Post Academic


The Return of Sense & Sangria

Posted in Sense & Sangria by Caroline Roberts on January 26, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionGrad student advisors, some of you are seriously not stepping up. Most of your students are turning to Cary Tennis for academic advice instead. The latest academic letter to Tennis is a twist on the usual formula, with a student who already has a PhD freaking out about lost opportunities and job prospects.

She’s not alone, and there are probably plenty of others like her, but here’s the situation: The letter-writer, who calls herself “Self-Indulgent Ex-Academic,” wanted to be an actress, but she chose–and was encouraged by her parents to choose–a career as an anthropology professor. Talk about exchanging one dismal job prospect for another. (Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys, actors or anthropology professors. Okay?)

There’s other twists and turns here, including an illness and a dual-career problem in which her husband got a great job and she didn’t. Her Ivory Tower is definitely leaning. I really became worried at this point:

But, on an emotional level, it’s just killing me. I keep telling people that I don’t really want a tenure-track job, for these and so many more reasons. But my heart doesn’t believe it. Sometimes, stuck in this town I don’t much care for, with my once-promising career in shambles, I wonder if it’s even worth getting out of bed. (Self-pity alert: I have suffered from, and been diagnosed with, major depressive disorder; despite the meds, I just don’t have the resiliency that most people enjoy.)

This letter writer needs to schedule an appointment with a professional ASAP. No matter what Cary Tennis or Sense & Sangria says, academia is only part of the problem. In fact, academia may have made a depressive disorder worse.

DUP Advice Centre, Omagh. Image by Kenneth Allen from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Too many people imagine academia as a safe place where meritocracy and fairness reign supreme. They may be able to get into a program because they’re smart, but that doesn’t mean academia is going to be the right fit. Finding out that academia is as flawed as any other job (or maybe even more flawed than other jobs) can be a psyche-rattling experience. If a person is already vulnerable or has depressive tendencies, then academia is the wrong career. Teaching, research and the navigation of bureaucracy requires complete confidence and a sturdy sense of well-being.

Tennis can’t solve this person’s problems himself, and I wasn’t sure of all his advice about listening to the wild psyche, but the following sentence was helpful: “I assure you, nothing terrible will happen to you if you do not become an academic. To know this is literally to get your life back.”

For those of you who are worried about your job prospects, write those wise words down and tape them to your fridge. Yeah, it sucks to invest years of your life into a degree, but it’s not worth being miserable or breaking up a marriage over it. If you’re smart enough to get a PhD, then you’re smart enough to leverage your talents into a career that might make you happier.

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4 Responses to 'The Return of Sense & Sangria'

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  1. Anthea said,

    This letter/article in Salon.com has gone viral since I’ve seen discusions elsewhere. My own thought is that she ought to start seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty..since there’s really no point in seeing the other way round – it’s making her feel ill, disheartened and soulless. Academia isn’t the right fit for everyone who goes through the PhD process. Tennis is right in stating that nothing terrible will happen if not everyone goes on to be an academic. I’ve met some really interesting people who had left academia with a PhD, were doing research, earning lots of money AND enjoying their lives. Remember, as Caroline Roberts above has stated, that you are smart enough to get a PhD…and that by default you’re smart enough to leverage it into something that you deserve. Think about it? Does the university that’s treating you like garbage as an adjunct, or won’t even hire you REALLY DESERVE you??? It’s a good question to consider.


  2. I seriously think they ought to throw all these unhappy academic questions to you, or you should start an advice column of your own. There’s definitely a high incidence of depression in the Academy — cause, effect, who cares, but you’re absolutely right that this person should seek some help on that front!

  3. Elza said,

    Outstanding article, I will be browsing back again persistently to watch out for improvements.


  4. […] depressed grad students lately.  His advice is usually spot on, but I think Postacademic’s responses and comments are more helpful.  Click on the “Sense and Sangria” tag for […]


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