Good God, Now ‘Just Shut Up’ is a Thing: An Open Letter to Paige Ambroziak & Co.

It’s sort of bad enough that Just Don’t Go is a thing—despite my active and continuous participation therein. Because like the vast majority if PhDon’ters, I wish that the academic labor market were different, and that I had not unwittingly become the curse-spewing voice of the disaffected literature job marketer (and I realize that I do not speak for all of you, or even most of you—but to that I say, speak the fuck up then).

But I do this because I cannot stand by while self-professed Marxists behave like feudal lords/Ayn Rand fans at the top of their “meritocracy,” equal parts breaking down their progeny and coddling them into believing that “there are always jobs for good people.” Although, of course, “there are no guarantees,” but the important thing about the Life of the Mind is that you, in the words of my #1 Fan, FULLPROF Jonathan Mayhew of the University of Kansas, “believe in your ideas,” that you recognize the dire importance of your treatises on the subaltern and atavism in The Adventures of Simplicissimus (a seriously bananas picaresque novel that is truly amazing in its weirdness), that you love what you do.

I’ve talked about love before. As have I called out mid-indoctrination grad students who have never been on the job market for not knowing what the fuck they’re talking about. I thought I didn’t have anything new to say on either of those topics, but then my very own sometime employer, the Chronicle of Higher Education (see samples of my august work mhyeah, mhyeah and myheah), published this today, wherein an ABD who has never been on the job market, Paige Ambroziak, decided to tell me, and William Pannapacker, and other people who actually care very deeply about her and what is going to happen to her in a few years, to STFU, because don’t I know that just having the PhD degree doesn’t entitle me to a job? And professional hockey players? AND JOHN GALT HOWARD ROARK BOOTSTRAPS?

I will admit that what I want to say to her, and to anyone who finds her rebuttal to the Just Don’t Gouevre compelling is FUCK. YOU. But that’s immature and obscene, so I’ll leave it implied, and instead just put it this way:

ATTENTION ALL MID-INDOCTRINATION GRAD STUDENTS. It may seem like a very good idea to publish sycophantic, denialist op-eds for wide audiences that endear you to your advisers and their cohort. And indeed, it may help you get a few interviews, and you’ll look like a good little servile Life-of-the-Minder in a few years’ time when it matters. I can’t say it’s really a bad career move, because that would be disingenuous. But here’s the trouble:

Paige Ambroziak, Nicholas Barber, Freddie DeBoer, Amy Pistone…you keep raving about a movie that you haven’t seen to the end. A story whose last chapter you haven’t read. I read your full-throated endorsements of academia, and this is what it looks like to me:

“I’ve read forty pages of The Great Gatsby and I love how positive it is about the might of wealth. And NOTHING YOU CAN SAY will change how I feel, so shut up!”

“Keyzer Soze? We may never know who he is. I declare this the most unsolvable enigma of ALL TIME.”

“I don’t care what your opinion is about ‘sad’ or ‘tear-jerker’ or whatever—I’m 45 minutes through Old Yeller, and it’s an adorable movie about a cute dog.”

I’m not saying that everyone’s academic movie will end in the kind of carnage mine did. All I’m saying is that while in graduate school, if you are a favored student, you are being embraced very warmly in what seems like the loving arms of the greatest profession ever—I mean, to spend all day reading and learning is pretty spectacular. It is.  And because graduate school is your only experience of academia, you have no reason to believe that you won’t always be in the club, that you won’t always “love” that life as much as you now do, with little to no teaching responsibility and a seminar paper or diss chapter that doesn’t have to pass peer review. But the part of the movie you’re in now is the “we’re flying high” montage in Act II—you’re puttering through Central Park on a bicycle built for two, feeding each other Mister Softees, coming up with witty comebacks to “salon” hucksters on the street who ask, “Who does your hair?” (In my version of your movie, it takes place in Woody-Allen-heyday-era Manhattan—you’re welcome).

But you haven’t seen the third act yet. You don’t know what challenges await you on the job market, or in what will almost certainly be a perilously unstable “temporary” VAP or adjunct gig after you finish.

So I’ll make all you motherfuckers a deal: maybe adjunct for $7000 a semester while spending your “spare time” kowtowing to scathing “revise and resubmit” peer reviews and forking out $1000 you don’t have to spend Christmas away from your loved ones begging for the same 25 jobs as 500 of your best friends, and being treated, suddenly, like a second-class citizen in a department that isn’t even as good as the one that graduated you (the horror! don’t they know you BELIEVE IN YOUR IDEAS?).

Maybe see how the movie ends before you publish that rave review.

26 thoughts on “Good God, Now ‘Just Shut Up’ is a Thing: An Open Letter to Paige Ambroziak & Co.

  1. You have me laughing about something that is completely not funny, as usual. Thank you for that.

    I almost can’t believe that article is real: that a grad student would make that argument, and more surprisingly, that CHE would publish it. I actually had no intention of reading it, but I misread and thought the link was to something new that you had published today! Once I was over there, I thought “what the heck, see what she has to say.” The whole thing raises editorial questions for me. Perhaps the Chronicle is just baiting–looking for a juicy comment thread full of jeering and outrage that will boost their numbers by bringing people back out of sick curiosity. Is it Fox’s CHE now?

    Ironically, when I write about quitting the job market in my book, I off-handedly compare myself to an Olympic athlete who made it to the final stretch but who failed to win the gold. The point however, is to create a relatable example for a general audience to communicate, “look how much this sucks,” not: “We all knew what we were getting into, so the university’s exploitation of grad students and phds in low-paying term positions is OK.”


  2. I saw the article, thought oh shit not another. we’ve had one look at the happy adjuncts (so shut up the rest of you whiners) article from the Chronicle and tips for adjusting from a docile adjunct at InsideHE. I sent a swarm to comment on both but had it with higher ed media for the nonce by the time this one came out.

    what is this anyway? not a trend, I hope. summer is past the mid point, so maybe it’s time to stop being sympathetic to the whiners and leavers and put them in their

    anyway, when I saw the post notice, I knew what it would be and was not disappointed. thank you.


  3. Thank you for writing this. I couldn’t believe that piece.

    Are we really at a place in academia and society at large that getting a job with middle class wages and good benefits after spending the better part of a decade training specifically for that job = becoming a professional athlete in the major leagues. REALLY? And if you think that, hey, maybe it’s not a humane or sustainable system where a livable wage is only for a few, “SHUT UP, NO ONE OWES YOU A JOB.” It’s thoroughly depressing.


  4. “You have me laughing about something that is completely not funny, as usual. Thank you for that.”
    Yes! So glad for you, Rebecca. Academia needs you (and Sarah K., William P.).


  5. The worst part is that it feeds into the “adjuncts-are-just-not-smart-enough-PhDers-to-get-TT-positions” philosophy I see sprouted around the press and internet these days. The other reality is, even if you are lucky enough to get a tenure track position, as a tenured professor friend of mine pointed out yesterday, you still have 5-7 years of power trips and put downs. I equate it to fraternity hazing for 5-7 years!

    BTW: I understand the Great Gatsby & Old Yeller analogies, but (forgive my ignorance) I’m unfamiliar with Keyzer Soze. Where does that come from? You could have also said, “I knew Atticus Finch could get anyone off since he had righteousness on his side!”


  6. Love your post and share your anger. SMH that CHE decides to publish this incredibly naive piece by someone who has never been on the job market. “Summers in Europe,” “no teaching experience,” getting a PhD for the pleasure of “reading”? Looks like someone is attending grad school on daddy’s money. While the rest of us teach (and grade) four sections of comp a semester while trying to write our dissertations. What next? Comparing a TT position to getting a break in Hollywood?


  7. Hi. I love this blog.
    By the way, I did some research on Ms. Ambroziak. As far as I can find by Googling her and also searching the CUNY website, she’s never presented at a conference, never had any kind of assistantship, and never had any academic publications. What that tells me is that she was never really seriously looking for or expecting an academic job. People seem to be saying, “Oh, wait, she’ll find out the reality when she applies for academic jobs!” Frankly, I don’t think this will happen. She says in her piece that she went to grad school to “learn to write” so she could write literature. She’s attended school in NYC for all three degrees–CUNY in Manhattan for both MA and PhD. She’s never published an academic paper, taught anything, or presented at a conference that I can find a reference to. What this tells me is that she doesn’t need an academic job and may not even attempt to find one.
    To me, that makes it even more galling that she would try to tell those of us who have actually, you know, worked our butts off to try to get one that we weren’t “promised” anything. Well, no s*$t. But you don’t have any right to tell me how to feel about the academic job market when you’ve made it clear that it doesn’t even actually apply to you.
    Oh, and one more thing–if your department told you or listed on their website that they had a “100%” or “90%” or whatever “academic job placement rate,” as many departments do, they kinda-sorta did IMPLY, if not exactly PROMISE, a job.
    Thanks again for a terrific blog!


    • To be fair, conference presentations and TA/administrative assistantships are probably not going to show up on Google. Mine don’t, apart from ones I actively listed on LinkedIn because I thought they might be helpful for getting non-academic jobs. (And I have two manuscripts that have gotten through review and are still somehow sitting in unpublished purgatory, so my lack of presence on Google Scholar as an advanced grad student is not for lack of trying.)

      Anyway, she’s wrong regardless, and it’s fine to disagree with that, but she might not be independently wealthy just because she has a low online profile.


      • Yeah, there has been enough hilariously wrong speculation about me to make me hesitant to attack her personally, but I know for a fact that not all CUNY PhD students are funded, not even close. Tuition is very low, but living expenses in NYC are astronomical. Either she is going into huge debt, or she has $, or she has a secret day job that pays a lot and gives a lot of vacation, or she had a relative pass away in a horrible way and inherited a bundle but did it sadly…there are so many possibilities that I would rather attack the genre of ABDs telling us all that our experiences are our own fault and the exploitative practices of the academy are to be welcomed.


    • Yes, there is this ridiculous disconnect between departments doing their doublespeak (“no guarantees” but “there ARE jobs out there”), and then after the fact when someone’s been crushed, to just jump down their throat like HOW DARE YOU have thought you were good enough to get exactly the same sort of middle class job everyone who mentors you already has!!! It’s hilarious.


  8. Ambroziak article is ridiculous. I of course also did not expect an academic job but I did expect a career of some kind out of this, not just recreational learning.


      • On the otherhand, it is possible that she is content to just get a Phd for the pleasure of learning. I don’t fault her for that as each person has their own reason for getting a Phd. And she should have the same respect for those of us who studied for a Phd because we want a profession in which we can conduct research and/or teach at the University level. I LOVE teaching graduate students. But I also need to help support my family so I can’t continue being a part time employee who works twice the hours for the same money I could make at a national retail store.


  9. I liked the “watch the movie to the end” analogy. On the other hand, those of us who are fortunate enough to have tenure in this profession and maintain that everything is therefore peachy creamy in academia remind me of Steve Carrell in “The Office”: “I’ve seen “Spartacus” ten times and I still don’t know which one he is. And that’s why it’s a classic.”


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