I went to a little party at a friend’s house today. She and I met in college and we’ve stayed in touch, sometimes sporadically, ever since. We both went to graduate school after finishing undergraduate, though in my case I started working and in her case, she isn’t working because she still hasn’t finished school. (She’s in a PhD program.)
Anyway, it was a fun way to spend the afternoon, not least because my friend and I are both Russian speakers. We met through Russian—I walked into Russian class on the first day of college and saw her already sitting there, so I said hi. The next day, I saw her eating breakfast by herself, so I ate with her, and we’ve been friends ever since. We speak in a weird mixture of English and Russian that no one else understands, unless they speak Russian, too. I think this might be called code-switching.
One thought I had today is how glad I am that I’m not in a PhD program. I was so dead set on doing a PhD at one point, but after hearing about it, I’m really and truly glad I didn’t go that route. My friend does like her program, so it’s not like she gave me an overly negative view of it. It’s just that school was a previous phase of my life and now that I’m a couple years out, I’m glad it’s over. I’m glad I went, too, but I’m also glad it’s over. I feel like this is the first time I’ve had such thoughts since graduating. It feels… liberating. And that, in and of itself, is also a reason to celebrate.
I read this post on Slate about Karen Kelsky, a former professor and university administrator who left academia to found her own business consulting with grad students preparing for the academic job market. Back when I wanted to become a history professor, I used to read her blog religiously. I stopped reading it when it became apparent that I wasn’t going into academia.
Anyway, the Slate post (it does read more like a blog post than an article) has a question and answer with Kelsky, who says this about quitting academia. She meant it in the sense of leaving once you have a PhD, but I felt like I could relate, too.
The academy demands a total identification with its principles, practices, and values. It’s like a religion, and sometimes it’s like a cult. If you leave it, there will be a void. You will lose your sense of self. You’ll lose a large chunk of your social network and support system. You’ll lose the future that you anticipated for yourself. Acknowledging these losses is essential to the grief and eventual healing process. You can relate all of this to Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief.
This is so true, even the part about academia being like a cult. I wasn’t even that deeply embedded in academia and it was devastating for me to leave. I haven’t talked about this much on this blog, but I was sad for a long time when I realized the whole history professor career path wasn’t going to work out for me. (The reasons are long enough that I’d need a separate post to fully explain!) In fact, it’s only been recently that I’ve really felt okay with the idea that I probably won’t work in academia anytime soon.
I’d like to say to anyone who has realized that an academic career won’t be happening that everything’s going to be okay. Really. I know it may not seem that way if you’re dealing with the disappointment of not being able to pursue your “dream career” (I’m hesitant to use that phrase because it implies there’s only one career you’re suited for and I don’t think that’s true), but everything will be okay. Even if you hate what you’re doing now, you’ll be able to use the work experience you’re getting now to find something better later.
There’s a pervasive view in academia that the only jobs worth having are those that are academic in nature. Honestly, I do think that working in academia could be fun, and I don’t know if I’d say no to such a job offer even now, but there are a ton of other things out there that are good—and even better—than working in academia.
Just remember this: you may be confused and wishing you were back in academia, but don’t worry. It really is going to be okay.
This afternoon, while browsing the internet, I came across a person who has been blogging about his experiences applying to top MBA programs this year. He didn’t get into a single one. Granted, they were extremely selective schools, but I feel really bad for him. Not only is it disappointing not to get something you’ve wanted for a long time, but he shared this disappointment with the world. That takes courage, so I thought I’d offer some advice that will hopefully be helpful.
Dear Grant [the blog is called Grant Me Admission, so I’m going to do what another website did and shorten it to Grant],
You don’t know me, and I don’t know you, so it might be a bit strange that I’m writing this. I saw your latest blog post today and wanted to offer you some advice that popped into my brain after an admittedly cursory glance at your website.
First off, I think it’s great you applied to such a high-ranked cohort of schools. Seriously, grad school applications are not easy—I know this from personal experience—so good for you for actually sending in five of them. You also chose very high-ranked schools, which I do think is the right thing to do if one is applying for an MBA in this day and age. Read more
My friends, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. Read the following excerpt I found in an advice column in the vaunted academic publication, Chronicle of Higher Education. As an ardent once-aspiring academic (who am I kidding—half of my day is usually spent contemplating my return to academia), I like keeping up with what’s going on in the academic world, especially in the humanities and social sciences. But I won’t bore you with my pontification anymore—on to the single most hilarious advice-seeking letter ever published. The emphasis is mine.
I’m tussling with my committee about my dissertation topic. I want to do something new, different, and interesting to me and others in my age cohort.
Specifically, I want to write about Pussy Riot, because they’re the most important cultural event of the 21st century. My committee’s mostly older people, over 50, and they don’t know or appreciate what I’m talking about. They disapprove. They cringe.
But I want to write for the future, not live in the past. How can I persuade them to let me do my dissertation on Pussy Riot?
Ah, yes. How fascinating. We are a mere fourteen years into the twenty-first century, my friends, yet the most important cultural event has already happened! We all should be bowing down and thanking this Future Academic Superstar for her benevolence in informing us of this. No matter what happens in the future years of the twenty-first century—all eighty-five of them!—that “performance” by those immature, offensive, ungrateful, and just plain stupid young women of The Band That Must Not Be Named will forever remain the most important cultural event of this century.
Oddly enough, the genial advice-giving professor who writes the column gives the same advice I would give: don’t touch that topic with a ten-foot pole. Admittedly, her reasons are much different from mine and mainly focus on the topic being much too recent and developing (as in, by the time the dissertation is finished, it may be already out of date). Though I suppose I should be grateful for small favors that her advice leads to the outcome I prefer (specifically, no dissertation on The Band That Must Not Be Named).
Apologies to any intelligent, normal people working in academia, but this article I read about a month ago just begs for an insulting title. It’s called The Problem With College Tenure and contains some of the more idiotic statements made by those working in the venerated, strange institution that is academia today.
Middle-aged Steven G. Salaita of Blacksburg, Va., recently suffered every working stiff’s nightmare. He quit his job for a better one, but before starting at the new place, his employer checked out his social media persona—and withdrew the offer.
Now he has no job at all. His friends think he got hosed.
This tale of woe has a couple of twists, however. The first is that Steven Salaita was a tenure-track college professor, and they almost never get canned. So what did he do? That’s where his presence on social media comes in. These didn’t turn out to be compromising photos of Steven at a party looking smashed or Steven on a camping trip smoking a blunt.
No, this was Salaita, formerly a professor in the English department at Virginia Tech, slamming Jews, U.S. soldiers, and “rednecks” on Twitter—and relating his plans to introduce future classrooms of 19-year-olds to his obsessive hatred of Israel.
Seeing this, University of Illinois officials reconsidered letting Salaita teach two classes in the school’s American Indian studies program. One might sympathize with him—hey, he was just blowing off steam and the war in Gaza is upsetting—until looking at his Twitter feed. There, Salaita reveals himself to be a foul-mouthed fanatic whose antipathy for Israel is so thorough that he calls for the country’s destruction, fantasizes about the mass murder of Jewish settlers, blames Jews themselves for anti-Semitism, and says that anybody who disagrees with him “is an awful human being.”
There’s more—much more—if you go read the entire article. It’s actually frightening. I’m happy to say I escaped such idiocy during my education. Sure, many of my professors had a definite leftist tilt, but none of them expressed anything remotely anti-Semitic and they were always open to people expressing their own views in the classroom.
Occasionally (okay, it’s been more than just occasionally in recent months), I mourn the fact that I’m not an academic or on track to have an academic career. Then I read nonsense like the article linked above, and realize perhaps I dodged a bullet. After all, I work with pretty cool people—most people I’ve met at The Bank so far have been very nice and don’t have an obsessive hatred of things I like.
I propose we abolish tenure and replace it with multi-year contracts. But that is a post for another time, if you’re interested.
I found on an anonymous professor’s blog (sorry I don’t have a link; I can’t find one) a very interesting quote. She was talking about her next book that she’s started writing and said that she has a massive document full of quotes from the books she has read to do research.
Is this how to do proper academic research? Seriously, when I read that, a light bulb went off in my head. I have done annotated bibliographies in classes before. Somehow I never considered using them for my own research. My way of doing research is actually dreadfully inefficient, so I think I will try this new way for my Super Secret Research Project that I want to start on (but have zero time for at the moment).
I just realized I forgot to finish writing this series. I know at least one reader is waiting in eager anticipation for the continuation of this story. (Thanks for the support, Claire!) Without further ado, here is Part 4 of the saga. See also Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
The first college class I ever went to was first-year Russian. I registered for classes a couple of days before the semester started and went to a “Russian open house” the day before classes started. My school’s Russian program was cut and subsumed into another department at the end of the Cold War, so there were only two professors at the open house. I was the only student who showed up. I spent over an hour talking to the man who would be my future professor and the single biggest influence on my Russian. (МГ, спасибо за все!)
On the first day of Russian, we learned the alphabet. Not just a few letters, but the entire thing. As you can see MG (my professor) has never believed in slacking off. Luckily for me, I had done some prior work on learning the alphabet. If I hadn’t, I don’t know how I would have kept up. I was so overwhelmed right away.
During the first week of classes, I went to office hours for Russian multiple times. I didn’t understand how to make nouns plural (it’s not actually that hard). I knew the letters of the alphabet but I had trouble reading words and sentences. I think it’s safe to say that first-year Russian was one of the hardest classes I’ve ever taken. I wasn’t the only one who thought so, as it had a high attrition rate: we started off with nine people and lost two or three after first semester. By the time I was in advanced Russian during my final year of college, there were only three of us left.
My most salient memory from that first year of college is Russian homework. I did so much Russian homework: handwriting practice, verb conjugations, noun declensions, vocabulary practice, you name it. We finished two workbooks that year.
When I went home for spring break during second semester, my mom and I booked a trip to Russia. I hadn’t expected it to happen, but I was hugely excited. I spent March onwards in eager anticipation of the upcoming journey to the motherland.