Erin Bartram

doomed to distraction

Sublimated Grief responses and FAQs

So, how was your week?

As you probably know, mine was completely surreal. My goodbye lament quickly overloaded the capacity of my website, and led to this, this, this, and this. My DMs and email inbox have been flooded with responses and inquiries in addition to all the comments on the pieces themselves and around Facebook and Twitter. I’ve heard from so many who are in my situation, have been in my situation, and perhaps most painfully, know they’ll be in my situation soon, as well as people in tenure-track jobs, people in publishing, people in journalism, and people who have no connection to academia but read what I wrote and were moved in some way.

I want to follow up with so many of you, but it’s going to take me some time, not just because I’ve received hundreds of messages, but because the whole experience has been emotionally overwhelming: the outpouring of grief, frustration, and rage I’ve seen in public and private, the HR horror stories you’ve sent me, the supportive messages from other quit-lit stars, and the truly strange experience of my ideas and my life being discussed by thousands of people who didn’t know me. I punched academia right in the feels, and academia punched back.

One thing that has not been a problem for me is the unsurprising nastiness of people on the internet. I approved all of the rude comments people left on the original piece because I think it’s important to know what the reactions were. When it got to IHE and the Chronicle, the angry comments were either willfully obtuse about what I had argued or were directed at an imagined version of me that bore so little resemblance to reality as to be comical. So if you were worried about my mental health in that area, don’t be.

If you are one of the many who told me I was a privileged, entitled academic/snowflake who needs to learn about The Market, and you imagined I’d never heard or considered these arguments before:

Those comments aside, I did get certain questions and comments over and over, and I thought I’d take some time to respond here, just in case anyone who saw the original post sees this one too. I know lots of people who are unfamiliar with academia read my original piece too, so if I use terms in here that are confusing, leave a comment and I’ll try to clarify.

 

Why would you give up on the job market after such a short time? Only three cycles?

But don’t you understand The Market!?

Why are you blaming tenure track professors? We can’t do anything either!

Why didn’t you talk about the role of administrators and funding cuts to state institutions and federal grant programs?

Aren’t you just a privileged academic? Do you even know what work is?

Maybe you should consider that you didn’t get a job because you’re not passionate enough about your work. If you were more passionate, you would keep publishing even if you didn’t get paid.

You need to get over yourself and stop thinking that teaching at an R1 is the only acceptable career.

Why haven’t you applied for jobs at community colleges/Catholic colleges/women’s colleges?

Why haven’t you applied for jobs in other countries?

Why don’t you want to teach high school? Don’t you value teaching?

Don’t you realize there are other ways to be a historian? Don’t you know you can do other things with a PhD? What about public history?

What did you expect when you went into history instead of a STEM field?

Obviously this is because you are a radical gender theorist. Aren’t we better off without you ruining everything?

Obviously this is because you chose to write about gender. Wouldn’t you have been fine if you’d picked a topic the market valued?

So you didn’t get tenure, big deal. Stop whining about it.

You didn’t have a Plan B and that was stupid. What did you think would happen?

How dare you ask us to buy you a coffee?

Didn’t you just write this hoping someone would feel sorry for you and give you a tenure track job?

You said your feelings aren’t subject to peer-review, but I think you need to know that your feelings are wrong.

 

 

Why would you give up on the job market after such a short time? Only three cycles?

There are several answers to this because there are several assumptions that seem to feed into the question. Some people seemed to think that three cycles wasn’t enough to know for sure that I’d never get hired, and that I’d screwed myself out of a position by giving up so early. Some seemed to think that it was presumptuous of me to think I’d get a job so quickly, and that I should have waited longer and paid more dues.

Three cycles was, for me, enough to know. I know that each year you are out of grad school but not in a TT position, you are regarded (incorrectly) as a bit more stale, and I suppose maybe there’s an idea that if you haven’t gotten a job already, there are good reasons, so you become increasingly unhireable. People do get jobs at that point, but despite conventional wisdom, we have evidence that the time you’re most likely to get a job is early – even when you’re ABD.

In light of that, and despite having had a really good year in 2017 and feeling like I was running on all intellectual cylinders, I decided it was time. Staying in would have meant that I would not have started a TT job, even if I got one, till the fall of 2019. In between now and then, I’d have to find another teaching job, or two, or five, earn very little, probably go without benefits, all while continuing to spend money to do research and go to conferences. Staying in the game is expensive, unstable, and usually doesn’t lead to the results we hope it will.

Back to the FAQs

 

But don’t you understand The Market!?

I mean, I’m a historian, so I understand that there’s no unchanging Magic 8 ball that helps us make economic decisions about the future, and even if there were, humans are not rational economic actors. That’s not a thing. My training as a historian encourages me to assess evidence and understand people, rather than rush to judgment. It’s one of the reasons I like the field I chose. In this case, I’m choosing to extend to myself the empathy I’d extend to someone in the past.

For many – hello, IHE comment section regulars! – this “don’t you know how supply and demand works” argument is a familiar and oft-used cudgel, and not one that indicates those wielding it have ever read much Adam Smith. If you are genuinely curious, though, Prof. Kate Antonova, historian of Russia and holder of a sacred blue check mark, has laid a lot of it out in an excellent thread right here:

Her analysis and the information in this 2016 piece put out by the American Historical Association provide the context for making sense of my particular experience. I started my MA in the fall of 2006 and my PhD in the fall of 2008, then defended my PhD in December 2015. Take a minute and think about the economic changes the U.S. experienced over that time period, and how many of them you could have predicted in the fall of 2005, when I was applying to graduate school.

Now take a minute and find my span on this chart.

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Why are you blaming tenure track professors? We can’t do anything either!

I’m not blaming tenure track or tenured professors. I wasn’t even trying to make them feel bad, or even trying to get them to fix the problem.  I was, however, asking them to consider something that they have the power to avoid considering. They may not have all the power they want, but they have more power than lots of vulnerable scholars.

If you felt attacked by my piece, or by the follow-up interview, and immediately sought out ways to explain why I personally didn’t get a job, that may be because you disagreed with my contention that the loss of me and thousands of other scholars is a loss to the field. Or maybe you just didn’t think I was much of a loss. Maybe you didn’t disagree with the contention that there’s significant loss, but still found yourself searching for ways to make this my fault and the provost’s fault; it’s a bad system and we’re all just cogs but I could have at least tried harder and been a better cog.

I understand that it’s less risky for you to punch down, but maybe consider what it would mean to punch up instead? In a part of the interview with the Chronicle that didn’t get included, I argued that we, as a discipline, either think it’s possible for people to change systems and institutions, or we think it isn’t. We seem to have one standard for the agency of the people we study and another for ourselves. I just thought maybe we could imagine something better, even if it’s hard to know how to make it happen. But imagining something better requires accepting all the ways that what we have is not good. That might mean acknowledging that what happened to me was not good, even if you think my project was dumb and I shouldn’t have gotten a job anyway.

Back to the FAQs

 

Why didn’t you talk about the role of administrators and funding cuts to state institutions and federal grant programs?

Those things were, as they say, outside the scope of the project. If you read my piece in the Chronicle, it’s worth reading the original on my blog, and considering, as I’d ask my students, who the intended audience originally was.

I’m not denying those things are important, but I have to say, when a reporter from the Chronicle asked me whether advising could fix the problem, I managed to give a response that pulled on a lot of threads and refused to accept the idea that there was a simple answer. I didn’t manage to pull on all the threads, but this is a pretty good depiction of what I looked like on the phone trying to explain why fixing academia was hard.

man gesturing at murder wall with string

I’m sorry I didn’t manage to talk about all of the things that are making academia a mess. I missed some of the threads. But if you’re mad I didn’t talk about other things because talking about those other things would mean not talking about the things people in your position could actually do, then that’s a thing you want to think about.

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Aren’t you just a privileged academic? Do you even know what work is?

I shouldn’t have to do this, but apparently it’s necessary: I grew up working class. I have been a member of three unions in my life, one of which I helped organize. I earn a salary that places me solidly in the working class nationally, which means quite firmly in the working class in Connecticut. I wear a lot of tweed, but you can get tweed at the Goodwill.

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Maybe you should consider that you didn’t get a job because you’re not passionate enough about your work. If you were more passionate, you would keep publishing even if you didn’t get paid.

nah

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You need to get over yourself and stop thinking that teaching at an R1 is the only acceptable career.

I have never had any desire to teach at an R1. There might be graduate students and early career scholars in my field who approach the job market crying “R1 or Bust!” but I have never met one.

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Why haven’t you applied for jobs at community colleges/Catholic colleges/women’s colleges?

A couple of really different assumptions seem to be at the root of these questions. To begin with, it’s important to know that college professors don’t just send their resumes everywhere. Colleges and universities post ads for very specific positions, asking for people with specific fields of study, people with specific skills that will allow them to taken on additional duties, and people at specific points in their careers. As a scholar of US history, specializing in the history of women and religion in the 19th century but with the ability to teach a much wider variety of broad and focused courses, many of which I’d already taught, I applied for almost every full-time TT job I could reasonably qualify for, skipping a couple of ads for positions at very elite universities.

Applying for every full time TT job I could reasonably qualify for meant that I applied to fewer than ten jobs this year. I imagine each of those jobs had between 50 and 300 applicants. I applied to Catholic colleges. I have applied to women’s colleges. I would have loved to teach at those places.

Community college jobs are just as difficult to get, and even harder to find because they’re not advertised in consistent ways. Even at the start of my grad degree, they were hard to get. The days when a PhD would set you apart at a community college are long gone, if they were ever really there. I did see a few that I could apply for, but the teaching loads were so high and salaries so low that I made the decision they were not worth moving halfway across the country for.

These queries, as well as the comments about scholars needing to get over their obsession with teaching at an R1, are all rooted in a desire to make this about the individual – about me – rather than about the system. I know many people made suggestions in good faith, because they wanted there to be possibilities I hadn’t considered yet.

But there were fewer than ten full time TT jobs I could apply for this year. Even if you think I didn’t get a job because you read my CV and think I just wasn’t good enough, there’s no way to get around the fact that this isn’t about individuals, it’s about the system itself.

Again:

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Why haven’t you applied for jobs in other countries?

I have, though not this cycle. But this isn’t a uniquely American problem, so leaving the U.S. isn’t a magic fix. Also, let’s just stop and consider that someone in my position isn’t considered dedicated enough or persistent enough if they have been unwilling to apply for jobs in Dubai or China.

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Why don’t you want to teach high school? Don’t you value teaching?

If you have never heard of me before you read this piece, you can be forgiven for assuming that I am more concerned with losing the research aspect of my job, since that’s what my piece emphasized. But at least half of the things I’ve written in this space are about teaching, and I regularly contribute to Teaching US History, a blog on college pedagogy. I’m really into teaching.

I am not certified to teach public high school, nor should I be, because public high school teachers and college professors have very different training and responsibilities. I couldn’t just fall into that job, contrary to what poorly-conceptualized sitcoms would suggest.

Many people have pointed out that there’s the option of teaching in a private school, which wouldn’t have the same certification requirements. Some commenters seem to think this would be super easy because I’m in the Northeast, where we have so many. You know what we also have a lot of in the Northeast? People in the same position as I am who are looking for jobs.

And yeah, I’m aware of the existence of private schools. I grew up a couple of miles from Hotchkiss, I sang at Kent, I filled in the women’s roles in musicals at Salisbury, I competed against kids from Norwich Free Academy and Choate and Loomis and all the rest. I know this world because I grew up a “townie.” And because I know that world, I still call them private schools, not independent schools, because the salient fact about them to me is that they are private, set apart from the public school system. I have friends from grad school who teach in schools like this, and they do great work and love what they do there. But even if I were inclined to teach high school, I’d have a very hard time working in many of these places.

As soon as I told people what had happened to me, lots of people said I should look into teaching high school. But when my friend Alex asked about it, and I responded “I don’t really want to, but…,” she said “If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to.” And that’s actually enough. It’s not an issue of certification or ideology or anything else, when it comes down to it. I don’t want to do it because I don’t think it’s for me.

Back to the FAQs

 

Don’t you realize there are other ways to be a historian? Don’t you know you can do other things with a PhD? What about public history?

I saw a lot of this in academic comment sections where people seemed to have read excerpts of the piece, read it poorly, or are from very different academic fields. Lots of people didn’t agree that a) the history PhD is still primarily designed to produce professors and b) that most people who get history PhDs want to be professors. I think they’re incorrect, but fair enough.

The thing that bothers me more, though, is the way some academic commenters seem to think “public history” is just some kind of field you can cruise into from the field I’m in. I worked for NPS as a historian before grad school; it’s actually why I came to grad school. But it’s not the same. It’s really pretty gross to think that I could just rock up at a historic house and get a job with little experience in the field and no specific training in museum studies or public history.

This suggestion, just like the suggestion that I teach high school, is often framed in a way that implies I think too much of myself to “lower” myself to these jobs. That these suggestions could be made so glibly suggests that many people don’t think enough of these jobs to imagine that there might be specialized skills needed to do them.

Again, other people made this suggestion in good faith, and I appreciate that so many think I could use my talents in another field. The problem is that public history has its own issues with paying people for their skilled work.

Back to the FAQs

 

What did you expect when you went into history instead of a STEM field?

Setting aside the plentiful comments on the piece and emails in my inbox from people in STEM fields who have gone through exactly what I’m going through, you could just google “postdoc crisis” and see that this isn’t just a humanities issue. Here, you don’t even have to google it: “So Many Research Scientists, So Few Openings As Professors.”

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Obviously this is because you are a radical gender theorist. Aren’t we better off without you ruining everything?

I mean, I’m not a radical gender theorist, but sure, you want to point to the world today and say the thing we need to think less about is gender? Congratulations, you’re the newest New York Times opinion writer.

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Obviously this is because you chose to write about gender. Wouldn’t you have been fine if you’d picked a topic the market valued?

Oddly enough, it’s the combination of women and Catholicism that I believe makes my work harder to market in academic circles, as I’ve discussed here. But again, it’s not just that I couldn’t get a TT job. It’s that there aren’t very many of them at all. Lots of people study gender, and lots of people don’t, and lots from both categories end up without a TT job.

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So you didn’t get tenure, big deal. Stop whining about it.

If nothing else, the number of replies like this that I got reveal that lots of people have room to grow when it comes to close, careful reading. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we had people who knew how to teach that?

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You didn’t have a Plan B and that was stupid. What did you think would happen?

So, when a reporter from IHE asked me what I was going to do after my teaching contract ended, I told her that I had lots of ideas about what I might do, but that I didn’t know what I would be doing, and I was scared because I don’t have a job lined up. She summarized that in the article as me not having a Plan B. I think those are two different things.

But lots of people seem to think that I should have been cultivating a side gig the whole time. All I can say is that the time required to do Plan A as well as I could was significant enough, and Plan A was what I wanted to do, so I tried to do it as well as I could until I couldn’t do it anymore.

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How dare you ask us to buy you a coffee?

I only asked you to do it if my writing had been meaningful; I didn’t charge you a fee to read. And even though my piece was explicitly about wanting to be valued for my writing, I felt awkward putting the Ko-fi link in and even more awkward when people clicked through.

I couldn’t process, and still can’t, that anyone found my writing that meaningful. No matter how much you value your own skills, when the world around you devalues those skills constantly, you internalize some of it.

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Didn’t you just write this hoping someone would feel sorry for you and give you a tenure track job?

[Speaking of really bad depictions of academic life on TV…]

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You said your feelings aren’t subject to peer-review, but I think you need to know that your feelings are wrong.

i don't care

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21 Comments

  1. You speak for a mass of silent folks. Thank you!

  2. “It’s really pretty gross to think that I could just rock up at a historic house and get a job with little experience in the field and no specific training in museum studies or public history.”

    Also, let’s be 100% real about this: these jobs don’t exist either – or when they do, they pay so little that you still can’t make a living “doing history.” The idea that the mass of graduate students and early-career faculty leaving the academy (by choice or otherwise) can just call around to a couple of museums or historic houses and snag a job that would allow them to live a dignified life is the worst kind of nonsense.

    • THIS. And let me add, it’s the same for libraries. More than one commenter suggested getting an MLS and going to work in an academic library or museum setting. HAH. The situation in the library world is the same as in academia: far, far too many applicants for too few jobs. I even had a classmate who was a disenfranchised Literature PhD; took him about 3 years to find a gig as an academic librarian. The industry has also been hard-hit by the same bullshit trends of contract work, outsourcing, etc. Or the ever-so-classy “someone retires and the position is replaced by two part-timers”, to save on pension and benefits. It’s so bad that articles, blog posts, and even courses IN library science programs about “how to use your MLS outside the library field” abound. I got my MLS in 2005 and wound up working in market research in private industry. Why? Because I didn’t know the right people. Didn’t intern at just the right place. Didn’t go into the master’s program with years of library work experience already. Didn’t have years to sit around working for low pay and no benefits; my chronic illness demands otherwise.

      All that said, Erin, thank you for your original piece. Not only did it hit hard for the reasons I mentioned above – different field, similar experience – but also because I originally wanted to go for a PhD in Literature and didn’t because my very kind and honest undergrad advisor warned me about the situation with jobs, applicants, adjuncting for pennies, etc. Of course I wound up stepping into the same mess anyway, but it hasn’t stopped me mourning the career I wanted and never had a shot at to begin with.

      And even though I found something tolerable to do with myself, the reminders are always there; my company recently had us all read StrengthsFinder 2.0. All of my strengths were of the intellectual bent and one of the top “recommended careers” for me: college professor. *sad trombone* There’s some kind of cosmic joke there but damned if I can laugh at it.

      Best of luck to you.

      • Erin Bartram

        February 20, 2018 at 10:24 pm

        A friend from grad school took a similar test a few years ago when we were all thinking about what to do if we didn’t make it. It told him to be a historian.

        • I had the same experience when I left academia. The career counselor I saw emphasized over and over to me that I should answer the questions honestly as to what I wanted to do with my life, and I too was informed that I should be a college professor. And he would not even look at my resume/c.v. even though I kept asking him to go over with me and let me know for what kind of jobs I might be qualified. He kept asking me, “What do you WANT to do?”

  3. Thomas Westerman

    February 18, 2018 at 9:50 pm

    Brilliant replies. Wonderful gifs/memes.

  4. I am listening, and I am sorry for your loss.

  5. “Why haven’t you applied for jobs in other countries?”

    –> that’s my favorite. I did. I studied/worked in three continents, six countries, fluent in five languages.
    I am still in academia because I do a postdoc, and it’s all very good and maybe I will be one of the few that will eventually have a professorship and live happily ever after.
    But I also can’t manage to find a job in my country because I have a PhD from the US which is not very useful there. I have lived several years away from my partner. I spent a LOT of time and money on flights (and a LOT of time and money learning languages. If I did all I did in only one languages instead of one book I would have five at this point). I’ll probably never see my extended family more than a couple of times a year for the rest of my life.
    The most ironic part is that sometimes I was told that being so international is not very useful in the job market because nobody cares if you speak Spanish.

    And yes, it is nice and adventurous and exciting travelling so much and I love my life, but I have no roots whatsoever. I will never buy a house because I have no place I call home. Which is maybe a little too high of a price to pay to stay in academia?

    Thanks a lot for sharing and best of everything Erin

  6. This is so beautifully truthful.

  7. I love Love LOVE everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, about this clapback. I loved the original piece too. So, if I may, I’m going to “Single white female” you. I am referencing the stalker film for those on the internet who would like to challenge that as racist or insensitive to identity politics. Like you, Erin, I have an article under review (8 months now) and have gone three rounds. I have yet to receive my final rejection for a tt position, but I know it’s coming. This was my best year and have no idea how to keep going, or more importantly, if I want to. Before landing my super lucrative (dripping with sarcasm) VAP, I “fell” into a HS job for 6 months. It was absurd, literally so much worse than the series you mention. I also worked for NPS as a college student and it was transformative. I don’t have a plan b, and never did. How dumb of me. I came from a single parent (alcoholic and poverty-level) home, so not sure how, but I guess I too was supposed to just know academia was going to be tough. I do have ideas and I’d like to think I’ll figure it out. I like to think, and very much hope, you do too. I wish you all the best and thank you enormously for writing. I really appreciate you not just bearing your soul, but also being brave enough to do so on the internet, where trolls run rampant. Much strength and love to you.

    • Erin Bartram

      February 19, 2018 at 8:52 pm

      I have so many thoughts about what it means to have entered the academy from a working class background and be so behind in understanding the game and the hustle.

      • And that would make a great book, and if you are interested I have a FAB agent to recommend. She would love you, and the Internet response indicates you have a market. But let me warn you in advance, sustaining a writing career is also really hard, and most fail. But books do help people.

        The overall job market is terrible, for everyone, and just getting worse–with outsourcing, adjuncts, logarithms, and robots. Not that it should make you feel any better at all. Thanks for calling attention to the systemic issue, and the losses for everyone, and the warnings for those of us who are first-generation and were taught education is the silver bullet.

        Most of all, thanks for sharing your grief, and allowing each of us to grieve with you and beside you. Grief is such a powerful, transformative emotion–perhaps that’s why our culture runs from it. Props to you, sister.

      • I enjoyed and connected with all your writings, having gone through a similar experience. It is good for all of us to share these experiences. I can only offer my own experience, that it took me almost two years to come to terms of what happened, because it is more than just losing a job. For me, it was more about how it happened than what happened. And how I was treated, especially by colleagues who avoided me like the plague, fearing the same would happen to them. I think it is time to move on, or at least away from this topic of your job loss. I am glad you have fully vented. And all the support should help. All my best to you.
        JSC

  8. thank you. thank you. thank you so much for this and your last blog entry (which I actually came across via the article in the chronicle). I normally don’t leave comments in blogs, but this time, I couldn’t not. As a historian specialised in early modern history and having defended my thesis last year, I am in exactly the same situation. And I AM in a different country – so no, the problems are not US academe specific or US job market specific, they are the same in most European countries (I don’t know about the rest of the world, because I have no experience there). In the German system (which I know best) there is often not even the possibility of tenure track jobs, it is either a postdoctoral position for 1-2 years or a assistant position for the max. of 6 years AND there is a “12-year- rule” meaning that you are only allowed to be employed for a total of 12 years post MA with short-term contracts at German universities – which means you have a total of 12 years – doctoral positions included – to get from MA to professor. But what was originally meant as a government action to stop the mass of short-term contracts has backfired in the sense that people just won’t get employed after 12 years if they have not managed to secure a permanent job – which in Germany means a professorship (lecturing positions are very rare, most of the lecturing is done by assistants and short-term employed adjuncts PLUS in Germany you loose your venia docendi if you don’t teach on a regular basis, so you have hundreds of low or not payed people trying to secure a professorship and doing lecturing for nothing as to not loose their venia).
    So thank you so much for giving a voice to all the historians (and people from other disciplines) dropping out of academia because of the system, to all the great ideas getting lost and the wonderful people. I mourn my projects also. I miss researching in the archives, the smell and feeling of brittle paper in my fingers and trying to figure out old German handwriting, and finding 350 year old pressed daffodils in between the pages of a family book.

  9. For what it’s worth, I applied to PhDs last winter and got rejected this week. Today I was at a party with my colleagues and all of them expressed sadness that they wouldn’t see me around anymore, and I started feeling exactly the way you are feeling — realizing that I am going to have to retract my conference proposals and so on, because it doesn’t matter anymore. But from your post I have learned that someone who is a clearer, wiser, and all around better researcher than me was not able to get tenure. I mean that. It’s a totally humbling read.

  10. “The thing that bothers me more, though, is the way some academic commenters seem to think “public history” is just some kind of field you can cruise into from the field I’m in. I worked for NPS as a historian before grad school; it’s actually why I came to grad school. But it’s not the same. It’s really pretty gross to think that I could just rock up at a historic house and get a job with little experience in the field and no specific training in museum studies or public history.”

    I actually did this. New PhD in American history, captive professional with a spouse who had a tenured position in our small midwestern town. Threw in an application to a National Historic Landmark historical society and somehow got the job.

    And you know what? Public history is a LOT of public and almost no history.

    My PhD in history was nearly useless, as I rarely got a chance to do any actual history. I ran a small business whose main product was a historical experience, mostly for school children on field trips. I managed a multi-million-dollar construction project designed to fix the original structure and put up a new building on the footprint of the part that fell down half a century earlier. I raised funds. I hobnobbed with the local and state government officials (a bizarre experience for someone who was, months earlier, a grad student). I wrote grants. I fought with bureaucrats. With a total paid staff of 3 including myself, I shoveled snow, fixed copiers, swept floors, and ran a craft show.

    NONE of this was part of my training as a historian. Almost none of my graduate education prepared me for the job, and whatever good I may have done there came from other places in my past. I spent five years there, and I don’t regret the experience at all. But it was as different as if I had gone into banking.

    People who tell you that Public History and academic history are just the same thing rarely have experience with both.

    I wish you well in your future, and I hope that wherever you land you continue to find stories that interest you.

  11. Bless you for writing so honestly…and especially for the FAQ answers. The suggestion that a person’s feelings could be “wrong” is ludicrous and your answer is more than those who leveled such a charge deserve.

    I hope you will continue the blog, and that (provided writing it is of value to you) your readers will get at least a glimpse of where your story takes you.

    Best of luck.

  12. Thank you. I also write about women and religion hahaha or did. This list is every day of my life for the last few years. Including this morning while interviewing to do nightwatch at a thoroughbred breeding farm 🙂 plan b.

  13. I loved the line, in your original post, that your feelings were not subject to peer review… and I love you further ‘comment’ on that here!! Best wishes.

  14. I came across your interview in the Chronicle. I really appreciate the your post, and all the other replies. I didn’t realize there was a genre called “Quit-Lit”. I, too, have “quit” and am still dealing with my sublimated grief. But my break was not clean…it was a little long and drawn out.

    I have a PhD in art history. Seeing many friends stuck in the adjunct world, I thought I would skirt that problem by becoming an art museum curator. I had freelance research jobs at museums and commercial galleries, and eventually landed a part-time research assistant job at a large NYC art museum. With a PhD, and lots of connections and experience, I was sure this would eventually lead up to being an curator. Ha. At first, it was great. The part-time hours were perfect, allowing me to spend some time with my young children. In a few years, my plan went, I would look for a full-time curator position or move up the ladder at my institution. However, in the space of a couple years the economy changed dramatically. Post-9/11, my institution, as well as museums across the country, instituted hiring freezes and lay offs, and the Great Recession hit just as I was ready to start ramping up my career.

    My husband lost his job, in the recession. I had a number of interviews, but nothing panned out. We moved to another city to be closer to family. In my new city, I had a job in public art for several years. Not much art history in this job, and for low pay and no benefits. My art history friends said I was lucky to get a job in the arts at all. Later, I worked at a local history museum. I loved giving tours and doing research on the site, but the group running the museum used it mainly as an event space. The site manager knew (or cared) little about history or how to run a museum. It was 3/4 time, no benefits, until the budget got cut along with my hours. I have also freelanced as a researcher, writer, and editor–which I have enjoyed, but it’s unclear whether or not this could be a full-time pursuit.

    I have seen a few career coaches briefly. One said “Follow your dream and the money will follow.” Right, tried that. Another said, “Don’t tell people you have a PhD. Nobody cares.” Ouch. What Color is Your Parachute? tells you how to find a job that you will love–I don’t think it tells you how to find a job you will love that actually exists and that you actually have a chance of getting.

    So, now I have a job doing some of the things I love, but not in art or history–in public health. They say the health care sector is one of the fastest growing in the economy today. It’s not a sector I planned on being in, and every day I feel the loss of the intellectual work and creativity that was so key to my identity as an art historian, not to mention my network of friends and colleagues and all that now-useless knowledge about art and artists. But, no one wants to pay me for my intellectual work. They will pay me for writing and editing client-facing informational brochures about health programs. It’s only the 2nd time in my life I’ve had a full-time job with benefits, so at least that feels good. Now that I have a steady income, I hope I will be able to look around at other jobs and trade up.

    Leaving my career is probably one of the hardest and saddest things I have done in my life. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but it is giving up on your dream. It took me years (and I’m still processing it) to realize that it wasn’t due to something I did or did not do, or something I should have known or been better at, just shit happens. Is everyone in life entitled to their dream job? Is everyone entitled to a fulfilling, well-paying career that lets you fire on all cylinders and leaves you tired but happy every night you come home?

    Everyone tells you to pursue your dreams–but they just don’t want to hear about it when it doesn’t pan out. They want to hear the stories of the floundering quarterback, who almost gave up after getting bounced around in the league and never finding his sweet spot, but then somehow just lucked into the starting position and took his team to the Super Bowl. Yeah, it worked out for him. But for how many others did it not work out? That’s life. We have to move on. At least we gave it a shot! Pursuing your dream with everything you have but falling short is better than not pursuing your dream at all. The challenge is finding a way to be happy no matter how it turns out.

  15. This was so great to read. My experience is different, but I can relate so much. I just finished my first job market cycle as an ABD sociologist studying race, gender, and beauty politics. I want to be a professor, but after facing a lot of racism by students and faculty as a woman of color I knew I’d only feel comfortable at a women’s college or HBCU. I applied widely anyway (because that’s what we’re supposed to do) and I only got one job talk from a school in Appalachia that was looking for a triple appointment diversity hire , then didn’t get it. I was left to grieve about a totally unideal option that would have left me isolated and overworked. I’m feeling for you, I empathize, and I admire your candor! Thanks for writing this.

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