Here Is What Happened At My Meeting With The Dean

The last few posts have chronicled my surprising almost-return to academia, or at least my resurgence as a viable candidate.

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?

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7 Responses to Here Is What Happened At My Meeting With The Dean

  1. Jet says:

    I just love your use of the descriptor ‘Head Cheesemaker’ for this post. I can so relate to this dilemma around the expectation of having more publications while you haven’t been supported by permanent academic employment. This whole culture of expecting us to labour for no pay so they can prove their worth as cheesemakers makes me sooooo angry! Honestly, I have no advice for you in response to what the ‘solution’ is. I feel for you, and can only imagine if I was in the same position, I would be tossing around the same questions. I hope you can find a happy resolution. Good luck.

  2. trifi474 says:

    Dear PAINYC,

    Take the job, do some cheesemaking, pay the bills, and then look for something more suitable in the mean time! What is better while you search for the ‘perfect job’, answering the phone or cheesemaking?

    Yours sincerely

    Post-Post-Doc in London UK

  3. If you become a noted enough scholar, then all that cheesemaking shitte will be forgotten, you will earn tenure, and then you can do whatever the fucke you want for the rest of your fucken life.

  4. Currer Bell says:

    Wow. This is such a deeply personal decision that I feel as though I can’t comment on a right/wrong answer. But I can say that from reading your posts you seem to have a lot of hesitancy about this job (and it sounds well founded). If there is a way for you to survive financially without taking it, it may be best since it sounds like it will put a lot of demands on your time and energy that may prevent you from looking for/qualifying yourself for other employment. Yet, by the same token, if you just simply need the money then this is probably a more solid bet than playing the odds of getting another non-academic job soon. Best of luck!

  5. says:

    I’d agree totally with Currer Bell to be honest.

  6. Shit.

    I’ve been reading about your situation with great interest for the last few months, and fwiw, I’m sending you good non creepy vibes from the anonymous interwebz.

    The hypocrisy and disconnect is sickening. All of that education and sweat and blood and effort, and now you’ve got to be all things for all people for little compensation.

    Would it be worth it for you to do the job for a few years just for the money, until you figure out what you would be truly happy doing? Did the department chair seem like a decent sort? Maybe you could ask them what the deal is with all of the cheeemaking stuff?

    I hope it all works out for the best… and sorry that the system is so fucked up that you’re in this situation in the first place.

  7. nyc says:

    Thank you all you lovely people for your comments. They warm my heart. And my heart is not warmed by much, since I am a grumpy, cynical sort.

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