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Posts Tagged ‘academia’

Grace Period

In May, I quit my job and moved to Florida. Both decisions might seem big (they were), but they were remarkably easy. My lecturer gig paid little, the teaching load was heavy, and my department was dysfunctional. Leaving behind students, friends, and colleagues was hard. Watching my daughter mourn the loss of her friends was harder.

The move to Florida was unexpected. Out of the blue, my husband was offered a new job with a tech company, which allowed him to telecommute. To my surprise, he took the job, and we decided to move to Florida to be closer to our families. We both walked away from academia, the careers we trained for. That surprised us both. He might go back. I find myself more ambivalent.

Except, I didn’t walk away. Not really. Instead, I embraced a safer option, a year hiatus from the academy. Reassess and figure things out, I tell myself, decide whether to stay or not. Delay the inevitable is probably more likely. It is more like a grace period (maybe). Am I going to pay my “debt” to my academic training? Or am I going to do something, anything, else? What I know is that now have time to breathe, to reflect, to dream, to recreate, and to mourn. I can decide if there is anything that I will miss about academic life. I can decide to take the parts I like (research and writing) and apply them to other careers. I can decide to walk away. The choice, for once, rests on my shoulders.

After six years on the job market, I found myself burned out. I’ve had conference interviews and campus visits. I’ve been a second choice for tenure track jobs multiple times. I applied for jobs while teaching three and four classes a semester. And I finished my first book, wrote articles and book reviews, received a contract for a new book, edited a journal, organized panels, and experimented with an ebook. The harder I worked, I thought naively, the more likely I was to get a job. Optimism is hard habit to kick.

During this past spring semester, something broke. My tireless drive to research and write dissipated. The latest round of rejections hit harder than previous rounds, and I was tired. Why make myself get up extra early to write if there was no tenure track job for me? Why spend the time researching when I would rather spend time with my daughter? Why kill myself for a job opportunity that would never materialize? I found that I couldn’t do the work I used to love. My motivation stalled. Something broke, and it seemed irreparable. This was compounded by my increasing frustration with my job as a lecturer. I liked my students, I enjoyed teaching, and I despised the undervaluing of teaching by my department head. I disliked the hierarchy of talents, in which tenure track and tenured faculty were valued more than those of us who just taught. Being a lecturer meant that my publications could be brushed aside, and that my experience and opinions mattered less. Frustrating doesn’t quite cover it.

The desire to throw up my hands and walk away chased me through the day. There must be more to academic life than this. I hoped for something that would make my training and efforts redeemable, and I struggled to find it. Why should I stay? That thought is a dangerous one. Once it roots, nothing makes it disappear. It remains and confronts. It pounces me in Florida now as I try to figure out what I am going to do next.

I mourn what my career could have been, and I struggle to redefine who I am now. Doubt, my old friend, bubbles to the surface as I ponder what I could do alongside what it is possible to do. The grace period is simultaneously too long and too short. Is it a transition? A reevaluation? A transformation? Is this a shedding of one vision of self to become a better version? Is it a loss of dreams? Is it a moment to dwell in the liminal?

Most days, it is hard to tell. But, I find myself mourning less as days go by. The loss of what could have been is less suffocating and distracting. A transition feels manageable and desirable. The possibilities for what could be are more and more exciting. I might not be an academic after my grace period, and that’s okay. I am more than my training. And so are all of you. It is best to never forget that.

This piece now appears at Chronicle Vitae. 


Not a “real” academic

This post is inspired by Rebecca Schuman’s post from a couple days ago. Go read it now. Also, check out the #NotARealAcademic on Twitter to see what other folks are saying.

A few years ago, I was at a graduate conference presenting on a panel on post-graduate life. I was the “part-time” panelist, the one who had not secured the vaunted tenure-track job but was adjuncting at a big state university. When I wasn’t teaching, I was in charge of my toddler. On the drive to and from the university, I dreamed of seeking some sort of balance between home life and career. As I drove back and forth, I mulled my life decisions. I agonized over my choices, but I realized that I wouldn’t have made different ones. More importantly, I couldn’t imagine putting my career before my partner and child, and I still can’t. That’s my decision, and it will always be my most important one.

Perhaps, I was not the best panelist to discuss the life of the post-grad.  I pretty much lacked sleep because of my anxiety about doing everything wrong, work, life, and especially motherhood.  Doubt was a constant companion, but so was naïve hope about the job market. I was waiting for my moment when all of the trauma would be washed away by THE JOB that tenure-track position that I had been trained for. Sure, the job market turned south, but surely, I could find a job, right? My book was coming out, and I had several articles coming soon. My advisor suggested that I was a strong candidate, and my CV made me a contender. My mantra was just a little more time and things will work out. Things work out for others, so why not for me? I still had hope at this point (I don’t any longer).


Writing Summer!

That is not me, nor will it ever be.

My semester is over! Grades are in! An article went off to an editor! All of these are exciting developments, but most exciting is that I am not teaching this summer for the first summer in years. Summer school, as you might well know, is intense, fun, but often time-consuming. I always imagine that I will teach a couple of hours every day and also write. This never happens. So, I decided to not teach this summer, but instead take, what I am calling, a “writing summer.” My students were  not impressed by my summer plans, which sounded remarkably like work in a time of sun and fun, or some nonsense like that.

So far my writing summer is going well, though I always over-estimate my abilities to get things done. This means that my various summer writing projects do taunt me: another article, revisions to a previous article, a book proposal and piled-up book reviews from previous semesters. While talking to my youngest sister on the phone (people still do that), she asked if I was going to have any *fun* after I recounted my big writing plans.  The answer is yes. I am already having fun.

I get to write, people, for hours at a time, which feels like a luxury after getting writing done in fits and starts during my semester. A paragraph between classes, a blog post early in the morning and editing whenever I found the time. Some days, I get to write all day. It is glorious. And I get to read. I am reading not for my classes but for my very own research and writing. This is not to say my teaching and research aren’t related because they are intimately, but it is to say I get to enjoy being a writer and researcher. It is joy. Dwelling in what I love to do for a couple of three months reminds me why I wanted to be an academic. More importantly, I have the breathing room to think about my projects to live with them and nourish them, rather than think about them in the fleeting moments when I am not in a classroom.

The ability to write, to think about my work, reminds me how much I miss it when I can’t. Not being able to write makes me twitchy. It feels like a part of me is missing, a part that I like and admire. This absence haunts me during the year. It erodes my confidence and makes me question why I do what I do. It hurts. But, when I get to research and write again, the confidence returns even in the agony of writing, the work, the failure and the ceaseless revisions. Being able to comment on my field of inquiry, my specializations and my subjects reminds me that there is something at stake in what I do. My work matters. Academic work matters.

As I return to research and writing, I have again found the joy it brings, and I hope all of you do too.