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Friday, November 9, 2012

What I Would Have Given Up By Not Being An Academic

What I don't like about the "what I gave up to be an academic" meme is the contrafactual nature of it. The idea that having what is potentially one of the best, most stable and interesting jobs in America involves only an act of renunciation of some better life.

Of course, I do not object to what anyone has said about his or her own experience. People do give up other things to pursue academia, and it may or may not have been worth it. Nothing is more gratifying than hearing the story of someone who wasn't suited to academia and left it and found happiness elsewhere. Well, what might be more gratifying is to hear about someone having a magical career within academia, accomplishing everything she wants to.

I think there is a structure of disappointment built into the very texture of academic life. In graduate school the future might seem to be a continuation of the seminar: a place for intellectual dialogue. Yet the reality of working conditions in the profession are never going to live up to that. Possibilities of intellectual dialogue often seem to dry up. Your colleagues might be dullards or actively hostile to the intellect. Department politics might suck the life out of you, as happened to me at Ohio State in my first job.

Because academia is supposed to be wonderful, but isn't usually, the disappointments are much harder to bear. We imagine a life where we have no expectations that our job will be interesting, but where the money is going to be abundant. That kind of fantasy is not one I'm interested in.

I do have advice for someone who is hanging on the edges and has little chance to make a career of it. Leave. Do something else if you are young enough. Don't be an adjunct more than three years. If you are getting none of the benefits of academia, but only the suffering, and are giving up a real life in order to do this, what is the point?


profacero said...

OK, this is hilarious. While I was commenting on your first post re this, about problems with counterfactuals, this post was appearing on your blog!

profacero said...

OK, that posted twice, sorry. Meanwhile -- I think the question needs reframing. Everyone could make lists of things that, in retrospect, we should and should not have done in life.

I think the more interesting question might be how far people, in academia, get from their original purpose. Not just disappointment but something more like betrayal. It is interesting how one compromise leads to the next.

I am looking at Squadromatico's post again and it is very, very dark. As in, talking about giving up things I never would dream of renouncing, like hobbies, outside interests, and so on. I do remember people from the Ivies telling us, at Berkeley, that we were less intelligent than they because we were not willing to ruin ourselves physically just to show dedication.

Clarissa said...

I really like this meme! I will participate, too.

profacero said...

I have one too now, and I claim I am getting closer to the mother lode on this question which I am not sure applies in my case.

The original post was about what pieces of one's *identity* one renounced to have an academic identity. I would not say any -- my identity has always been academic.

Post is here: http://profacero.wordpress.com/2012/11/10/take-four/

profacero said...

"We imagine a life where we have no expectations that our job will be interesting, but where the money is going to be abundant."