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

Thursday, December 29, 2011


About a year ago, at the end of fall semester 2010, I saw my adviser for the last time. I gave hir a nicely bound copy of my dissertation. Ze gave me a copy of hir recently published new book.

I have not read the book yet. No, not even skimmed the first chapter.

Now, to be clear, I had and still have a lot of respect for this professor. I like the way ze writes. Professor colleagues have described hir as someone "incapable of writing badly." I agree. Also, I chose to work with hir because I thought hir scholarship had more substance and less shit than ... the norm in my field.

So why have I not yet read the book? Two possible reasons come to mind:

1. I have subconsciously decided that academe, even at its best, is full of shit and not worth my time.

2. I have worked hard at distancing myself from something I once cared about a great deal over the last year and resist the danger of genuinely engaging as a mode of postacademic self-preservation.

Probably, it's some combination of the two.


  1. After I finished my dissertation and struck out on the job market one last time, I took stock of what I’d learned in grad school and decided that there was only one part of it that had any intrinsic value to me (the poetry I was reading in one of the languages that I had studied). The rest of it I simply dropped. About a year and a half later, I was getting bored, or maybe restless, because I really enjoy writing and I didn’t have an outlet for that. At that point I started researching history again, a new topic unrelated to my dissertation, and I found I still enjoyed researching and writing enough to stick with the project and complete it.

    We enter grad school with some degree of enthusiasm and interest in the field we plan to study. We get trained to uphold a standard of scholarship that entails, among other things, keeping up with the state of the field. We get jaded as we see how things really work, and in many cases we get disgusted with the whole project, especially if we don’t get a job at the end of all of it. Some people just walk away. Others still feel a pull. I think it can be hard to distinguish what it is that is pulling on you, though. Is it the enthusiasm and interest that initially drew you to grad school, that still lies there buried under a bunch of other feelings? Is it a stubborn and misguided attempt to justify all those years spent in grad school, years that you would otherwise have to admit were wasted? Is it just the force of habit?

    I feel better about ultimately going back to scholarship because I did walk away from it for a while. I don’t regret the time away. Really, the only thing I wonder is whether I stayed away long enough. Sometimes I wish I had stayed away two or even three years. I wasn’t thinking of it in terms of a set period of time – I wasn’t planning on ever going back to it – but if someone asked me, this is what I would say: If you think you might want to continue researching and writing, why not set it aside for two years and see how you feel about it at the end of that? If you rediscover your love for whatever it was you were studying, you’ve got the rest of your life to enjoy it. What’s the big rush? If there’s any value to whatever it was you were studying, it’ll still be around when you decide to come back to it.

  2. Your #2 option really resonated with me. I'm finding that trying to be postacademic is a bit like leaving the maffia..."Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in!" I find this whether I'm torn about reading/researching new stuff, or trying to explain to family and friends that applying to non-academic jobs means I probably won't be trying for TT faculty jobs anytime in the (near) future. Cultivating some distance from academe really is a mixture of both "fed up-edness" and self-preservation.

  3. Your option #2 resonated with me but I still do work up bits of my thesis into articles so that I have a means of keeping my brain intact...I've no intention of returning back...since I'm torn about leaving the research side but I dislike the backstabbing and the politics that's often rife. I'd agree with Currer Bell that cultivating some distance from academe is a mix of 'fedupedness' and self-preservation'.