Monday, September 12, 2011


I like words. I had forgotten how much I like words. They can communicate multiple things simultaneously. They can communicate information: where things are, what they were doing (or not doing), why they were doing (or not doing) it. Words can also communicate how the author feels about what and why those things were doing whatever it was they were doing or how the reader should feel about them. Words can communicate the author's general mental or emotional state. Words can communicate whole currents of meaning...all while describing something as simple as what a person has on their coffee table. As I continue on this journey, I find myself paying more and more attention to people's words - and what they say between them.

The value of words came up when someone posted this on Facebook. James Pennebacker has a new book out (The Secret Life of Pronouns: What our words say about us) about all the meanings of the words we don't notice. I haven't read this yet but it's on my wish list. It got me thinking about a different FB post a friend had put on my wall last week.

This friend is not aware that I plan to leave academia. Given the general political climate of my department and the fact that I haven't defended yet, I'm selective about letting the word out on this plan. The posting didn't particularly bother me. I'm glad they thought it would be a good job for me, so much so that they took the time to post a link to it and encouraged me to apply. It's a job at a prestigious museum in my field. I'm kind of honored they think I have the chops to get it.

What bothered me was my response to this job posting. I looked up the job posting. I read it carefully. And then, in something weirdly akin to a reflex action, part of my brain began thinking about how I should adjust my CV for the job. I thought about the people I knew at that institution that could put a good word in for me. And then the logical side of my brain and the self-preservation part of my brain both stood up and slapped that original part of my brain, simultaneously. Imagine an intellectual 3 stooges moment.

Why was this simultaneous brain-slapping occurring? Let me clarify a few things about this job. It required using research from a part of my academic field that I consider to be the most boring, the most snooze-inspiring, the most stab-me-in-the-eyes-so-I-don't-have-to-read-this-any-more. It was in a city I really don't care for. In a museum where politics can be disturbingly close to those in (the rest of) academia - I've done research there before. I could almost hear my soul screaming "NOOOOOO!" And yet, my reflex was to apply for this.

I'm fairly certain this is akin to what Post Academic and other post-academics have felt when someone offers them yet another adjunct position. It may not be academia in the strictest sense but it would be acceptable to my faculty. An acceptable post-Ph.D. job. I could get some more research in. Get some articles published. Move on to a VAP or maybe even a TT job. Even as I type this I can hear parts of my brain yelling "Don't drink the kool-aid!" They do it in unison. Kind of makes it seem like some sort of intervention meeting in my head. It's always good when your soul and your instincts can make you feel the love.

So, I read the job ad again. This time, I listened to my reaction, to the words my brain used in my reaction. They were grey words. Not silver. Not gunmetal. Grey words, like a rainy day at the end of winter when all the snow is turning into overdriven slush. It was not hopeful. I don't want a slushy life.

I had to remind myself why I'm leaving. I'm slowly turning it into a mantra of sorts. Next, I think of how my partner would feel moving there (he's not a fan) and where I would walk my dog (no idea honestly, very few parks there). Finally, I imagine the life I want - even though I still don't know what field I want to work in. But every time I imagine this life, work stays at work. I like that idea. This may become my ritual during the next year while I finish my dissertation and transition out of academia, an "actionable step" if you read motivational books. Hopefully soon, this will no longer be my reflex to such job offers and I can expend my energy less in mental damage-control and more on moving forward.


JC said...

Yep, I still struggle with this from time to time. I'll see a research-oriented job that is in line with my work, and I'll think "oh I should apply, that would be a good job for me to take, with my experience. My department would think that was a great job."

It always takes me a few minutes to realize that it won't be a "good job" if it makes me miserable. And working on my research has been making me miserable, and I need to try to do something different.

It's hard to shift from thinking with your academic brain (where everything is focused around what will impress other academics and keep you in academia at all costs) into a "real world brain" (where you think about what you actually want to do to make yourself happy). It does get easier, but it's hard to break completely out of the mindset.

postacademicinnyc said...

I could have written this post almost to the letter. A friend of mine sent me a job posting today. She encouraged me to apply. I wrote back to her and explained the many reasons I will not apply. She wrote back, incredulous. "It's perfect for you!" So I started rereading the job ad and making the same calculations that you describe here. I had to really fight the reflex to just apply because, why not? You never know, right? I could hit the jackpot, right? Then I realized: what would happen if I got the job? Oh, then I would actually have to do the job. And that's how I know I'm out. I don't want it anymore. But it is hard to fight the reflex.