These are the undeniable facts: A) I need a job. Three months ago I was seriously considering a bookstore gig for $8 per hour. Now, I am temping, which pays more but not enough. B) My interest in producing academic scholarship in my field is near zero.
Could I become re-interested in doing academic work again, in exchange for money and benefits? Perhaps. Would having to do that be any worse than temping at Fancy Wall Street Firm or anywhere else? Honestly, I don’t know. What I do know is that these are not my only choices in the long term. But in the short term, I may have to make a decision. I can sit at a temp desk and write anti-capitalist articles for Occupy Wall Street (as I have been known to do) and my bosses don’t know the difference or care, as long as I answer the phone and order the correct sandwiches. There’s something appealing about that, even though I have not managed to work more than 3 days per week as a temp, which is both too much and not enough.
To what lengths will I go for money (and a dash of prestige)?
This academic job is just like any other. I do not think of it as a calling or as a thing that I must do simply because I am credentialed. It’s more like this: What is the best option that will allow me to pay my bills, write what I want to write (at least some of the time), and also be able to live with myself?
There is no good answer.
And my meeting with the Dean only deepened my conundrum. Here is an approximation of our conversation.
Dean: You will need to publish a lot of research.
PAINYC: Yes, but the department has also asked me (if hired) to be Head Cheesemaker.
Dean: Really? They need cheese in that department [quizzical look]? I didn’t know cheese was so important to them.
PAINYC: Yes, they have a great need for cheese. In fact, I am told it is their top priority.
Dean: It would be good if you could make cheese, but you should remember that publishing and becoming a “noted scholar” is of a higher priority.
PAINYC: Yes. [I explain my research agenda]
Dean: That sounds nice [looks at CV]. I am concerned that you graduated 3 years ago, yet you only have two articles under review!
PAINYC: Yes, I understand I would have to publish a lot more. [What I wanted to say: “I haven’t worked in academic for 3 years. Are you suggesting that I should have been publishing articles this entire time, in preparation for this meeting with you that I could not have anticipated in a million years? Instead of that, how about this: you hire me and begin paying me money, and then I will start publishing these peer-reviewed articles that you speak of (maybe).”]
So there you have it. The department wants a Head Cheesemaker and the Dean wants a “noted scholar.” Anyone who accepts the position will have the pleasure of trying to please both parties, all at the same time, or get fired.
I do not believe one can be a decent maker of cheese and also do the work required to become a “noted scholar,” especially after an extended hiatus from one’s purported discipline.
So, if I am offered the job, the decision is basically this: do I accept it just to get paid before I am inevitably fired or quit? I cannot see myself being their kind of person for long. I do not want to work there very badly. What’s the solution? Is the only way out through the front door?