Monday, December 27, 2010

Why Academe is Exactly Like a "Love" Affair

Last year, around this time, I was pretty sure I wanted to be an academic. I'd applied for tons of tenure-track and visiting jobs and post-doctoral fellowships and was willing to move (almost) anywhere to "pursue the dream" indefinitely. My CV scorecard served as evidence of a career trajectory designed to fit snugly within the ivory tower. In fact, I'd already traveled around the world for over a year in order to pursue research and funding opportunities for my, uh humgroundbreaking dissertation-cum-book manuscript, even selling my car to live the life of a vagabond academic and putting off making payments on my large student loan debt. Oh yes, I was a committed little thing.

But despite all that sacrifice and geeky willingness to conform to academe's arbitrary demands at any cost, I only had one AHA interview lined up for Jan. 2010. Only one shot to secure a history position for which I was ideally suited. And nothing came of this preliminary interview. Academe spat on my love once again and left me broken hearted and pissed off.

Is my heart all cracked and shriveled now like the Grinch's?
(*Granted, I did have a phone interview before the AHA and in Feb/March two on-campus interviews, but those interviews were for positions that were not really in my field. Landing one of those jobs would have been quite a stretch; so I wasn't at all surprised when my on-campus interviews turned out to be more cursory visits than anything else. They needed to fill quotas, apparently, when they decided to bring me to campus.)

Point is: In the years immediately following grad school, I gave my long-term, twisted relationship with academe my all but, like so many other poor suckers who want to be scholars for a living, just kept getting burned. By summer 2010 I felt like it was time to take a short separation before choosing to either break up with academe for good of my own free will or make a more serious commitment, bad treatment and all.

But I have an anxious personality by nature; it takes me a long time to make a major life decision, like breaking up with someone or something to which I've grown accustomed and/or attached. I had to take things slow and see how I felt about the trial separation. (Pretty damn good actually. Never slept better.) The trial appeared to go well at first--until I realized that making a huge career transition during a recession was really, really difficult and just as stressful and soul crushing as trying to find an academic job. That realization sucked. So I opted to continue on the same tired path for now, all the while knowing I would most likely be leaving the ivory tower in 2011 or 2012. 

Hence this year I only applied for a handful of academic jobs and found myself resigned to rejection before I'd even sent the applications off. The love affair had grown stale over the past year and working on this blog, among other things, had enabled me to see that there were plenty of non-academic opportunities out there for someone with my skill set. I just wasn't that into it anymore.

But like any other unhealthy love affair, academe wasn't ready to let me go so easily. I ended up with multiple interview requests this year, despite only applying for 6 jobs and determining not to attend the AHA. It's the last gasp before the true death of this relationship, I suppose. (And now the anxiety nightmares are back.) So even though I have a 1 in 12 shot at four different academic positions this year, all in decent parts of the country, I'm convinced that nothing will come of it. It's not that I'm a total Debbie Downer, but I still believe that my path lies elsewhere. Probably. After all, it's way more fun being the one who does the rejecting. I'll keep you posted.


Michael said...

Good post, and I agree. I've taken the last semester (more or less) off from working on my dissertation. It was my "I need space" time. It's been wonderful. During the break from academia, I have realized that I don't really miss it. Apparently, our relationship was more superficial than first thought. I will probably still finish my dissertation this next year, but I have no desire to teach. This past year or two has left me jaded and hurt. I just can't see myself wasting even an evening with academia post-graduation.

And the good news is, it's not me, it's academia. ;)

Janie H. said...

I could not agree more with this blog post. i've just began the application process. And so far, nothing. I've been tinkering with the idea of looking for jobs in the private sector and outside of academia...

WorstProfe said...

According to one of my favorite inspirational works, Bruce Campbell's autobiography If Chins Could Kill, NO is the most powerful word there is, and saying it in times of tribulation is often the catalyst for progressing in a career you've almost given up on, even if it's not the one you end up in.

I think when you decide to put your foot down, that confidence shows, and as f---ed up as this is, when you act like you don't need the job, the interview committee wants you more, and then you get more opportunities, and then, 'just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.'

Congrats on the interviews, and enjoy turning the tables. Who knows what will happen...One of my Xmas gift was the book Half Empty about the pleasures of being a pessimist...mostly that you're pleasantly surprised when something works out right!

Corinne said...

Yep, I'm a pessimist too and enjoy being surprised when good things happen. Apparently I won't live as long as those who see cups as half full but, oh well, it's better this way. Life is easier when you don't expect too much, esp. if you're an academic.
And I do agree that you never know when SCs will decide you're "worthy" of consideration. It might be when you least expect it or have given up, in your own mind at least. But it all amounts to nothing unless you end up with a real offer on the table, and in writing, by spring!

postacademicinnyc said...

Are you reading my mind? Because seriously the same thing happened to me! I went on the market last year (Humanities) and I was SO INTO IT! I wanted to get a job. I would MOVE if I had to. Then I got....nothing.

And this year, I just don't care. I don't want an academic job. I'd rather do almost anything else. God, if I have to look at that diss again, I will go BONKERS.

And then what happens? I get TWO MLA interviews. Hello, what? So whatever, I guess I'll go and see what it's all about.

But it is liberating not to care.

Anonymous said...

Good post. It is best not to crare. I was on the job market for 9 years...willing to go anywhere etc. When I finally decided f**k this and start studying for the LSATs I get a job. 12 years later I wish I had finished studying for the LSATs. Good luck with your search.

M. Jordan Lichens said...

Funny, I called both my undergraduate (a great books school) and my graduate institutions my "abusive boyfriend". As offensive of an analogy as it is, most people understood what I meant. At the end of each year I would say, "No, I've had it, and I can't deal with it any more," but would be coaxed back into the relationship with a promise that things will be different. Sure enough, I should have seen the signs!

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Anonymous said...

I feel so lucky that when I decided to apply a year early for positions (just for fun) I applied for two positions, got an interview at one, and the job for that one.

Academia is a terrible lover though... Fortunately it isn't the only one who desires your precious Ph.D. =)

Anonymous said...

It might be a mistake to use the first outing to gauge how it's going to be. Many many people get hired at decent jobs not until their 2nd, 3rd, 4th years out and such. Although once you are out longer than a few years you can start to look a bit shop-worn.

Particularly as bad as the markets are right now, I'd give it a few strong tries and then throw in the towel. In the meantime it doesn't hurt to be trying to publish.

If it's what you want than give it a few shots. What's the difference if you go to law school now or two years from now? I also disagree about the casual approach; if you don't want it badly, there is an advantage in not looking desperate, but you also might be less apt to do the heavy measures landing a job often requires.

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