I go into these crises of fear — “fear of extreme violence,” said a diagnostician — if I do not serve everyone perfectly, or if I thwart someone else’s wishes for the sake of my own survival. Many of those who have seen me in person do not imagine these things because I am so resourceful, practical and relaxed that what I now describe sounds and seems so out of character. Yet it is real.
Lately I have been learning from these crises, not just surviving them. I am recovering from one now, so I am resting up. Mayhew has written two posts on the “what did I give up?” theme. I have also written two, but I am not satisfied with either, so I am going to write a third.
I am not satisfied with the first because it followed Dame Eleanor’s prompts too closely. The things one might have given up for academia in that list are things I might not have chosen, or not counted on having at all, so I am not sure it is meaningful to say I did or did not give them up for the sake of an academic career.
I am not satisfied with the second post because what it really addresses are the things I gave up to stay in academia after I had decided I wanted to leave. That is not really the question originally asked — that was, what people gave up because they wanted to be academics.
My current academic job does not share many characteristics with the kind of academic jobs I knew of when I was in graduate school. It frustrates me because it is so stunting — especially relative to what I am interested in doing academically, and also since I am not one of those academics who could not imagine doing anything else.
But, I would like to address some points in Squadromatico’s original post; you can tell me whether my expectations in life are too low or too high. There are two possible points for each item; 22 points means everything is perfect and 0 points means it is time to hang it up and pack it in. I have 15 points.
1. Nine years of graduate school, ages 21-30, is supposed to be a sacrifice since one was not accumulating property, retirement savings, and so on. I say it was a great job to have out of college; I got two degrees, a lot of skills and work experience, amazing travel, and a pleasant life generally; it was also therapeutic for reasons too complex to go into here; great choice and no sacrifice at all. (2)
2. Adjuncting and angsting on the job market: I never did that, was always a full time VAP when not on the tenure track. I will say that not having a real job is very bad for work; I am never able to concentrate as a VAP or when the governor of Louisiana is threatening to make a 35% cut and shut us all down. (2)
3. Overjoyed to get a job: I should have been and this is a problem with me. I was excited about both of my VAP jobs because they were at universities I liked, and about another VAP offer at a place I liked that I turned down, regrettably. I should have been more realistic and been more glad about all the jobs, it would have served me well. (1)
4. Broke: I wasn’t originally, although I am now. We used to have conference funding, library books, raises, and so on, so I was not broke. I am now because we have lost those things, and also because of my trajectory: I did not make tenure the first time, so I had to start over in terms of salary as well and at lower paid schools, without research funding, and there has been inflation. Unless they adjust salaries statewide I will never be really solvent. (0)
5. Working: I thought that was what we came for. I may be overworked, and I may be a hard worker, but I am not a workaholic and I will tell you, all professions take 60-90 hours a week. You can work white collar for 40 hours at good pay, as a landman the oilfield for instance, but that is not a career path, it is a job. (2)
6. Renunciation of hobbies, interests, social life: I have not done it or had to, and I do not understand why people feel guilty about time spent not working. (2)
7. Scrutiny: I understand, but other people go through a lot of reviews, as well. (2)
8. Living in weird places: Yes. Oddly I have finally gotten used to Maringouin, but I do not know that I would leave my home state for any reason if I had it all to do over again. I am good at moving and at getting to know places and people, I am probably stellar at it in fact, but it is hard to live without a research library or a bookstore. (1)
9. Living away from your loved ones: mine include the Sierra Nevada and the Pacific Crest Trail, some rocks in the ocean, Mt. Lassen, the Hollywood Freeway, the Rincón, Anacapa, and the views from Crissy Field. I did not think it was a good idea to renounce them for this particular job. I wish I had not done so. If they ever take me back, I won’t leave them no’ mo’. (1)
10. Family planning decisions: I am old enough that the decision to have any kind of career was a decision not to have a family, or so I was taught at the time. So I never seriously considered it, nor would I have if I had chosen a career other than an academic one. (1)
11. The big one: academia! I gave up academia for academia, and that is my really big issue. My challenge now is, can I turn this alleged academic job into something that looks more like an academic job? I have been trying for many years, but my attempts up until now have failed; now I have a new approach, and perhaps it will work. (1)