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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"What Is a Post-Academic?"

(Yes, I'm still on vacation, but I'm at home waiting for some work to be finished on my basement floor -- before and after pictures later perhaps. In the meantime, what else to do but write a short post?)

Some questions around the blogosphere have been raised lately about leaving academe: "if you take a different job, a job other than adjuncting or professing, does it always mean you've left academe? Are you, by default, no longer an academic?"

For many post-academics, the answer is emphatically yes. Many people decide they don't like the work, in one way or another. Others don't like the working conditions. Still others decide they like neither the work nor the working conditions. For all of us, walking away seems a better option than staying in a profession that, as Anastasia points out, does not care about us. Indeed, A Post-Academic in NYC says that "walking away" doesn't even
accurately describe what we're doing because it implies there was somewhere to walk to. And we're all pretty much agreed that there isn't.

But if there are those who emphatically no longer see themselves as academics for one reason or another, where dies that leave those of us who -- wherever we may be working, whatever we may be doing -- on some level still identify ourselves as academics?

Because I know I still do ... it has something to do with a state of mind, with ways of thinking, with ways of relating to the world. I think, in some ways, I was an academic before I ever even thought about becoming a professor.

But I digress. What is a post-academic? A post-academic is simply someone who has worked in academe, who has pursued a career as a professor, however successfully or unsuccessfully, and has, for any combination of the above reasons, chosen to take a step back (or two or three -- or perhaps run at a sprint never to look back) and do something else to earn a living -- for now or for forever.

My point is that a post-academic is never going to go back to being a nonacademic, unless you willfully reinvent yourself as such. For me -- and for a lot of us, I'd gather -- you don't ever really get rid of those habits of mind you developed, whatever it is you happen to be doing for a living now and/or in the future.

And I think it's important to emphasize the academic part, too, even if you never teach
another class, present at another conference, or publish another peer-reviewed article. Because, as much academe has exploited us, academe itself his, country's system of higher education, is losing something when we leave. Not that there aren't plenty enough other masochists to take our places right now but that we were contributing something that had -- and has -- a kind of value our society is unwilling to reckon with. And will continue to refuse to reckon with as long as the true cost is disguised by an underpaid workforce.


  1. I very much appreciate this post. I'm one of the "don't like the work or the system" types ... but as I told my partner a few days ago? I'm never going to stop being a [discipline]ist. I'm still a teacher at heart. I still have research skills and plan to continue using them, even if it's just for blog posts.

    And more than anything, I still view the world from my discipline's perspective. And I'm okay with that. I still have something to add to the world from this perspective, even if I won't be doing so from within the structure of higher ed. But I'm still the same person I was in grad school. You can't undo a state of mind or a skill set.

  2. (P.S. Your links aren't working...looks like the pesky "double http:" has struck.)

  3. Ooops on the links. They should work fine now. Thanks for drawing to my attention to it! Loud workers in basement and trying to post on iPad -- something was bound to get screwed up.

    On identities, yesh, it's hard to explain to people that, on the one hand, this is a job you trained for that you're not doing anymore for now or for forever, but, on the other hand, it really is more than a job.

    Just another reason I hate the "Is getting a PhD worth it?" question.