Post Academic


Learning on the post-academic job

Posted in First Person by Arnold Pan on August 5, 2010
Tags: , ,

We wanted to respond a little to all the sincere concerns and sympathetic support articulated in the comments section to “Can Being a Lowly Grad Student Kill You?”  We were heartened by the fact that so many folks felt compelled to offer their two cents, so I figured I might as well go into my own post-academic situation try and do what our statement of purpose says we do: “help people–starting with ourselves–figure out how to use and adapt skills to do things for which they might not have been initially intended.”

"A Notary in His Office" (1672) by Jan Berckheyde (Public Domain)

To expand on yesterday’s post unpacking the ballyhooed flexibility of academic jobs, I wanted to share some of my new experiences of working a 9-5 job–really, it’s like a 10-6 job in may case–in an office setting and what I’ve learned about my life as an academic from being a post-academic.  OK, my particular situation is a somewhat anomalous one because I’ve lucked out a bit finding employment that fits my training and skills well.  My job could be best defined as post-Ph.D./not tenure-track/no teaching/but still academic.  And I do enjoy some flexibility–note the semi-off-commute hours that accommodate me having to endure one of the bottom-10 worst commutes in the country many times a week.

With those caveats out of the way, I have to say that I enjoy having the structure of being in the office during specific times after basically setting my own hours working and studying since college.  Getting back to my original train of thought, here’s what I’ve learned to appreciate about having a stricter schedule and how I’ve come to the realization that flexible academic time might not have been so great for me…

Setting boundaries: Let me start by saying that the flexible schedule works for some people, since they manage their time well to find a way to be productive scholars, good teachers, and have a normal off-campus life.   And, of course, there’s an appeal to only being officially on the clock/in the classroom for, say, 10 hours a week, plus a few hours for office hours, plus more hours for administrative stuff, plus many more hours of prepping, plus many more hours of grading–wait, what was that about “controlling” your own “flexible” time as an academic?  Hey, that still doesn’t add up to 40 hours a week, does it?

More below the fold…

I was definitely the sort of academic who would let my work overwhelm my life and didn’t mind it so much.  Like Worst Prof Ever noted in the comments to yesterday’s post, academics end up working crazy numbers of unquantifiable, unremunerated hours.  Many do it because they really do like what they are doing, others because they think there will be a pay off at some point in who knows what, but probably even more do it because it’s their job and they have to.  In my experience, part of the professional description of an “academic” is to not have any boundaries, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on who you are.

Compartmentalizing: One thing I’ve been forced to do working a day job is that I’ve learned how to compartmentalize a lot better.  Rather than bringing a bunch of papers, books, and random shit home with me like I did when I was a TA and a lecturer, I now leave my work work at my office.  In that sense, maybe commuting far from home isn’t such a bad idea for me, because it has helped me to keep my home space and work space pretty well delineated, so that I’ve been able to enjoy the former more and become more efficient in the latter, too.  Not only have I learned to organize my life better now, but it has helped me manage my virtual world better too, with a business email account separate from my personal inbox.

Gaining perspective: Stepping off the hamster wheel of academia and into the (kinda) hamster world has given me some perspective on my expectations of being academic.  Without generalizing (though I know I speak for more than myself), I rationalized a lot about all the labor I did as an academic, which I convinced myself didn’t count so much as work because I deemed it a vocation that was above hamster-world drudgery.  After all the years spending all my “free” time thinking about papers, my dissertation, publication projects, conference papers, and job applications, it’s nice to have a clear idea for once of what counts as work and what doesn’t.  What’s interesting is that I never noticed that all those important aspects of my professional life infringed upon everything else, because I thought they were fun things to do–so “fun” that I actually didn’t do them when I had the opportunity to!

Anyway, that’s just to let some of you who posted on the comment board the other day know that there are alternatives out there to being on the track to the tenure track.  I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m trying to glorify my own job and maybe it sounds like I’m only rationalizing some more, this time about the decision I made.  But if someone as stubborn and constitutionally cranky as I am can learn to adjust to something new and actually be open to liking it, anything is definitely possible!

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