Aimlessjones has been chronicling hir slow departure from Academia here. I like what ze wrote about getting caught up in the whole meritocracy thing, even though ze knows better.
“Although I try to fight it daily, I am bombarded with thoughts like: ‘I have a Ph.D. I worked hard to get here. I should be making a reasonable amount of money because I earned it by doing all this education.’ These conceptions are rooted in the meritocracy of academia – if you work hard enough and do enough schooling, you will be rewarded.”
I admit that I still resist such thoughts myself, even though I know that a PhD doesn’t make me more deserving of a living wage and dignity in employment than anyone else. Everyone deserves those things. And it’s not as if I was treated very well as a lowly adjunct either, though I think a lot of people keep teaching because they earn a symbolic wage (saying you’re a “college teacher” still has its perks) in lieu of an actual wage.
But my feathers were ruffled a bit during this week’s temp gig as a receptionist at a law firm. It was like an absurdist comedy. A newspaper headline about the day might read, “PhD Too Stupid To Figure Out Multi-Line Office Phone.”
I really could not figure out that damn phone. I was required to manage multiple calls at once (okay, usually it was only two calls at once, but it seemed like three or four) simply by reading the instruction manual about how to forward calls and screen callers and break into calls already in progress. As a post-academic, I am not used to texts having such a direct and concrete application to real life. As a result, I did a very bad job learning how to use the phone by reading a pamphlet about it.
In my defense, people kept calling the office for some reason! Didn’t they realize that I was trying to read the internet?
Also, the two lawyers who got most of the calls were both named Bob. No, I am not joking. This kind of stuff only happens to me. Someone would call on one line and ask for “Bob,” and I would have to put that caller on hold to answer the other line where someone was also asking for Bob. “Which Bob are you calling for again?” Callers got really annoyed because obviously they had called on Bob #1’s line, so why would I even be asking? But I couldn’t keep it straight.
Even more troubling was the fact that there were three lawyers in the office (the third one’s name was not Bob), and they were all fifty-ish-year-old white dudes with white hair! I could not tell them apart. So a lawyer would leave the office, then someone would call and ask for him, and I would try to put the call through. The secretary behind me would say, in exasperation, “Didn’t you see Bob just left?” She thought I was a complete dunce, I’m sure.
The bottom line is that I am terrible at being a receptionist. But that didn’t stop me from feeling indignant when one of the Bobs took a tone with me when I did not know how to spell one caller’s name.
“Next time just ask anyone who calls how to spell the name if it’s not obvious,” he said.
I wanted to say, “Oh, hey, I did get the spelling. Get a pen and write this down because it’s important. E.A.T. S.H.I.T.” That would have been a quick way to end that miserable job! But, no, I did not say that. In fact, I felt quite bad all day about inconveniencing everyone with my shamefully inadequate knowledge of complicated phones.
Anyway, the title of this post is Relapse in reference to another post-academic’s take on our collective plight. The Ruminations blogger has proposed that leaving academia is like being “in recovery” from an addiction. Of course, as ze notes, we should be careful not to insist on the comparison because one circumstance results in mortal peril while the other (usually) does not. Yet, there is something about the metaphor that works. Often, one has to hit “rock bottom” in academia and then slowly rebuild a life, taking care to mend broken relationships while carving out a new identity, or (in my case) coming to grips with the fact that multiple-line office phones can kick your ass any day of the week.
In a nod to the aptness of the metaphor, then, I have experienced what might be called a relapse.
That’s right. I have an academic job interview in April. How did this happen? It happened because a) the academic hiring cycle takes so long, and b) I am weak.
I applied for the job months ago during a period when I wasn’t getting very many calls for non-academic positions. I was getting desperate. I didn’t think they would actually be interested in me. But they are, apparently. And so I have an interview. Am I enthusiastic? No. Was I willing to decline an interview for a full-time position based on a lack of enthusiasm, especially when it is clear that my future as a receptionist is seriously in doubt? Nope.
So, there you have it. I am sure this is all going to be a big waste of time and emotional energy. Maybe (hopefully?) it will finally land me on “rock bottom,” which doesn’t seem like a bad thing for some reason.
In the meantime, I have to figure out how one prepares for an interview for a professorship after not professing anything to anyone for almost two years. I really don’t know. I asked my advisor and ze said, “Just be yourself.”
Yeah, that’s never going to work.