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.


  1. Amen to all of this. Seriously.

    Moving "anywhere" seemed like something fun and exciting and intriguing when I was 22. I thought that "anywhere" was just code for "some really cool place I'd love to live, where I'd earn enough money to live large."

    The reality is much different ... and for academics to act like it's "no big deal" is absolutely crazy.

    I'm with you 100% ... I don't want it anymore. I'm just done with it.

    1. JC took "Amen", so I'll go with "Werd." :)

      But, yes. This.

      I totally agree. I have a post coming up about an academic interview I was offered and how all of these kinds of thoughts rolled around my head and how I really and truly felt that I was DONE.

  2. You know, every day that I am still involved on some kind of academic work, I try to remind myself of the realities of the hurdles and sacrifices most academics have to make to get along. And the crazy thing is that the sacrifices are normalised in the community - it's just the way it is, you have to go with it or not. And the culture then outs those who challenge it. Yes, I have had enough too, and think I was always feeling unsure about this nonsense from early days. I should have gone with my gut feelings and done something else but I went along, not quite thinking about the implications of the future. Now it's here in the present and tine to get on with it - at least I am feeling more clear, like you, what I am not willing to do.

    1. The fact that it is considered so normal is the scary part. It's only when you step away from that life that you learn that this is in fact quite pathological.

  3. Thank you so much for your blog, you speak my mind. You know, being an adult doesn't have anything to do with money. That's what children think. Being an adult has everything to do with taking responsibility for your own life and that is what you are doing right now.