Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Treading Dangerous Waters

Here's the first of my stories from the back log. Over my spring break, many moons ago, I went to Major City where my boyfriend is currently employed. They have many museums there where I could theoretically find either employment or an avenue to continue a "life of the mind" as a post-academic and do my research.

I met with Big Wig at one of these museums to talk about working as an independent researcher there. Ze assured me they had no jobs and weren't planning on getting any soon. They were already operating at an absurd level of budget crunching as it was. The research thing seemed doable. Depending on the job, I could even volunteer there (you have to commit to a certain amount of time during the week) which would come with free membership and parking.

It all seemed potentially doable. Sure, there were constraints, but it wasn't out of the question to continue my research. I do actually enjoy research and teaching. I could still do it as a post-academic. The conversation got a little weird when Big Wig didn't know specifics about things ze should know but otherwise, all good things.

However, as I rode public transit back to my boyfriend's apartment, I got this gut feeling. Maybe it was all the posters advertising The Hunger Games on the trip but I got this feeling that I was treading very dangerous waters. It wasn't a niggling feeling where you think maybe something's off. It was full on, swimming-with-sharks feeling. Seriously, I felt like I could practically see the sharks. My instinct is shockingly good. It hasn't failed me yet, even when I've failed it.

I should point out this was not an instinctive "NO, DANGER!" feeling. My gut wasn't saying no, don't do this. It was more of an "Oh, by the way, there are large things swimming nearby with big, pointy teeth which may suddenly decide that you are crunchy and good with ketchup. Just an FYI. Try not to look weak or otherwise edible." No, my gut doesn't talk to me but that's a good idea of how the feeling was interpreted.

The meeting seemed like the usual awkward but good conversations nerdy academics find themselves in all too often. Nothing raised red flags. And yet I had this feeling of lurking danger in the whole escapade. I think there are three possible reasons for this:

1) I could just be paranoid. It's a fair possibility. Now that Fluffy is finished, the whole career change thing is a lot bigger and change is scary. It could just be fear. Except that my gut is usually not swayed by such things and this all happened before Fluffy was even half-drafted.

2) It could be a reaction to what keeping up with my research would entail. It means having to go out of my way to get access to journals on the cheap. It means giving up free time and possibly work time to collect and analyze data. It means that this is likely where any free time I gain from the real world would go. On the one hand, it wouldn't be that big of a change from academia: working all the time so that I can spend my free time researching. On the other hand, that defeats one of the reasons for leaving academia: free time.

3) There really could be something fishy going on here. The weird thing about gut reactions is that sometimes they seem to have more available info than you do. Maybe there was something in what Big Wig said, in hir body language, that gave away some serious issues that might come up to bite me if I followed through with this plan.

This feeling has only intensified since then and led me to abandon at least this avenue for continuing my research. Even now, if I seriously think about doing this, my gut responds with an ever increasing sense of danger. It's something specific to this particular situation.

I don't mean this to be a diatribe against maintaining those practices from leading a "life of the mind" that make you happy. Clearly, there are ways to do it. This is meant more of a caution to think about what continuing to do those things will do your new life. If you're in a field like mine, it means having to track down data in one form or another, possibly having to travel to get it. It means having to find a way to run statistics and, of course, to keep up on recent research in journals. These are not un-doable. They are highly inconvenient and expensive at times. I'm not sure I'm ready to walk back into a situation my gut tells me has a high probability of ending badly.

If this last academic job offer falls through (a likely scenario), I think I'll just rip off the bandaid and leave academia entirely. My instinct tells me this is the better plan for me. Of course, then it spirals into a self-loathing depression as it contemplates 9 years of sunk costs. Sometimes I think it may be either defective or mal-adaptive. I know, those costs are already sunk. No sense in raising the Titanic here. No one's going to make a major motion picture out of it. They probably wouldn't even look good in 3D. But I digress, frequently.

My rambling point is that I looked into keeping up with my research and it seems possible. Maybe not a good idea but a possibility nonetheless. But I think there are strings attached, at least for this particular scenario, and depending on your field, those strings could be made of razor wire. Proceed with caution but don't give up hope. And now, for your moment of zen...

If you need a laugh, Google image search "flying shark". This meme has legs...err, fins!

1 comment:

Currer Bell said...

I tend to agree about feeling as though I've wasted "fill in the blank" number of years by being an academic and then not getting an academic job. Yet I also think that the likelihood to waste MANY more years SEARCHING for an academic job feels even worse/more wasteful/pointless.

But good luck deciding!