“The One with Five Steaks and an Eggplant.” – Friends Season 2 Episode 5 (a.k.a “The Story of My Life”)
Ah, this scenario is an all-too-familiar situation for the adjunct Ph.D. For almost two decades, throughout grad school and teaching positions, this episode of “Friends” summed up my life. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it still does.
Remember? It is the episode where Phoebe, Joey, and Rachel are put in a bind financially when celebrating their friends’ birthday and promotion. They order side salads and breadsticks at a fancy restaurant, while the others order real meals. They skip a Hootie and the Blowfish concert because they can’t afford it.
To this day, I find myself surrounded by the so-called upper-middle to upper class on a daily basis. My dearest friends have been with me well before “Friends” was a hit. Some of the ones I met while working on my Ph.D. have switched career paths and have found success. Another made a sensible career choice and never went to grad school. The people closest to me each make over $100k a year. They are the Chandlers, Monicas, and Rosses. I am the Pheobe or Joey – on a good hair day, Rachel.
Most people outside of the ivory tower seem to have a very limited understanding of the tenure system and the state of it today. The world sees me as someone who achieved something that many don’t (less than 2% of the population in the United States has a doctorate); an expert with interesting conversational skills, ideas, and experiences. Of course, someone with a doctorate morphs into a tenured professor (Dr. Ross Geller, maybe?) upon graduation with all of the associated privileges (and salary), right? Or, if for some reason one doesn’t, someone that “smart” should be able to live a life with job security and benefits. But, here I am stringing contracts together to cobble some sort of living.
And frankly, more often than not, I am OK with that. Sometimes, I am VERY OK with it.
“What!?” you may ask. “Aren’t you outraged about the state of higher ed and the exploitation of contingent faculty?” Of course, I am. No one should be exploited. I can simultaneously recognize and have an emotional reaction to unfair situations, while I make the most of what I do have and enjoy my life.
Over the last three years, I have found ways to get the most out of being an adjunct and living the adjunct lifestyle. Here, I will share what I have learned with you.
Adjunct/contingent labor is not limited to higher education. I happen to be a contingent faculty member, and when I write it will come from that perspective; however, a lot of this blog may be just as meaningful to people in other lines of work.
To those of you who are not where you want to be (yet). You are not alone. We’ve got this.
In case you want to watch it:
“The One with Five Steaks and an Eggplant” Friends, season 2, episode 5. NBC, October 19, 1995. Netflix https://www.netflix.com/title/70153404