Not long ago, I was expressing anger and frustration that I had interviewed for a job but had not received any communication afterward even though I emailed to ask whether I’d been rejected or not. Turns out I did get a response only a couple hours after I sent my email but it had gone into my spam folder. I only found it while looking for another email that I should have received, THANKFULLY! I have been conditionally offered some work, possibly temporary, possibly more long term, to start around the end of the year. They are still in the planning stage re that post, but I have even been invited to take part in the discussions that would shape the position. Knowing that I have some work lined up, even a bit of freelance or temporary work, has taken a weight off my shoulders. It’s not like I thought I would starve or anything—I’ve completely rearranged my finances in order to be able to go a few months with no income—but I guess the fear of failure and/or the unknown was eating away at me.
I also have an incident of magical thinking, to use JC’s term, to report on. It’s my first, in fact. Or at least the first instance that really brought to light just how brainwashed a lot of people are in academia. I told this person confidentially that I was leaving. We had worked together on a big collaborative project that was riddled with problems—the one that (it turns out) will be the last paid academic research I will do, probably ever. He/she is significantly younger than me and has a lot less experience, but this did not stop him/her from responding by giving me all sorts of career advice and trashing one of the contributors (eg, ‘don’t let that person ruin it for you, they’re just a bad egg’). The career advice was banal, hardy anything I hadn’t thought of myself (c’mon, I’m leaving a career I’ve spent years striving to succeed in . . . would I not consider every option for making it work . . . ?), but the comments about the contributor had more truth to them since that contributor had made our lives miserable.
What was really bizarre were this colleague’s comments about how much fame and glory this project was going to bring me. Wow. He/she could not be further off the mark. This project is not the type that will be reviewed and I highly doubt there will be any communication between me and the audience for it. I’ve done projects just like this before—and no one takes note apart from one or two mentions at conferences (eg, ‘Really enjoyed your piece on . . .’). Yes, you might get cited in a couple publications, but other than that, not much ever happens after you complete a big project of this type. It pretty much immediately occurred to me that this was exactly the magical thinking that’s been dished out to lots of other post-academic bloggers (ie, the disbelief that you actually mean it when you say you’re leaving, just one more round on the job market, just one more article). This was the first time I really felt like the person I was communicating with really just didn’t get it, like there was a huge gulf between us and I wasn’t going to be able to bridge it. So I started wondering why I had had so much less of this type of reaction than other bloggers. Maybe my colleagues think I’m shit and I should have given up long ago. (Ha ha! Just kidding!)
I’m pretty certain it’s down to experience. Most people, academic colleagues and others, have not questioned my decision to leave. They’ve experienced the realities of the profession themselves or they’ve seen how much I’ve struggled (with underpaid temporary work, demanding teaching and research deadlines, and difficult if not downright vicious colleagues). No one who’s gotten a taste of this would question a decision to leave. In addition, I’ve seen what the profession can make people into. Back to the trashed contributor: whilst that person had behaved really badly, I’ve seen that type of arrogant lack of dedication to a contracted project before. It’s nothing unusual, in fact. Worse, I have known that person for years and I watched him/her transform from a really kind, sensitive person, whose primary fault was giving people the benefit of the doubt too much, into a self-centred brat who is entitled to everything but owes nothing to others. He/she resents if not openly hates all his/her colleagues and students and now has little to no interest in research, hence the bad behaviour re the collaborative project. He/she never had a lot of confidence or coping ability, but the decline in this person’s mental health and well-being is common. People get the measure of what matters in an institution, take it to heart that it’s not them, their research or their teaching, and get stuck into the power games that supposedly lead up the greasy pole. Back-stabbing and bitterness take over. The once lovely person becomes a nasty piece of work.
I do not want this for myself and I will not have it.
A note on the new look: Getting some work at least partially secured and finishing my last research tasks have made me feel like I’ve turned a corner. So I’ve set up a new look to my blog, one that features a place I would rather be and could potentially move to now that I’m not tied to an immovable academic job (or soon won’t be). It’s not really related to academia, I know, but I’m not going to be related to academia for much longer.