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.