YOU GUYS! “My Academic Metamorphosis” is #1 on the Chronicle Website today! Paywall and all! 5 years since the already-abysmal academic job market cratered (nearly) to the ground, the PostAc movement has gained steam and people are interested in what PostAcs have to say.
Look. I don’t need a jabillion vitriolic commenters (or my partner, heh) to remind me I’m not special (see “Oh. Her again” below–a sentiment with which I happen agree). It’s true. I’m not–I’m just yelling the loudest right this second. And I thank each and every one of you for listening.
Why should we keep yelling? Here’s why: Higher Ed is corporatized beyond repair (at least for this generation), but what IS possible is the destigmatizing of Alt-Ac careers. If I were put in charge of advising bright literature majors (a distinct possibility, by the way, as I am currently applying for several altac or hybrid-ac positions that involve academic advising!), I would, as the non-anti-Semite Ezra Pound to my substantially less-gifted and much-less-affected-accent-having T.S. Eliot William Pannapacker says, transcend the “go/don’t go” dichotomy, which is now, as he rightly points out (if you’re not following him on Twitter, you are missing out!), as “over” as Williamsburg. What the debate should be about is reimagining graduate study with diverse goals in mind–prep-school teaching, International school teaching, public school teaching (you do know that many public-school teachers abroad have doctorates, yes? and it’s not even considered weird!), journalism (AHEM!), regular-book-writin’ (DOUBLE AHEM), museums, government, nonprofit, grantwriting, start-ups, R&D.
But this also (and very importantly) requires a change from the top down, not just from the bottom up. If I’m an example of anything, it’s that even when all the information is available to them, grad students, simply by being interested in graduate study at all, are really impressionable, and prone to the seduction of magical thinking when they first get in. This is for a lot of reasons, but it doesn’t help that their program recruited them so hard that it had no choice but to brush the dismal academic employment stats under the proverbial rug. (I have DOCUMENTED PROOF of this, but it’s from a highly confidential source that I promised not to expose, so it will have to remain in my hot little hands alone for the foreseeable future.)
Then (here’s the Akademische Verwandlung Cutting-Room Floor): while in grad school, all around you are only examples of people in the club–because you’re taught implicitly (by not being introduced to any of them) to give adjuncts, lecturers and other contingent faculty a wide berth, lest it be contagious. In graduate school, your world shrinks down to you, your (very rewarding but also very difficult) work, your mentors, and your fellow grad students.
As you get closer to defense and start to present at conferences, your world grows…but only to other scholars in your own field–again, usually only The Fortunate. By the time you defend, these examples are all you know–so when reality (in the form of 100- or 200- or sometimes 1500-1 odds on the market) comes crashing in on you, no matter how much you think you’re girded for it, usually you’re not.
Graduate education needs to stop this cycle, by giving grad students the resources to explore their options from Day One, by reminding them of the job market stats every single day, by inviting them to shadow adjuncts for a week and see what the “life of the mind” is usually really like, and by changing the content of mentorship to include every career option possible. This involves–gasp–RETRAINING SENIOR FACULTY. This involves getting senior faculty to change their paradigm. This is going to be very, very difficult (judging from the reactions of many insiders to just my writing alone)–and, as such, it is going to require a shit-ton of yelling and screaming.
Organizing adjuncts? Awesome. Encouraging people to do all sorts of awesome jobs instead of adjuncting? EVEN. BETTER. So–and forgive the disjointedness of this blog, I’m on an AIRPLANE! IT’S THE FUTURE!!!–keep yelling, PostAcs. And thank you for the support.