"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Monday, August 22, 2011

Some Advice for Unhappy Grad Students, Disgruntled Adjunsts, and Other Would-Be Post-Academics

Wish somebody had apprised me of this shit once upon a time. Now I have a whole lot of catching up to do:

Graduate school is a trap; orchestrate your exit before you have to leave.
Lots of reasons lead us to graduate school and the pursuit of careers as academics. I'm not here to judge those. I had my own, and, if things were different, I'd be sticking around. But, whatever your reasons for entering and staying for however long you find it sustainable to stay, know that there's probably going to come a time when your options become "either leave academe or stay and be miserable." Nobody's going to tell you this except us crazily sane post-academics, and nobody's going to tell you what the best strategy for planning your exit is. But you need one -- even if you never end up using it, you'll be that much better prepared to advise your own students in the future.

Do your research on what post-academic life has to offer you; you're not going to end up a corporate bot unless you let yourself.
Whenever you do leave, you're probably going to dislike on some level whatever it is you end up doing, even if there are also some things you like -- heck, we all know it ain't like reading Great Books and thinking Deep Thoughts. Prepare for this inevitability by researching possible jobs and careers and acquiring skills and knowledge that will lead you to the greater likelihood of a job with more that you like than dislike (Currently, I am researching day trading, and I expect to be blogging about what I'm learning further, as I learn more -- wish I had done this earlier, like when I hit the dissertation dry spell and couldn't write for three months, 'cuz while there are things I like about my current job, I don't aim to be a secretary forever, and I think I could be really good at this day trading thing, something I never even considered before.).

Anyone that tells you that you're compromising your ideals by looking into alternative careers while still pursuing your academic goals? Tell hem to piss off. They're wrong.
That pretty much says it all. Most likely your adviser, well-meaning as ze might be, will tell you this. It may have been true in the past. It's not now. The only thing you're compromising by pursuing your academic goals WITHOUT looking into alternative careers is your own future -- and your capacity ever to support yourself without the help of your partner, family, loans, credit, or food stamps.

Don't get hung up on the academic job market.
It's just around the corner now. The MLA Job List for 2012-2013 is coming out in less than a month. Don't stress. Your academic career is out of your hands. If you're going on the tenure-track market (fuck postdocs and VAPs), just send out letters to the places you can imagine yourself working. If you can't see yourself working there, don't waste your time. Concentrate on presenting yourself well to the ones that make sense for you. If that's only 3, then only send out 3 letters. The rest is ... not up to you anyway, so don't sweat it. Send out those letters and CVs, go have yourself a nice drink, and forget about it. Odds are no one is going to call you. It'll be a pleasant surprise if they do. In the meantime, work on that alternate career, so that next semester you can tell your Scheduler of Adjuncts (who earns $95K) to pay you more or fuck off, because you have options.

Make some friends outside academe.
They'll really help you put things into perspective. Odds are, you'll find a few smart, funny, creative, totally cool people, and they'll help you see what you're missing out on by burying yourself in academe. Not that a career in academe might not still end up being an option, but life on the outside isn't what you thought it would be as the 22-year-old pseudo intellectual you once were, either. Let's face it, you might still love academic work, but you no longer burn with that dumbass, naive "hard, gemlike flame." Grow up and get to know the world around you. Might turn out to be just a little more interesting than the "life of the mind" -- that narrow little world inside your own head insulated from the outside by academe's musty corridors -- that's trapped you for the last decade. And, even if you end up winning the jobs lottery and staying in academe, you'll be that much better prepared to interact with and advise your students.


  1. Great advice. Along with your earlier Job Market Myths post, this should be required annual reading for any prospective and current grad students ... a dose of reality while they're being absorbed full-scale into the batshit crazy academic world.

    Also, kudos on beginning to figure out what you might want to do next! Now pass some of that good energy my way. :) I feel like every other day, I think of a *different* completely unrelated career I think I'd like to pursue ... but then on the intervening days, I decide that I should just stay in the industry I'm currently working in, just to get to the geographic area I want to ultimately live in ... and then I can pursue another career change. Sigh.

    Have you seen the latest academic job reports over at IHE? http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/08/22/sociology_job_market_starts_to_recover

    History looks pretty bleak, while my field (sociology) has seen increases in job offers. Many of my former colleagues are posting the link excitedly all over Facebook. It's taking all of my strength to not point out (1) there is no distinction between t-t and non-tt listings in the reports, and (2) there are still a lot of completed Ph.D.'s out there from the last few years in the crap markets who are going to be competing with us ABDs for these new listings. A slight increase in listings doesn't mean the problems are over.

    Okay, that's enough spewing in your comments for one day, I think. Back to work. :)

  2. Spewing in teh comments is always welcome :)

    In literature and languages, the market "remains bleak," compounded by the two points you make. Every few years some dumbass prognosticator says things, in one field or another, are "recovering," but the recovery is never full, whatever that even means anymore. The overall trend is towards casualization everywhere. As far as I'm concerned, what matters from year to year in the short term doesn't matter that much because, no matter what field you're looking at, the long-term picture is going to remain bleak until the system changes.

    I'll do a post sooner or later on the "what's next?" subject. What is appealing to me right now about day trading is that you can do it part-time to start, while you're working elsewhere with a "regular" salary to fall back on. Some people are able to earn a living doing it only part-time. We'll see. There's a lot more I need to know before getting started.