Employed Positivity of a Post-Academic


Every time I think about my present gainful non-academic employment, I think about all the other former academics who are currently not employed as academics – there has to be a large number of us out there, given the odds of getting an academic job these days (I do not count the adjuncts, I count full-time benefited positions with long-term contracts ) – the silent majority, if you will. Where are all these people? What do they do with their lives? How do they survive? What are they thinking about? Do they hope against all hope that the system will magically change and they will get their fair chance? Are they working on some academic writings hoping that the compound effect of a few essays and maybe a book will eventually lend them a job? Do they think about giving up? Do they regret going to graduate school? Are they hiding because they think of themselves as “failed academics”?

Many of these questions will obviously never be answered – not by me, not by you. One attitude that I cannot personally stand is posturing about your non-academic life. I have been guilty of that myself and I look back in embarrassment on some of my statements from that “fresh wound” period. What do I mean by posturing here? Stuff like “I am glad I am currently outside of academia, it is really giving me a great perspectives on life and so on.” It’s total bullshit and everyone knows it. I spent nine years in post-college education – of course I would love to get an academic job. But I most likely never will. I would like to own a private jet so that I can avoid flying coach all the time. But I most likely never will. It is definitely nice to have certain things, but the odds are against me and most of the PhDs with degrees in humanities – this is not a matter of ideology, just statistics.

I have been employed now for two years outside of the academic world. I still teach a class or two a semester (evenings and weekends) to keep my academic affiliation (mostly for the library access) and some extra easy cash. And I do like teaching. But I am also slowly but surely accepting the fact that my corporate job – which, by the way, I enjoy very much – is the sort of thing I will be doing for the rest of my life. Period. End of story.

While employed at my current place of work I realized that I have a set of transferrable skills, something that I can actually bring to my non-academic environment which is open enough to let me talk about how things can be a bit different (and letting me do my thing without interference). If post-academics (let us give them this nice warm title) considered their non-academic options, they would see that the world is full of various opportunities for them. Most workplaces would appreciate having a smart employee with a set of skill that generally emerges as one tries to make one’s way through a set of medieval procedures of getting a PhD. But then again, the very distinction between academic and non-academic worlds is probably artificial. It is all one large world.

This is probably a topic that I would need to discuss more (now that I am okay with the fact that I am a post-academic) but here are three immediate changes that took place in the last two or three years since I finished my PhD:

1) I no longer waste time reading shitty derivative secondary and tertiary books and essays. I have the freedom to open a book, read a few sentences and chuck it as far as I can if its author’s only purpose was to produce yet another horrid academic tome in order to qualify for promotion or summarize their boring research. I require that book first persuade me that I have to read it – if it does not do so, to the imaginary garbage pile of my mind it goes. Most academic authors do not write their books for wider audience (and those who try often fail because what they consider to be good style is actually simplistic and mediocre crap), they write them for other academics. Now I don’t have to endure the torture of reading those books. I don’t care about the author’s stature or the influence of the book’s argument. If I don’t like it, I don’t read it.

2) I do not have a plan for any publications whatsoever. Things that I am currently working on are either chance pieces or some semi-articulate projects that others have encouraged me to pursue and I agreed (because I wanted to do it). If nothing comes out of any of my current “projects,” then I will have more time for my friends and family, for a beer and a good book. I couldn’t care less about the looks of my CV. If I never write another line again, I will be just fine. The world will not suffer if it is deprived of my thoughts. I don’t have anything interesting and original to say about anything. And now I don’t need to pretend that I do.

3) I do not think about my future employment with a sense of all-consuming fear of uncertainty. Corporate jobs are probably hard to come by, but there is still a considerable turn over and old managers leave while new ones come in all the time. I have received offers without any solicitation this past year, I have seen many many jobs that I could probably easily get with my experience. I can even contemplate moving somewhere just because I’d like to live there and getting a job there is the least of my concerns. Having given up on the academic dream job, I can now work almost anywhere doing almost anything (as long as I don’t have to wear a name tag, of course) and I am fine with that.

What about you? Are you a post-academic?

18 thoughts on “Employed Positivity of a Post-Academic

    • “This is a tough question; certainly being outside the academy alters your vision of the place of your discipline in the world. You have to reign in your expectations. Preaching to the choir is out the window.”

      Ha, that is precisely the kind of bullshit I was talking about – seriously! Get over yourself!

  1. I’m a post-academic, but I think I was always one, even when I was enrolled as a student and later worked as an adjunct, and this is part of why I never got that full-time academic job I would have wanted. I think of Lyotard saying that the “post-” in post-modern is not to be taken in a chronological sense. So I think that there are different types of “post-academics”, going from those who are nostalgic and resentful through those who have made a clean break with the past to those who, like you, have gotten into some sort of free relation with academic production.
    I have tenure as a high school English teacher, so I feel free to read and speak write in my own name in philosophy, and I fully exercise that freedom on my blog. I lack time, and the free and easy access to academic resources (how I would love to have Jstor access!) and conversations, and sometimes I have identity crises. So I cannot “recommend” being a post-academic, but I can affirm it. I think it does intensify my relation to intellectuality, and enriches my teaching of English.

    • Thanks, Terence. Despite the amount of hits on his post, most I am sure by people in the similar position as outs, no one will openly discuss the issues, because they are all hopeful that one day, once losers like us are out of the way, they will get their jobs – yes, it might take 5-7 years out of the graduate school, but they will get there. The system is based on faith. But I say good for them – that’s a personal choice and I no longer judge. My point here was to say that I am coming to some kind of realization that this is not an “either/or” situation.

  2. Failed academic. You have published nothing of note or interest. Stop dressing it up in this good life crap. You have always relied on others to argue for you. You let emotion and personality cloud your judgement. If only you would stop blogging too.

  3. I don’t agree with everything in this article but I see where she’s coming from.

    http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/The-Home-Forum/2010/0323/Unemployed-a-grad-student-rethinks-the-world-of-work

    I didn’t really fit in as an academic, and spent only 2 years in the higher learning. I do think there is something to the zoo animal aspect of being an academic, carefully fed and taken care of but not killing what they eat. Der blaue Engel version of the academic. But I haven’t been able to shed the tendency of making pretentious and obscure references, so I’ve still got work to do.

  4. I think in order to understand what it means to be a “post-academic,” we need to know what it means to be an academic. Clearly, “publishing something of note or interest” is part of the deal, but is having a full-time teaching job part of the deal as well? Is Zizek an academic? Can one write and publish without a full-time teaching job? Obviously, pretentious snobs may dismiss your work because it says “independent scholar” after your name, but who cares about those pricks anyway! I suppose I am answering my own question – if you don’t have a full-time academic job, you’re not on the “inside” and those who have, regardless of the stuff they publish, we’ll be academics because they made it.

    Good post. Don’t stop blogging.

  5. any thoughts on how the hell you get started in transition from academic research/employment to real-world employment? Not sure where/how to start….

    • Not sure I am qualified to give any sort of advice on the subject matter without really knowing much about your circumstances – that’s more of a Graham Harman territory.

      I’d be happy to chat about this via privacy of emails anytime of course!

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