Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New Year's Answers #1

I've really got to remember to keep this blog going, because its one of the things that may preserve my sanity in this time of transition and career-related anxieties. Time to try to answer some of my New Year's questions.
1. Was my experience about being in a particularly toxic department in a toxic school, or was it a more universal experience of the culture of higher education? (I.e., if I got a job somewhere else, could I be happy?)
Good question. I'm not sure about this one. I do think, for the record, that my department was particularly toxic as far as departments go. Only thing is, I think that toxic departments are fairly common, maybe not the rule necessarily, but not as infrequent as one might guess. I can't say how many times I've listened to grad students and professors complain about the politics of their respective departments. I think this may be partly because of the way academic jobs work, that you get tenure at a place and then stay there FOREVER and it is virtually impossible to move to another institution. This means that people stay in departments where they are miserable, their souls shrivel up and become hard lumps of hate, and they take their frustration out on the other faculty and their students. I don't think this is that uncommon of a situation. Am I wrong? I think this is what happens when you have basically no mobility in your professional life.

I do think there are different types of schools where I could probably be happier, places where the focus is more on teaching, for example, and the faculty do not see working with students as a burden to be foisted off on someone else so they can focus on their next book. But I do think that there are structural things about a career in higher education that may still be deal-breakers for me. As a single gay man who has aspirations of domestic bliss and perhaps even a family, I'm just not too keen on moving to Lower Mongolia for my career. I've been reading a bit about academics who move into secondary education, and this definitely seems to address a number of my problems, such as the pressures of research, the discounting of teaching, and the geographic mobility. Here's a great article about somehow who made just the switch I'm talking about. He even is doing what I've always dreamed of doing since I was a little boy: writing novels.

Good for him.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

New Year's doubts and questions

I took a bit of a hiatus for the holidays but now I'm back. The academic job season is still underway and I've had another nibble from a liberal arts college. I'm finding myself feeling a combination of hope and dread again, and I think its strange how my sense of clarity about making a change in my life gets blurred when I hear from a school. Suddenly I feel like I want that again. Its one of the strangest experiences I've ever had. I'm sure a big part of it is driven by fear. I've invested so much time and energy and money in this degree and now taking a teaching job just seems like a natural progression, without all the troublesome questions and reassessments and soul-searching that go along with making a career change. All the rage, cynicism, betrayal, and contempt I feel for my old department, and the world of higher education in general, are all there right beneath the surface. But I forget very quickly. It really does feel like that rush of adrenaline you get when your ex's name pops up on your phone. The reasons you left are all still there and still valid, but at a gut level you're still glad to hear from them. But you also know that you can't really trust that emotion.

I do have some valid questions, however, about what is seeming more and more like a choice to leave academia.

1. Was my experience about being in a particularly toxic department in a toxic school, or was it a more universal experience of the culture of higher education? (I.e., if I got a job somewhere else, could I be happy?)

2. Are all professional environments potentially soul-sucking, petty, and full of BS, not just academia?

3. Is one of my biggest objections to the academic life, geographic choice, really that important?

Over the coming days I'll attempt to answer these questions.