Thursday, October 20, 2016

Half Assed Big (Not Really) Thirsty.

I read this thing below at this place:

My partner and I met 11 years ago while she was working in the public health sector and I was studying for my doctoral degree. Over the years, she has witnessed the highs and lows of my move into academic life – the late, lonely nights with only my laptop for company, the lengthy, soul-destroying search for employment and the relief of (finally) securing a permanent academic post. Academia has become an ever-present third party in our relationship, for better and for worse.
In many ways, having a partner who does not cohabit my academic world makes little difference to me. Our daily lives are shaped by myriad decisions and experiences that remain untouched by our disparate careers – what to have for dinner; how to celebrate our birthdays; whose turn it is to feed the cat. In other ways, though, my partner’s detachment from academic life is deeply significant to me.

I tried to think of a question about it. But I went and had Chinese food instead.

Q: What about that?




13 comments:

  1. What kind of Chinese food? I've got a cold and would love some chow mein right now...

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    1. Not to pick a nit, but I'm pretty sure that chow mein is actually American, not Chinese. But anyting with ginger and garlic should be good for a cold.

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    2. I dudnt actually know that, though I'm not surprised, given that "curry" is supposedly invented in the U.K. rather than being properly Indian...

      It comes from the Chinese take away, therefore counts as Chinese food whilst I'm in the U.K. If I'm in china or visiting a Chinese person, I'd try to be more careful about my definitions...

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    3. Yeah, Chinese food in America was invented by a (Chinese) American.

      However, it's so Goddamn delicious that it is now about as popular in China as it is here. We took a lie and we made it true.

      God bless America.

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  2. On the topic: I don't have a partner, and a good many of my close friends are academics, but I also interact a good deal with non-academics in the community, especially at church. I do think it's good for academics to have regular contact with those in other professions, but I'm not sure that keeps academic matters from becoming all-consuming at times (of course, the same can be said for many other kinds of professionals, from lawyers to tax accountants. Academia is crazy in some unique ways, but other professions have their parallel nuttiness. (Still, I've yet to meet a professional in a non-academic field to whom the academic job market doesn't sound completely, utterly bonkers. I think we may have cornered the market on that particular variety of nuttiness).

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  3. Pennsylvania PennyOctober 21, 2016 at 5:23 AM

    Speaking as the non-academic spouse, it's a wretched life, precisely because of the nuttiness of the job market, as Cassandra says. The eight years of graduate school were one thing; we figured it was the temporary price to pay for a good career later on. The subsequent nineteen years of constant employment instability were another order of magnitude altogether. He was on the job market almost every single year. Our entire existence was about keeping him employed. Between that and trying to bring up two children, there was room for nothing else in our lives. No room for real vacations; no room for even a weekend away; no room for pets; no room for long-term friendships or an actual career for me because we were moving every few years; no room for personal preferences about where to live and work; no room for long-term plans; no room to think about anything else other than how we were going to pay the bills when the current job ended. We're in a pretty stable situation now, thank goodness, but those years of chronic uncertainty and anxiety while our children were growing up are years that we'll never get back. I adore my husband and can't imagine being married to anyone else, but I would not advise anyone, male or female, to marry an aspiring academic. It's way too much of a gamble.

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    1. That's pretty much the scenario I decided to avoid, even as a single person (perhaps especially as a single introvert who takes some time to put down roots, and doesn't transplant easily),by choosing a place to put down roots when it became clear the job market wasn't going to do that for me (and that my grad institution wasn't going to employ me anyomore). The tradeoff has been that I was an adjunct for 5 years, and since then have been, and probably always will be, a full-time contingent. I think it was the right (or at least a right) decision for me, but it does bring some downsides, including lower pay than a tenure track job, and the possibility of job insecurity at the end of my career (the lack of which is one of the things the old tenure-track system did offer: it might take forever to get through the degree, and another forever to find a stable job, but at least, assuming your mind and the truly necessary other parts of your body held out, you could keep working a bit longer than the rest of the population to make up for that).

      To my mind, this is another argument for a teaching tenure track: when hiring people whose main job is to teach core courses, departments don't need to worry nearly as much about research specialization as they do when hiring research-focused professors (when I and a number of my colleagues go to conferences sponsored by a scholarly society that specializes in our subdiscipline, people often remark that our department seems to have a lot of faculty in that subspecialty. That's true, but only because about 2/3 of faculty in that subspecialty teach mostly composition and 200-level lit., where the overlap doesn't matter so much). That would open up a number of relatively broadly-defined jobs for people who, given the choice, would prioritize geography (living in a particular place, living with a partner, and/or staying in the same place) over a research-oriented job. The arguments for making teaching jobs tenure-track include (1)institutional/student good: it really is better for students, and for the institution, to have a relatively stable teaching faculty, preferably one with a say in curriculum and time to converse and collaborate about their job, and the ability to review each other so that research-oriented faculty don't end up with the full burden of service and (2)fairness: teaching is, after all, a vital function of the university, and deserves to be treated with equal respect as research. There's also (3)the fact that at some point, which seems inexplicably long-delayed to me but may finally be arriving, people are going to stop going to grad school if there isn't a real career at the end of the tunnel, and the whole system will fall apart, beginning with the withering of Ph.D. programs. I also think that teaching faculty should be paid on the same scale as research faculty, but I know that's crazy talk.

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    2. Pennsylvania PennyOctober 23, 2016 at 4:38 AM

      Oh, Cassandra, I'm with you all the way on the teaching-tenure-track plan. It would be a particularly good thing for smaller liberal-arts or teacher-training colleges, where research is less central to their mission but has taken on an exaggerated importance thanks to the flood of research-oriented PhDs who, for the sheer sake of survival, have to apply for every opening they see.

      I'm certain that the reason the grad-school collapse hasn't taken place yet is that the word doesn't get out early enough. Most people don't discover the futility until they're either well into a multi-year program or actually applying for jobs—and it is not in the self-interest of the PhD programs to tell anyone about it up front. Somehow, the undergrads—especially in the humanities and social sciences—who are contemplating graduate study need to be told the statistics *before* they get started.

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  4. Since we're all still early-career scholars looking for tenure-track jobs, my friendships with people close enough to me in my discipline to compete for jobs have several areas of thin ice. I can't imagine being in that position with a partner. Most, but not all, of the intradisciplinary partnerships I'm aware of are people from different areas, so that wouldn't usually come up, but still. I love being able to easily get out of academic spaces when sanity demands (by hanging out with spouse/spouse's friends) and, conversely, since spouse is a big smarty-pants in their own right, and we love to discuss and debate all manner of things, I enjoy having a few areas where I feel confident in my expertise over spouse's.

    I know one academic couple, same discipline and subfield, where the guy is one of the biggest stars of his generation and the woman is ...not, though a fine scholar, and possessed of a job that would make most in said generation perfectly happy. What would it be like trying to discuss your work with your spouse knowing they're pre-tenure and already published two books? I personally do not have the temperament to inhabit the woman's role in that case, and I'm glad I will never have to.

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    1. That kind of situation can, indeed, get pretty sticky. I've seen it happen, both among my grad cohort and among colleagues since. The other result can be a department with a lot of married couples, such as my own. It's actually less weird than you'd think it might be, and there haven't been any major difficulties that I know of, but I suspect we've been lucky (e.g. no divorces, which is probably a combination of luck and the fact that people who are more highly-educated and marry later -- true of most academics -- are less likely to divorce than the general population).

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  5. Pennsylvania PennyOctober 22, 2016 at 4:25 AM

    The two main reasons I'm glad I didn't embark on graduate study after college: (1) an academic career wouldn't have suited me at all, and (2) two academics in one marriage is at least one too many. Curly Charlan is right: in this case, different is definitely good.

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