as an academic have been insanely stressful. I think my mind is finding it impossible to experience this holiday season without thinking back to the last few, and making comparisons.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Are We Failures?

Last week, while trying to drum up ideas for a new post, I was scrolling through the archives of the old Leaving Academia site. This post, which discussed the feeling of failure that often accompanies the decision to leave, gave me some inspiration.

Now that I'm almost a year past my decision to leave, I haven't been caught up in the "what ifs" and the worries about whether I'm making the right decision. My job right now isn't ideal, but it's fine for the time being ... it pays the bills, I can tolerate the work, and I like my coworkers. It's fine. I'm no longer panicking about finding nothing but misery outside of academia ... because I'm fully out here now, and I'm not miserable.

What still pops up, though, are the occasional feelings of failure when I talk to former academic colleagues who question or second guess my decision to leave. I still occaisonally get questions about why I'm not going on the market again*, about how I could possibly be fulfilled in nonacademic work**, and about whether I will find a job that's "worthy" of my academic credentials***. And the feelings of failure still crop up (infrequently, but occasionally) when I run across a snarky comment on some random internet site from an academic type who snipes that grad school dropouts just "couldn't cut it" and are thus failures at the one thing that matters.

So let's break it down. Are you a failure for wanting to leave academia or drop out of grad school???? Does this mean that you just "couldn't cut it," and that if you'd stayed in academia you'd wind up in the perfect tenure-track job and be blissfully happy? Is the only thing standing between you and utter happiness your lack of dedication to an academic career? In other words, are you a failure?

In a word, no. No no no. Absolutely not. Not in any sense of the word.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Postacademic Rant 4 - The Reality of the Academic Career

I'm heading out of town again for the weekend, so I won't be back until early next week. I have a few ideas for new posts, but won't have anything new posted until next week. So, to tide you over for the weekend ... here's another postacademic rant.

Standard disclaimers apply: these were written sometime in April, when I was newly leaving and full of anger. Hopefully they can be cathartic for those of you who haven't left yet ... particularly for those of you who find this place by googling "I hate academia" or "I hate research." :) As we say in the postacademic blogosphere, you're not alone...

Anyway, the standard disclaimer applies ... language is somewhat NSFW. Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Contingent Academic Labor is Here to Stay

If you read here, you must go right now over and read the AAUP's latest Report on the Economic Status of the Profession.

Some "highlights":
The overall increase in salary level, reported on the left side of survey report table 1 and the upper half of table A, was 1.4 percent between 2009–10 and 2010–11. This is barely higher than the overall change reported last year, when we described it as “the lowest year-to-year change recorded in the fifty years of this comprehensive survey.”
In all, graduate student employees and faculty members serving in contingent appointments now make up more than 75 percent of the total instructional staff. The most rapid growth has been among part-time faculty members, whose numbers swelled by more than 280 percent between 1975 and 2009. Between 2007 and 2009, the numbers of full-time non-tenure-track faculty members and part-time faculty members each grew at least 6 percent. During the same period, tenured positions grew by only 2.4 percent and tenure-track appointments increased by a minuscule 0.3 percent. These increases in the number of faculty appointments have taken place against the background of an overall 12 percent increase in higher education enrollment in just those two years.

 The system of higher education staffing is seriously broken. Do not misunderstand: grad school is no longer a wise investment leading to a stable academic career.

If you start down this path, adjuncthood or VAPing (or leaving altogether) likely awaits. This is reality.

Do not close your eyes and plug your ears and try to pretend it's not happening. Just take a deep breath and start considering your options. You will be okay as long as you think clearly and plan ahead for all possibilities.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


A huge standing ovation to Ohio State for hosting Paula Chambers of Versatile Ph.D. and for opening up the floor to a public discussion of nonacademic careers for people with advanced degrees.

This is the kind of dialogue we need to keep having, publicly, so that grad students can quit feeling like they're doing something wrong by exploring nonacademic careers ... and so academics who are miserable with the academic life can see that they have other options and start working toward a postacademic life.

I attended a postacademic careers section at my discpline's last annual conference, and the room was so packed that people were sitting on the floor between chairs. There is clearly a demand for this kind of information, as much as some academics would like to pretend otherwise.

It's understandable that faculty and administration might not know exactly how to advise students for nonacademic careers. But it's well past time for them to acknowledge that there are massive structural problems in higher education hiring (as well as the fact that every newbie grad student who is in love with academia may not feel the same way ten years later), and to provide their students with some resources for finding other types of careers. Bringing in outside speakers in the form of people who work outside of academia with Ph.D.'s would be a good first start. Let's not only give grad students examples of people working outside academia ... but let's bring everyone who's considering a different career out into the light so they won't think they're alone and will have other people to talk to.

Bravo to Ohio State, to the wonderful Paula Chambers, and to all of the grad students who are actively thinking about their options right now, while they have plenty of time to plan and prepare!

(P.S. While you're reading this article, be sure to click around the links on the left and right for "related content." The Chronicle has done some decent work writing about nonacademic careers and alternatives to academia over the years.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Life in the Real World...

(Disclaimer: Looooong, somewhat disjointed post here. This one has been in the works for a couple of weeks now, and while I can't get it into the edited shape I want, I don't want to abandon these thoughts either. So, here you go. :)

There have been a few recent comments over at the 100 Reasons blog that have been getting my hackles up a bit. Primarily, there seem to be a few people who enjoy going over there and alleging repeatedly that the "real world" is just as bad, if not worse, than the academic world.

Now, I know that there are jobs that are far worse than academic jobs out there. Absolutely. I also know that there are some people who are perfectly suited to academic jobs, who'd be miserable doing anything else. This is undoubtedly true.

But what those comments ignore is that just as there are people who can't imagine doing anything other than working in academia, there are also quite a few people out there who are miserable in academia (check out the "You're Not Alone" series on this blog for evidence!). That for all of the negative things one observes about the Big Bad Outside World, some aspects of the Vaunted Academic Lifestyle are truly unbearable for others. In short, we're all different people with different ideas about what makes a good or bad working environment, physically and mentally. And it's okay to want something different than your friends.

So a few days ago over at 100 Reasons, a commenter noted that people in grad school who think they might want (or need) a nonacademic job after graduation should work on establishing network contacts and work experience outside of academia while in grad school. I generally agree with this advice, however ... I commented in return that any grad student who plans to work, volunteer or network outside of academia while in grad school also needs to realize that they will likely be stigmatized as "not serious about academia" as a result ... thus harming their reputation if it turned out that they did want to get an academic job (or simply land a departmental fellowship or cushy departmental appointment while in grad school).

Another commenter responded to my cautions by saying that "well, moonlighting is frowned upon in any job." The underlying subtext of this dismissive comment, of course, was that I was overplaying the downsides of academia - that the outside world is just as bad.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Worthwhile Petition?

So, this petition was being passed around my Facebook wall yesterday by several of my grad student friends. Apparently, a group (presumably of grad students) is trying to push the US Government to make graduate student stipends tax-exempt once again, so that people could deduct their graduate income off their taxes like a mortgage interest deduction ... presumably since going to grad school is something that is presumed to be a Good Thing for people to do, that we should incentivize people to do in larger numbers by offering tax exemptions.

They're about halfway to their goal for signatures ... so if you agree with their mission, go ahead and sign. No guarantees, of course, but the White House has promised to at least consider moving on petitions that reach their signature goal. So you never know.

I won't be signing, though. I genuinely think that with the horrible academic job market and the rising proportion of contingent faculty teaching at the university level (not to mention the people who are miserable once they arrive in grad school but don't think they can leave thanks to academic culture), the very last thing that we need to be doing is encouraging more people to go to grad school. While it's (on the surface) an objectively Good Thing to encourage people to get more education, I'm not convinced that providing a tax incentive to encourage more people to pursue Ph.Ds is a good thing.

People coming out of undergrad into low-paid entry-level jobs have it tough, certainly. An advanced degree such as a practical masters' degree might help with that. But I don't think that subsidizing people further to spend a decade pursuing a humanities or social science Ph.D. is a good idea at all. While low-paid entry level jobs do suck, I think that graduating Ph.D.s who are in their 30s and 40s and who see only adjuncthood ahead of them with no job training behind them have it far worse. So I won't be signing the petition. In fact, I'd sort of like to sign an anti-petition. Perhaps someone could sponsor one that would double-tax graduate stipends?? Then, maybe, we'd have a more reasonable number of graduate students who could ultimately pursue the small number of tenure-track jobs that are out there...

I'm only half kidding. :)

(Of course, I also don't have the guts to post this as a comment on Facebook ... thank god I have a blog. :)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Postacademic Rant 3 - Journal Publication

I'm still around, but immersed in work projects this week and unable to come up with a coherent original post. So ... in accordance with my post last month, I think I'll take this opportunity to post another postacademic rant to keep everyone entertained until the writing bug bites me once again.

Since my most popular blog post around here continues to be "I Hate Research," I thought some of you would enjoy reading my angry thoughts about journal publication ... something that I've grown to conclude requires an irrational number of hours of work for something that has no tangible benefit to anyone or anything other than your own ego or CV.

Again ... these rants include cursing, and were written right after I made the decision to leave - therefore, the anger and frustration is pretty raw. So, language is pretty NSFW if you care about that kind of thing.