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April 06, 2003

Academic Life

This week's Chronicle of Higher Education featured a personal essay from "Catherine Evans" (not her real name), a tenure-track faculty member in the humanities at a major, "near-Ivy" university. This professor is leaving academia (in the humanities) for a lot of the same reasons I've decided to leave—the work is never-ending, thankless, isolated and isolating, and invades every aspect of your life. Her moment of truth sounds like the future in which I worried I'd find myself trapped if I stayed in academia:

So there I was, caught in a job that made me miserable rather than excited, modeling for my toddler son a disheartening priority of rationalized duty over fulfillment, and apologizing to colleagues for the activities that energized me the most. I thought about spending the next 30 years or so of my professional life as an academic. I began imagining alternatives.

Alternatives are good. L. (who is also leaving academia) and I like to joke about academia as a deep hole and academics as diggers. You start digging when you head to grad school, and the closer you get to tenure, the deeper your hole becomes. And as your hole becomes deeper, you steadily lose your ability to see the world around you; dig long enough to get tenure, and the only part of the world you'll be able to see is the tiny speck of sky at the top of your hole high above you. (Imagine being trapped at the bottom of a deep, deep well.) This is why it's so hard for academics to see alternatives and pursue them—they're too deep in their academic holes. I'm sure climbing out was hard for Evans, but once you start, it certainly gets easier.

(If anyone reading this is thinking about going to graduate school in the humanities, please read Invisible Adjunct's advice and think again.)

Posted April 6, 2003 05:54 PM | life generally

Wow. So basically you're saying that you've been disillusioned and are choosing a career change...?

I'm reading this very old but very interesting autobiography of Lincoln Steffens, who had a colorful youth and was mightily disillusioned with college and the world of academia. You might find it fun reading.

Posted by: Zelda at April 15, 2003 10:24 PM

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