Now I love me a good rant against a student or two, and College Misery fits the bill. The community is tight over there, so I can see why one of their members turned to the group to ask for career advice.
For starters, I applaud Raul from Russellville for sending his question to College Misery instead of a general-advice columnist. Not to snub Cary Tennis, the go-to advice columnist for grad students, but the people at College Misery … well, they know the misery. But Sense & Sangria can’t resist chiming in.
Here are glimpses of Raul’s problems at a tenure-track job:
1. I struggled in that first semester, but worked hard through it. I was astonished at the students, how exquisitely dumb they were, how fantastically lazy, how creatively they avoided work.
2. It is not just the students. My colleagues are closed off. My attempts to be collegial are often rebuffed or ignored. I haven’t come in expecting to be beloved or anything, but I find that I’m just ignored, left to fend for myself.
At first read, I wonder if maybe it’s not Raul’s career that’s the problem but the job itself. If his students are assholes and his colleagues are borderline assholes, then the best solution is to find another job.
Ah … but there are barely any jobs in academia. It’s not as if he can pack up and move anywhere. For that reason, I say what I often say in Sense & Sangria: There is no shame in quitting. If he’s worried about what family and friends might think, he might be surprised. Some of them might ask him why he didn’t do it sooner.
I noted that many of the commenters on College Misery said that Raul should at least wait his first year because it might get better. Hey, they’re professors, and they know better than me, a mere grad-student turned Hamster. On a financial level, he should definitely tough it out for as long as he can until he can save up an emergency fund. But I don’t think that people should waste time at careers they don’t enjoy, no matter how much time they put into it. Perhaps Raul can last until some of the assholes leave his department, but if he’s really miserable, he shouldn’t stay in a bum job just because he made a time investment decision that didn’t work out.
Image of a trippy sangria from Tamorlan from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
Grad 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.
Cary Tennis is becoming the go-to advice columnist for the grads. As usual, I want to ask the author of the letter, “Where is your advisor and why isn’t this person doing his or her job?” But I digress … it’s to Cary Tennis we must turn.
A week ago, the grad student in question wonders why the life of the mind isn’t thrilling her the way it used to:
I’m at a top-ranked graduate school, and I’ve been purring along, performing my graduate student duties, and feeling really good about myself and what I’m doing. Then my good friend and colleague quit a professorship that had taken over and ruined her life. Post-docs are now telling me that they have no job prospects and that they wish they had known earlier. The whole premise of my efforts has crumbled. I feel like I’ve been duped, but my advisor keeps acting like pursuing his profession is the only way to be happy. The more I think about it, the less and less I want to do this for a living.
…on the inside I feel like I’ve been hollowed out like a pumpkin.
I’ll bring my Sense & Sangria to the table. This letter is fascinating because it seems as if the student was happy in school, and if what he or she says is true, the student has a shot at a job because they’re attending a top-tier program. What brought on that “hollowed-out pumpkin” feeling seems to be … peer pressure, more than anything else. The person mentions the plight of her friends and colleagues first.
Advice after the jump! Advice-themed comic book cover from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
My 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.
It was only a matter of time before an academic wrote a letter to an advice columnist. In this case, last week a recent PhD wrote to Cary Tennis of Salon.com. Here’s the last paragraph, which sums up what so many people have been going through:
But also, it just sucks. I get headaches. I can feel my blood pressure rising. I cry (at home, not in front of students). And I haven’t even addressed the other parts of academic life — trying to get published, presenting papers in front of experts at conferences, dealing with the whims of university administration. I don’t know what I’m doing. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know why I’m doing this anymore. But I’ve spent so much time and energy and money working toward it — and I’m afraid that if I quit academia, I’ll be miserable, as I was when I worked in data entry. I suppose I’m just wondering if you can tell me how I can either be at peace with the crap parts of my field, or with the prospect of giving up the great parts of it too. I want to be happy. And I feel like I don’t know how to get there.
We’ve written before about the physical toll of being in grad school. And, in the letter to Cary Tennis, the author mentions having to deal with plagiarists and ratemyprofessors.com, but the author doesn’t mention turning to anyone else for help. Far too many academics fly completely solo, and it sounds like part of the issues driving the author of the letter involves a lack of support.
More after the jump! We don’t have a picture of Cary Tennis, but we’ll go with an advice columnist anyway. Image of Ann Landers from 1961 by Fred Palumbo from Wikimedia Commons, Library of Congress, no known copyright restrictions.