“You Like California! Have You Ever Thought About Working At UCLA?”

Yesterday, someone who hate-reads me way too much spent untold amounts of his life composing (and definitely not editing) a 3000-word manifesto about the horrible scourge of yours truly, which was published on Inside Higher Education. It was the epitome of tl;dr, and thus I will not be linking to it here or quoting from it at all–in fact, IHE is publishing my response tomorrow and that will be the end of what I will have to say about the matter.

For now, instead I give you this, which is my newest on Slate and has already struck such a nerve that it’s hit #1 on the site (it might not be there anymore by the time you click, BUT IT WAS ONCE, huzzah).

This is a piece expressing what literally every academic in the world has gone through at one time or another, including the blogger Amanda Ann Klein, who actually wrote an extensive, TWO-PART post on exactly this subject, with exactly the same reverence as I have for the job market [ie none], a few weeks ago, which I in my pregnancy/coaching/conference-going/deadline-meetingness did not read, even though it is on MY OWN BLOGROLL, which is the real teachable moment here: READ OWN BLOGROLL. This is not like me at all–you guys know I love linking out to education bloggers, especially female ones, especially female ones who do not suck up to the job market, so this was a real missed opportunity on my part. At any rate, because I did not get a chance to link out to the piece in my Slate article, I am linking out to it now! Please read it! It goes into way more detail than mine did (hence the two-partedness), and again, I wish I had seen it to quote and link out when I was in said aforementioned deadline-meeting frenzy.

Anyway, what is this thing everyone has gone through, do you ask? It is this: A well-meaning friend or relative asking a well-meaning question that is actually the worst thing that could possibly be asked at that time. “You like California, right? So why don’t you just work at Stanford?” As if the only reason a very smart person does not currently work at Stanford is that the thought never occurred to him before.

The guy in IHE accused me of using too much hyperbole in my writing — and so, to celebrate hyperbole, my editor suggested I kick what in the first draft was just a mild anxiety attack up to full-blown death. So, now I will “prove” to the world that I do not exaggerate, by publishing an article that claims in earnest that the academic job market kills people. Anyway, here’s a quote, which includes yet another Mr. Show reference:

A would-be scholar in, say, 19th-century British lit, is limited toexactly this list of jobs, period. There are no other jobs (well, none that pay a living wage. There’s adjuncting, and lots of it). This is not a world in which other jobs can be produced from thin air. In academia, you cannot just march into the department with your CV and be like I’m a smart go-getter! The chair will not respond, Listen up, kid—you’ve got the goods!

You are all superstars, in superstar machines, taking it to the sta-haaaars. Emotion lotion!

PS the hard drive of my computer was called Superstar Machine for like seven years; then it was called Emotion Lotion! Now I use Dropbox like a normal person so it’s called “Dropbox.”

19 thoughts on ““You Like California! Have You Ever Thought About Working At UCLA?”

  1. I appreciate that you linked to my post on your personal blog. But Slate needs to retract the piece. On Twitter you told me “I read Amanda’s blog when I can but I missed those two. I just saw them; I liked them” But those 2 posts are the ONLY new ones I’ve written since you started following me. So what you’re saying is that you went through my archives but didn’t read the 2 brand -new ed-themed posts?

    Look, I’m a small-time blogger and I don’t have the platform you do or the megaphone you do. I just want to be credited and properly cited for the work I did. I think that is a modest expectation.


    • I have to say, I think that you’re way too convinced of the originality of your idea here. RS follows 20 different blogs; for a very busy, heavily pregnant professional, it is absolutely credible that she didn’t read your latest post until now! How many blogs do you follow, and do you read all of them every single day, or even every week? And it’s equally credible that you and she–and, frankly, a lot of other bloggers/news sources/friends–were inspired to write about this topic right now because THIS IS WHEN THE MLA LIST COMES OUT. You haven’t come right out and said it, but if you think RS plagiarized, you haven’t presented any compelling evidence of it. Why can’t we just be happy that this topic is being discussed at all, and be happy to get as many dissenting voices as possible to pierce the Ivory Tower?


      • This is the last I going to comment on this on Dr. Schuman’s blog or on Slate because I believe I’ve made my point. After reading her article for Slate it is obvious to me that the framing (explaining the market to clueless relatives), the order of the arguments made, the key points, the tone, and even the way many of the points are discussed, are incrtedibly similar to my own. I’ve been teaching writing for 15 years and I am trained to detect plagiarism. If a student turned in an essay like this to me I would, at the very least, ask her to rewrite it to further differentiate it from the original THEN add citations. I am not saying the author actively sought to take my work–I am saying I believe she saw it, and consciously or not, aped it. For that, I believe my article dseserves a citation on Slate, not a #sorrynotsorry on the author’s personal blog.

        Yes, I am delighted these issues are being addressed. But remember, I work at a state uni for a small salary and would love to be paid for the writing I do on the side. So yes, it bugs me when someone else gets paid to write an incredibly similar article and does not make any effort to cite me in the original piece.


      • Amanda – I too believe you are utterly mistaken about how original your idea is. Indeed, Rachel Trousdale of The Toast could perhaps more convincingly accuse you of plagiarism, since she wrote something similar right before your piece came out. Check out her August 12 piece on clueless comments people make about her long distance academic marriage. Here’s a snippet:

        Q. Have you tried Columbia? I bet they have a good English department.
        A. They have an excellent English department. We’ll just give them the good news that I’m available to improve it, shall we? Problem solved.

        The list of clueless questions from part I of your post seems to me to be very similar to Rachel’s. Now, I don’t think you plagiarized Rachel Trousdale. Neither do I think Rebecca plagiarized you. We all face the same clueless questions from well-meaning people. Last year, after the JIL came out, my husband and I would joke all the time about writing a mock advice manual called something like “Understanding your Relative’s Struggles with Academia.” Rebecca’s piece is the kind of thing I read and then experience a flash of recognition and kinship, not because I wrote it, but because we all have such similar experiences and reactions.


      • Yes, that piece is fab — as is yours. And, yeah, sure, it would be great to link to people writing on the topic, but it isn’t required. This kind of thing has become a genre. Dickens didn’t rip off Goethe when he wrote all those bildungsromane.


      • Exactly. I really don’t see any similarity between your post and Rebecca’s, other than the subject matter, which isn’t particularly exotic. Everyone hates applying to academic jobs. Everyone complains about it. Everyone knows it is ridiculous. So not sure why you’re so convinced of its uniqueness nor of its similarity to Rebecca’s.


  2. Hey I missed it yesterday, so the discussion might be slowing at Inside HIgher ed but just left this comment over there today. I reproduce it here because I am rather pleased with it 🙂

    Dear Charles Green,

    If Rebecca Schuman’s name were not in the title of your critique, no-one would have clicked on it. She’s a sharp funny writer who is almost always worth reading. It’s a rare talent that few among us possess, though of course lots of us can coat-tail it for all it is worth. That’s actually one of the most venerable scholarly traditions going.

    And yeah, because it was TOO mean I didn’t add that yep, exactly: my eyes glazed over before I finished his piece. I figure it’s okay to say it here since he is unlikely to hope for friendly responses on your site!


  3. I tried reading the IHE manifesto yesterday but it was the most boring thing ever. Endlessly repetitive, poorly written. The main idea seems to be “I’m vaguely upset by something it bores me to figure out so I will dump on Schuman because her name will give some much-needed hits to my lackluster prose.


  4. I really enjoyed your Slate piece and the chance to see more into this reality. I’m a two-time Master’s student, a hesitating-on-the-brink PhD student (maybe, maybe), and genuinely love to hear such clear and inviting discussion of what these jobs and lives are like.

    Thanks so much for this piece, and congrats on that #1 Slate spot!


  5. This one is really going around in my Facebook and Twitter circles! It’s at least nice for all of us to recognize we’re not the only ones with family who always say “why don’t you work at university x?” Also, try explaining that having faculty who do what you do in a broad way is good, but in a narrow way is not – the fact that the Ivy League school an hour from my hometown already has two people doing what I do means that they will probably not hire another this decade or ever, not that I have a great chance because they clearly value our research area. It makes no sense!


  6. heyo, I’m an academic and I never went through that conversation. The trick? My extended family lives in Indiana and Ohio, and I was in the UK and Australia for my entire job search.


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