Not ashamed

On Friday night, I was at restaurant with a group of friends, and as it turned out, three of us (me and two other female Ph.D.s) were all in non-traditional academic jobs — and we all love our jobs. All three of us are in center-related positions with administrative and research responsibilities, and we are pretty happy. One expressed a wish that she had more time for independent research, but that is not an uncommon sentiment even in traditional academic jobs.

I thought of the our conversation when I read this piece in Inside Higher Ed:

When we were interviewing contributors for the first edition of Job Search in Academe, an editor at a respected academic journal told us apologetically that she “liked her job, she really did!” Many of the pleasures of teaching, she told us, were central to her job on the “outside”: working with writers, playing with words and layouts, engaging in meaningful conversations, working a varied schedule. The tragedy is that she felt she had to convince us of that.

Why do those of us in non-traditional academic jobs feel the need to convince others that we like our jobs, we really do? I’ll tell you why – because of the pitying looks we get from other academics when they hear what we are doing. I think these pitying looks come from two groups of people in particular.

The first group is tenure-track/tenured professors who believe that any other path is inferior, and that those of us not on that path must not have what it takes to succeed. These people are snotty elitists and there’s not much we can do about them. I don’t waste my time worrying about these people.

The group that has bothered me more in the past are the deluded grad students and post-docs who believe that 1) any other path is inferior (see above), 2) any one who takes a job off the tenure-track is “giving up,” and 3) of course they’ll succeed, their experience will be different. These are the same people who give you pitying looks if you take a tenure-track position at any institution that is not an R1 or a prestigious private SLAC.

I’ve decided not to let this group bother me any more either. They’ll learn about the real world soon enough.

And at a conference a couple of weeks ago, I felt like a shift was occurring in the academic zeitgeist. When I met new people and told them about my job, they genuinely seemed to think it sounded like a great job. Some even seemed envious. Of course, by being there and presenting results from this summer’s fieldwork, I was able to demonstrate that one could be an active researcher in a position like this, which might have helped a bit.

I don’t know if I am noticing them more or what, but it seems to me that non-traditional academic positions are becoming more common. Another friend of mine just got a position running the educational/outreach programs at a research station, which I think is a great job for her. But when she got the job offer, a whole bunch of people did the equivalent of coughing and looking away. I was one of the few to encourage her to take the job and to enjoy it. And so far she’s glad she did – especially since her other option was adjuncting in a big city and keeping her fingers crossed that one day, one of those universities in that city just might offer her a permanent position.

I don’t think of my job as “second-best,” and neither should the rest of us in so-called “alternate” careers. I get to do everything I love about academia – and I avoid many of the things I hate about it. I’d say that’s a pretty good deal.

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3 Comments on “Not ashamed”

  1. what’s interesting to me is that I related to this out of a totally different area of my life: interacting with people about my divorce.

    Some married people seem to respond with smugness, as if my choice to get divorced was inferior to their choice to stay married (parallel to professors’ responses to your decision).

    Some single people, particularly younger ones, seem to respond out of concern that their experience will be different, it won’t happen to them (parallel to grads and post-docs).

    There is a large crop of people who do not project their experiences on to my story, though, and that’s ideal.

    The important things for other people to remember are — the choices that you have made do not impact their lives, what’s going to make them happy isn’t going to be what makes you happy, and isn’t it wonderful that there a number of paths in life so that everyone can have a shot at being who they are?

    I’m thrilled for you that you have such a fulfilling job!

  2. Addy N. says:

    Count me among the envious! I often wish I was more research-productive so that I could even think about a different kind of job- the things I like least about my job all relate to teaching! Good for you and other alt-ac-trackers. Sigh.

  3. Anthea says:

    Thank you for this post since you’ve summed up what I’ve concluded about how people who have got on the tenure track treat those of us who don’t. ..I mean I get to plan my time, I do research (admittedly not as much as I’d like) but I really enjoy my job which is a non-traditional academic and I think that I probably use many of the same skills that my colleagues from grad school who went to the tenure track use too!

    But what bothers me too is as you say:

    “Why do those of us in non-traditional academic jobs feel the need to convince others that we like our jobs, we really do? I’ll tell you why – because of the pitying looks we get from other academics when they hear what we are doing. I think these pitying looks come from two groups of people in particular.”

    I had to say with your answer …yes, I agree!! I agree with Bright Star that “the choices that you have made do not impact their lives, what’s going to make them happy isn’t going to be what makes you happy, and isn’t it wonderful that there a number of paths in life so that everyone can have a shot at being who they are.”

    Yes, this is totally true. The sad part is that they often try to make you feel terrible and inadequate because that’s how they’re feeling. Grrr…

    But I’m really pleased that you enjoy your job. That’s fantastic!


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