Player got played

One of my best friends says ze would be an academic even if they didn’t pay hir. If the job market goes wrong, and ze does not land a post-doc, adjunct, visiting, or assistant professor position anywhere, ze will go home and continue to do research from there. I would love to feel that way, but I don’t. Never have.

I’m not saying that this is an easy conclusion to get to. When, before I started the PhD program, I couldn’t really see myself in academe in the long run, I told myself I was afraid of the unknown. When this feeling came back at the end of each term, I told myself I felt that way because I wasn’t doing a good enough job. I reasoned that if I worked harder and better, that thought would go away. In short, for me the “academic calling” was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The point is that a few months ago I decided to stop chasing it. I am certain I will never get the calling, and I don’t say it in a disappointed or nostalgic way. It’s OK. I feel proud and relieved to have “come out” and to have stood up for what I want for my life.  Great, yes?

No. Changing career paths is not that simple. My advisers were very clear about this. They warned me about everything that can go wrong after parting with academe, and how “you can never come back”. The response was right on the border of “We are seriously concerned about your professional future and wellbeing” and “We expect you to follow this career and will use any tactic –even scaring/intimidating –to get you there”.  Their messages worked: I told myself that it couldn’t hurt to explore all possible options, and that I’d rather be employed than unemployed, so an academic job was better than no job.

This is how/why I ended up travelling to remote corners of the US of A like a salesperson, selling my academic potential and ambition. I nearly lost my mind in this process.  It was an intermittent out-of-body experience. When I was out of my body, I observed myself talk to professors, deans, graduate students. Apparently, at some point during my stay at TNRU, the interview performance got embedded in some previously unchartered part of my brain. First, I don’t have an academic ambition, and I don’t know how one projects “academic potential”. I couldn’t  recognize myself. When I was in my body, though, I was incredibly confused. Most evidently, most of what I was saying was a lie. If I taught a class on this field, I would use this book. My mentoring style would be this way. I cannot wait to continue my research in this teeny tiny subfield. At the very least it was all true, but founded on a false premise: that I wanted those jobs. The fact that everyone at the universities I visited was so encouraging of my academic career plans and interested in learning about me only added to the confusion: what if this is what I am supposed to do? Will interviews in any other field go as well?  Played.

I met with a professor to “talk about the job market”. I brought up my post-academic job search, and ze looked perplexed. Ze explained the surprise came from the idea in the department that I had already been “talked off the ledge” and had forgotten all the post-academic nonsense once the interviews began. In other words, my big bold meetings from a few months ago were a panic attack, a tantrum. Sure enough, once the offers came in I was flooded with recommendations on how to negotiate a better contract. I said I was still waiting on post-academic job news. They said there was no need to do so anymore because I already had the offers here. Played.

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5 comments

  1. JC

    “First, I don’t have an academic ambition, and I don’t know how one projects “academic potential”. I couldn’t recognize myself. When I was in my body, though, I was incredibly confused. Most evidently, most of what I was saying was a lie. If I taught a class on this field, I would use this book. My mentoring style would be this way. I cannot wait to continue my research in this teeny tiny subfield. At the very least it was all true, but founded on a false premise: that I wanted those jobs. The fact that everyone at the universities I visited was so encouraging of my academic career plans and interested in learning about me only added to the confusion: what if this is what I am supposed to do?”

    Oh my god, are you me? Seriously. Are you me???

    I’ve tried so many times to describe this to my academic friends. Yes, I went through the motions. Yes, I had interviews. Yes, I was okay at what I was doing. But I didn’t FEEL it. I didn’t want it. I was on interviews, but I was FAKING IT. I wasn’t myself. And now that I’m gone, doing *anything else* feels better than academia did because *academia was not for me.*

    They don’t seem to care. I should still be an academic, since I went through those motions. They don’t seem to understand (or care?) that it wasn’t me … that the “me” on those interviews wasn’t real.

    Oh, this post. I love it.

    • dissentingscholar

      Yes, exactly! I wasn’t myself. I’m so glad I put this out there –for all my friends right now, the job market is as real as it gets and you can’t say you’re “faking it” without sounding like an arrogant ass.

  2. Couldn't agree more

    Thank you for writing. I have felt all of this, and yet couldn’t verbalize it as well as you did. All of this needs to be said, even if it feels like no one understands; there are those of us who do understand, all too well.

  3. Tilde

    I was having doubts about my decision to not return (and having doubts about confronting, or even talking about, how I feel about my experiences). A couple of unexpected expenses really had me thinking that I should hold off, but you’re so right about being in and out of body and confused and not recognizing myself. Great post, and a timely one for me. There isn’t any going back, but that’s a good thing.

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