Worksheet and game

What did you give up for the sake of having an academic job?

Money (salary, savings)

UP: I was not raised to hope to support myself, and I do.
DOWN: This is even less well paid than I expected. Actually, it is quite frightening how poorly it is paid and that is a main reason why I do not recommend it to people who are not independently wealthy or are not married to someone who earns well.
DOWN: Not making tenure is a major hit financially. This is the reason to make tenure, not prestige, pride, and so on. Had I understood that at the time, I would have made every effort to get tenure on my first attempt.

Choice of where to live

UP: I knew we would not choose where we lived, and I was threatened with the Midwest throughout graduate school; I researched it therefore and learned how to live there, information that served me well during a Midwestern visiting appointment I thoroughly enjoyed. I have lived in four other places I would not have chosen otherwise and I enjoyed getting to know them all.
DOWN: I had not planned on not being able to afford, or organize ways to finance long summer stretches in California.
DOWN: The real issue is not where to live, it is what kind of institution to work for, and this is the issue I think people are repressing by scolding each other about not having adapted well enough to their geographical locations.

Long-term relationship

UP: I was not raised to want a long term relationship, but to see these as onerous requirements. Not having one because of academia (you cannot meet anyone here in Maringouin, believe what I am telling you) is thus not a sacrifice and if I were not in academia I would not necessarily want one, or would not necessarily want a full-time one.
DOWN: If you live in places like Maringouin, the only way to actually enjoy life is to be in a happy, long term relationship (in this culture, one does not have groups of friends as one does elsewhere; I have to travel to see friends so I am quite isolated on this bayou). This is why I now recommend that people get married in graduate school.


UP: I was not raised to expect to have children and I am neutral on them myself (i.e., I am not one of those who ever felt they must have children to be complete or to have a complete life), so not having them due to academia is not a sacrifice.
DOWN: I had an abortion the semester I was up for tenure the first time because I foresaw not making tenure, having to move, and so on. Otherwise I would have had the child.
UP: In Maringouin there are waifs, so I have 2 adopted children who are very nice.


UP: My health is excellent and I do not think it has suffered from academia. It may have benefited, since I have always had a job and have thus always been insured.
NEUTRAL: I have suffered emotional trauma and depression from academia, caused by my first job and this one, and even more by bad psychotherapy which was not the fault of academia. Somehow, though, I have the impression I would have suffered emotionally at some point no matter what. And the score is even anyway, because graduate school was very good for me in terms of health.

References: ff.


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Filed under Juegos, Questions

15 responses to “Worksheet and game

  1. Interesting! I wonder if other people will catch on now.

  2. Z

    I hope to start the conversation on type of institution.

    - I have never seriously applied to a place like yours — always aspired higher (going for a great school) and also lower (going for a great place), but refused the middle — and this was a bad strategy.

    - I note that people who liked or at least related to their undergraduate college, and who get jobs in similar places, handle those jobs well. I have worked at 2 non-R1s, this and my first job, and they seem like alien planets in a way no R1 ever did, no matter how odd the culture of its state or inconvenient its location. The non-R1 where I was briefly an exchange student also caused me very great culture shock.

    - I worked for a private institution and will never do it again, it was horrible. I wish someone had warned me instead of congratulating me on the prestige. It would have been much better to go into industry, for me at least.

    - In general, people should really be warned about institutional cultures and go to some workshop where they learn to articulate their values and also describe to themselves what they are comfortable with.

    - Professors at schools with competitive graduate programs tend not to have this kind of information, and many other professors do not believe in sharing it, if they do have it. Those facts are a problem, in my view.

    • It is definitely a problem when professors at “fancy” schools don’t have any idea what it’s like to work at various other kinds of schools. Sometimes alumni networks help out with this (as at my grad institution), but too often that doesn’t happen. I applied to all kinds of different schools when I was on the market, but LRU is the job I got, and I stayed. I think it is a sort of low-rent version of my undergrad experience—a big public institution, with lots of first-generation students—and the attitude toward research is, if not wholly supportive, at least not discouraging. I wish people talked about research more. Conversation is more often about service or students (not really teaching as such), but there is adequate if not stellar funding for research, and it does net financial rewards when the legislature votes us pay raises, because raises are based on merit. There is no such thing as a cost of living raise here, which is in itself problematic, but at any rate it does keep people’s attention on research. The larger problem about conversation, I think, is that we all feel overworked—there is definitely a culture of busyness rather than scholarly leisure—and so it is much easier to complain about committees or students than to take an interest in someone else’s research that is very far from one’s own, for the sheer intellectual pleasure of it. Fortunately I have found a friend in foreign languages, another grad of our shared institution, who works in another country and a little later than I do, but on similar material, and we egg each other on. But it took me 16 years, I think, to find her, because of this tendency to busyness.

      • Z

        I remember now why I never applied to a mid level schools — I was always looking for places where one would not have to give many language classes; the equivalent in English is a place where one does not have to give too many sections of composition (or in a foreign country, ESL, I guess). Then I applied here in Maringouin one day when I had just come back from a campus interview at UCSD, a job I knew I was not going to get; did not think I would like this faculty but then was quite taken with them at the interview, and was familiar with area, and so came, but it was all some sort of whim or fluke. If it were slightly better, as your place is, I might outright like it; I like big public schools.

        I just saw another person from our shared institution; she said that if you do a PhD there you are ruined for academia, because you get so used to the being at an exciting school in a pleasant area that you cannot handle elsewhere. She left a nice job at your place because of the location, but she really liked the university, she said.

        We have the busyness culture and there is nobody to talk about research WITH. Lately I have had one colleague but they are letting him go, the boy is too research oriented.

        I continue to think that it is much more worthwhile to consider types of institution one wishes to emphasize or de emphasize, than to be picky about geographical area. And to know more about types of institution, and articulate a lot more about one’s own characteristics, orientation, values, desires that I was taught was proper! ;-)

      • Well, one problem is lack of experience: how do you know how you feel about various kinds of institutions, climates, sizes of towns or cities, until you have lived in such places? Some people move around as children, of course, but the experience of a jr-high or high-school kid who can’t drive and an adult who can may be completely different. I lived in the same house until I was through college; when I finished grad school, I had also spent a few months each in Portland, OR, Paris, and Chicago. I’d visited loads of places for a few days, but that’s not enough to tell you much about the experience of living there. I did have a romantic notion about the closeness of small-town life and was willing to try it, though to this day I have never lived anywhere under about 30K in population. I still have no experience of SLACs, though my hunch (from talking to friends, and from reading blogs) is that I would hate teaching at one. Big cities and big universities suit me very well, I have concluded. But when I was on the job market, I applied for everything, no geographical or size restrictions, and I had a list of reasons I would like to teach at a SLAC, and I really would have gone anywhere and given it a good try. And even now, I think I might, then, have adapted well to places that would not suit the person I have become; but my adaptation would probably have depended on factors that have nothing to do with climate or institution, like serendipitously finding a few good friends early on.

  3. Also, there’s a difference between things you don’t like and things you cannot put up with. If I had my druthers, I’d live somewhere warmer, and I piss and moan about snow and cold something fierce, but the fact is, I do cope with winter quite adequately. It can be managed. What I think I can’t stand is lack of cultural opportunities, and these can be rich in quite a small place depending on the people who are there, but suburban blandness gives me the heebie-jeebies, far worse than urban poverty.

  4. Z

    Small towns and SLACs are both awful, suburban blandness is worse, and colleagues who aspire to such are worse yet. Weather can be managed; lack of cultural opportunities is bad.

    What I don’t like about our graduate school advice was the disconnect between “try anything” and “certain kinds of places (e.g. yours) are hellish and you will never get out if you go there.” But actually, every bad feature of your place and mine actually exists at SLACS, with none of the mitigating factors (except money, of course), and most of the good features of SLACS also exist in smaller programs like mine, in research intensive schools like mine.

    I am looking at the program I would be based in if I were at your place, and it looks pretty depressing — ours was like that until I modernized it around the turn of this century, made it less tech school like and more SLAC – university like. Looking at it I see why I would never have applied, only applied to places like that which were located in areas I knew I could live in. This suddenly makes me like my place a lot better: our curriculum is brilliant if I do say so myself.

    I was on the market most years for 11 years before arriving here, and this is my 5th academic job if you count the visiting spot at UIUC I took for a semester, for fun while already here. I was seeking the holy grail of a pleasant public institution with PhD programs in Comp Lit and LAS and Spanish. My institution thinks that if you cannot get that you should be willing to go private — Ivy or fancy SLAC — but I would rather go into industry than do that and I find these second and third tier, large public schools very interesting.

    What I would have liked: less claptrap about geographical location and how you should be able to tolerate any kind of torture; more realistic discussion of what different kinds of institutions are like. I have worked at 1 SLAC and this former directional that is now a national university, supposedly, and then also 1 bad R1 (where I did not get tenure due to the depressive crisis that caused me not to finish that book, but which I did not dislike and where in fact I should have stayed), 1 medium R1 as a visiting, that I liked, and 1 fancy R1 as a visiting, in snow-covered cornfields, that I adored. I miss the money we had at the SLAC and I very much enjoyed the city it was in, but I wish we hadn’t been so pushed to go to that kind of place and so oriented away from the kind of place I am now.

    • When/where I was in grad school, we were encouraged to think of the Big Ten, in particular, and flagship state schools in general, as good placements. But then, my grad school had winter, so we didn’t have that Earthly Paradise mentality. We had two people, a couple, who got Big Ten positions in neighboring states, and it seemed that they had it made. But neither got tenure, and they split up somewhere along the line. I believe one left the profession and the other is now a faculty wife/adjunct at an Ivy. It’s hard to predict what will happen to people. I feel I did not live up to youthful promise, and yet I also feel I did better than those two.

  5. Z

    Well, what happens to people is one thing — I wasn’t considered to have youthful promise, was told I would not be able to finish degree and if I did, would not be employable, so I have *greatly* exceeded expectations.

    But my theme is academic advice, all the exhortations one gets about how things are and what one should do, I just do not think it fits most situations and I do not think the people who give it, have enough knowledge or experience to have the right.

    That is why I am going to write my anti-advice book.

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  7. “If you live in places like Maringouin, the only way to actually enjoy life is to be in a happy, long term relationship (in this culture, one does not have groups of friends as one does elsewhere”

    - I know exactly what you mean. All there is to life in such tiny villages is to be in a relationship. Otherwise, one can just go insane.

  8. Pingback: What Did I Give Up? | Clarissa's Blog

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