Tuesday, July 31, 2012

On Guilt, Self-Blame, and Magical Thinking in Academia

I've got a few links to share with you today, all of which are loosely related to the basic theme of Your Brain on Academia. As you know, the other postacademic bloggers and I have written at length about the effect grad school and academia has on your mind - the guilt, the self-doubt and self-blame, the boredom and the isolation and the frustration and the possible ill-effects all of it can have on the mental health of someone trying to work in academia.

Despite all of the discussion we've had, though, I always think there's room for a little bit more. And I ran across a couple of things this week that got me thinking - yet again - about the mindset of an academic. And more specifically, about how the academic guilt that grad students feel and make jokes about is actually not funny at all.

In reality, I believe that this guilt is seriously problematic. Not only is it terrible for your self-esteem, but it also clouds your reality when you look around at the structure of academia and the state of the job market.

Let's talk about this.

First, we have this post, which is by another postacademic and addresses academic guilt. The author writes:
...as graduate students, we are discouraged from discussing our 'personal lives.' We are supposed to be completely dedicated to our work. I can't count the number of times I talked about or heard others talk about all the work we have to do, how we haven't left the house in days, how we fell asleep in our office because we had to hand in that paper in the morning. Even though we talk about these things and we are aware that they are not necessarily positive things, we try to top each other in our stories of academic agony. We do it because we believe, deep down inside, that a committed graduate student does not have a life.
This description definitely mirrors my experiences in my graduate program. Discussions between grad students would often devolve into some kind of weird Competition of Misery, where we'd all talk about "how late we had stayed in the lab last night" or about "how long it'd been since we watched a movie" or visited our families or went out to dinner. We wore the overwork (whether it was real or not) as a badge of honor, with the people who worked hardest and longest being characterized as the models we should all be looking up to. And faculty would chime in when needed, assuring us that "if we just worked hard enough" we'd get a great job in the end.

But how hard was "hard enough?" No one ever seemed to know. So we just worked constantly. Or tried to, anyway. And if we didn't work on any given day or evening or hour in the lab, we'd talk about what "slackers" we were. How "unmotivated" we were. How we "really needed to step it up next week." Anything short of working every single day and evening was unacceptable.

The author of the linked post continues by pointing out that this mindset is not a good one:
Graduate student guilt, as I like to call it, is a dangerous thing. This is what it sounds like: when we take time to watch a movie, we complain that we wasted our evening. When we have some free time we think first about what we should do for work when our body and mind probably needs a break. When we can't write down 10 pages for the day, we curse our inability to produce. Grad student guilt can harm us because it can prevent us from seeing all the work we really are doing and [instead] focus on our shortcomings.
Pay careful attention to that last sentence; we'll come back around to it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

An Update on the Postacademics ... and a New One!

Remember this post, from less than a month ago? Where I said that all of us in the postacademic blogsophere who had put ourselves out there had found some type of postacademic work, except for Currer and Lauren?

Well, as of the past few weeks, both Currer and Lauren have landed postacademic jobs! Huzzah!!!

I've said it before and I'll say it again - if you decide that you want to or need to leave, all is not lost. Will it be easy? No way. Will you have to deal with a lot of emotions and second-guessing by yourself and others? Definitely.

But will you wind up unemployed forever? I find that very, very unlikely.


In other postacademic news, we have a new blog!

Vashti is a humanities grad student in the US who blogs at Academisch. Zie grew up in an evangelical Christian family and came to grad school thinking that zie wanted to be a professor. After awhile zie realized that zie really didn't want to be a professor anymore - and was unlikely to get that chance in a humanities program anyway.

So Vashti is now in the same place that most of us were when we started this journey ... sure that academia isn't "for us" anymore, but not sure where to go next. Zie's already considered trying to find a teaching position outside of academia and has expressed frustration with academic culture and its disparagement of any other career path.

So head over there and check out the new blog. I think I can speak for the other postacademic bloggers when I say that I'm happy to see someone else out here, sharing their story. Welcome!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Your Monday Funnies

I've got some half-finished posts in the pipeline ... I'll get something new up later this week, I promise! Real life has intervened this week and gotten in the way of my blogging. Stupid real life. :)

In the meantime, I just ran across a comic at The Oatmeal called "Why Working at Home is Both Awesome and Horrible," and couldn't resist posting it. Something tells me that even though it's not about grad school specifically, a lot of the grad students and academics who read here will find it amusing (and possibly painfully true).

So go over there and check it out! And if anyone is artistically inclined, perhaps we could do an academic version. I'm no artist, so I'm not sure how to portray "neverending academic guilt" and "feelings of inadequacy" in visual form.


Also, I ran across this Ph.D. Comic the other day, and found it both amusing and sad.

You know, I was at the arrows when I left - I've put in a stupid amount of time in grad school, but couldn't take it anymore - and I don't regret it. So, you know ... all isn't lost if you decide to go, as I've said many times.

If you're utterly miserable and hate it when you're at the end of grad school? You shouldn't necessarily press on just because you've come this far. But you shouldn't necessarily quit either.

Am I confusing you? Probably. What I mean is that if you find this place by googling "I hate grad school" and are trying to decide what to do, take a minute to think about exactly why you're miserable. If you're miserable because you're tired of your dissertation and your advisor and just want to go work on other projects or teach at a new school? Okay. You should probably hurry up and finish and not quit.*

Monday, July 16, 2012

Ask a Postacademic - Questions 4 and 5

I think it's time for a new postacademic Q&A session...

For today's post, I'll combine two questions into one post, because I don't think either one requires a lengthy, drawn-out explanation. If you have any other questions or ideas for things you'd like to see me discuss, feel free to leave them in comments. I always appreciate ideas for posts!

The first question for today asks about the dynamic between my graduate classmates and me. The commenter asks if I was the only one in my grad program who hated academia, and also asks:
Did you have a classmate that quit the program before you? How was the jealousy and competition between your classmates?
Well, first ... there were a few people who quit our grad program before finishing and sort of disappeared off into the wilderness into nonacademic jobs. Most people left right after completing their masters' degrees, but there are two people I can think of who got closer to graduation and then just sort of disappeared. And there are another 10 or so who got their Ph.D.s and then got nonacademic jobs.

As for whether these people "hated" academia, though? I can't say for sure. I certainly didn't talk about (or even realize) how much *I* had hated academia until I had left and allowed myself to confront my feelings about academia, once I was truly free of the culture.

Until I actually left, then, I still hadn't fully accepted that I hated academia. And since I couldn't identify my own feelings, I certainly didn't engage anyone else in discussions of how much academia sucked. That kind of thing - being critical of academia as a whole - is just not done, as we all know. So, at the time when those students were in my program, no. I definitely did not talk with them about whether they hated academia or about why they were leaving. They just ... left.

And since I haven't spoken to all of the people who left, I really can't say for sure if they, collectively, truly hated it or if they had other reasons for leaving. I'm sure that each person has their own complex set of reasons for leaving, and chalking it up to one reason or feeling (like "because they all hated academia") is probably a little too simple. I know that's true for me.

I will say that of the people I have talked to who left (in particular, ten or so alums of my department who I contacted after I decided to leave for support and advice), I found that we all shared a very critical view of academia. I'd usually wind up emailing back and forth or chatting with these people for up to an hour on the phone, with a decent segment of those conversations involving the pointlessness of academic research, the cattiness of faculty and grad students, and the utter misery and insanity of the academic job market. They'd all express relief that they left and didn't have to deal with it anymore, and would congratulate me on deciding to leave.

And without a single exception, every one of the 10 or so Grad U alums who I talked to said that they had never regretted the decision to leave academia, and that they were much happier in their outside jobs. Every. Single. One.

So while I can't say that any of us have said the words "I hate academia" to each other, I think it's safe to say that those of us who have left share a very, very critical perspective on academia. That probably borders on resentment, if not outright hate.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Odds and Ends ... and You're Still Not Alone

A few random thoughts for today......

First, let's take a look at the google searches that have been bringing folks to this place over the past couple of weeks. I'll be honest - this group of them have been more striking than usual. I was expecting the people showing up here over the summer to be less stressed out and negative about academia, and more relaxed. After all, it's the summer! That doesn't seem to be the case, unfortunately:

-i am miserable in grad school
-i want to drop out of grad school
-academia overwhelmed workload
-feeling angry for no reason grad school
-i hate being a researcher
-what to do if you hate your grad school program
-am i weak for quitting phd
-academic job market stinks
-my phd research is worthless
-i feel like my research is shit phd

It's also worth noting that the two posts at this blog that have gotten the most pageviews since I started - and continue to get fresh new pages views every single day - are the ones in which I wrote about how I hated my research and about how grad school messes with your mental health. And when I say that they get more page views, I mean that they each have more than five times as many page views as any other post on this blog.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Thoughts about Interests and Postacademic Careers

I pulled down my last post because I really try to keep things that could tie back to my friends' identities off of my blog. I think that the details I used in that last post might have made my friend and hir colleague a little too identifiable, so I took it down. I want this blog to be about me and my experiences and critiques of academia in general, not snarky posts about people I know in real life who might recognize themselves in my writing.

Anyway, never fear ... I've got another critique about academia in the pipeline for this week. In the meantime, here's a positive post. :)


I've mentioned before that the job and industry I work in now is one I just sort of "fell into." It's a consulting job, broadly defined, working in an industry and subject area that has absolutely nothing to do with my academic work. 

This occasionally leads me to think (like I did last week) that I'm somehow a Bad Postacademic. That if I was "doing it right" (whatever that means), I would have gotten a job doing, basically, my academic work in a nonacademic position. I'd still be running statistical models, or teaching in a high school, or writing for a broad audience.

But I'm not, and as so many awesome commenters on my previous post pointed out ... that's just fine. I'm content with my job and find it challenging and not-dreadful. I'm happy with my life, and I earn a decent living, and work with coworkers who are nice to me and for a boss who treats me well.  I've got no reason to feel badly about my life just because I'm not doing anything related to academia anymore, nor am I using the skills and interests I've cultivated in other parts of my life.

..........But is this really true?? Am I really not using any of my skills or interests in this job?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

An Update, A Thank You, and A New Blog!

Just wanted to follow up on yesterday's post to say that I'm feeling much, much better today ... mostly thanks to the wonderful, supportive comments I got on my post yesterday from the other lovely folks in the postacademic blogosophere. So a hearty THANK YOU to all of you!! :)

I think the comments hit on some very important points that explain why yesterday - even after nearly 18 months out of academia - I got a little dragged down into some self-flagellation.

As several commenters point out, when you're in grad school/academia, you get used to (1) overthinking everything, (2) chronic self-doubt, and (3) feeling like if you're just relaxing and working a normal number of hours, you're a loser/slacker. These unhealthy feelings creep into your brain sometime early in grad school, and they cling to you with a vise-like grip for years afterward, apparently. Ugh.

As I've written before in terms of sadness and bitterness, the ugly feelings will still pop up every now and then, even after you've been gone for awhile. These days, 99% of the time I'm content and more than happy to just go to work and come home and live my life (while making an adult salary).

But there's still that 1% of time where I might suddenly start thinking ".....but I should be doing more with my life! I was going to be a professor!!" It's like the normal ups and downs of anyone's moods, but with an extra helping of guilt piled on about what people who you used to work with several years ago would think of your life and career now. Yuck. How crazy is that?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Feeling Weird This Morning...

In the interest of sharing all of my ups and downs with you, dear readers ... here's a Negative Nelly post for you. Because it's a Negative Nelly kind of day.

I've been feeling weird for the past 24 hours, ever since I read WTF's last post where she writes about how she still googles her former academic colleagues and feels kind of wistful about the academic life, missing it and wondering if she'll ever go back. Some of the other postacademic bloggers have expressed similar emotions in the past ... which, for the record, I totally understand. They're (mostly) Type 2 leavers, so it's normal that they would feel wistful and nostalgic about their old lives. It makes sense, and I don't judge or think it's at all weird that they're feeling that way.

But every time I see a post like that, it makes me feel sort of weird ... and it takes me a day or so to shake the weird feelings.

First, I feel sad for them that they're not able to pursue the work that they love anymore. I can't even imagine how hard leaving would be if I actually missed academic work but just couldn't find a job. That must just tear you up inside. And it makes me furious at academia. The industry should want to keep the bright, motivated people who love the work ... not farm them out in a constantly rotating stream of adjuncts with no job security and a shamefully low salary.

At the same time, though, those wistful posts kind of make me feel like a loser or a flake. Because I don't miss the work at all. Haven't looked back once since I left last February. I haven't looked at anyone's CV since I left, and haven't been curious to. I haven't read a single journal article or felt compelled to write anything other than this blog. (I have read a few books from my discipline, so I guess I'm not a total loser...) And when I hear about other people slaving away at journal articles or syllabi until late in the night, I always think "suckers!!!!" I just really realize now how much I disliked academia and I know that I dodged the world's biggest bullet by deciding to leave.

So on one hand, yayyyy! I know I made the right decision if I don't ever feel even remotely compelled to go back or to dip my toes back into the academic life!!