Post Academic


An Academic Turns to an Advice Columnist, Redux

Image SourceMy mom, a Post Academic supporter, sent me a news clipping in which another forlorn PhD turned to an advice columnist. A prospective PhD asks Harriette Cole of the syndicated Sense & Sensitivity: “The work is too overwhelming for me…. I feel burned out…. Do you think I should continue pursuing my degree or take a break and smell the flowers?”

After suggesting “self-care” a la Cary Tennis, she concludes, “… hopefully [the economy] will have leveled out by the time you have finished your degree. With the advanced degree, you will be able to re-enter the job market from a position of strength…. But don’t lose sight of your dream now. You can do it!”

It’s okay, Harriette. Sense & Sangria will take it from here. You’re not expected to know the oddities of the academic job market. Here’s my tips for these advice-seekers:

There’s something to this “self-care” business. Yeah, yeah, when Harriette tells you to get a massage and meditate, it sounds cheesy, but you need to take a break. Make it a year-long break if you have to, lest you wind up like furze-cutting Clym Yeobright. Teachers as a whole are expected to martyr themselves, and that’s a trap, usually designed to squeeze as much work out of a teacher as possible without the proper payment.

More after the jump! Image of Ann Landers in 1983 by Alan Light from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Consider the job outlook. I don’t know what type of PhD this person is getting. If the PhD happens to be in a field with some demand, then maybe it is okay to pursue a dream. That dream will turn into a nightmare, though, if all you have to show for your PhD is a massive debt load. Even if you do get a job, you might still have a massive debt load. Money and job worries will compound the stress you already feel as an aspiring academic, so don’t dismiss it.

Talk to your advisor, not the agony aunt. It is your advisor’s job to help you. If you do not have a good advisor, get another one in your department or seriously consider leaving the program for a new one. When an advisor isn’t helping you in the early stages of your career, you can’t expect that person to help you when you need reference letters for the MLA. If you need to shop for a new advisor, consider Arnold’s tips on assembling an advising “Dream Team.”

Speaking of dreams … Don’t follow your dream unless you know what your dream is. That might sound easy, but it’s not. If you want to be an academic, do you dream of writing? Do you dream of research? Do you dream of teaching? Do you dream of administrative work? (Hey, some people out there do. Maybe.) Will being an academic help you achieve that dream? You can write/research/teach somewhere else and maybe even make a living at it. For more advice in that department, turn to On the Fence and Worst Professor Ever rather than the Agony Aunts.

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4 Responses to 'An Academic Turns to an Advice Columnist, Redux'

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  1. And so it begins — have you seen “the PhD on this weeks’ PostSecret? I predict more people will need your Sense & Sangria!

  2. Eliza said,

    “That dream will turn into a nightmare, though, if all you have to show for your PhD is a massive debt load.”

    Well put! Now if only more unhappy academics would ask the post-PhD community for advice rather than well-meaning, if clueless, advice columnists who are well and truly out of the higher ed loop.


  3. WoPro, I did see the Post Secret! And that postcard will be appearing on Post Academic sometime in the near future.

    Eliza, I totally agree. While I have no doubt that these advice columnists have good intentions, I wish the people asking the questions about academic job dissatisfaction turned to the post-PhD community more often!


  4. Agree! But it’s been really hard to find people who are willing to talk about the issue honestly even though I’ve been looking pretty hard. I think we are the post-PhD community! 🙂


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