Death of an academic dream



Ah, and here I am. Standing on that precipice. My PhD is in STEM field which would seem to make my prospects “better” than if it were in the much-criticized Humanities (boy am I tired of seeing Humanities-bashing…yet, employability and number of available jobs is a critical consideration in choosing a program).

For me, the question of leaving is not about the availability of jobs as much as it is about the changes in higher ed that I cannot agree with. My background is in industry and I earned my PhD in my early-mid 40s. I am viewed as somewhat of an outsider in both places. [None of these things, including the male chauvinism and gender discrimination, have ever bothered me. In fact, such things make me chuckle. Idiots.] As this is a second career, I’m thankfully wiser and more experienced and have given my faculty role at a two-year college more than a fair shake.

The reality is that what I want and what I trained for (TT faculty at an R2) will not happen. Period.

I’m dealing with the death of a dream, a very romantic dream that seemed possible up until the last of my 3.5 years spent speeding toward my PhD. The job market went splat and there I was. Disoriented and unprepared. But certainly not without options.

I’m in the acceptance phase which will no doubt give way to the action phase. I’m one hell of a prof and my students love and respect me. However, the empowerment I was hoping to find, as a result of promises made during my hiring, have dissipated and the work was that to be mine was given to a “favorite son” who is annoyingly unqualified, relatively incompetent and recently promoted. [um, what?? That’s not a promotion – they created a whole damn department for him…whatever.] In short, there is NO career path for me here.

That notwithstanding, I went to great lengths of ensure that I always had options as far as my career was concerned. I told the search committee when hired that one of the cool things about my life was that I had lots of options. Trouble was, I almost forgot those options and let the undertow of too much [busy/stupid] work, zero support, and no promise of a meaningful future destroy me on a personal level. [pfew! Glad I recognized that before it was too late.]

As I have tried to recover from having the life sucked out of me on a professional level, I realized I have done a lot of very cool things for my institution. I know progress has been hard fought for and won. I have been on the front page of the local paper for my teaching and when one pulls up my department, there I am pictured in the banner – teaching away and having a blast with “my kids”. Those things are lifegiving, but the rest, is not.

It’s go time. I have at least 30-40 more years to terrorize people [/laughing] and I can’t do that if my hands are cut off. I’m grateful for the groundswell of other academics who have paved the trail before me with the #alt-ac movement. I’m really sorry that anyone understands what we’re presently experiencing but I’m glad the experiences have been shared. It helps.

As one #alt-ac PhD pointed out, I will always be an intellectual though I may not carry the [illusion of the] prestige of the title “Professor”. 

Identity crisis forthcoming, but it will be short. I am a lot of things and nobody should *ever* underestimate me (though I will admit, I really dig that game! giggles!]


9 thoughts on “Death of an academic dream

  1. My story is completely different, but the same. The point will emerge, I hope.

    I’m officially an old white guy. Let’s get that out of the way. But I wanted to let you know that the sort of career change you’re going through isn’t unique to academia, or gender, although each of those has it’s own unique charms in our slog through life.

    Lessee…. at last count, I’ve had six careers, if you squint at a couple of them. Construction (man, was I in good shape back then!), investigator and govt. bureaucrat, newspaper reporter and editor, writer (freelance), university PR and development writer and editor, which morphed into managing editor of a large U’s main website; IT manager; research writer and, soon coming to an armchair near you when I retire, a thankfully former cog of the machine and aspiring book author. That’s more than six, I realize, but I was never good at math. And as I said, I was squinting there on a couple of them.

    In that group I proudly count being canned once, and quitting in a righteous huff on one. Good times. 🙂

    For what it’s worth, if I learned anything it is that experiences like this are only wasted if you fail to use them to kick ass the next time. Bitterness is a poison. And living well is the best revenge. And most importably, that you’d be surprised at how much you can get away with before “they” catch on.

    So, as I get comfy in my armchair and work on chapter 11, all the best to you. We survivors have got to stick together. 🙂

    • Love this! Thanks for your comments!

      I’ve been in mostly male-dominated careers and there is a huge difference from the professorate to anything else I’ve done. Mainly because the professorate requires earning the PhD, which only less than 1% of the population completes (i.e., the crazy ones lol!). Close does not count. Therefore, there is a hell of a lot of elitism [whatever dude] as well as hyper-narrowness, in most cases. I kept my studies broad and it drove my chair crazy, however, I knew there was always a chance I’d go back to industry. And I was cool with that.

      Like you, I tend to kick life in the ass twice as hard as it kicked me, only to stand there with a big fat grin on my facw and skinned knees. That’s the way it should be, frankly.

      The PhD and subsequent professorate, however, is also different from industry/administration, in that it is grounded so much in one’s ability to survive and sacrifice – especially those of us who are nuts enough to do it with kids, and travel, etc. – when we probably should be enjoying life a bit more. More than that, it becomes a Darnwinistic proposition. There is a great deal of philosophical motivation attached to just getting through it, and then publish, and survive teaching. Again, I really dig all of that but went after a career model that disappeared so fast I swear it felt like a bait and switch! Ha!

      I love your statement “living well is the best revenge” and fully agree. I can do anything I want. Period. It’s just that I’m at the end of realizing that I can’t get what I want (in this setting) which is an odd experience for an overachiever, used to winning 99% of the time – sometimes out of sheer guts. I don’t harbor any anger against anyone I encountered, I had just hoped I might be one of the lucky ones; being extraordinary isn’t enough. My biggest obstacle was the same thing that has gotten me so far: no quitting, no giving up.

      My near-hamartia was not knowing when to get out. Timeline-wise, I am realizing this a lot quicker than many and I feel fortunate for that.

      So glad you stopped by!

      • I should have said “technically an old white guy.” I’m 64 — busted — but I took one of those insightful quizzes on Facebook the other day and found out that my emotional age is 25. Pissed my wife off. She came in at 31. 🙂

  2. /cliche alert/ It’s a process, not a destination.

    I’ve always been immature, but decided to make a virtue of it. I’m still dealing with the difference between my chronological age and how I see myself, though. It’s damned unfair to feel 35 but then look in a mirror. If I knew then what I know now… but can’t do…. 🙂

    One of my favorite commentaries on all of this.:

    • This made me laugh! Thanks for that 😉

      I am nothing if I am not “all about” process, within several contexts.

      There’s a difference between immaturity and childlike light-heartedness…immaturity doesn’t coexist well with chronological age whilst childlike light-heartedness does.

      • It might be possible to slide effortlessly from childlike lightheartedness right into childlike senility, skipping that pesky, over-rated in-between time of maturity and “being an adult”. I think I’ll just go with my strengths, since I apparently have no choice.

        Part of me wants to do as Hunter Thompson advised, which is to show up at my funeral in a red Corvette convertible, a blonde on one arm and a drink in the other, and skid up to the hole spraying gravel everywhere and flip right in. But my wife would not be real wild about the blonde. Ever practical, though, she’d probably appreciate how this would cut the costs considerably. And, she’d sell the Corvette and deck the blonde.

      • Hunter S. Thompson! I dig the vignette 🙂

        We all get way too serious at varying times in our lives…necessity I guess. The ever-elusive quest for balance continues…

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