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Academics Breeding *WITH* Academics, Part 1 (with poll)

Posted in First Person,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on June 10, 2010
Tags: ,

"The Breeders in Dayton, Ohio" by Chrisglass (Creative Commons license)

Riffing on Caroline’s post yesterday asking whether or not academia is a closed gene pool and info loop, I was thinking about what might be the reasons for that.  I can’t tell you whether my own progeny will become an academic–provided that such a thing as academia still exists 20 years from now when she graduates from college–and the results from our poll so far suggest that the premise might be faulty anyway.  There are structural reasons why the idea seems to at least make sense, because it takes a certain cultural capital and class status (though not in all cases) to want to go into a profession where the odds are awful and the pay off not so lucrative.

Now to go off on an even more provocative tangent, I can say with at least empirical certainty that academics do breed with academics, whether or not that leads to breeding a next generation of academics.  Maybe it’s just the particular, peculiar situation of the particular, peculiar institution I attended, but I can safely calculate that a majority of my friends with partners of a committed sort met each other in grad school, without going into any creepily personal details–especially since a good number of those good folks are part of our readership!

So why should anyone wonder why grad school types meet their partners there any more than the conventional narratives of high school sweethearts or *those* people who paired up for the long run during orientation week of freshman year?  It’s probably because we’d rather not see ourselves that way and overthink these things a bit.

More overthinking about academics breeding with academics, below the fold…

We’re a Different Breed: Part of the appeal of being an academic is being different from everyone else, like your college roommates who went to medical school or became consultants.  There’s certainly some kind of counter-cultural and overly critical dimension to pursuing a Ph.D.  That’s why we can (really) enjoy chin-stroking genres of music, appreciate modern art, and watch foreign films at a much greater rate.  Same goes with relationships, in that nothing that comes easy has as much value as what takes more mental work.

That kind of attitude, in and of itself, probably makes us a little bit unappealing to anyone who’s not similarly indoctrinated.  Just consider why any non-academic would endure years of your noble poverty only to have a less than one percent chance that you’ll get a tenure-track position that you’ll have to move who-knows-where to get–actually, I’m not entirely sure why *academics* would put up with this!  And the odds are, that non-academic partner will probably have to carry her/his academic financially and psychologically, working a stable job while listening to the dissertator complain about summer vacation slipping from her/his grasp.  Again, only someone who has to deal with this her/himself could deal with this in someone else.

Relationships Are So Ideological: That’s not even mentioning the kinds of ideological squeamishness some of us feel trying to define the relationships we’re in.  You pretty much have to be with another academic if you want to find someone to bear with all the equivocation and rationalization about what kind of relationship you’re in.  Part of it might be that some of us are shy about it, part of it might be that overly critical thing.  Say, for anyone (like me) who studies something related to identity and how it’s socially constructed, the last thing you want to be is heteronormative.  I’ve been in many a workshop where there’s an arms race over who’s freakiest and most anti-normative–except for the fact that pretty much everyone seated around the table was from more or less the same social milieu and were/have been in similar (though obviously not identical) kinds of committed relationships.

The thing is, many of us do lead pretty conventional lives whether we like it or not, although our appreciation for and admiration of those who don’t might be much greater than your average bear.  In my own case, my dissertation addresses, in part, how racial difference and heteronormative ideology work at odds in the writings of minority authors at the beginning of the twentieth century, even as I live, by all accounts, a pretty heteronormative, middle-class-plus, suburban, nuclear family life.  That’s not to say there aren’t folks in academia who don’t and aren’t better at making the theory and practice of their lives go hand-in-hand, but I realized that, even if I’m not clever or militant enough to figure a way out, I could be comfortable knowing what my social position is without also being a total ideological dupe.

Next time, we’ll discuss academic mating rituals in all-too-close-knit grad school communities.  Talk about getting too close for comfort…

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2 Responses to 'Academics Breeding *WITH* Academics, Part 1 (with poll)'

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  1. The arms race over who is freakiest might be won by those who work in publishing. And, yes, I love them for it.


  2. […] start with a frequent Hamster World issue: the office romance. Arnold has noted before that academics tend to breed with academics. I met my own spouse while in grad school at UCI. Pairing up is seen as normal, or at least […]


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