Once More With Feeling: I Am Not The Problem

The last few posts have chronicled my most recent attempt (against my better judgment) to get an tenure-track academic position/soul-sucking job. Well, hello failure/success. In accordance with my speculations, I have received the dreaded/glorious letter of rejection/reprieve! I was one of two finalists, but the committee has offered the job to the other sucker/esteemed scholar.

Well, at least I know I am finally at the end/beginning.

I. Will. Never. Apply. For. Another. Academic. Job. Again.

This is all fine/scary. My mother is terribly disappointed. I should learn never to tell her anything. She really wanted to have a kid who is a “professor,” even a professor who spends most of the time making cheese for the real professors. When I informed her, after the second interview, that I wasn’t sure I wanted to make cheese anyway, she replied with a sigh, “I was hoping you could find happiness [in academia], but I guess you can’t.”

Ha, mothers.

See what she did there? Subtly/not subtly she implied that the problem is moi. I cannot be happy in academia because I refuse to adapt myself to the circumstances I find there and be all right with it because, hello, regular paycheck!

Alas, mothers are not the only ones who cannot get it through their thick skulls that the problem isn’t me/us.

I recently received an email from a prof who was on my diss committee. He is known by graduate students far and wide as a generally caring person. I really liked working with him. He is now in some administrative position in the department where his (fun!) job is to find out where all the graduates from my old program have ended up (fishing around at the bottom of a dumpster, probably!).

I replied to his query about my status and explained that I spent three years looking for an academic position and had several interviews with no luck. I said, “I am now looking for work outside academia….” and explained some of the part-time work and volunteering I have been doing. I tried to make it sound not-so-bad, like I was making slow but steady progress building a new career. This is, in fact, true.

He said he understood why leaving academia might be the best option, etc. Then he offered to review my application materials if I decide to apply for any academic positions in the future.

This got my blood boiling.

I know he is trying to be helpful. And I appreciate it, I really do. I have been out of that department for almost three years and few people from that world have any idea what I’m doing now. Even though this prof is supposed to check up on recent graduates (the department is probably starting to figure out that many of their alums are unemployed), I know his offer to help is genuine.

So why did his letter get my blood boiling? Because FOR THE LAST MOTHERFUCKEN TIME the problem is not me/the quality of my application materials!

I must channel Comradde Physioproffe and assert that my application shitte is good. I have had a number of interviews over the last few years, and very recently I was a candidate for a tenure-track job. This does not mean that people who don’t get interviews have not spent enough hours laboring over their CVs and job letters. This is simply to say that one measure of the quality of one’s job letter is whether or not the candidate in question makes it to the next stage in the absurdly horrific ritual known as the academic hiring process.

So, yes, Helpful Professor, I appreciate the offer and all of that. Good for you for giving a shit. But I will not spend one more hour rewriting my job letter. I will not spend one more minute in conversation with ANYONE who implies, however sympathetically, that if I just articulated my research agenda a little better, explained my commitment to teaching Freshman twerps with more conviction, or just kept trying despite all indications that such an action is insane, I would somehow, magically, find myself with a job.

I know it’s not going to happen.

Perhaps I am being too hard on Prof Helpful. What do I expect him to do?

About half of all courses at my former university are taught by adjuncts, so I’d say organizing a massive adjunct walk out would be a much better use of his time. (And since Prof. Helpful is beloved my many, he could probably pull it off.) And such an effort would at least mean firing at the right target: neoliberalism in higher education/the internal contradictions of late capitalism/Oh, the inhumanity!

But, Helpful Professor, if you prefer to spend your time helping un/underemployed PhDs rewrite their job letters/furthering your delusion, be my guest.

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7 Responses to Once More With Feeling: I Am Not The Problem

  1. People vehemently refuse to accept the fundamental randomness of professional success. “Helping” people who don’t succeed based on the assumption that if only they did something differently they would have succeeded is a defense mechanism that allows maintenance of the illusion of control.

  2. Currer Bell says:

    Yes! Yes! I just had something similar happen. But in this case the Prof. ISN’T that helpful (just a narcissist) and he was one of the people who DID help craft my job materials! Ugh!

  3. Lauren says:

    I couldn’t love this post more. AWESOME. I love how the gloves are coming off at post-academic blogs everywhere. I just wrote about debt. Let’s keep this going! And congrats!

  4. Caitlin says:

    My sympathies re your mom. I’m with you on this one: my mom is the only one who can still really wound me about the whole not-gonna-be-a-professor thing. Two years after my own departure from academe (not complete, but I have a decent job for now), she told me last week, “You can do anything you want, you know. I really believe that about you.”
    And, as you so adroitly point out above, the implication of such a statement is that the source of the problem is *me* and my purported lack of self-esteem, and if I just got over it, I could go teach 2/2 at Amherst and take a sabbatical every 4th year. Or whatever they do there.
    Whereas I sometimes wonder if my departure was the product of *excessive* self-esteem: I just didn’t want to be dicked around any more by the job market and adjunct working conditions!
    Regardless, I repeat your mantra whenever these demons come up: “I am not the problem!”

  5. Lauren says:

    Love the content of the post, but also the Buffy reference!

  6. Anthea says:

    You’re not the problem…none of us are. There’s a structural problem with the education system since there shouldn’t be so many of us with PhDs who aren’t able to work in the very system for which we trained to be part of. The problem isn’t you or me, or anyone else who’s commented here..the problem is that the system is broken and we don’t deserve either to paid almost nothing or treated as we are being treated…as if we’re not good enough. Just how many hoops do we have to jump through or contortionist poses need we learn to prove that we’re ok? None since we’re all fine since we got that final certificate and we certainly don’t need to placate some academic academic who back 20 or 30 years ago when they were looking for an academic job probably didn’t have to provide some much information in their job application. Grrr…Nuff said I’m not going to rant anymore.

  7. avocado says:

    Great post. Exactly. Exactly. The situation with your mom is familiar to me. You have my full sympathy. Like you, I left academia a couple of years back; no regrets. Don’t have a full-time gig yet and, yes, life is hard. My diss advisor pops up once in a while to say shit like: “Have you thought about adjunct teaching? I have some connections at Nutcase Community College. You are a very gifted teacher/scholar and should think about finding a teaching job. I will help you with your job apps.” And this shit is fully meant to be “caring.” Whenever I get that sort of email I want to explode with rage.

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