Saturday, June 30, 2012

Still wondering/wandering...

While most of the time I am too busy working to give much thought to my former academic self, when I am not working, I am busy wondering how much more effort I should put into continuing down the academic path. That is, is this non-academic thing a transitory phase to pay the rent, or is it a permament transition that represents a new direction in my career?

Forgive me if I sound like a broken record. I guess I am still struggling with the transformation.

In earlier weeks I had my up and down experiences at my new job, but on the whole, it is in fact quite decent, not too onerous and relentlessly social. I am enjoying the pay cheque, the learning curve and the fact that I have my free time to myself. I am also enjoying the collaborative aspect and the fact that there is always someone to talk to. Unlike my time in academia, where I was always by myself and only ever talked to other human beings in class, consultation times, meetings or conferences, I find myself yakking to a wide-range of people throughout the day. It's a nice change.

So in short, it would be quite easy to barrel along this new path in life and find out what new career goals develop.


I am still wondering whether I want to keep pursuing the academic work. I like to torture myself occaisionally by looking up people I know from academic circles and seeing where they're at these days. Does the fact that many of my past colleagues have been eeking out their career goals mean that I have given up too soon? Or should I just stop googling and focus on my own affairs?

What does my research into the business of others signify about my true heart's desire? Am I just morbidly curious, or am I jealous that they have the role that I can't get? I also find myself speculating: Would I have taken that job if it had been offered to me? What sacrifices would it have meant for them? How would I have felt about making those sacrifices? Are they happy? Would I be?

Arhg. Usually I finally manage to snap out of it and remind myself of all the reasons that my life has gone in a different direction and get back to what I was supposed to be doing. But then I am sstill left feeling: should I continue to keep a foot in the door, as it were, and find the time to keep working on academic things? Or do I just want to cut my losses and have my time to myself?

I am finding that it is really difficult to make a complete break from academic life. So many of my friends are academics, and so much of my identity has been invested in being an academic for so long. It feels both exhilarating and depressing to move away from academic life at the same time. On the one hand, all those years spent studying and a promising career brought to an end. On the other hand, a life lived and lessons learnt, skills earned and a whole world ahead.

The question I really can't answer is: will I try to hold on to a much longed-for career, or will I open my eyes to the opportunities that lie outside academia? I keep vacillating betwen the two. If only there were some way to make the decision easier. I think I once thought that the pay cheque would be the deciding factor, but now I realise it isn't. What is the deciding factor?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

If you're lucky, your talent will shine throughout your new job too.

I know a lot of former academics would probably have worked this out too. That is, that all those skills and talents you learnt being a graduate student/adjunct are going to help you out in your new career. And I am not talking about your brilliant ability to produce a complex piece of original scholarship. I mean your ability to get stuff done, play well with others and take the initative when it comes to making your job your own.

Now I am not saying that everyone's first foray into the non-academic working world is going to be brilliant, but if you work for an organisation and a team that takes their work seriously and does more than pay lip service to professional development, you will find yourself working on some interesting projects. In some cases, whether you like it or not.

That is, if you are a former academic who has taken the option of working a relatively low-key job in order to live your own life outside of work, then be careful about how well you do your job. Your boss might work out that you're cruising and find more things for you to do. This may turn out to be a massive pain in the a**e if that's not what you signed on for. But if you want to take your career seriously, then you are in luck and you just never know where the future will take you.

I guess the moral to the story is that you never know what lies around the corner. Getting off the academic treadmill will leave you in a position to embrace the winds of change and find your own path in life. The question is: how ready are you to take on that change? Are you going to pine for the rigour and structure and comfort of academia? Or are you going to throw caution to the wind and learn to trust your instincts and take a chance on your ability to thrive without the safety net of the academic calender or the opinions of colleagues, anonymous referees, advisers and students?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

how good are the weekends??

For all the trials and tribulations of the working week (waking up early, ironing, remembering your lunch, not being able to organise all the stuff you need to do to keep your life functioning), having your weekend to do exactly as you please with is a good trade. Sure, it's never long enough, but hey, you have money to do fun things with. Or not. You also have time to do...oh... I don't know... nothing in. Or everything. Or a happy medium. Or you can fritter away as much of both time and money as you like. Who cares? Noone. As JC says, as long as you're back at your desk on Monday, no harm done.

I have to say, although I have always been pretty strict about keeping my weekends free of academic work, now that I am working a regular job, I have found a new depth of appreciation for my time off. I am, indeed, more relaxed. I get all those itty bitty annoying housework jobs done. And I stop to dance around the lounge room like an idiot whenever I feel moved to. I go out until 5 am if I want. I stay in bed reading if I want. I watch crappy TV and movies when it rains. I spend time thinking about what delicious and nutritious meals I will whip up. I have time to try things on when I go to the shops. I plan fun things to do with family and friends.

Most importantly though, I don't think about work. I don't get paid enough for that. Nor do I have any pressure to beg to keep my job by publishing and grant writing and the like. I also don't have to worry about what will happen when my contract runs out. Or whether I am doing enough to keep my job.

I love the weekends!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Changing priorities

Once upon a time, I was hell bent on acheiving academic success. I would have done anything to get a fulltime position, anywhere at all.

Clearly I was very naiive.

I am a truly optimistic person and really do find the silver lining in every cloud, so for every far-flung outpost of civilisation that I applied to, I would find myself looking up places to live, or things to do, or day dreaming about not commuting. In short, I was always convinced I would make a go of wherever I ended up. Indeed, I was utterly convinced that it was just a matter of time before I would get a position somewhere, and then I could do all of the other things that adults do. Like have savings and buy stuff for your house. Like new stuff, from an actual shop, not second hand from someone down the street you know who is upgrading to a fancier version of whatever home furnishing. Or free from the side of the road where all students collect their home furnishings.

Does this sound trivial?

Well, of course, the furnishings are, but my point is - I finally realised a while ago that I am no longer prepared to go anywhere.  At first I started redefining the boundaries around where I would and wouldn't work. But now I realise that there are in fact very few places that I would be seriously committed to moving too.

And now that I am not an academic - who cares? I am like everyone else now - if I want to move, I will do it because I want to, not because I have to. This is a huge change for me. And I think a really clear sign that I am just not that into the academic pathway anymore.

I have heard too many stories of marriages breaking up or under strain because of the long-distance issue for two academics (hats off to all of you who have survived this awful life). I have heard stories of people unable to have families because of such logistics. Or trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to "have it all" (as the euphemism for having a partner, children and a career is known) in these conditions. I have also heard some truly outrageous instances of how being a carer is complicated by the lack of academic jobs, with some people having to accomplish truly astonishing feats of logistics in order to meet their obligations to both work and life. And lets not forget the ludicrously high toll that academic careers have on physical and mental health. Almost everyone I know in academic life has had some kind of mental health crisis, if not a physical health crisis too.

At least some of the cause of these problems has to lie in forcing people to move anywhere there is work. Uprooting from families, friends, pets, established routines, familiar places and a culture that you understand is a difficult thing to do. Add to that an impossibily high workload, a culture of closed office doors and everyone working from home anyway, the demands of students and it's no wonder no-one has any time to put down new roots in new homes in new places. You have to be seriously outgoing, willing to try new things, determined to not give up, and able to withstand loneliness to move to a new location in the first place. And who has the time or energy left when you are commuting to see your partner, or the sole income earner because your partner can't find a job, potentially being a sole parent or going through fertility treatment on your own, unable to see your family and with no friends nearby to have a glass of wine (or three) with?

If getting an academic job requires making all those sacrifices, then that's not something I am prepared to do.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Clinging to the past

Something I have always found difficult to judge is when it's time to move on. For years I have been saying that I would move on from academic life, but now that I have actually done it, I find myself still hanging on to some remnants of my former life.

For the most part I am way too busy having a life to be bothered with academic things anymore, but then there are times when either I have to because of previous obligations tie up loose ends, or I find myself daydreaming about my academic future. Finalising outstanding business is one thing, but far out is that daydream persistant. I am sure it's just a deeply ingrained habit from working towards such an elusive goal for so long, but it does beg the question: when am I finally going to kick the habit???

It is especially hard when there are so many things about the academic life that I do actually enjoy going on around me. Hearing about people going off to exotic locations for conferences, meeting interesting people, getting involved in collaborations, gaining funding for some pet project or teaching fascinating sounding classes makes it very difficult to remind myself why I am not going those things anymore.

But then it isn't usually long before a hard does of reality reminds why I finally decided to walk away from that life: The conferences are inevitably over-priced and not as interesting as they seem on paper; the location is always some city, and always in a dull location of the city at that; you rarely have enough time for sightseeing anyway; most people you meet are too busy finishing their papers to let their hair down and enjoy the confernece, let alone sightseeing, so you're always on your own in any case; you never usually meet anyone that interesting and it's quite lonely travelling all that way to be bored in a city you don't know. Collaborations don't happen often enough and are always fraught with people missing deadlines, getting upset about authorship and disagreeing on the nature and intent of the collaboration. Gaining any kind of funding requires a disproportional amount of effort in writing the application, only for it to be subjected to some mysterious decision-making process of which everyone is highly critical but no alternative is ever devised. And teaching is only interesting if you don't have an enormous pile of marking to do or complaints about grades to handle.

Add to the mix all of the well-known issues around competition for jobs, job security, job location, and work-life balance and there's a long list of reasons why academia is not all that is made out to be.

And yet... despite knowing all of these things I find myself still hopefully searching the job ads, speculating about the next project or going to talks to meet people whose work I like and would like to get to know better. Why am I torturing myself like this? After years on the market and untold numbers of interviews I know exactly how the outcome of any application will be - someone with a LOT more of everything will get the job. and when I say a lot - I mean in some cases, DECADES more experience. I can't compete with that - I can't sacrifice any more time or money to chasing this elusive academic future. I must take control over my future before I am homeless and alone and with nothing but a room full of students and my next publication to care about. Beause in this market, that is what it would take: namely, to sacrifice any hope of having a fully adult life and to sacrifice everything to move to a town I care nothing for to teach classes that won't be in my area and work with colleagues I don't like. Who wants that?

NB: Here's a link I found by following my stats traffic - it gives a British perspective on some of the inequities of higher ed and reinforces those cold hard facts about why leaving is a good idea. It's also very eloquent and well-put.