Uncertainty about the academy

Posted on Posted in Blog, Main

A concise, poignant post the other day sparked a snowballing conversation across the Internet about life as an academic, specifically in the humanities. An excerpt:

Because I am being limited personally, financially, professionally, and creatively…
Because I want to continue to love it…
Because sometimes I consider how my light is spent…
Because there are other places where that training and preparation will be rewarded, respected, and used…
Because I am capable of more than I can do here…
Because leaving the system is a reclamation of the dignity and agency it has attempted to take from me…
I am leaving the academy.

The “doom and gloom” articles about job prospects in the humanities abound (so do the satirical videos about graduate school, too), and now, we’re hearing from someone (albeit anonymously) that she is quitting (yes, I’ll call it that). 

Today, a response to the post piqued my interest: “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ to Lose, Motherf*cker.

The reason “because” had to be written is, well, …
because we have colleagues who would rather beg for scraps than be ethical
because T Th classes are more important to us than pointing out flawed curricula. Because if we do point that out, we might have to teach on Fridays.
because no matter how much we bemoan the loss of tenure, we do so out of self-interest. Because we believe we are owed something for years of grad school and poverty.  Because we are entitled.
because we are afraid of rocking boats when others are begging for our jobs.

Quite frankly, this dialogue is downright frightening for a current PhD student. What am I getting into? What kind of job future/security am I going to have? It’s very romantic to think that I’m going to learn for the rest of my life, help others learn, and make the world a better place, but I’ve got to be practical too – I need to make a living. (Allan has a great job, but – I was not raised to rely on men for my living!) So how can “my generation” of academics (ie. those up and coming/just starting out) approach these issues? Should we get used to the idea of tenure falling by the wayside and participate in conversations to develop a new system for promotion/job security that rewards us for hard work and benefits the university at the same time? Can I really live with having “a job” because others do not, even if the conditions are far less than ideal?

At a more personal level, this also has me wondering how to position myself as a scholar in an interdisciplinary PhD program. If more traditional English scholars (literature, composition) have a hard time finding jobs and working within the system of their department, where does this leave an interdisciplinary scholar? In terms of identity: Am I a rhetorical scholar with the ability to also teach communication courses? Am I an English/Communication interdisciplinary scholar? Am I a media scholar that specializes in rhetoric? What will allow me to be more marketable and/or find the right fit of an institution for my career? This is a struggle I see for some of us in this new, up-and-coming CRDM program. I love it – what’s not to love about learning more than one discipline? – but at the same time, I am concerned about the “working conditions” and job potential that lie ahead.

One thought on “Uncertainty about the academy

  1. Have you seen this article?

    Honestly, if I knew then what I know now I wouldn’t have started. I’m finishing because I’m stubborn. I’m not pursuing an academic job at all. I’m making use of my statistical training for a career (and it pays far more than I would ever make in academia).

    Here’s the thing. Do it if you love it and have enough financial support to not have to take on debt, but the career outcomes are not the same as they were for previous generations of faculty. There are far more graduates than there are positions, leaving too many working as underpaid adjuncts and even more who are unemployed.

    One other thing. Remember that teaching is only one small part of most academic jobs. “It’s very romantic to think that I’m going to learn for the rest of my life, help others learn, and make the world a better place” This is not the reality of even the best academic career. And most of us won’t have the best academic career.

    I know I sound very down right now, but honestly I don’t think anything but a hard science phd is a good investment anymore, and even that is pretty iffy when it comes to an academic career. Before you spend the time and the money, really think about what other paths would give you a happy career, because short of becoming a movie star, being an academic is one of the hardest.

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