i need to figure out my life


Over at Chronicle Vitae there is an article called “Stripping Was the Easiest and Quickest Solution.”  It is about a woman who got a PhD in English, but instead of deciding to go into academia, she decided to become a stripper.  She cites a variety of reasons, but chief among them is that she didn’t want to move away from her city and force her husband to go through a job search with her, that she has a three-year-old child that she didn’t want to be in day care all day, and that she finds academia to be tiresome and full of struggle.  In the article, she says this:

I don’t feel like a failure or a waste. Indeed, I felt like I would be living a less meaningful, more wasted life if I forced myself into the academic path that I now regarded as unduly stressful and all-consuming, not to mention a sinking ship. Would it be more “respectable,” more socially acceptable, for me to adjunct my ass off all across this state for peanuts and gray hairs? Sure it would. Will I live my life according to the judging eyes I feared might be watching? No.

I find myself identifying with this.  When I first began my PhD 6 years ago, I didn’t intend to become an academic at all.  I wanted to be a researcher at a non-academic institution, primarily a government agency or think tank.  My specific area of social science happens to be one that’s pretty hireable outside of academia.  I didn’t want to be a professor.

Sometime in the middle of my program, though, I began to consider it.  That’s the thing about getting a PhD, especially at an R1.  My advisor says that that’s the way it’s supposed to work out – you’re around these very successful academics all day, and they teach.  They went into the enterprise because they wanted to be professors at a top research university, and they got it.  In some ways, they’re a little bit disconnected from reality, so maybe they don’t realize how difficult the job market is – or maybe they do, but they believe that their students are the “special” ones who will make it.  So everything you do is geared towards turning you into an academic and you’re discouraged from doing things that won’t turn you into an academic.  Summer corporate internships?  Frowned upon. I kind of laugh a little when I see us sneaking around career services.

Now I’m just confused, which is why I opted for a postdoc.  I am by no means only considering academic careers, and in the back of my mind, I know that if I never get an academic career I won’t shed a tear.  I can stay connected to what I value about academia by adjuncting while holding a full-time job and/or volunteering with organizations that help high school and college students achieve.  But I wonder how far am I willing to go?  I really want to stay within research, if possible, but could I go to market research?  Consulting?  Something that’s basically not academia but not non-academic “acceptable” research?

Because I agree with her on many levels.  There are certain places I would like to live, and my husband also needs to have a meaningful career.  I don’t want to move to the middle of nowhere just to have the opportunity to call myself “professor.”  I want to make a lot of money.  Okay, I don’t have to make six figures (yet), but I’d like to be close.  I mean seriously, after this postdoc, I’d like to start out around $70K.  And there are certain things I’m not willing to give up – a family life, comfort, my sanity…


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