What jobless PhDs can do in May 2015

Hortensii

Loyal Hortensii member Jennifer Polk is one of the organizers of a virtual conference aimed specifically at helping PhDs find non-academic jobs. Taking place over two Saturdays (May 2 and 9), this event offers a range of specialist advice from dozens of PhDs who have been there themselves and lived to tell the tale. We have posted the program below, and you can find the full details at: http://beyondprof.com.

Does it cost money to attend? Yes, it does, though not much: $25 per day or $39 for both days. Is this fair to desperate, impecunious PhDs? Well, it does take money to produce an event like this, and someone has to pay. So in recognition of the fact that many of the PhDs who most need this event probably cannot pay for it, Hortensii will sponsor three attendees (each for both days). To apply for sponsorship, send a statement…

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Internalizing the Bully

Before I made the decision to resign, it felt like a 50-pound brick on my back. Fast forward 2 months since resigning and I have few regrets. Slight pangs of “but wait, that person was so nice to me…should I really leave?” and then I quickly remember that that same person was unkind to me consistently for months prior.

In the past, I’ve struggled with emotionally and verbally abusive relationships in my personal life. And I never made the connection that my work life echoed similar dynamics of abuse. Until now. Sometimes I have felt like I’m so desperate for a crumb of kindness that when I get a crumb or maybe even several, I feel like I’ve struck the jackpot. But several crumbs do not constitute the mutual respect that I deserve to have in my work life, yet has been missing for so long.

I continue to make excuses that academics are socially awkward, so that’s why they… But wait, I deserve to be treated with respect and dignity on a daily basis. Even when people are stressed, “busy,” or socially awkward. A toxic work environment can bring out dark parts of yourself too. The bullied you has the potential to become the bully. And fear of that potential sits deep inside you. I continue to bully myself, and blame myself. I forget momentarily that a toxic environment can cause you to become toxic yourself. I forget to examine the larger system of inequality that gets recreated in academia. And I forget to put on my rainbow protective shield to ensure that others don’t hurt me. But more importantly I need that shield to guarantee that I don’t start believing their toxic lies and feed them to myself (through words, through escapism, self-sabotage, substance abuse, unhealthy habits, etc.).

What would my life look like if I were able to reprogram my thoughts and practice self-kindness? Could that practice of self-kindness still be negotiated while staying inside academia? It seems that it may be possible, but it would take constant vigilance.

I’m still unsure what my next job will be. But if it is in the academic arena, I must create new habits. I will need to practice compassion and kindness for my own self, while also protecting myself from external toxicity.

Resignation

I resigned from my tenure-track position over a month ago. Since then, I have felt a huge sense of relief. I can’t say I haven’t been scared, or doubted myself, but I can say that emotionally and intellectually, I know this is the right decision. I will finish this academic year and then move into one household this summer! I’m thrilled at the prospect of living in one home!

This was the only possibility for me to save my family and myself. I feel like I have made a huge investment in the future emotional and physical health of myself and my partner. In addition, financially supporting 2 households was becoming more and more impossible for us. Few other career paths would ask this much from me for such few financial and emotional rewards.

Now comes the process of figuring out the next step. This is incredibly exciting and also overwhelming. I don’t know where to start. Like most grad students,  I was never given any guidance on how to market my skills outside of academia. In fact, for many years, I believed that I had no valuable skills except for those relevant to a tenure-track academic career path.

But thanks to many altac/postac folks who’ve come before me, I have come to see how applicable my skills can be in other fields, or in other parts of higher education. The difficult task ahead of me is being able to effectively communicate those strengths and skills outside of the academic job market. I’m excited to see what unfolds in the next chapter of my life!

Self-Reclamation

This is my first post, which I originally wrote on December 10, 2013.  It had been posted on my other site http://altacthis.wix.com/altacliberation, but I have decided to try and blog here from now on, while still organizing resources at the Wix site. all great changes are preceded by chaos copy

I was inspired from reading a blog post written Eric Anthony Grollman entitled Academia is a Warzone. I am grateful for the space that Grollman has created for the marginalized in academia with his blog, Conditionally Accepted. I am also thankful for the risks he takes without hiding behind a pseudonym.

I, on the other hand, am hiding. And it is precisely because of the reasons mentioned in Grollman’s post. As a queer person, I do not feel safe in academia. I was crying while reading Grollman’s post because it reminded me of what it feels like to live in a constant state of vulnerability. While reading, I painfully remembered the many incidents for which I wasn’t prepared. I’ve now realized that I must arm myself with a rainbow protective shield. I must actively find ways to prevent emotional derailments from crippling me as severely as they usually do. The problem is how to create the resources necessary for the debriefing that should come after incidents occur. In addition, daily indignities and microaggressions can cause minor derailments.

The repeated injustices perpetuated by those in power in academia has really worn me down. I have lost respect for many academics, especially those who claim they care about a diverse representation of ideas and people in academia, yet they fail to take any concrete actions to make that a reality. On a recent hiring committee, I witnessed how laws demanding institutional equity and affirmative action were ignored. And once again, academia perpetuates a myopia of privilege.

Another reason that I am I also hiding is that I am scared that my identity will be discovered. I am on the tenure-track and I am strongly considering leaving academia, in order to pursue an altac/postac career. There are many reasons for this probable academic departure, but the most important one is that I don’t have my family near me in order to debrief, in order to cushion academia’s blows.

I have trouble engaging in self-care, a practice critical to survival in academia. Yet I’m realizing that self-care isn’t fully possibly if you are living apart from your family. Because my partner is also an academic, the “two body problem” of academia is a daily reality. This reality includes constant assaults on our emotional, physical, and financial health. It’s nice that academics have come up with a pithy phrase for it, but honestly, this is much more than a problem – it’s a part of a process of obliteration and soul destruction, similar to the practices of a warzone.

It is for these reasons and so many more, that I am thinking of leaving the tenure track and maybe even leaving the academy as a whole. I feel that grad school damaged me, and I allowed it. It is now my choice to begin recovery. I can advocate for myself and my family, and declare that no amount of toxicity is worth being apart from my family. Even the joy I occasionally find in teaching is not worth having my primary source of anti-toxin protection, my family, hours and hours away from me.

Is it worth having 2 pets and 1 person in one household and 2 pets and 1 person in another household with 2 sets of everything in each of those locations? Is it worth it if I so often feel unsafe in academia? Can a meaningful life focused on social justice be achieved elsewhere? I believe it can be.

For so many years the tasty Kool-Aid I gulped down told me that there was only one way to be, and only one job worth having. Part of healing from the PTSD created by grad school (thanks How To Leave Academia) will entail forging a new path for myself. It’s unclear what this path will look like, but I must embrace this uncertainty in order to reclaim myself and my family.