I Only Read Slate Comments When I’m Otherwise Feeling Too Good About Myself

The doctor’s visit yesterday went great (SchuFetus is now approaching 16 weeks and going strong), and I had way too much fun at the expense of the German “newspaper” Bild (which itself had too much fun at the expense of Angela Merkel’s tunic). AND, and, and after a first-trimester “hiatus” — which consisted of me lolling about on the couch, alternately wondering if someone can die from excessive feeling-nauseated and picking hormonally-imbalanced Internet fights (My dad: Do you think your increased hormones have put you in a bad mood sometimes? Me: WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?) — I have returned to spin class and the gym in general, and thus I may begin to look pregnant soon, instead of just hugely bloated like I have been.

So, what better way to celebrate all that fun than to read some Slate comments? I thought so. I love writing book reviews for the Slate Book Review, because it allows me to use the part of my brain I busted my ass to develop in grad school and in the classroom — the part that can read things carefully and be incisive — for a medium that people will actually read.

I never volunteer to review a book I don’t think I’ll like, because I know firsthand how much work goes into writing a book, and crushing the spirit of a writer is not on my agenda anytime soon. I won’t be dishonest about a book, but I also won’t go out of my way to be scathing. Luckily, in the case of Julie Schumacher’s delectable new academic-satire romp of a novel, Dear Committee Members, there was no moral dilemma for me, as I really enjoyed the book, and really enjoyed writing the review.

Anyway, I figured what with the healthy fetus and all, I was riding a little too high on life, so why not read some nice Slate comments to bring me down to Earth?  (I shouldn’t do this on the best of days, but I DEFINITELY shouldn’t be doing this with a fetus on board. I know this. I know this! I shouldn’t be eating fucking cupcakes either, but THINGS HAPPEN.)

Anyway double-anyway. I wanted to see if Slate readers were as enchanted as I was by Schumacher’s novel. Many were! But then there was this guy. And thus, I bring back (even though I said I wouldn’t, and with apologies to SchuFetus…) Fuckin’ With Trolls:

And here we have a review written by a failed academic.  Listen, Dr. Schuman, stop wasting your time submitting your weak essays to Slate and turn to publishing path-breaking articles and books based on your original research.  You’ll begin making a real contribution to knowledge in your field and be on your way to becoming a successful full-time faculty member.  I guarantee you’ll be far happier for it.

So, when I say “(some) academics are real jerks,” this is what I mean. The reason that I have a lot of trouble coming to the full-throated defense of academia is that it contains people who say things like this, which is intentionally cruel in many ways at once, and also boasts several factual errors. Yes, I am a “failed academic,” great. But guess what? My status as a failed academic, first of all, had nothing to do with that book review, other than the fact that because I spent ten years in academia, I have experience with its instincts and their vicissitudes.

And second of all, there is nothing I can do about my academic failure. It sure as shit wasn’t for lack of “path-breaking” research, of which I wrote a-plenty (and my trolls are always like, Why does Rebecca Schuman keep mentioning her publishing success? To which I say, I wish I didn’t have to, but when I don’t, people say ‘You just failed because you couldn’t publish anything,’ ad infinitum).

Anyway. I wrote “Thesis Hatement” when I realized there would always and forever be nothing I could do about my academic failure, because…. German. Studies. Is. Dying. There. Is. No. Field. It. Is. A. Landscape. Of. Charred. Carcasses. There are like five — five — tenure-track jobs per year for which I am even remotely qualified. The odds are not, and never will be, in my favor, and unlike in the Hunger Games my bravery and stick-to-it-iveness will not mean dick.

All right, on to the second excellent point here. My weak essays get me good human earth money from Slate, and result in things like me getting to go on the Leonard Lopate show, and be in IQ2 debates in New York (and thus get trips to glamorous NY), and speak at alt-ac conferences at Penn State (and thus get trips to even-more-glamorous State College). My weak essays are my job  — my remunerative, rewarding job — and so calling them a “waste of time” is laughable at best.

Do you know what was, on the other handa waste of time? Writing a slew of meticulously-researched academic articles and a book, none of which will ever make me a “successful full-time faculty member” anywhere. Do you know what else was a waste of time? Devoting my entire life and the all-but-last of my childbearing years to a career that doesn’t exist. (Luckily, despite my “advanced age,” I apparently have the fertility of a high-schooler who signed and then broke an abstinence pledge.)

And here’s the final thing, troll: I already spent two years as a full-time faculty member, at The Ohio State University, one of the best schools in the nation, and it was by far the worst period of my entire life. I contemplated suicide during that time. I thought I would never be happy again. My husband and I refer to that that time “the lost years.”

To this day, just thinking about Columbus makes me depressed (which is a shame, since it’s a very nice town). I stressed myself into actual full-blown old-person-style pneumonia during those years. I had few if any friends, and I spent most of my time living in abject terror — like, full-on terror — of what my colleagues thought of me, and if I’d ever live up to the expectations of this insane high-profile postdoc (spoiler alert: I couldn’t). So, asshole who has never met me and doesn’t know me and knows nothing about me: I guarantee you that your “guarantee” that if only I go back to busting my ass writing unpaid articles and books in the “service” of a “career” I will never get is one hundred percent bullshit, and I weep that my future child has to come into a world where people like you exist and have Internet access.

And for now, I also guarantee you that I am much, much happier submitting my weak essays to a place that values and likes them, and reaching a readership that I (with obvious and minor exceptions) value and like.

35 thoughts on “I Only Read Slate Comments When I’m Otherwise Feeling Too Good About Myself

    • I know the trolls don’t, but I really DO enjoy messing with them. I like the entire idea of forcing trolls out of their cave and into the open. They get really annoyed by it, too.




  1. There is something really sad to me about that comment. When an Academic devotes his life and breath and sweat to an endeavor that 99.9% of living humanity regards as completely irrelevant, I would hope that it would be somehow fulfilling for him.

    Instead, this guy needs to go on the internet and try to validate his sad existence by assuring everyone that his choices are fulfilling and lead to happiness by dismissing someone else’s choices as weak and foolish.

    If he actually believes he’s making a “real contribution to knowledge,” why is he wasting his time writing Slate comments?

    For my part, I’ve acquired more useful knowledge from reading “weak essays” in Slate than studying Martin West or Walter Burkert.


    • True. And also, THIS WAS A REVIEW OF A BOOK where I did not mention myself or my background once. It was a good review (by which I mean positive) of a book I liked, and as such it was about THE BOOK.


  2. How many non-failed academics actually get paid directly for what they write? I suspect it is really not many, especially once you account for those writing textbooks to sell at exorbitant prices.

    Applause is nice, but true appreciation is in the form of cash money. Or gold.


  3. The terror is truly excruciating, isn’t it? It took (and still does if I think about it all) a toll on my health (as in, yes, actual medical, physical/physiological manifestations). Still thinking about one last application but procrastinating on the final decision to not apply…the pathos of it all.

    Anyhow, glad to hear you and Mini Schu-loff (can I hyphenate your better half’s name?) are doing well. And, as usual, this essay brought a chuckle and food for thought.


    • We usually try to keep him out of this muck, especially given that he’s still in academia ;). But I don’t think half his name is going to hurt. I’ll let you know if he gets incensed. Probably not because he doesn’t read this blog.


  4. BTW-what the heck is the academic who criticized you doing reading Slate, where inferior minds go for the illusion of edification!!? S/he’s supposed to be thinking and writing about the life of the mind…and…argh!!!…he hasn’t finished! His/her rivals already submitted 25 other articles to top tier journals……gasp! [and YOU KNOW s/he is totally procrastinating on something and decides to project their self loathing on you]


  5. Your are pregnant? Congrats!! I guess I haven’t been paying attention because this doesn’t read like new news.

    As for the troll: pathetic. Your response: hilarious. I’m sorry you get trolled, but think of all the funny blog posts we’d have to live without if you didn’t!

    And don’t worry about those cupcakes. I am generally health food crazy, denying my kids most of the usual junk food-trappings of childhood , but I stuffed myself with waffles while pregnant with my second and everything turned out just fine. 🙂


  6. Yay for 16 week SchuFetus, congrats! And nay on academic troll, but hey you got paid for your “weak” article, how you like them apples, sour academic troll?!


  7. The Academic troll obviously has to much time on their hands. Maybe they need to get back to their path breaking research and publishing things in peer reviewed journals. Actually Slate is peer reviewed, after publication…

    Or here’s a novel idea, how about teaching some students, although with an attitude like that, I’m not sure that’s in their best interests.


  8. The Troll obviously is not concentrating on ground breaking research at the forefront of their subject discipline. Sneering at professional writers really is not a good idea, O Troll.

    Cupcakes sound good. My mother was obsessed with tripe and onions when expecting me!


  9. If it helps, I have it on good authority that the OSU German department are raving misogynists. As in, I was faculty there too (in another department) and even WE heard the complaints coming from the German grad students. And for REASONS, I cannot to this day drive through a Certain University Town without bawling. Mad sympathy and congrats on the fetus!


    • Thanks! By the time I was there there had been a major shift in faculty and it was a good environment for the most part, I think. I especially liked the junior faculty, and a lot of the associate profs. The senior faculty (except for one, who was my friend) scared the shit out of me, though. They could be really mean.


      • Agreed! Meanness seems to run in those who got to the “top” with little self-reflection.


  10. I’ve been reading your posts on Slate and pankisseskafka for a while now, and enjoy them very much. You do us all a great service.
    As for such posts being a waste of time… I’m an academic (postdoc at Oxford) and I regularly write blogposts, such as this series on postac philosophers http://www.newappsblog.com/2014/06/philosophers-who-work-outside-of-academia-part-1-how-and-why-do-they-end-up-there.html (which you linked to) – and soon, I’ll have a blogpost with interviews with academic parents. It’s been rare, but I’ve had some people telling me to stop wasting my time and “go back to your research”. I find this puzzling. If I can’t help improve the discipline, what is there for me to go back to?
    Anyway, keep up the good work, my best wishes for the transformative experience that having this baby will be, and I’ll let you know when my post on academic parents is up.


  11. I read this post yesterday and I simply can’t let it go without commenting. What the hell is a “failed academic”? Talk about spiteful and nasty. Now I know why I left academe with few regrets other than that I would have to work 40 hours a week and wouldn’t have the summers off. I used to tell my students that they’d better not cross me since one thing I learned in graduate school was how to disembowel and then turn them into a pile of ashes with a few well chosen words. The cynicism and ego was awful. I also met some great people too, but ironically the best professor I had in grad school (who didn’t teach from rickety notes or off the top of his egotistical head) was a full professor without a PhD. He spent his summers re-reading the material he would teach in the fall, so he had something fresh to say. He was very old and very old school. He was the person I would have emulated and not the snotty self-important egotists like the “successful academic” who took a few moments away from his arcane research to throw a few insults and show off his academic sense of unreality. Now I feel better.


    • It was a really WTF comment. Like, OKAY, I am supposed to stop “wasting” my time writing THINGS ThAT MAKE MONEY as my JOB, and go back to busting my ass in the library for years on end so that (at most) three people can read my unpaid 25-page masterpieces? And then not get a job? And then I’ll be “happier”? It mean, the more I think about it, the more it infuriates me — it’s this academic idea that you can only be happy if you’re living the life of the mind, no matter how shitty the physical realities of that life are. It’s infuriating.


  12. Please keep fighting the good fight, Rebecca! The only way to take in comments like the ones left by such trolls is diagnostically: You’re exposing something that’s quite uncomfortable for many who blindingly devoted their lives to academia. Rather than face their complicity in the bankrupt enterprise, they respond with ad hominem attacks.

    Oh, and not for nothing, but “failed academic”?! Sorry, but that’s just redundant. In my experience (as someone newly tenured yet who also adjuncted for 10 years prior to getting a t-t position), in order to succeed in academia, you have to fail as a human being. Even getting tenure can’t shine up this stinking turd we call higher ed. I’m currently plotting my escape.

    P.S. Loved the interview on The Leonard Lopate Show.


  13. Signal of something new…or same old dumb CYA language game for “already chosen” candidate?

    Out of place for this space, but I didn’t know how else to make sure you’d see this. Do you think this explicit allowance/encouragement for “non traditional career” background signals a new openness or the same ol’ predetermined candidate shenanigan? If I weren’t so cynical and aware of reality I might say the former but there’s NO way that can be the case in my view. Thoughts?



  14. You know, Rebecca, I don’t know you, but I wish I did. I find your writing style, your candor, and your clarity of thought so…nourishing, is the best way I can think to put it. For years I have berated myself and felt like a lesser person because I walked away from an academic career, and reading you has helped me to reframe my thinking and get on with my life. So thank you. And fuck that troll. Seriously. Fuck him.


  15. How I stumbled onto this I will never retrace, but I am so thankful I did. Few things in life make me laugh out loud. You did. You have a gift. Thank you for sharing it! As my grandma always said, “the cream always rises to the top.” You are right up there in my eyes. P.S. I am also a “failed academic,” but it looks like I’m in pretty good company!


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