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.


  1. Another phd blog about not liking it. Quitting even. I just started a blog about NOT leaving academia, even though it is, just like you describe, devouring my whole life and demanding everything there is. And who ... who wants that?

    I've gone too deep. I have to finish the damn thing. Then... THEN, I will feel like you do. Right now, I envy you and try not to be too bitter about the whole thing.

  2. Wow about the url that you've posted here. Wow..reading it makes me almost hear those friends who are academics who will still talk to me despite the fact that I've left it since some consider the fact that I left it as a sign that I'm an academic failure. I don't consider myself a failure at all...I've still got my sanity ;-)

  3. I do relate to your feelings of difficulty in 'letting go' of some of this past, and at the same time knowing it's no good for us. I tried getting into your link on the British perspective but it says it's no longer available. If you have the pdf would you mind passing it on. I could give you my email address....