My Breakup with the Tenure Track Dream (Part 1)
Recently, anthropologist Nazima Kadir wrote an excellent piece:
This post provides some of my favorite resources to help those who are leaving academe. (If you don’t know who Nazima Kadir is, well you probably heard about her story, the one where the BBC did takesies-backsies on an award they bestowed upon her because she did not have a permanent academic position. Ring a bell?) Anyway, she writes that many people have asked her about transitioning out of the higher education machine, so she told her story. But people were looking for a list. They were looking for steps that they could take to help them, in particular with finding a way to transition from an ivory-tower to real-world mindset. I don’t know that there is a one-size-fits-all solution on how to change your perspective. However, I would like to add to this conversation by sharing my story that led me to a place where I could return to the world outside of university life with a clear purpose and enthusiasm. Maybe some of these things will help you.
“But wait… Aren’t you still in working as an adjunct? Why should I listen to you?” True. I am. I have also suffered through the Kool-Aid hangover and have disengaged from pursuing the endangered beast known as a tenure-track job. Here’s how it happened to me.
First, I grieved. Funny thing about grief in our culture, grief doesn’t seem to get the attention and respect that it deserves. I have found that during periods of loss and grief in my past, people wanted to label it as depression. If you suffer from depression, you probably understand that “you should snap out of it” or “why aren’t you over this yet?” frustrated attitudes of the people around you. Their reactions, in turn, made me feel worse. But really, what was happening was other people were uncomfortable with my grief. It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized this and how important it was to grieve a loss. That is why I want to talk about it.
I spent ten years of grad school earning a Ph.D. I taught full time while being on the job market for another five years after that. I published in top-tier journals in my field. I had multiple instances of funding and grants. I had excellent annual reviews in my department, and the students loved me. Without knowing when or how it even happened, my academic career was laying on the table in the ER. As much as I kept applying the paddles (sending out applications, going to campus interviews, and being offered visiting positions that would require me to keep moving), I had to call it. Something smelled putrid to me. At the time I wasn’t sure if it was the process or me. Time of death: April 2015 – after my last interview which was half-hearted on my part. I felt as though my Ph.D. had been invalidated.
I grieved the loss of my identity. I grieved the loss of my full-time position and my coworkers there. I grieved the loss of my opportunity to continue my research and participate in my profession in the way that one can only do under the auspice a university provides tenure-track faculty. I grieved the students I would never mentor and watch graduate and strive for their own goals. I grieved the life that I never fully lived.
I realize that the way I am writing this might make it seem like this stage was a linear process, but it wasn’t. My grief started about a year before. I failed to land a tenure-track job my fourth year on the market and lost the full-time, contingent position that had been my safety net for four years. In retrospect, the toughest part of this process was the first four months after I lost my full-time position. I was coming off of a long ride of many promising interviews with my referees receiving excellent feedback from the interviewers, and I had anticipated that this would be my year. I was wrong.
I was in therapy on a weekly basis at a reduced rate trying to figure out what to do with my immediate living situation. I was ready to pack up, move my kid and myself in with my best friend from middle school, and start over across the country. I was on the brink of homelessness. I was on government assistance. I was collecting unemployment. I panicked and made hasty decisions that seemed right at the time, but they cost me financially and drained me mentally and emotionally.
These dark times lasted for just under two years from April 2014 to January 2016. Looking back, I would describe it as feeling burnt out, lethargic, stuck, and confused. I was also sad, but it was not exactly a primary emotion. I also felt love, happiness, relief, and a bunch of other emotions. I’m not sure that if you had told me that I was grieving that I would have agreed at the time. I don’t know if acknowledging it at the moment would have made a difference in what I did. The pain still hits me from time to time. I’m not going to lie about that. My point is, my experience caused a period of grief, and I had to take a fair amount of time to work through it before I could even begin to think clearly enough about what I wanted to do with my new life and start to execute a plan.
To continue reading: My Breakup with the Tenure Track Dream (Part 2)