Erin Bartram

doomed to distraction

The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind

It happened during AHA.

I was sitting at home, revising my manuscript introduction and feeling jealous of all of my historian friends at the conference, when I got an email telling me my last (and best) hope for a tenure-track job this year had evaporated.

I’d promised myself that this would be my last year on the market. Now, I’d promised myself that last year, and I’d decided to try again, but this time, I knew it was over.

I closed my laptop and walked out of my office. In that moment, I couldn’t bear to be surrounded by the trappings of a life that had just crumbled around me. The perfect reading lamp, the drawer of fountain pen ink, the dozens of pieces of scratch paper taped the walls, full of ideas to pursue. The hundreds of books surrounding me, collected over nearly a dozen years, seemed like nothing more than kindling in that moment.

I cried, but pretty quickly I picked myself up and started thinking about the future. The circumstances of the job I didn’t get were particularly distressing, so I discussed it with non-academic friends, explaining over and over again that yes, this is the way my field works, and no, it wasn’t surprising or shocking to me, and no, I won’t be able to “come back” later, at least in the way that I’d want to, and yes, this was probably what was always going to happen. And then I started looking forward.

Only now do I realize how messed up my initial reaction was.

I was sad and upset, but I didn’t even start to grieve for several weeks, not because I hadn’t processed it, but because I didn’t feel I had the right to grieve. After all, I knew the odds of getting a tenure-track job were low, and I knew that they were lower still because I didn’t go to an elite program. And after all, wasn’t this ultimately my failure? If I’d been smarter, or published more, or worked harder, or had a better elevator pitch – if my brain had just been better, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. But it had happened, and if I were ultimately to blame for it, what right did I have to grieve?

Despite the abundance of quit-lit out there, we’re still not, as a community of scholars, doing a great job dealing with this thing that happens to us all the time. The genre is almost universally written by those leaving, not those left behind, a reflection of the way we insulate ourselves from grappling with what it means for dozens, hundreds, thousands of our colleagues to leave the field.

Quit-lit exists to soothe the person leaving, or provide them with an outlet for their sorrow or rage, or to allow them to make an argument about what needs to change. Those left behind, or, as we usually think of them, those who “succeeded”, don’t often write about what it means to lose friends and colleagues. To do so would be to acknowledge not only the magnitude of the loss but also that it was a loss at all. If we don’t see the loss of all of these scholars as an actual loss to the field, let alone as the loss of so many years of people’s lives, is it any wonder I felt I had no right to grieve? Why should I be sad about what has happened when the field itself won’t be?

Even in our supportive responses to those leaving, we don’t want to face what’s being lost, so we try to find ways to tell people it hasn’t all been in vain. One response is to tell the person that this doesn’t mean they’re not a historian, that they can still publish, and that they should. “You can still be part of the conversation!” Some of you may be thinking that right now.

To that I say: “Why should I?”

Being a scholar isn’t my vocation, nor am I curing cancer with my research on 19th century Catholic women. But more importantly, no one is owed my work. People say “But you should still write your book – you just have to.” I know they mean well, but actually, no, I don’t. I don’t owe anyone this book, or any other books, or anything else that’s in my head.

“But your work is so valuable,” people say.  “It would be a shame not to find a way to publish it.”

Valuable to whom? To whom would the value of my labor accrue? And not to be too petty, but if it were so valuable, then why wouldn’t anyone pay me a stable living wage to do it?

I don’t say this to knock any of my many colleagues who write and publish off the tenure-track in a variety of ways that they find fulfilling. I just want us to be honest with ourselves about who exactly we’re trying to comfort when we offer people this advice and what we’re actually asking of those people when we offer it.

We don’t want these people to go and we don’t want to lose all the ideas floating around in their heads, so we say “Please give us those ideas, at least. Please stay with us just a little bit.” But we’re also asking people to stay tethered to a community of scholars that has, in many ways, rejected them, and furthermore, asking them to continue contributing the fruits of their labor which we will only consider rigorous enough to cite if they’re published in the most inaccessible and least financially-rewarding ways.

We also try to avoid grappling with the loss of so many colleagues by doing just what we do with our students: reminding the departing scholar about all the amazing skills they have!

I’m not saying I don’t have skills, or that my professional training hasn’t refined them. But when we talk to our students about the thinking skills they learn as history majors, we’re talking about how they can use those skills to be things other than historians. You can use those skills in finance! Insurance! Non-profits! All sorts of regular jobs that your concerned parents will recognize!

Here’s the thing, though. I got a PhD in history because I wanted to be a historian. That’s what I am trained to be. I didn’t write a dissertation on 19th century Catholic women to learn the critical thinking skills of history and then go work in insurance. I didn’t spend my twenties earning so little I ended up helping unionize my coworkers because I wanted to be in non-profit work.

Obviously, when we’re confronted with a colleague in the situation I’m in – someone who didn’t want to leave and who doesn’t know how she’s going to pay the rent after May – we emphasize those skills because we want to reassure this person (and ourselves) that they can find gainful employment, if not necessarily fulfilling work.

But we also emphasize it, I think, for the same reasons we encourage the departing colleague to keep publishing. We don’t want to face how much knowledge that colleague has in their head that’s just going to be lost to those who remain, and even worse, we don’t want to face how much knowledge that colleague has in their head that’s going to be utterly useless in the rest of their lives.

I teach my undergrads skills through content, and I keep the amount of content low, but as both a teacher and a scholar, I personally know so much stuff. I have forgotten more about Martin Van Buren than most people around me will ever know. I might find a job that uses that content, but in all likelihood, I won’t. I knew what job would pay me to know a lot about stuff that happened in the past. I just couldn’t get that job, and now I have to do something else.

Now, there are people who get PhDs and don’t want to be professors, and that’s great for them and I’m glad they find the PhD a useful part of their personal and professional lives. But let’s be honest: most graduate programs in history are preparing students to be history professors. We can talk all we want about alt-ac careers, but when it comes down to it, few of them actually require a PhD, and almost none of them need you to have learned as much as I’ve learned about the day-to-day operations of rural 19th century parishes. I learned all that because I wanted to be a history professor, and because that’s what my program trained me to be. I certainly didn’t learn all that because I wanted to find a new career at 35.

I started as a VAP where I currently teach in the fall of 2015 and defended my dissertation that December. I remember feeling really sad at the end of that first month, coming out of the first A&S faculty meeting. I wasn’t sad because I didn’t think I could do the job, I was sad because I realized that I could do it really well. Of course I could do it really well! This was what I had been trained to do. This was what I wanted to do. I was sad because I knew that I might already be on borrowed time – that I probably wouldn’t get to do it for my whole life.

And now I know that I won’t get to do it for my whole life. I probably won’t publish my book, at least not in its current iteration. I won’t teach anymore. I won’t sit on all those committees that I actually wanted to sit on. If that article that’s been under review for seven months ever comes back, I probably won’t do the work to publish it in a prestigious, pay-walled journal. After about half a dozen tries, I finally got accepted to SHEAR, but couldn’t even be happy about it. All the stuff in my head – Emerson’s ideas of vocation, how to interpret what a dean actually means, the collections at MHS I still need to go through, the entire life story of a woman I’ve spent the last eight years researching and writing about – doesn’t matter in the way that I hoped it would matter: as part of a life spent researching, writing, thinking, and teaching as a member of an institution of higher ed and a broader scholarly community.

I’ve been writing this in my head for over a month, and after siphoning off about five other significant arguments that will appear later in this same space, I’m finally making myself put it out there. It’s become too painful to keep up the facade in public (let’s be honest, on Twitter), and I also need to put it out there so I can extinguish the last ember of hope that somehow this has all been a big mistake and I’m actually the recipient of a newly-created named chair in 19th Century American Lady Studies at Literally Any University-Anywhere.

I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know what I’m good for. I don’t know how to come to terms with the fact that I have so much in my head, and so much in my Google Drive, that is basically useless right now. I don’t know how to come to terms with the fact that the life I imagined is not going to happen. I’ve already stopped doing my scholarship, other than editorial work for forthcoming pieces. In a few months, I’ll be done teaching.  I don’t know how to come to terms with never doing those things again.

Most of all, though, I don’t know how to come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably never see most of my colleagues again. I won’t get to work with so many of you that I’d hoped to work with. I won’t even ever get to meet some of you. My friends.

I’ve lost a huge part of my identity, and all of my book learning on identity construction can’t help me now. What hurts the most, in a way, is that my loss has been replicated a thousand times over, and will be replicated a thousand times more, barring some mass rejection of capitalism, and rather than face what that means, we have, as a profession and as people, found ways of dealing with it that largely erase the people we lose, erase their pain and grief, and erase our own.

I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me. I’m not sure what I’m asking you to do. All I know is that it was easier for those few weeks when I didn’t grieve, but it wasn’t honest and it wasn’t ever going to get me to a better place emotionally. I suppose I just wonder what would happen if we, as a community, stopped saying “he’s gone to a better place,” bringing a casserole, and moving on. What would happen if we acknowledged the losses our discipline suffers every year? What would happen if we actually grieved for those losses?

A few final points:

  • No, I don’t want to teach high school, either private or public.
  • No, I don’t want to adjunct or VAP anymore.
  • Yeah, this is a highly emotional piece of writing and paints with a broad brush and you might disagree with a lot of the ways I’ve characterized academia.
  • No, I don’t care that you disagree. My feelings, thank heavens, are not subject to peer-review.

Preview of coming attractions:

  • A list of things I might do with my life, with pros and cons. Hopefully it’ll turn out better than Ross’ list did.
  • How can we have productive conversations about pedagogy when our institutional resources and the economic and cultural resources of our students vary so widely?
  • Why is the response of so many senior scholars to the cult of hyper-productivity just a big shrug emoji? Possible title: “Slow Scholarship For Me, But Not For Thee.”
  • How long have I been, in the words of a friend, shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic? An examination of structure, agency, and luck.

And finally, the part of this post that makes me most uncomfortable. If this or anything else I’ve ever written or tweeted has been interesting or helpful to you, you can buy me a cup of tea: https://ko-fi.com/erinbartram.

_________________________________________________

In response to many of your questions and comments on this piece, I’ve created a list of FAQs with further information and clarification. You can find a list of responses to this piece here.

236 Comments

  1. Dear Erin,

    I am so sorry to read this post, but I understand. I think you’re right: we should mourn our & your loss. I too am sorry we won’t have you as a colleague in the way we had hoped, but I think that if you’re unable or unwilling to keep VAPing or adjuncting, then moving on is the best way forward.

    Peace, & wish I could buy you that cup of tea in person and share it with you–

    Historiann

    • I believe this comment was well-intentioned, but what, exactly would be the point of continuing to VAP and adjunct? The sad truth is that they’re unlikely to yield a TT job, so why make someone feel bad that they’re “unable or unwilling” to continue down that road? No one should take that path unless it truly doesn’t matter if a job is at the end of it.

      Erin, I commend you for everything you’ve done this far and look forward to toasting your future successes! Good for you for recognizing that there are limits, sad limits, but limits on the burdens all of us should be willing to bear or place on others.

      • This is an important, but painful realization. Academia gets far more from you being a vap that you get from the process. I too am sorry you will not be a colleague, and I’ve seen this happen so often in my field. In fact, although I loved Eastern European history, I choose graduate study in psychology mostly because I felt more secure in scientific writing and felt I would be more productive. Mourn your loss now, but know you are far more than the narrow definition afforded to you by academic. You will find your footing with the same passion that brought you this far.

      • > The sad truth is that they’re unlikely to yield a TT job, so why make someone feel bad that they’re “unable or unwilling” to continue down that road?

        Right it’s the sort of thinking that relies on really bad principle of considering sunk costs when deciding the future.

        “I’ve already spend a lot of time doing X, so I should carry on doing X”

      • Hi Erin,
        Thank you for your essay. I am so sorry for your loss and the loss that it represents to your discipline. In large part, I attribute the endless cycle of adjunct appointments that my partner went through (and is currently going through – going on 6 years) to the eventual demise of our marriage, at least in large part. He was in graduate school from 2005-2012, and our kids were born in 2006 and 2010 . It was a very happy time in our lives. We are still good friends, and my grief comes from thinking about how excited we were for the future in those early days.

        • To Mallary, I understand your pain. The amicable divorce that comes from job insecurities coupled with the responsibility of children. Married 1992, children 1994 and 2000, divorce 2012. Still really good friends. He lives in one country and I live in another. If I had just gotten that academic position in 2008 my life would be different.

    • While in high school I considered majoring in history, but opted for mathematics and computer science (I enjoyed just about all academic subjects). After a career as a systems engineer, Member of Tech Staff at Bell Labs, a Peace Corps math teacher, and finally as a Foreign Service Officer for over 25 years, I’ve returned to reading and studying history. Always loved it, and now I get even greater insights than I would have decades ago. Best wishes to you, remember to always be smart, seldom certain. Above all, be flexible and always a lifelong learner, no matter what!

    • Hi Erin,

      That is so tough. You write beautifully. I have a number of friends that earned PhD in history in your situation. You mentioned thinking about pedagogy. Teaching is utterly feasible. https://www.ctohe.org/arc/
      You might be surprisingly happy teaching history in a high school and have three free months in summer and after 4 pm to write. There are many vipers in higher ed. I have been nearly bullied to death in my tenured job.
      I mean real death. Watch Hunting Ground.

    • Hi Erin,

      I just wanted to say, YOU Go GURL! This took real guts! I loved it. I got everything you were saying without overthinking. I am in the same boat. I am so over the rat race, not that the other rat race is any better.

      Good Luck with your transition.

  2. I’m an adjunct and have been applying for full-time academic jobs for over five years without success (over 100 rejections). It sucks a lot. I avoid reading quit-lit because I don’t want to be further demoralized, but I read yours and am glad I did. Shared grief, maybe. (We’re not alone, even though we are?) The academic system is dysfunctional, and it’s not going to get better any time soon in any significant way. I hope things work out for you.

    • I worked as an adjunct for 7 years, and at one point I taught 5 classes a term and made $24,000 a year with no benefits. It sucks. As far as I am concerned its prostitution. I too have been applying for 15 years and nothing, and it is getting worse. I then turned to research grants and managed to survive on that for almost 9 years but that too is drying up because of government oversight. Yes the academic system is dysfunctional, and professors are smug in their jobs and continue to crank out PhDs despite the fact that everyone knows there are no jobs out there. I find that a bit irresponsible.

    • I would urge my fellow PhDs to boycott adjunct positions. They were created to essentially exploit young PhDs. In fact, a while ago, when I saw such openings, I would write to the department chairs of the university to tell them that they should be ashamed of themselves for practicing cannibalism on young PhDs. Of course, the emails were anonymous.
      The fact is, if people continue to apply for these positions, then such exploitative practice will continue …

  3. As someone with a Ph.D. (from the same non-elite institution as you!) who left academia to teach at a private high school, I have truly appreciated your discussions of pedagogy on this site. I keep trying to incorporate your methods into my own teaching. As for your research and focus on the complexity of the individual in the 19th century, I try to do the same in my own teaching of high school juniors. You HAVE made a pedagogical and methodological and contextual difference even if you don’t have the TT gig, or have published in the paywalled journal. So, academia is losing a great “cog” and I hope you find something rewarding to look forward to. Keep writing in this space, though.

    • OMG…. You people sure have a lot to say! And it is kind of strange and pathetic in a sense, don’t ya think? We make choices, deal with the consequences rather good or bad. Stay positive. Life goes on. Believe in God and pray…. Something I should do more of, praying…

  4. Hi Erin,
    I am sorry to read this. I won’t disagree here, and not just because of the admonition in your post, but also because I think your characterization is largely correct. I’m in a similar spot as yours, having sacrificed a lot but never made the tenure track. For my own personal reasons I have elected to stay in this exploitative system but I am often exhausted, bitter, discouraged, and have considered quitting many, many times. I’d like to say that you’ll be happier when you leave academia but then wonder if this, too, is as disingenuous as the system you have accurately critiqued? So all I can really say is that I feel your pain and wish you the best.

  5. I left academia before you did (I was ABD) but a lot about your story feels very familiar to me. I left because I felt there was little hope of getting a tenure-track job the way things seemed to be going, so what was the point of finishing? I cried in the shower for a good half hour the day I finally realized it really was over. Letting go of such a big part of yourself is…well, I hope none of us ever have to go through that experience again. But I especially think your observation about academia acknowledging its losses is well-founded. I’ve never doubted I was smart enough to contribute something worthwhile to the fields I worked in, and I have no doubt the same is true for a lot of us who’ve quit. So many good scholars are being driven out by the current conditions of academia and its something that deserves to be acknowledged, not ignored, by those still there. Anyway, best of luck to you. There are (sadly) many of us who know your pain.

    • As a senior professor, I get angry each time this happens to young, brilliant people like you, Erin. For many years now, I have abstained to recommend an academic career to my students, which breaks my heart. Universities are paying the consequences of greedy global economics. This is a catastrophe.
      You write beautifully, child. With your extraordinary preparation, have you thought of becoming a freelance editor? It would be a good revenge over all those academic reviewers… @Cornerstones, for example, are looking for prepared people for their non-fiction department. Lots of luck.

      • Ok, the author doesn’t need advice. She’s a smart woman who will figure it out (also freelance editing? Seriously?). And “child”? The author is 35. Show some respect.

        This is a beautiful, moving, and important piece. Thanks for writing it.

      • I’m 31 studied History at the undergrad level. It was fun but I was immature, not focused. I smoked dope and was concerned with getting laid. I work crappy jobs now, barely getting by and am, sometimes, filled with regret of my squandered youth. Sometimes I think to myself: “maybe I should earn a MA and PhD, I know I could do it now.” It wasn’t until reading this article that it dawned on me that perhaps smoking dope and getting my BA with a solid B average wasn’t such a bad thing after all…I’ve made peace with my past, as I can’t change it and tomorrow is a new challenge and we all have our work cut out for us. All the best.

  6. I left academia after finishing my PhD in philosophy and knowing I wasn’t in the top top of my field. So I could continue struggling to do what I loved and maybe hope to return to my home state of Idaho or I could choose my different path without going through the grief you are going through.

    I miss it. Not every day anymore. But a lot. It’s hard to explain in my next life who I am, what I am.

    I wish you the best. Because part of what is next is new identity formation.

  7. My story is not quite that, but it’s adjacent enough that I have all the sympathies for the loss and grief.

    In my case, I got an engineering Ph.D., realized close to completion that I wasn’t nearly as confident in wanting an academia career path as I thought I was when I started, and (after finishing) followed up on some random threads from side projects to what I was kind of imagining as a short break to be a programmer. A decade later, I’m still programming, and the papers I was going to write about my dissertation research are still unwritten, and I don’t know if they will be or if that bit of knowledge will just be lost, unfinished. And I wonder, late at night sometimes, whether there was any value in the decade I spent getting the Ph.D.; should I have left sooner? Done something else?

    As I say, it’s not quite the same; for me it was a choice. But I hear your grief, and your loss. And if me reinforcing it is useful: They are real, and valid.

    • Academia–even engineering academia–can be a stinker.

      I started teaching adjunct in engineering just before 9/11 in the same institution I received my MS from. At the instance of my department head, of whom I still think highly, I started my PhD ten years later, because between SACS and ABET the “terminal degree” is pretty much expected. I joked that the “terminal degree” was named such because, by the time you’re done with it, you’re pretty much dead.

      As it turned out, the joke was on me. Our PhD program nearly collapsed when I was halfway through it. I got this degree in part so that I could teach more courses. But our college’s priorities have changed; I’m not asking for a lot (I did well in industry before coming to academia) but the only full-time positions they are hiring are those which will bring income-generating research to the college. That in the face of burgeoning enrollment, my class size has more than doubled in the last two years, and it’s still on an adjunct basis.

      As far as furthering the research of my dissertation, I’ll do the occasional conference paper, but I’ve turned to the website/blog I’ve been maintaining these last two decades to disseminate knowledge in my field. I’m posting stuff relating to it; I learned as a grad student that Google is the first stop in doing research these days. Just click on my name and it will take you there.

      Blessings!

  8. Dear Erin: Publish the book anyway, that’s #1.
    #2, this made me more appreciative of my 35 yrs in academic philosophy–a competitive, gruel-filled grind while at the same time an unexpected success of work, books & honors. ˆ(I always had a math background to fall back on.) In short I should be happier about surviving it (working now as an independent scholar, having left a cushy full prof position to write more/travel more/speak more/run more conferences) instead of feeling, as I tend to, that this was a rather ridiculous way to have spent my life. So thanks.
    #3Have you consulted with all senior people in related areas that you can think of who can advice you? Have read you book?

    • What a stupid, repulsively callous and utterly narcissistic post. “I’ve had the life you dreamed of having, and it’s been great, thanks for reminding me. By the way, I’m going to arrogantly give you useless advice even though you said you don’t want or need anyone’s advice.” Fuck off.

      • Jason MacDougall

        February 27, 2018 at 9:20 am

        Bwahaha. You nailed that one on the head. I think you’ve focussed on the perks of the job (decent salary, summers off, time to read) and missed the negatives. Academics are not trained to work with others for a common goal, nor probably are you. So as a group, academics lack integrity and a moral compass. They have a separate legal system, so they can get away with doing things considered racist, sexist (today, against men of all things), of bigoted in some way (marking down attractive/ugly people, jocks, Republicans, veterans, etc.). The standard of honor is much higher in the business world. Really. It’s not that the business world is great, but that the academic world is so deplorably low. So the dream job that you imagined isn’t so wonderful. You will be treated with more respect by your peers outside of the academic world than within it.

        • Joy Wiltenburg

          April 20, 2018 at 9:24 am

          This criticism of academics as a group strikes me as ridiculous. The grapes really are not as sour as some would like to think. My colleagues are wonderful, dedicated scholars and teachers. (And does it show integrity and moral compass to blast an entire group of people as lacking them?) But as one of the lucky privileged who have a tenured position, I am acutely aware of the gross exploitation of adjunct and temporary faculty (used to be in that situation myself). I’m also very aware of how much I owe my position to luck and not to superior merit, though it’s easier for people to pretend otherwise. I don’t know a solution–unless as a society we reclaim our willingness to invest in learning–other than for people to reject the exploitation as Erin is doing.

      • My friend, you couldn’t have said it any better…

  9. Erin, I’m so sorry.

  10. If it’s any comfort, I also failed and left academia altogether and my brain is doing a splendid job of convincing me I’m better off for it. Now I can hardly remember what I thought was so great about academic life, and I feel no envy of my friends still in it, and although I occasionally grieve for all the work left uncompleted and books in my attic I will never read, actually leaving was more like having a great weight lifted off my shoulders that I wasn’t fully aware I was carrying.

    • I thoughly agree! After 31.5yrs teaching Mostly in New Universities in UK I was headhunted after taking voluntary redundancy by a major Blue Chip Company out of the blue whilst on my way to give an invited research seminar where a former colleague us Head of Dept.
      After a month am feeling very good, no problems adjusting to corporate culture.
      Still researching things learning lots of new “stuff”, missing youngsters a wee bit but not that much, where I work foljs of all ages anyway!
      Message dont regret look fwds to a new life no worries about marking, etc
      Corporate life can be jyst as much fun if not more so, less bitchy toi..
      Good luck!

  11. Hi Erin, we don’t know each other but I found your post via Twitter. I just want to pick up on one thing. You doubt your work can be valuable because noone will pay you to do it. But under capitalism there is no link between social value and what will actually get rewarded. On the contrary, some of the most actively destructive activities attract the highest salaries, e.g. investment banking. Society’s lack of civilisation is no reflection on the innate value of your work, or you. I wish you all the best with what comes next. FWIW, I think you are doing the right thing by walking away. The stories of permanent adjuncts are heartbreaking.

  12. Have you ever thought maybe you’re not getting tenure because you’re yet another yawn inducing insufferable critical theory gender studies prof and there are far too many of those already?

    • “Yawn inducing”? With writing like This? If you’re going to troll, at least make your insults accurate.

    • Dear “Slim pikins” (whoever you are),
      How courageous of you to hide your very weak, almost Trumpian rejoinder under the presumed safety of anonymity. There are so many ways I could rebut your rather contemptible comment, but this will have to suffice: 1) It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying “we need more ‘x’ historians and less ‘y’ historians” but what we should really strive for is a healthy, well-funded academic community where aspiring, talented intellectuals can pursue their passions, whatever they are; 2) your comment betrays an underlying assumption that those who get tenure are pursuing something useful and even more, that this system is meritocratic. If you’re commenting on this post, certainly you must have enough knowledge of the academic system to know that this is not even close to the reality; 3) Erin poured her heart out, eliciting dozens of supportive responses of sympathy and shared sacrifice and you have the nerve to say something like this? Like far too many Trump supporters, it is entirely possible that you really are just a bad person who doesn’t care about others.

      • Real science conforming to the scientific method does not have a problem.

        STEM fields are funded to the brim, good sociologist with applications have no problem with work in the private sector.

        Your work is not valued, because it is USELESS.

        If you are doing valuable history, write books. People will buy it. Do talks.
        Unfortunately, people are not interested in anything with the “gender” prefaced, and for a good reason.

        • I’m sure you’re very nice when you’re not a faceless comment-writer on the internet, but for now you’re painting yourself as a short-sighted asshole. Go away, your comments are useless here.

        • This comment is disappointing, both for its cowardice (insulting someone’s work from behind a pseudonym is best left for peer reviewers) and its ignorance.

          NIH funding rates average 20%. NSF’s funding has been at best flat, and this administration seems eager to reduce it. ARPA-E similarly.

          I work in computer science, which is presumably one of the aforementioned STEM fields? Tenure-track positions frequently have 300+ applicants; good PhD students from the top programs in the world are not getting tenure-track offers. At my institution, an R1 flagship state university, the CS faculty has not actually grown in size over the past 20 years (even as the major has become one of, if not the, most popular major in the university).

          This is not to try to say that we don’t have things better than scholars in the humanities—We absolutely do. But please don’t misrepresent the reality for STEM academics along the way to your misguided political critique.

        • Howard A. Doughty

          February 17, 2018 at 8:55 pm

          Love your method of ensuring anonymity by choosing the false name of Lysenko.

          You do know that he was the biologist in the USSR who clung to the “politically correct” version of Evolution taken from Lamarck which was premised on the notion that plants can “learn” adaptations and pass them along to their progeny.

          The result was a massive decline in agricultural production and the silencing (sometimes permanently in the Gulags) of his critics.

          Your bias against “gender” studies and your easy and “all-cap” insults reveal you to be a kind of Trumpified (ungrammatical) Stalinist.

          A little compassion would be in order for a woman who has plainly endured more disappointment than she (or anyone) deserves and to whom I wish a better and more heartening future.

          As for Lysenko … a powerful combination of arrogance and ignorance will probably win you some victories in this unpleasant time … but you will not deserve them.

        • A lot of women are. But I guess we’re not ‘people’.

      • Comparing this commenter to a Trump supporter is part of the problem.

    • WTF Slim pikins.

    • You forgot “leftist”. And “lesbian”. Sheesh, this one certainly wasn’t paying attention in troll school.

  13. So sorry. I’ve been there, or somewhere very, very close – in my case reality eventually blinked first, and rewarded me with an underpaid job teaching badly at an institution I hated. Even then I was grieving for the future I might have had at the university where I’d temped, which had fairly emphatically declined to make that future happen. I can – just about – imagine how you’re feeling. Give yourself time; it’s the only thing that really helps.

  14. Thank you for thode words. I’ve been reading it today after, like so many times, feeling really griefed about loosing my dreams to stay in science. I have always wanted to be a scientist, and I have worked hard for it. I have gone most of my way on my own, worked hard, sacrificed lots of time with friends, and did not earn as much money as I could have in another field. The same is probably true for most of us.

    Even now, years after I realised that there is no hope to stay in science, I ask myself what I did wrong. I look at my friends and colleagues who got their jobs and wonder what they did differently. It hurts to go to Twitter and see amazing photos of their field research or their newest publications. Today I saw a paper on a topic I researched in my PhD. My paper got rejected from the same journal. It hurts. And it will keep on hurting. It’s hard to explain to non-acqademics. It’s hard for them to understand that I don’t want to do another job. That this was my life.

    If there is something I would wish from my former peers it would be more respect and understanding how hard it is to give up. Those lucky few who made it tend to forget that many talented people haven’t been so lucky. And luck is part of the game.

    To you let me say, you’re not alone. It might not help with the grief, but there are others like you. And we are grieving too. Thank you for giving us a voice. And all the best for your future!

  15. So much of this has resonated with me. I am an early career researcher and am about to be out of contract so am busy with job applications. But mostly I contemplate whether a career in HE is possible, or even desirable anymore. Thank you for sharing your experience. It is good to hear about other people’s experiences of the same system. x

  16. I remember so clearly that feeling of sudden loss. The feeling of the floor dropping away on all my carefully manicured dreams, but also, that maybe somehow I had known it was coming. There was a shadow over that whole period of my life. It felt bleak and shameful, but all the more confusing because part of my shame came from a feeling of relief. I wanted to be an historian. I believe I really did. But I was poor for so long, and say what you will about how all of us do it for the love of history – I spent a decade of my life in wrenching poverty in a major city, and there was no end in sight. I was married. I wanted a family. It was rough and I was, by my own account (though my good friends deny it) just a miserable prick a lot of the time. I wanted history to love me the way I loved it. It didn’t work out that way. We all go through that phaze of feeling like we could have done more, been more, known more. Maybe that’s true. But I knew so much. Long story short, I turned around and threw all my cards in the air and joined the military. I found a new home – certainly less academic and rougher around the edges, but they accepted me. The actually appreciated my talents, and I was surprised every day to found how much history had prepared me for new fields. Most of all, it felt nice to be welcomed. Is that a cop out? The military and the friends I made there led to more opportunities and my new career has been a dramatic success by any objective measure, and my failed academic career is a big part of that. I still feel like a pretender sometimes – don’t they know I’m a failure, after all?

    • I second this. I, too, am a failed academic. I earned a PhD in linguistics and failed to launch any career of note. It was with great reluctance that I got my teaching license and managed to get a job teaching middle school. And I love it. There is a certain joy to be found in simply being valued by your colleagues for the work you do. And without a doubt, a sense of being valued was one thing I never felt when I was scrounging endlessly for adjuncting jobs. I’ve also found that although it is different, the rigor, creativity, and intellectual effort that made my research life fulfilling didn’t just disappear because I left that world–I just direct that energy towards different things now. Like the poster above, I think I’ll always feel a little bit like a failure, but I feel a sense of accomplishment as well.

  17. I feel your story. I am a science PhD who left to work in a private high school.The hardest part was losing my identity …. and wondering what to do with all my accumulated knowledge in my head! I am still trying to figure it out after 18 months. Thanks for your post – it’s real:)

    • Jason MacDougall

      February 27, 2018 at 9:40 am

      Well said. Me too. The problem is that if you knew where to go to help people with what you know, you’d be doing it now. We weren’t taught that. So we’re flailing around trying to find something, but we don’t know where that thing is. So I fell back on things that I knew in the past, but I feel empty. I think the solution is to do something that I’ve never done before – just to be different. Maybe a new job will give me new perspective and break my unrewarding viewpoint. But how do you do something you’ve never done before?

  18. Dear Erin,

    Thank you for writing that.

  19. Thanks for your post, Erin. I completely agree and it SUCKS. Three years ago I had spinal surgery and as a result my life has dramatically changed: I can longer play badminton (I played competitively and trained 5 times a week), I can no longer horse ride, and, ultimately, I cannot get through a day at the moment without chronic pain in spite of being drugged up on prescription medications. I subsequntly put everything into my PhD, which I started a few months before my operation. I took on roles in societies and journals. About 6 months ago my supervisor advised me not to go down the route of an academic career because I’m dyslexic and would struggle too much. I, too, feel like my identity has been completely stripped from me in all ways. I have had to take time out of my PhD due to my back problems and I don’t even see the point of finishing at the moment. I just feel the last 3 years have been a waste of my time.
    I do hope things look up for you and I look forward to reading more posts.

  20. Dear Erin,
    I see you are a true and good scholar: you cut through all detritus and find the – painful – truth. And what else can I say that the people here haven’t already said? #MeToo?
    I hope you find a place where you can live and buy groceries and do some work that is meaningful to you (though of course it will likely be WORK to do it most of the time. I have found some resolution — after too long — and the architecture I built in my mind is my gift to myself at the end of the day. All best wishes for a safe landing.
    Leanna Loomer
    BFA. MA, MFA

  21. (found your post via twitter) I dealt with something similar – and your experience really resonates. My diss proposal was rejected and because of new time limits in my PhD program, I was dismissed from the program. Getting a PhD in psychology was what I had wanted for forever. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I lost my funding and was so ashamed, I told no one. I found a job adjuncting, but I felt so badly about myself -and it was so hard being around people working towards the degree I couldn’t have, I just did abysmally. I avoided anything related to my field after that – I didn’t read the literature – I couldn’t even go to the psych section of bookstores.

    I felt a need to get therapy, but again couldn’t stand to be around people who had what I couldn’t. I never really found my way, exactly. I know some people who left or were dismissed from my program who ended up finding really good and interesting jobs and who seem pretty fulfilled. I never was able to do that.

    Things turned around for me and I now have my PhD and am an NIH-funded postdoc at an Ivy – but that failure still weighs heavily and intensifies my already intense imposter syndrome. It’s hard for me to see myself in the future and figure out what I want to do after the postdoc because for so long, I thought none of the things that are currently options for me were at all possible.

    All of that is to say that I really resonate with what you have written – and I really hope you find a path that is fulfilling and invigorating.

  22. If it’s any consolation, I went through this roughly 8 years ago, managed to get a job in publishing ( it took 16 applications, 5 interviews, 2 job offers in 3 months, compared with a much longer list of applications and rejections in the 3 years previous, after receiving my doctorate). And I’m so much happier now. I hope you feel the same soon.

  23. “I don’t know what I’m good for”; same. Finished my PhD in 2014 and it was like walking off a cliff. Academia played a role in wrecking my mental health also. I may not know what I’m good for, but I find it hard to believe now that academia is good for anything. Best of luck in the real world.

  24. I know you aren’t interested in disagreement, and I’m not sure if you believe this yourself, but let me take issue with one line, if I may: “If I’d been smarter, or published more, or worked harder, or had a better elevator pitch – if my brain had just been better, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”

    This is almost certainly not true. The line that separates those-with-jobs and those-without in this line of work is razor thin, because there aren’t that many jobs in the first place and there is a huge pool of applicants. So ultimately a lot of sheer luck is involved. And the reason that some people have jobs and some people don’t is fairly arbitrary — Just the right job opened up, because the department thought it needed someone to teach X. Just the right person was on the committee, and was able to convince others of their idiosyncratic opinion. Just the right person happened to tell another person about the job, bringing a hitherto unseen opportunity up. And so on. I know plenty of uninventive and unenthusiastic scholars who somehow lucked into TT jobs, I know plenty of creative and brilliant and hard-working people who didn’t. It’s a total crap shoot, and anyone who suggests that “the cream rises to the top” has to figure out how to reconcile that with the fact that they can instantly name tenured colleagues whom they think are fools, charlatans, and just nasty pieces of work.

    I’ve felt this in my own career. I was on the “wrong” side of that line for awhile as well, and then just as suddenly, I wasn’t. I had a job and suddenly everyone re-wrote their narrative about me, I became one of the elect and chosen. But that difference, I knew (because of an indiscreet dean) wasn’t any profound one. Just the thinnest of distinctions that happened to work out in my favor, and could have easily not worked out in my favor. And, of course, in this zero-sum game, it working out in my favor meant that it didn’t work out in the favor of others. Is that a tinge of survivor’s guilt? Certainly.

    For whatever it is worth, the entire experience of the job market convinced me that I never wanted to produce PhDs of my own — that I couldn’t bear to put others in such a position when the job opportunities were so thin on the ground. In my subfield of history there are maybe six “real” TT jobs per year; in a recent search we had well over 100 solid applicants, and the top 20 or so were all equally stellar. I do indeed, as you note, pitch the reason to study history as about skills other than becoming a historian, because while the job of an academic is in many ways pretty wonderful, you might as well be telling people to set their hopes on winning the lottery.

    This is not the sign of failed applicants, who did nothing wrong (and pretty much all smart enough, hard workers, had good-enough elevator pitches, etc., to do the job well-enough, at least as much as one can ever know that from an application), it is a sign of a failing system. There is no way that a system so constructed, with an overproduction of PhDs unmatched by its market, can possibly not produce a disproportionate amount of pain.

  25. 20 years later…a moldy few boxes of books in the attic and a couple of career changes… it gets better. A lot better. And wow does the income stability (and higher potential) have its benefits! Grieve. Mourn. And yes it may take years. But it gets better. (The sooner you come up with pat answers for why you don’t want to teach HS or adjunct, the easier life will be. If you’ve never considered working with an executive or life coach, whatever you’ve thought of them in the past, ideal time)

  26. Hi Dr. Bartram,

    I found your essay on Twitter, and related to some of it: the desire to stay in an intellectual field, the acute sense of rejection from the way the process is structured, and the ambivalence of “What now?” I left academia during graduate school, so I didn’t go through the PhD process, nor did I experience the the job search. I’m about five years past my exit.

    I wanted to share one thing that’s become clear to me, with a bit of distance, is that academia is a dominance machine masquerading as an intellectual one. That’s not to say it isn’t intellectual, but the sea of paywalls, reputation-driven programs, and expensive books adds a lot of barriers to the knowledge being accessible to the rest of society – and the rest of society is largely clever enough to understand it. If academia were truly an intellectual venture first, it would structure itself in a way as not to be so obsessed with prestige. It lies to itself and it lies to the people in it, creating a scarcity that needn’t have existed, and blaming the people who get squeezed out. It wouldn’t be so painful to its participants.

    I’ve found, off in the so-called real world, there’s a lot of need for original thinkers who spend time with difficult ideas. Academia is not serving society in this way because it’s too preoccupied with its own prestige and exclusiveness to fulfill that role. More accessible writing does. Literary writing does. I’ve found there can be a very vibrant intellectual community outside of academia that feels more open and more inspiring than what is inside. I’ve found that academia itself is very narrow-minded in how it conceives of how to be an intellectual, how to engage intellectual life, and that narrowness is very self-serving.

    Instead of academic sociology, I’m doing research to better homelessness services in the community. I engage my area’s urban planners and journalists – sometimes even on Twitter- about the issues I care about; my ideas have made a couple concrete changes in the city because I thought about something differently than others were. I don’t think being a professor would have let me do that, to be honest.

    It is my strong suspicion that, once you’re further into the very real grieving process that I hope you take the time and give yourself permission to process, you’ll see this decision you’re making as a favor to yourself. I suspect you’ll see this decision as the moment where you opened yourself to some profound professional growth. There is a place for you. You will find it.

    I wish you only the best.

    Sincerely,
    Christine Slocum
    Buffalo, NY

    • Thank you for this.

    • Beautifully voiced Christine. I will send the whole article to a friend who retired early from academia, and highlight in particular your response.

      Someone else commented that they came to realize their PhD program had, “built the architecture of their mind,” which could be applied well beyond their field of study. That remains when other hopes defined in ‘absolutes’ fade.

  27. I totally appreciate this but you are giving up when you only defended your thesis 2 years ago? I understand one has had enough when one has had enough but still.

    • Because insurance and rent and food cost money. Ajuncting does not pay enough for those things. It’s not like she can just stop needing food or shelter while she keeps applying for jobs.

    • Erin Bartram

      February 13, 2018 at 11:15 am

      Three turns on the job market, in my field, is quite enough to know whether you’re going to make it. Most people who get a TT job do so right as they defend; they rarely get more hireable as they go along.

  28. I left a tenured librarian position in academia due to opposition from my colleagues rooted in territorialism that made it impossible for me to do the work I loved. Specifically I lost the chance to organize and develop a large collection that I had envisioned as my life’s work. Sympathetic colleagues bemoaned my unfair treatment but couldn’t do anything to help without risking their own positions. The dean was part of the problem and the provost minimized the issue and didn’t help. I grieved a long time before quitting and continue to grieve over 2 years after leaving. At 51 I am reluctant to start over elsewhere in academia. I now work part time at in the field at an interesting and supportive institution. I remain hopeful but not optimistic that one day I will feel again about a project as I did about that collection I lost. People do not understand, really, how I feel but that’s okay. I’m kind of glad for them that they don’t. You use the word “never” a lot in your piece above and I think I understand that that is the process of letting go of platitudes and fantasy. But it isn’t a full picture of reality either since it truncates possibility. For me, remaining open to the possible without orchestrating it has been a less depressing attitude.

  29. I abandoned a half-finished dissertation. So many of my friends who had already finished were forced to move across the country every year or two to the next VAP gig. And I was at an “elite” institution. I saw the writing on the wall and couldn’t muster the motivation–and boy did I try.

    This resonated with me. Thanks for sharing. I also have no idea what I’m going to do.

    I will say that I want revenge. Badly. Against the corrupt finance vultures and MBAs who have destroyed higher education in this country. I don’t know yet how to get it, and I’m pretty sure it’s not just the anger step in the grieving process or whatever.

  30. Erin,
    I am sorry to read about the situation you face at the moment. However, in writing this you have done many like me a favour by putting it in words. I appreciate this bit. When I read “I don’t care that you disagree. My feelings, thank heavens, are not subject to peer-review.”, I sense a heartening resilience and defiance. Thank you for writing this and I hope things look up for you (in ways that you want them to) soon enough.

  31. Hi Erin,

    I enjoyed reading your post. You shouldn’t feel bad about what is a system problem not a personal problem. It’s not your fault that academia is premised on the selling of a lie, and runs on the continuing use of free labor of adjuncts and low-paid staff, labor which it cannot reciprocate with any kind of meaningful reward.

    But isn’t the problem far bigger than this? The fact that Western societies, as a rule, only allow roughly 20% of people to have intellectually stimulating work, and relegates the remaining 80% to work that is intellectually dead, is surely the bigger problem. (This is Michael Albert’s idea of the “coordinator class”.)

    Many people who take PhDs expect to gain tenure-track status, as you did – but they also expect to gain access to this class of people with intellectually stimulating work, the 20%. And isn’t this desire itself fundamentally unjust? If we more equal societies – then how we distribute “crap” work and “fulfilling” work would seem to be a question which will only increase in importance in the coming years.

  32. “We don’t want these people to go and we don’t want to lose all the ideas floating around in their heads, so we say “Please give us those ideas, at least. Please stay with us just a little bit.” But we’re also asking people to stay tethered to a community of scholars that has, in many ways, rejected them, and furthermore, asking them to continue contributing the fruits of their labor which we will only consider rigorous enough to cite if they’re published in the most inaccessible and least financially-rewarding ways.”–
    this is really profound. “tethering” is the right word and it feels exploitative and painful for sure. Thank you.

  33. Thanks for sharing your story here. It reminds me of mine, a lot. My academic “career” petered out with some adjunct gigs in the Boston area almost 20 years ago. By the way, I am in awe of people who can put up with years–decades, even–of the intensely shitty life known as adjunct teaching, at least the one I found. I couldn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t.
    You sound like you have an admirably clear sense of what you’re going through, but I would also recommend at least considering going to a therapist. It helped me a lot; in fact, that’s how I learned I was grieving the death of the academic I had spent a decade preparing to be, and never would become.
    Things worked out all right for me, partially because at the time I left academia the high tech industry was booming here, and you almost couldn’t walk down the street without someone offering you a job. That was luck, but I accepted it happily, as compensation for the bad luck that had befallen (and clearly still afflicts) higher education.
    I admire your honesty and courage in writing this. I won’t give you advice, as the world has changed far too much since my day, but I do sincerely wish you the best of luck.

    • John H. we have similar stories from the same metro area and same time frame. But I was probably older than you so it took a little longer to ramp up in IT. It has been a rich and rewarding career since then. One of the big bonuses of the change is that I can now buy the books in my previous academic areas without guilt and I have the time to mentor internationally occasionally. If a position were to drop out of the sky even today, I’d still walk away.

  34. I have so much time to say, because your piece made me feel so much, and at the same time, I have few words with which to speak those feelings. So, I’ll just say thank you: for your honesty, your emotionality, your ability to recognize and articulate the very real grief involved here, and your striking acknowledgment of the way that the grief gets turned around and reworked by those “left behind” so that they can bury or deny or ignore or look past (or all of these) that loss.

    Thank you.

  35. Typo. Should read *If we want more equal societies…*

  36. Thank you for writing this. I “left” under different circumstances (forced out by an advisor halfway through my dissertation after she decided to trade me for a higher-potential first-year), and even all these years later, I’m still processesing and trying to find something to do with myself that is fulfilling. I’m supposed to feel lucky and happy with the pretty good job I have that I’m pretty good at, but it isn’t being a historian, so kind of what’s the point. I really appreciate your point of view here, and your honesty with how you’re feeling.

  37. Pull yourself togethet and start a career as teacher. Your experiences from research will come in handy to the benefit of the next generation.

  38. I just found you on twitter, someone retweeted you and I felt compelled to read your article. It resonates on so many levels. Our stories are similar, mine is in health care and I have been let down and betrayed on my attempts at a career track, started a new life and literally got burned out of a job and housing in one of the seemingly endless fires in California. My prayer was distilled into HELP, as I was forced to couch surfing for over a year. My solution was to join the Peace Corps as a career starter, it gave me a breather, allowed me to live and explore interests in my down time and will help me find employment afterwards. Think about it, you can be an English teacher for a population who will adore you like you have never been adored before. It also might get you the position you deserve. It is good to grieve, good that you shared this sentiment. Know you are not alone

  39. This was my first year knowingly not-engaging with academia. After three years on the job market with interviews not going anywhere and little personal wealth to continue being a part of conferences or paying for subscriptions to the journals in my field, I knew my window of opportunity had largely lapsed. I was especially struck by your observation of how quickly all of my knowledge, even my personal library, immediately became “useless.” I struggle a lot with the guilt of not being “better,” but I know enough to intellectually know that the people rejecting me were less qualified when they began their careers 10-20 years ago than I am. The failure is not us. It’s the system. I’d hard to mourn this loss of identity and not take it personally, but my hope for you is that it gets easier.

  40. Erin,

    I was deeply touched by your wonderful, melancholy post. I have a PhD in Divinity from Edinburgh, which I’m not sure is elite or not. The thing is that while doing the PhD (awarded in 2014) and through now I have been continuously employed but as a minister and missionary in the Anglican Church, which means I always had a steady if humble income (probably similar to yours as an associate professor). But I, in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther, have always tried to keep one foot in the world of academia–teaching “The God Class” (think “Survey of the Christian Faith”) here, “Intro to Philosophy” and “Bible as Lit” there. Most recently my cutting edge research into the lived theology of converts from Islam to Christianity led to teaching–wait for it–“Research and Composition”. Two years ago I was asked to consider moving to Spain to plant a church here and do some other stuff. With a wife and three young kids it was a big ask. Sharon and I prayed about it. I felt like I had to really investigate all options in higher ed before committing to such a move and so I did. I did the CVs and teaching statements (“I don’t even know what that means!” –Pinkie Pie, My Little Pony, sorry for not using Chicago….), I did the “make a video and send it to us…” I did the interviews via Skype or what have you. I did the hours of composing a detailed custom q&a document because I had made it to “the last round”–and that while in Mexico for a wedding of a friend from middle school. Some people encouraged me, saying that my area of research (ex-Muslims) was so avant garde, who could resist? Others said that my main area of research was politically incorrect, as it implied that maybe something was lacking in Islam. Anyway, like you, nothing. Enormous amounts of time. Enormous amounts of energy. My story is different, though, because for me that served as confirmation that God (the same one my Catholic sisters form the 19th Century were concerned with) was calling us to Spain, where we have now been for half a year. But I did feel that hurt, especially at first. Some positions I didn’t care about. But a few of them just seemed…so good. Like such a right fit. Also, I have friends from Edinburgh who, like you, felt that calling–that vocation–to be a professor, but have not been able to secure those positions. So what you wrote touched me. I don’t know the answers either, but I do know there is something deeply flawed in higher ed in the USA today. There is something evil in telling everyone they must go to college, for it makes the BA or BS little more than the high school degree of yesteryear. There is something foolish in the proliferation of administrative positions in the American university while the number of professors remains more or less stagnant. There is some transgression in practically forcing young people to accrue large amounts of debt so that they will not be able to move out, get married, and have kids if they so wish. In sum, I do not offer any advice, but I offer compassion–a ‘suffering with’–though not to the full extent that you have suffered. It is limited. But it is real.

  41. Historian-No-More

    February 12, 2018 at 1:17 pm

    I don’t have words of comfort or guidance for you, Erin. All I can offer is my solidarity. I understand what you are going through, having made the decision to close my own laptop up for the last time 2 years ago. I just wanted you to know that I appreciate how candid you have been and that even though I don’t have anything substantial to offer you, I stand with you. I’ve been there too, so although it’s no small comfort, you are not alone. Solidarity.

  42. I was laid off after 10 years of teaching at a private university. Started domestic and international programs for this university. I put my tenure-track search on hold as I was promised (although never in writing) that my one-year contract would be renewed every year, and I had no need to worry about my academic future. Then, change of leadership occurred; I had nothing in writing from previous administrators; and no one, not even my colleagues of 10 years, stood up for me… I left. I went through all the stages of grief… but, I still applied for tenure-track jobs which won’t happen, and I know it. So, what’s next? I take it a day at a time; I miss my students; I miss interacting with young minds. I don’t miss my colleagues at all (they were so disappointing)… and I don’t miss those administrators… I gave 25 years to academia (graduate school; adjunct positions; multiple campuses teaching positions at the same time…). I don’t regret it, but I also know it’s time to move on. What I have and what I know is “mine” to keep for the rest of my days. My only hope is to be able to let go of resentment and other negative feelings soon.
    I have my books; and I have my research; and I’m pursuing it in a different way. I haven’t had a pay check in 8 months, and my pride hurts. I’m thankful I have a very supportive husband and a tight-knit family that loves me for who I am.
    I’m not optimistic about the future of academia; but I know you are a fighter and a survivor… we all are.

  43. McDonald’s is always hiring. Though, as you majored in history, you probably already knew that…

  44. So many sympathies and so much solidarity.

    I want to gently push back on what you said here:
    <>

    Is it possible that you’re giving the market more credit for being a rational arbiter of value than it deserves?

    I hope that you do publish your work someday, and that being freed from some of the particular constraints of the academic market, you might find an even larger audience.

    The value of your work may have more ripple effects than you know.

    • (Sorry, the quote that got taken out is “Valuable to whom? To whom would the value of my labor accrue? And not to be too petty, but if it were so valuable, then why wouldn’t anyone pay me a stable living wage to do it?”)

  45. You have written so much of what is in my heart. I thank you for the INCREDIBLE COURAGE writing this must have taken, both personal and professional. I wish I could think of a more academically elegant way to express my feelings but as what you have written is so close to my own current experience, I cannot, as it’s too close. All I can say is thank you and that I’ll be watching this space. And I would love to buy you a tea sometime.

  46. Thank you. I don’t know you (I saw this on Twitter), but you summed up me from last December. I have a Ph.D. in English Renaissance Lit. Last year, when I had the luxury of a one-year research fellowship, was my last time to throw my name in the job lottery.

    I don’t regret leaving a system that took so much and gave nothing in return, but I grieve for the dream very much. You’ve helped me put words to it. Again, thank you.

  47. Dear Erin,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on academic exploitation and the work of grieving. Due to meager budgets and lack of institutional support, every year the humanities loses its best resources — highly-trained people, like yourself, who will no longer contribute their research, teaching, and service to the profession. It is clear that whether our PhDs leave academia or remain in non-TT positions, everyone in academia loses. (As you know, most non-TT faculty do not have enough time, incentive, and financial compensation to use their specialized knowledge and skills.) TT scholars could benefit enormously from generating more public and institutional support for their work (thereby creating more TT jobs and making possible good compensation for non-TT scholars). Some people say that writing for the public and participating in outreach programs are the places to start. As for grief — I do grieve the students with doctorates who did not find the jobs that they wanted and the TT assistant professors who were not tenured. I don’t think grief is enough. Humanities professors need to be more vocal and more organized, but many of us are simply too exhausted to do more than we already are doing.

  48. Tremendous sympathy. I have a PhD in English and followed an almost identical professional trajectory — VAP for a few years, then left. I have friends who have, honestly, intimidating publication records already — who were in the same sinking boat as me, and are still treading water now. And I know lots of senior faculty who wring their hands, but seem not to grasp that this isn’t just a staggering accumulation of personal misfortunes. It is a massive trauma to the entire discipline.

    I took a middle path that I thought would allow me to continue doing some research; I work at a major academic library now and am involved in collaborations with faculty on projects I care about. But the incentive structure is totally different. It’s helpful to me even now, years after leaving, to see someone say “I don’t owe anyone this book.” I literally don’t — I would get zero professional benefit from writing it — and yet I feel not simply a sense of regret but a sense of actual guilt when I consider that I will probably never have time to return to it.

    So — thank you for writing this.

  49. Nicholas B Taylor

    February 12, 2018 at 5:50 pm

    I don’t have a HUGE amount of sympathy because I spent my career working somewhat precariously from project to project in a consultancy, and only two years before ‘retirement’ was awarded a (self-funded) PhD in a mathematical subject. I am now more ‘academic’ and less stressed than ever, but just as busy. This could be short lived, but I am grateful for the confidence of my peers that I never expected. In the end, it is up to oneself to judge what is of value and pursue it, but there isn’t and never has been much room at the top of impact.

  50. Not a historian (philosophy) but I can completely identify with your situation. I spent 15 years in my discipline, (yes shocking isn’t) doing my postgrad – teaching undergraduates, doing all the odd jobs for departments, the tough, thankless ones – I loved my discipline to death. And then one day it all came crashing down. I realized I would never get a job, and I couldn’t afford to live hand to mouth poverty any more. I also knew that my discipline was the only thing I was trained for and I absolutely loathed working for others in meaningless occupations full of not very bright people. I was extremely depressed for a couple of years. Eventually, some of the pain passed and I have been able to create a tangential identity in a micro business that allows me to go on and even be sort of happy. I don’t think academia recognizes the misery it creates in those who fall. It certainly does not prepare graduates for this outcome. Loved your piece – you are not alone.

  51. Fanon said, “What matters is not to know the world but to change it.” The process of obtaining a PhD teach one valuable skills that can be tweaked and applied in thousands of ways you haven’t thought of that would also provide you with satisfaction and sustenance. One of my professor’s PhD was in zoology—but he taught molecular biology, light years different. A PhD, he said, only taught one how to learn, and molecular biology was his 3rd or 4th field of expertise. I have no doubt that you will apply both your specific knowledge and learning skills to your future endeavors. I never went past an MS and never worked in the field, but the knowledge and skills have always been useful. Yours will be also, Erin.

  52. I had a very similar experience. I had an article under review at a journal for two years, if you can believe that.

    When colleagues encouraged me to publish my work without institutional support, it always felt like they were telling me to allow the system to extract the greatest possible value from my scholarship without expecting any compensation. Ideas aren’t just airy, abstract things – they’re connected to working, suffering bodies.

    I ended up leaving, and now get paid exponentially more for doing work that I care about much less. Overall, my life is better for it.

  53. Denice (ice queen)

    February 12, 2018 at 8:12 pm

    Erin, academia broke my heart in a similar way. I didn’t hang in as long as you have, I wish I had your stamina. Practicing doing the thing we love is doing the thing we love. If you have to walk away from it now, that doesn’t make the time you spent doing it mean any less. You will figure something out, and it’s good to take time to grieve. I have felt, and sometimes still feel a feeling similar to what I imagine you are feeling, and I wish you the best in finding your way through it.

  54. Erin,
    I wish you all the luck in whatever the future holds. I got you two cups of coffee/tea so you can invite a friend out and just have a few moments of companionship.

  55. Thanks for sharing your emotions, so I hope this is a space where I can share mine as well because I’m fucking angry.

    I left my PhD program with a terminal Masters because GWU doesn’t fund all of the PhD students they accept and 21 year old me thought it would be okay in the end. $100,000 in student loans later, it wasn’t. I thought I’d go back to finish my PhD, obviously. I applied to a new set of graduate schools and got waitlisted at my top choice, but didn’t get in. The next year I applied to a few less and was accepted to an MA program (in a degree I already had an MA). I had to face the facts and stop applying. I don’t know how long it is going to take me to pay those loans off, and I don’t work in a field that is worth it.

    I have a full time, well paid and generous benefits job in university administration now. I’m using other natural talents of mine that I didn’t use in academia before to do a job that absolutely has no need for a Masters, let alone one done in a PhD program level of intensity.

    But recently, I was given the opportunity to adjunct at the local community college. And I felt your essay so hard – because once I stepped into the classroom, I KNEW I was GOOD at teaching. I’m inspired by my students and we’re having such rich conversations in the sad, brutalist walls of the main building. But that imposter syndrome is right there on the edge, because I don’t deserve this. I have so many of my grad school friends on Facebook talking about their students at UCLA and their recently published books, so I don’t deserve to find joy in being addressed as a faculty member. I just have an MA, not a PhD – I’m an imposter.

    I made the mistake of sharing this sentiment of the mix of pride and shame on Facebook. People from every period of my life – high school, family, sports friends, study abroad, undergrad, randos, you name it – gave encouragement. Everyone except one group of people. Not a SINGLE friend from grad school interacted with the post in any way, shape or form. These same people are boo-hoo-ing all over Facebook with your post now and I’m fucking angry. Not at you. Thank the mother for your open and genuine share. I’m angry that they’re over here opining the state of academia when they can’t show that compassion to someone they know themselves.

    I’m sorry if this has no place on your comments. I don’t trust them to share this on my own wall. Hell, I don’t trust myself to say anything than with this psuedonymic post.

    Grieve. Be Mad. Post more like this. You are worth it and you deserve it. Also, you have my email now if you want to reach out about working in university administration haha.

    • Impostor syndrome is hard — and I say that from firsthand knowledge.

      It sounds like your students are immensely lucky to have you as one of their teachers, and on their behalf, thank you for fighting through the impostor syndrome to be there for them.

  56. I am one of the lucky ones: tenured at an R1. I grieve, though, for the many doctoral students who end up like you, adrift after so many years of hard work and so many close calls on the job market. What frustrates me most is the extent to which tenured faculty have lost — or, perhaps, abdicated — the ability to solve the problem. We can’t grant new faculty lines or raise instructional budgets; we can’t stomp our feet at each newly created dean position that pays what three assistant professors might earn, and at my institution we can’t even cease admitting a certain number of graduate students, mainly because they are needed as cheap labor but also because a too-small graduate program would mean that doctoral seminars would become too small to run.

    • “we can’t even cease admitting a certain number of graduate students, mainly because they are needed as cheap labor but also because a too-small graduate program would mean that doctoral seminars would become too small to run.”

      And? Would that be a bad thing if the doctoral program at your institution was discontinued? To be honest I am a bit tired of tenured professors at R1s not taking any responsibility for the situation. I don’t mean to blame you in particular, but perhaps it’s high time profs at R1s, especially tenured, start refusing to admit new grad students. You are lucky to be at the top of the Ponzi scheme (or is it an inverted funnel?). Stop trying to protect your profits by getting people in your down line… it’s selfish and destructive for those students

  57. After 19 years of being a student in high school I had the measles. Now I can’t have kids. In college drugs from the college body tried to make me dumb. Someone tried to assassinate me for doing my homework in my dorm room. Believe me! it took an antidean to encourage me to live. Good luck there’s more going on outside than meets the eye.

  58. Can only repeat a copious thanks for this. PhD in 2010, did the VAP circuit a while, burned out, no TT job. Fell into adjuncting while trying to regroup. Four years later I’m still regrouping. This is how people get “stuck” in adjuncting. There’s something weird about the energy you expend in teaching that even though you are not on a strict 40-hr-week schedule, it’s very hard to gear yourself into looking at a career change.
    I’ve tried psych counseling AND career counseling and neither had much helped. Have run into the same issues even with those – people outside the experience do not at all understand what it’s like, and even the well-intentioned say stupid unhelpful things.
    It’s been a looooong haul for me since I started my 1st grad degree.. The longer and more intensely your identity was tied to something — a career path, a community, a marriage, a religion, whatever — the longer the grieving period will be when it ends. It just is. Through the years of different grad degrees, a few full-time non-TT jobs between doing the degrees, and the VAPs after, I’ve been in this racket for over 22 years. That’s why it’s hard to stop. (And yes, of course, I love teaching. I MUST — I’ve come through some pretty grisly stuff in this biz.)
    What I worry about now is retirement. I haven’t been able to save anything and live hand-to-mouth, like Americans with half my level of ed. Whenever I hit some inevitable health crisis, or if my rent gets jacked up heavily, or whatever, I’m f–ed. I have a few avenues I’m pursuing, but also, yeah, taking it one day at a time.
    As to the back that higher ed is rotting from within? Well, that’s only going to get worse. This country is so enormous and stuck in the mud about so many things that things have to get and be VERY bad fora LONG time before anyone takes it seriously.
    Yet if there is a lot of “quit lit” for academics, hopefully we can maybe generate some “warning lit.” I SO want to get the word out to people thinking of trying to go into academia: DON’T. It’s a corrupt system, and it breaks people.
    Don’t, don’t, don’t try to go into academia, and DON’T fall into adjuncting. — That’s what I want to keep screaming! Even though I have loved my work, I want to run screaming down the street waving my arms, warning people never, ever to drink the Kool-Aid about academia, Never try to go into academia.

    • I totally agree that there needs to be far more warning and realistic forecasting given to undergrads who are thinking of going down the postgrad-academic route. It can be such a trap. It takes such a long time and so much effort even to find a totally different job after a PhD, not to mention to find a TT one.

  59. I found, when I was going through what you are going through, that I thought what I said as I left academia was something like particles of me left behind as I entered a black hole, messages that might be read in the academy, but that I would never know what they meant in the world I was leaving.

    What I quickly found was that outside the academy my skills and education were respected as things in themselves, beyond their contribution to the world of academic discourse. It was refreshing and encouraging. I hope you find the same, and expect that you will.

    • This is what I’ve found too. I transmutated, and came out looking and feeling better in a new dimension. There are many things that a self-teacher and self-starter can do, and there are places where you will be valued.

      On the other hand, there is a vast world of precarious labor outside of the academy as well. These problems are linked. Many comments seem to propose individual blame and individual solutions, but we really need a revitalization of the public sector. So much potential is being wasted because people can’t find the funders to do things that aren’t extractive capitalism.

  60. Erin,
    I read your essay and it brought back some painful memories and an insight I hope you can use.
    I’m not in academia. BA in journalism and history. Perfect for the mind yearning to study history and write. Worked as a writer for a short time but came to painful realization that writing jobs weren’t going to pay the bills and I like to eat and stay warm! My writing moved one step back and my thirst for history became a driving force for a hobby (and a full library room of books) as I took a job in a medical clinic. Wow, good pay and medical benefits, too!
    Over the next years at this private clinic, I moved to a position that allowed me use my writing talent as a software trainer/superuser for our growing group. Certainly not what I had planned on doing as a college graduate at 21, but my income allowed my family to live comfortably. Fast forward- After celebrating my 35th year, I was laid off, along with the rest of department. If you have only read/heard a small part of the shift in dynamics in the medical field then you know that the health care industry sucks! Sorry, I couldn’t come up with a more intelligent word! My job was outsourced overseas. Thirty-five years. Thirty-five years with the little clinic that grew, treated me like family, allowed me to use my talents, brought me forward into each new move to a larger and larger company and a merger with a hospital. We knew changes were fast approaching.
    I kept it all together at the termination meeting, amazed at the 6 month severance package. I signed papers and walked out and into my husband’s arms and sobbed. It wasn’t my calling or my dream job. It was, however, my way to make a living, and to some extent, it had become who I was. And I wasn’t wanted. It hurt like hell. I was 59. Luckily, my husband was the major breadwinner and the generous severance package gave me some time. I gave myself one month. I cleaned closets, spent valuable time with people I love , antiques shopped until I become a regular on the shopping circuit and pulled out my writing. Writing saved me through the moments of the day when my anger grabbed my heart. I didn’t want to be angry and I was tired of crying. I felt betrayed and lost and scared. But my writing found a new note and helped me discover something very critical to happiness.
    Believe me, I looked outside the medical field for a job, but with my experience in medical billing and computers, it was impossible to turn down a job that fell into my lap. Two years later, I’m happy and work with 5 of the funniest women. I landed on my feet, to be sure.
    In 3.4 years I’m tiring, and my husband is retiring in 17 months. We’ve worked hard, put our daughter through college with no student loan debt, paid off our house, and hope, God willing, to enjoy a long life of joy, travel, learning, reading books and writing. A lot of writing- it’s who I am.
    I realize that you are disappointed and angry. I was , also, but too scared to acknowledge it at the time. But don’t let this stop you from learning and seeking out what your heart and head desire. Choose what YOU NEED to do, to be happy. All that knowledge in your head? Use what you have learned. If your heart isn’t into writing that book, then don’t. You aren’t confined to a narrow path now. But if, one day, your thoughts keep retiring to your work, then jump in with both feet!
    Academia has gone the way of the medical field – inflexible, costly, and top heavy in management. But you have a gift. Find the place for that gift to thrive.
    My writing lesson?? My job isn’t ME. It’s what I do. I’m a hell of a lot more than my job description.
    Regardless of what your degree says, you are More. Regardless of what you do, it will be with a rich experience that will help you in the future.
    My father always told me that I have the greatest power in the world. I couldn’t change what other people did in the world but I had the power to change myself. That advice has never let me down. It’s moved me forward.
    Best wishes for your future, Erin. I have no doubt you will thrive!

  61. Thank you so much for writing this. It made me feel less alone in this thing.

  62. Thank you for this. I effectively left in 2012 (right after getting my PhD) and came back in 2014 under very, VERY different circumstances, and I remember feeling so much of what you’re describing in this post, especially the part about loss of identity and community. I hope you’re able to find work and a life outside of work that’s meaningful and fulfilling for you (and yes, that pays you a living wage), whatever shape both of those things might take.

  63. Hi Erin,

    As you have stated “My feelings, thank heavens, are not subject to peer-review.”. I acknowledge it. However, “knowledge” is subject to peer-review. The way brain learns (or changes its neural structure) is being researched for long. The current knowledge is not conclusive but we now know more, thanks to neuroscience. Those feelings are the result of electrochemical relations created in your brain. You (and all of us) apparently have to restructure the neural connections and make sure that it suits more to the reality. That is to say acknowledges that your existence in this world does not depend on whether you do cancer research or run behind the butterflies or etc…

    As you know billions of people are not History profs. and they can still live happly (at times). So why won’t you? The only common thing I can see in humanity is they need oxygen. If we can’t restructure our neural network to comprehend this simple fact, then it is our fault. It shows that we are not persistent enough to erase the current neural network.

    We don’t know everything yet. However, we know that in order to restructure the neural network we need repetition. We have to create the branches that fits more to the reality of “all you need is oxygen” and erase “you have to be history prof.”.

    “You” give meaning to everything, “cancer research”, “history prof.” and “butterflies”. None of them is meaningful if you ask me. So if outside world doesn’t let you to make decision towards what you give meaning, either you change the outside world or you change what is meaningful for you. Existing network will resist of course. If you become persistent enough you will restructure (learn) it and there will be new things that you give meaning and make decisions towards attaining them. You can also give meaning to “trying to be a history prof. at somewhere university” rather than “being a history prof. at somewjere university”. If you can manage this transformation (structure change of the neurons) (which seems to be one of the easier alternative), that might also work. You can keep trying meanwhile you also find a job to pay your rent.

    The thing is there is a positive feedback in the neural networks. As you give more meaning you make actions towards that. Those electrochemical reactions create more branches (that is to say you give more meaning) and next time again you make actions toward that. And so on and so forth. That is to say, if you persist long enough you learn everything or you learn to give meaning to everything.

    That’s all I can think of regarding to your piece. I might be wrong of course. I can see that unlike your statement regarding to your feelings, what I wrote above is subject to peer-review.

    Do I think what I write will help you? Not now. It took time to create the network in your brain. It will take time to rewrite as well. All I know is if you don’t start working toward such a change (learning) which will create anxiety, stress etc. (existing network will resist physically!) and be persistent on it, you will continue to have that feelings in future as well. If you try and manage, then in that case it will dissapear. Don’t let time to fix it. Work actively towards such a change would be my action.

    Best.

  64. Also found via twitter. I’m probably the oldest person responding (!) to your moving and honest post. Thirty-five years ago I got a PhD in Classical languages and literature/ archaeology / ancient art history, a field that was already dying in the early eighties. Because I moved abroad with a foreign spouse, my life took an entirely different trajectory – not necessarily better, just different. The degree was never used apart from being a “calling card” for other jobs.

    All these years – and multiple experiences – later, your post still upset me, arousing memories of former professors and former fellow-grad students – and how they wrote me off as a “failure” so long ago. And it reminded me of the original research I’d done that would never be published.

    Without going into detail – this is your blog, not mine! – I’ll make two points, one negative, one more positive:
    (1) One result of my experience is that neither of my children wanted anything to do with becoming academics, despite the fact that both are scholarly by nature and training, and one is such a gifted natural teacher that his nickname was “Dr. X” as an undergrad and “Prof. K” in law school – a nickname his fellow-students gave him out of respect and admiration.
    (2) There is genuine value in acquiring the full range of PhD-level skills; should anyone ever ask me what I learned in graduate school, I’d respond “I learned to think.” Thinking is what I like to do, and it’s really the only thing I ever showed an inclination for.

    Now retired, I think all day, every day, about social policy issues – and I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life, despite the nature of what’s happening in nearly all social policy areas currently. Thinking has an intrinsic value (setting aside for a moment the harsh realities of making a living), and at the end of my working life, I have finally managed to find pleasure in thinking hard about hard issues, feeling happy in doing so and grateful for being able to do so.

  65. Sweet Jesus, I would have been happy with a God damn full-time position at a community college. I hope the probation job I applied for pans out! I can lecture on US history as my clients pee in a cup!

  66. This article hit me more acutely then most. I’m supposedly one of the “good” PhDs – molecular virology. The trouble is, I’m disabled and didn’t have the connections to get into one of the top tier medical research universities; as a result, after two postdocs, I got zero job offers and a lot of…nothing. Most jobs I applied to didn’t even bother to write rejection letters; I just never heard back at all. But the most painful one? An interview at Wadsworth Center in Albany, NY that went extremely well, and they talked as if they were going to hire me. Two weeks later…the rejection letter came. Someone with better connections than I bumped me out of contention. When I wrote back to my interviewers seeking to network, they didn’t even bother writing me back.

    I’m now working as an office assistant for NYS, a job that doesn’t pay enough to pay rent and that doesn’t even require a college degree…after close to 20 years of college. (B.A., terminal Master’s, and a PhD). It doesn’t even pay enough for my fiancee and I to move in together after 12 years of being in a long distance relationship. But at least, unlike adjuncting, it at least provides the health coverage I need to stay alive.

    I’m pretty damn bitter at wasting more than half my life pursuing a career that never had a chance of success, but hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it?

  67. Thank you for sharing this. I was one of the aspiring humanities PhDs (religious studies) who was talked out of it by my professors before I even applied. I was told I had the intellectual aptitude, but warned about adjuncting, geographic dislocation, lack of tenure track positions, and everything else you’ve described. I was told basically, if you do apply, don’t go unless you are 100% funded and in one of the top tier schools or you’ll never get a job.

    Ultimately, I decided to heed my professors’ advice, and threw myself into trying to find a job to support myself, pay back my undergrad loans, and find fulfillment through other avenues in my 20s. I’m glad I got the advice that I did, but it has come with its own grieving process.

    I’ve worked exclusively in jobs that do not feel “meaningful” to me, at least not the way that writing my undergrad thesis did. I made my way from working in a grueling restaurant (where I learned more about capitalism and labor and class and gender than I ever did in school) to a job in tech that, while not totally secure, has a career path, and comes with smart colleagues and some genuine intellectual challenge. I’m paying down my debts, including the credit card debt I amassed just living as a 20-something in one of the most expensive US metro areas, and I’m making it work in a lot of ways.

    But it was painful to not pursue “my passion” — as the ubiquitous advice millennials grew up hearing encourages us to do. Only now, at 29, am I beginning to make peace with, really forgive myself for, the pragmatic choices I made, and accept that I didn’t really want to be a specialist at the end of the day. I loved learning about history; I loved reading primary sources, and dense, academic texts. But I’ve also loved learning to develop a sense of humor in the restaurant I worked in. I’ve loved having the freedom to cultivate many different passions — not as a specialist or master, but as a jack of all trades — cooking, music, yoga, and on.

    I still have a chip on my shoulder, and a nagging anxiety about the life I didn’t pursue. And I still feel isolated at times in the professional and social worlds I inhabit, and wonder if I would have found “my people” if I’d just followed my dreams — if that would have made any debt or upheaval worth it, because I had those deep connections. It’s been a process learning to work with some people who are so different from me (think sorority girls who spent the entirety of undergrad partying when I was in the library) and learning to navigate the soul-crushing game of corporate perception and its accompanying “biz-speak”. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself in my working-for-the-man jobs, away from the ideas that used make my soul soar. But I’ve had a rich, complex experience, and at the end of the day, I think my “real-world” time makes my perspective and thinking all the more meaningful, even if those ideas only exist, for now, in a very intimate, internal space.

    I wish you the best of luck in figuring out your next chapter. And thank you for starting such a provocative discussion that helped me to reflect on my own path.

  68. Elizabeth Stockton

    February 13, 2018 at 7:22 am

    So much of this resonated with me. Thank you for being willing to share it with others. I have no advice to offer to you and won’t bore you with my personal story.

    Instead, I want to pick up on your discussion of the “left behind.” I realize that there are structural and systemic issues that TT faculty may not be able to fix. But your essay highlights how empty it is to have the “insiders” tell you to publish your work anyway, as if that labor is free.

    But also, the access to ideas is not free–or easy. I’m not just talking about getting behind journal paywalls or borrowing privileges at libraries. I mean that academics themselves continue to be rather snobby about the “unaffiliated,” as if they are all eccentric hobbyists, rather than well trained, deeply experienced scholars like yourself. If the professoriate can recognize that structural issues are keeping talented scholars out of the career, through no fault of those scholars, then why do they continue to make it so challenging to bridge the world between those within and those without the university’s walls? (Especially when it comes to research. It is easier to get an adjunct gig than to get a TT faculty member to talk about research with you.)

    Aside from reduced conference fees for the unaffiliated or “independent scholar,” I can’t think of any tangible attempts by faculty in the humanities to continue to engage those of us forced to quit–who still have all of this knowledge, these articles in review, these book manuscripts in drawers.

    I’m not angry, but more befuddled and frustrated, that faculty perpetuate a system that is so closed door and impervious, when they claim to understand that it is a deeply unfair, flawed, and fragile system. Are there no new possibilities for interaction or for scholarship?

    The worst aspect for me about having left is that I can feel my knowledge slowly slipping away, and it is painful. I am genuinely sad to think about the research project I left behind–work that I still believe is important and meaningful. But work that now has nowhere to go. And I think that is not only because I don’t have a TT job. It is also because current, employed scholars have done very little to rethink what constitutes meaningful scholarship, and we remain stuck with scholarship models in the humanities (monographs & articles that spend years in peer review) that have no life or sustainability outside of a TT position with a research budget. It feels hard to believe that this is about pursuing ideas for idea’s sake when so many ideas are shut out.

    • “It is also because current, employed scholars have done very little to rethink what constitutes meaningful scholarship, and we remain stuck with scholarship models in the humanities (monographs & articles that spend years in peer review) that have no life or sustainability outside of a TT position with a research budget.”

      This is the core of the problem. The model of how scholarship is done is not only antiquated but inherently and flawed, as much of a “good-old-boys (and girls) club” as any I’ve ever seen outside of academe: a toxic culture that belongs more in the 19th century than in the 21st. I was a department secretary in the early 80s, contemplating going into its Ph.D program, and what I witnessed even then turned me off the idea of an academic career.

      Yet, there is a need for good history and bright, knowledgeable, enthusiastic people to bring it to the rest of us. If I, someone who is no longer a Christian of any kind, find your thesis interesting, then surely there are Catholics and others who are interested in Jane’s story as well. It’s frustrating all around that we have a culture that can’t or won’t figure out how to reward the hard work, enthusiasm, and knowledge of scholars such as yourself outside of ye olde cloistered walls, walls that are falling down.

  69. Dear Erin,

    Many thanks for this beautiful post. It took me many years to find an academic position, and I grieve for all my friends who are struggling on VAP/adjunct position and who will never get one, and for my friends who have left academia. In situations like this, I get the urge to try to help solve your problem (alt-ac, links to The Professor is In and other mentoring etc), since the other response that people have when seeing grief (minimizing) is not available as I know how it feels, or at least partly how it feels, and the third most common response when confronted with grief (victim blaming) is of course also out of the question – although it is common enough, and I’ve seen it. But ultimately, the problem is unsolvable and systemic. I wish you time to heal, and hopefully, something you end up doing you will find meaningful (although I know this is not easy, and perhaps not attainable). Best of luck.

  70. I haven’t read all the comments, so maybe someone else already suggested this…. but have you ever considered becoming an academic librarian? It has many of the best facets of academic life, without quite as much pressure. Yes, you will be expected to publish and present… and can even do it your current field… but again, not quite so much pressure… You will almost certainly do some teaching, too. I had a great, fun and challenging career as a librarian after I quite accidentally got an MLS degree which I intended to be a way-station toward a PhD in English… but I loved Library School and never looked back. This is my theory: because it’s a field largely dominated by women, there are always openings, especially if you are willing to move–because women often have to leave jobs to follow their husbands. Just think about it. If you do, BE SURE you go to an ALA-accredited school.

    • +1.

      My father did a PhD in Art History more than 40 years ago. Detoured and got an MLS and proceeded to work in libraries for museums his entire career. He thrived and wished more academics would consider doing such work. There is teaching on a day-to-day basis, you’re involved a variety of research projects, there is space to publish, and the number of positions in libraries / information science is growing, from what I understand. I appreciate that not everyone’s interests or experiences are the same, but wanted to affirm Carol’s above comment that this angle can be a very rich and fulfilling one.

  71. This is our swath or sliver of an overall system that chews people up and spits them out. It partakes of all of the characteristics of that overall system–intentional overproduction, superexploitation, and a hegemonic ideology that blames the victim through a spurious discourse of meritocracy. And most of all, the resulting anger is totally free-floating and individual, rather than leading to any kind of systemic critique or political action…at least, not beyond our own little sliver.

    • Superb, “brevity is the soul of wit” comment, Rich, every word. That TT faculty have internalized the “characteristics of that overall system” is as surreal as it is infuriating.

  72. People don’t realize that it is like watching yourself die. It is hard.

    I wouldn’t say that you are dead yet, though. I was on the job market for five years, and it wasn’t until years four and five that I was starting to get a crazy amount of interest and interviews. Your degree is far from stale, and your age is right. I think that there is a backlog when it comes to hiring because of the unequal numbers of openings to candidates, so if this is what you want, then I would commit to a few more years on the market. If it is not what you want, for whatever reason, that is obviously up to you.

    I came to the realization that there were so many things stacked against me in this market and had so many candid conversations that I decided to take the hint and end it.

    I’m not sure what is worse, trying and failing or not trying and leaving it one of those “I wish I should have…” This process seems to have the ability to screw with your mind for a very long time.

    • “People don’t realize that it is like watching yourself die…. This process seems to have the ability to screw with your mind for a very long time.” Great stuff, exactly.

  73. Erin,

    I’m sorry that the profession we both love has let you down so badly.

    Vicky

  74. Hi Erin, I think perhaps we went to undergrad together (HC 04?). Funny how twitter makes the world smaller. I found myself in a somewhat analogous position to yours this year, though I gave up after one year on the market and turned down an opportunity to VAP. In truth, writing the dissertation took a toll on my mental health; that, combined with having a family rationale to not jump on the VAP track and potentially pick up and move for several years in a row, really tipped the scales toward leaving academia. I was confident in my decision but it was a hard one and I grieved for a long time. I questioned my decision to leave and questioned my trajectory– indeed, why hadn’t I worked harder, picked a “better” topic, been more focused, published more, been more productive, been more willing to sacrifice? Perhaps if I had done those things I’d have landed a tenure track position. I had six long months while looking for a non-academic job to second guess myself while my credit card debt accumulated. You’re right that the quit lit that’s out there often skips over this difficult and sorrowful period, but, even if people don’t blog about it, we deal with it all the same. Wishing you courage and strength, and faith in yourself during this period of struggle. I agree with much of what Elizabeth said above– academia positions itself as the sole arbiter of worthy scholarship, and unfortunately institutional incentives reinforce this. In the end I believe this does a disservice to the pursuit and sharing of knowledge which academia is supposedly all about.

    • Erin Bartram

      February 13, 2018 at 11:20 am

      Thanks for your kind words, and it’s wonderful to hear from a fellow member of the class of ’04. What did you major in? All of the worries you express here are so common and valid, and yet you’re only supposed to voice them in private spaces while just accepting them as the costs associated with the “privilege” of working in this profession.

  75. I am sorry for your loss. The current system simply is destructive to a great many people. In many fields, graduate programs exploit the labor of many, many students, paying them with false hope, as there simply are not enough jobs out there to employ more than a fraction of the graduates. And then when they graduate, the system continues to exploit people with part time and temporary jobs and more hope. Yes, some will find a permanent position–but most will not.

    One tragedy of this is that many, many of these people are highly talented people, people who would succeed if only given a chance. But there are not enough chances to give.

    I have been on search committees and looked over applicants and thought “At least six of these people would be superstars on my campus if we hired them. Another 30 could certainly do the job well. For more than half of these applicants, we may be their last chance of getting a tenure track job. And we can only hire one of them.” I stare a the pile of applications and see a mountain of broken dreams. I am a tenured Professor, but all that separates me from many of those destined to fail is a bit of luck.

    I wish you well as you seek ways to move on. Rest assured, it is the system that is broken. Not you.

  76. Hi Erin, I sent you a quick note on Twitter, but also thought you and others reading this might be interested in a related Twitter thread I put out in January (also during the AHA) regarding how this struggle looks from the vantage point of a mid-career historian (PhD, History, 1997) who was long employed in alt-ac but continued to practice history. With the skills, experiences, and wide networks I now have, you’d think the news should be better, but my overall experience is similar: feeling that there is probably no real hope of finding meaningful (and sufficiently remunerative) work DOING HISTORY (at least tangentially, in either in academe or in public history settings), which — for better or worse — is what I trained to do, what I do well, and what I love. That’s a source of deep personal grief for me, and, I’d humbly suggest, a loss for the larger “profession,” whatever that is or means. Here’s the thread: https://twitter.com/amwhisnant/status/949403273005600768

  77. Leaving academia is absolutely the best approach–and not only for you, personally, but for the larger “cause.” In fact, is there any better way to register a protest against these economic conditions than to refuse to work for substandard wages? While not possible for all, what if even one in five non-tenured, part-time faculty left academia today? Since adjuncts’ earnings are severely limited and most often include no benefits, what are they waiting for? It’s as likely as not that employment outside of academia will be a least as remunerative and, who knows, very possibly more rewarding! Tenure just means you have to work at the same place the rest of your life earning an average salary. Now you have the freedom to carve out your own destiny, which in your case is evidently within the realm of possibility. It is high time our best and brightest stop regarding themselves as factory workers doomed to toil perpetually in our sad educational bureaucracies. The message you should be reading from this recent rejection: “You don’t fit here because you are too intelligent and enthusiastic.”

  78. This is a wonderfully funny and touchingly sad testimony. As someone with a child in the last laps of undergrad life who is gazing yearningly at academia, this hits home.

    This writing’s been on the wall for a long time now, but this essay offers such a poignant version. Even the third- or fourth-tier schools–the ones grad students initially look upon with scorn–now seem like Nirvana to many PhDs.

    I know you don’t want advice, but you really should think about trying a little freelance writing, since you have a gift there that really would be of value to others.

  79. Reginald Gildersleeves

    February 13, 2018 at 11:02 am

    “I don’t want to get a real job, why is society so mean that it won’t give me tenure?”

    • Erin Bartram

      February 13, 2018 at 11:11 am

      I mean, I think teaching people how to read carefully and understand what they’re reading should be a “real job,” and I think comments like yours show that it’s also a necessary job.

      • Well said, Erin. Exactly the problem that teaching and research is not considered “real work”, i.e. as David Graeber has said a “bullshit job”. Lurking in there is some misogyny as we know, but also the idea that hey, if I’m miserable in my bullshit job, you don’t have the right to be happy doing meaningful work, and I’m going to take you down.

  80. Tenure at a university is not the value of your education. Maybe high school is not your “thing”. How about a community college? Students there need to learn about history and there are jobs available – at least here. It may not have the prestige of a university but the community college can be a very rewarding job. I left the tenure at a university over thirty years ago to teach at a CC and I could not be more happy. I enjoy teaching not all the research and trying to publish that universities expect. Give it a try – you might be surprised.

  81. liked your essay very well thought out. the title could have been improved although i see why you would title it that way right now.

    my own experience has been very similar although now i’m glad that i left the humanities and i believe that the humanities themselves should be completely erased as actual graduate disciplines. so many wasted minds, so much wasted capital for really very little societal value and much much grief to very smart individuals only to keep up a very vague idea that a university teaches you “how to think” or how to “read” or “how to write.”

    the irony is that, given the current way in which most writing and reading occurs, taking a humanities course in milton, cervantes, or baudelaire may actually make you a worse writer and reader for today’s environment… but i digress.

    i encourage you to think of this as an opportunity and to go outside of the field completely. i myself am now a software engineer although i once did a phd in comparative literature. it is possible to change, and it can be very fulfilling.

    Money is necessary for happiness, and a marxist critic making 95k is certainly a happier marxist critic than the one making 30k–just ask the ones that teach for columbia and live in the upper west side of ny versus those at some liberal arts college in the middle of ohio making 60k tops without tenure.

    So sell out, don’t feel bad about it; feel happy that you are now forced to tackle with a life outside the silly confines of academia, and never look back. You will love yourself better and recognize that you have more skills and things to offer to the world than a silly book read only by your undergrad/grad students would ever display.

    Best of luck,

    J

    • Dear “J” — unfortunately your post is all too common for a “software engineer.” Your own very poor use of grammar, your narrow-mindedness, and your reductiveness about the problems addressed in the essay all, themselves, each and all, prove that working for money first and foremost produces sterile, self-satisfied, ignorant people. There are very few “Marxist critics” in academia, rich or poor. Courses in Milton, Cervantes or Baudelaire were made rare by the system quite some time ago. Their challenges did though make people better readers and writers. The author of the post is a historian, btw, not a lit prof. If your own education was lost on you, that’s on you. A good livable wage and job security are necessary for a decent life. Historian deserve that as much as “software engineers,” many of whom produce absolutely useless bilge that is out of date before the target consumer niche even gets much of a chance to sample it.
      So I’ll cut to the chase: get over yourself.

  82. IMO some of this is fallout from the urge to turn academia into a “real, live, business!” In this outlook, which I first noted in the ’80s (I was late coming to a PhD program and did not do it because I ever wanted to teach). This businessification meant deadwood departments–ranging from classics to home economics–were jettisoned and the overriding view became that of the academic department as either a profit center. . .or service department. This led in turn to an expand-or-die outlook for all academic departments. (I can’t speak to athletics. I don’t do organized sports.) By the ’90s, this combined with the increasing consumerist attitude of both students and administration, and IMO an excessive concern with how your degree will further your lifetime income.

    And yes, the problem is exacerbated by tenured faculty of any age who disengage from understanding trends in education and publishing and … well, the realities of establishing an academic life…once they achieved that goal.

    Why don’t t academic life or academic promises connect with reality? I always thought it would take until the generation that grew up with employment uncertainty were themselves working but it seems we still collectively engage with the idea, as you say Erin, “yes for me but not thee.”

    Almost 20 years ago I participated in a group of meetings about why there were so few women and minorities visible in the sciences and engineering. At that time, I was working with a group that had been asking that question for 25 years. We had an answer. We have an answer. That answer has not, in essence, changed over 45 years. We still fret over adequate access and representation, just as we have been fretting over lack of training-appropriate jobs in academia for the same amount of time.

    My takeaway: There is no crystal ball. There is not magic career-path. a PhD does not guarantee you anything except maybe personal satisfaction. Some parts of the universe move more slowly than others. You have to do what you believe is best for you at any given time and hope you can be flexible enough to change when it stops being best for you.

    Good luck.

  83. Thanks. You write well. The stars aligned in my case (tenure-wise), but maybe it’s worth saying that I’ve come into great admiration for the *intellectual* and writing talents of many journalists. Since I started writing pop stuff and doing interviews, I’ve been impressed by how smart many are in drawing together a lot of difficult material and writing about it far better than most academics (who know only a very specialized, and often bad, kind of writing ). Plus, now that journalism (and the courts) is what stands between us and the collapse of democracy, I have trouble thinking of a more noble profession. Tough in its own way to make it there, I gather, but possibly worth pursuing if you haven’t thought about it. (Sorry if I missed you mentioning it.)

  84. Erin – Thank you so much for this essay. I’m handing in my diss in 19/20th energy history in a month and the stresses of these last few months of editing are eating at my emotional health. My committee is telling me I need to get at least a two year post-doc before I can get a tenure track job, and I’m just like, fuck no. I don’t want any more of this shit (I applied to a VAP position at a school I adjunct at and wasn’t even considered). Even so, I’m struggling with my feelings about quitting academia, and how I’m losing this part of my identity because I love history and am passionate about teaching. I don’t have any answers, but wanted to say thank you for sharing your struggle. I feel it too.

  85. There’s a difference between intellectual activity and intellectual life–the common heritage of human beings–and professional academia. Look at non-professional intellectuals and help the rest of your brethren figure out how to do real intellectual work outside of the professional academy. Obviously you love it for the right reasons, and there are plenty more like you. A bio of Albert Einstein is worth a look too.

  86. I’m really sorry about this outcome. I think you are focusing to much on your subject of study, and not enough on your skills. Even though the former may not be of use for your future, the latter certainly are. You have learnt about some particular subject of the 19th century, but you have also learnt research skills that will be valued in many other areas. I sincerely wish you the best luck. Cheer up!

  87. Just want to mention (echo) the community college option. There is a need for qualified people to teach CC students – the CC where I work (different department) has a Tea Party adjunct teaching students that antebellum USA was a libertarian paradise and a full-timer who was unfamiliar with the word “historiography.” We do have some great people in our History department, but the variation is in quality is awful given the tough job market in the discipline.

  88. I do not understand the obsession with the tenure-track jobs. I prefer the environment of startups.

  89. I quit my History Ph.D. program in 2010. I had a wife and a daughter and (though I didn’t know it yet) a son on the way. I was working full time in the University Library (to provide my family with benefits) and was not going to be able to hack it. I could see the writing on the wall for future employment and knew that if I didn’t leave with my MA, I was probably doomed.

    I spent 3 years getting a Library Degree to become a Librarian, a “plan B” that has actually worked out well for me, but those three years were hell. As I still worked at the University Library, I would end up at the bus stop with my former “peers” and have to exchange awkward small talk with them, feeling like a failure, both somehow unworthy and a thing to be pitied.

    In some ways Academia is a cult. We buy in to the idea that our area of study is a form of vocation, and that life has no meaning, no purpose without fulfilling that vocation. We also buy into the lie that failing to achieve that vocation is wholly on us. This lie is insidious. It keeps those who have fallen by the wayside from, as you put it, feeling like they have the right to grieve. It keeps those who achieve tenure quiet, because they somehow feel they have achieved their privilege solely on their own merit, and it keeps the Administrators happy because the oppressiveness of the system is largely self-regulating. Ultimately it’s all bullshit.

    Thank you for articulating so well the pain of so many of us. I wish you the best in whatever future endeavor you pursue. May it reward you better than the path we both ultimately forsook.

  90. I have little to add other than the fact that I am in the same place. Got my PhD in 2015. Currently a VAP. Was told my hiring clock would run its course this year, and sure enough, I’ve been beat out this year by people who are ABD. (When I was ABD, I was told I couldn’t get a job because I was ABD, and that defending would help. It didn’t.) Also came from a not-so-prestigious school, but was lucky enough to win prestigious fellowships that allowed me to rub elbows with the Ivy League people, publish scholarship that people called “groundbreaking,” etc. But those things are not enough to get one a job. I was lucky once … but not lucky again and again.

    At the end of the day, where you got your degree counts a hell of a lot more than anything you’ve actually done with that degree. I’ve seen it happen time and time again at the R1 public where I got my degree. My program will occasionally parade past us job candidates who went to the “UConns” of the world, with all their publications and professionalization and interesting ideas out the wazoo, but when it comes down to the deadline they bed down with the (usually white male) ABD with a pedigree that is strikingly similar to theirs.

    There are jobs out there. A few, anyway. They just aren’t going to us. I guess it’s just too difficult for the tenured and the few to acknowledge that good scholars can come out of obscure places. The first comment on the IHE piece betrays such resentments. Nothing good could come out of UConn because it has been decided that nothing ever has. To admit otherwise would be to endanger the self-regard of those who got where they are because they “deserved” it. I ran into the same sentiments from the professors at the program where I got my degree. One professor remarked, “Well, you certainly are good at winning fellowships.” In a mock interview, another asked how I had “managed” to get a letter of recommendation from Professor Famous. It was clear to me then: I probably would not be granted access to the world these people occupied. But it’s taken me another three years for me to accept this fact.

    I have worked outside academia, which has given me perspective. By that I mean: I don’t want to go back there (but I will … because I have to). No outside job has fulfilled me the way that research and teaching have, so I cringe at the naivete of people who tell me that another job will come along. These people have never worked outside academia, and never will. Yes, I will find another job, of course I will. But it won’t offer the personal enrichment that I’ve experienced throughout the last 10 years.

    All of which is to say: Maybe I’m lucky to have had those ten years, and maybe that’s the way to look at it. Many people don’t even get ten years of good, rewarding, enriching work. And also, like you, I don’t think that academia gets to have my ideas anymore, nor profit from my labor. Maybe this is (also) naive of me, but I think that people in our position need to just consistently say no, that enough is enough, and eff you very much. No, you can’t have my teaching. No, you can’t have my ideas. Doctors don’t work for peanuts. Lawyers don’t give away their expertise until they’re already established. I will go to work for someone else and make the money you won’t pay me (even if it means doing unfulfilling work) and at the end of it all, it will be your loss. That won’t really change things–not in the way things need to be changed. (Universities are more likely to just do away with humanities programs than actually change their tune about hiring real professors.) But at the end of the day, just screw them. They don’t get to perpetuate essentially unjust hiring and tenuring practices and get all the goodies too.

  91. Thank you so much for this, and shame on the ignorant men for being so completely out of touch with women’s validity and truth of experience.

  92. Sharon Raphael, Ph.D. Sociology

    February 13, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    My advice would be to apply for a tenure track position at a small women’s Catholic College i. e. Univ. of San Diego or Ursuline College In NE Ohio or St. . Olaf, Minnesota.
    These women led institutions would appreciate your work. Have you thought of this before? Stay in academia if possible. You know it is your place. Write me at smraphael@ aol.com. I am not Catholic but am a retired academic and have friends who might know better contacts and could recommend. Write to me at smraphael@ aol.com. Stop spinning wheels!

    • I think you mean well, but those are as hard as any other place. I am sure that Dr. Bartram has applied to such places. (Also, the University of San Diego is co-educational and has 8,000 students, and St. Olaf is co-ed and Lutheran. So only one of you three examples even fits your description of small, Catholic, and all-female.)

  93. The TT road is such a crap shoot. For whatever it’s worth, you would certainly contend in a search that I was involved with – you have have pretty strong teaching experience and with a book out would be in a strong position publication-wise as well.

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do next.

  94. Sharon Raphael, Ph.D. Sociology

    February 13, 2018 at 5:18 pm

    Apply for early tenure or it may take only one year of probation to get it at the Assic Prof. Level if you have enough teaching and university experience etc.

  95. I want to endorse ZZ’s comment: “The line that separates those-with-jobs and those-without in this line of work is razor thin, because there aren’t that many jobs in the first place and there is a huge pool of applicants. So ultimately a lot of sheer luck is involved. And the reason that some people have jobs and some people don’t is fairly arbitrary.” Yes to all of that. I think it can be hard to accept that supremely qualified people don’t get hired, and difficult for those who do get hired to realize that many factors beyond their control — luck, privilege, quirks of a hiring committee — played an important role in their hiring.

    I’m an English Ph.D. who spent three years as an adjunct before landing a tenure-track job. One reason I got it is that the department’s first choice turned it down. I later learned also, that my ability to design a website also played a role. (The job —  which I still hold — was for someone with expertise in children’s literature.) But that was nearly two decades ago. Jobs were scarce then and are more scarce now. The subtext: I am not saying “keep trying! You’ll land a job eventually!” What I am saying is that many factors beyond my control played a huge role, even when the academic job market sucked marginally less than it does now.

    I wish I could conclude with some helpful advice. I also (selfishly, I admit) hope you continue to write in some form because you’re good at it and have something valuable to contribute. BUT I see why you opt not to pursue that path, and so please feel free to give some side-eye to both this and the previous sentence. I intend them as encouragement, but they may instead be merely annoying. I have contributed to your coffee fund, and — even though I do not know you personally — believe that your considerable intellect will lead you down a more satisfying path. That, at least, is my hope for you.

    Thanks for writing this.

  96. Sorry this is long: Nearly all of my education was in pursuit of science…initially intending to be a researcher. I was lucky enough to move from my BS straight into a PhD program (with a year-off breather) It came with a full stipend so I thought I was golden. I was a great scientist and the PI’s I worked with were amazing and saw my potential. A year into the program (after the bulk of course work and lab rotations were done) my husband and I decided we wanted to start a family. Big mistake from my career standpoint, though I was too young and idealistic to not realise the impact of that decision. I was immediately cold-shouldered by those same PIs that were initially so encouraging. I was outright told by one (a female, ironically) that I couldn’t “do science at this level” AND have a baby….that I wouldn’t last so I might as well leave now. I was beside myself. I quit. Or rather, when forced to choose, I chose family. I had nothing to show for the (about) 16 months of intensive work.

    Looking back at my young self (I was 23/24, I am 38 now) and I know that I was too naive – I see how wrong I was to expect support rather than rejection in that environment. I basically had to leave or try to make it with overt resistance and in hostile environment.

    Fast forward a few years (after being a stay at home mom and doing some interspersed adjuncting), and I returned to school to earn a MS in neuroscience. I had come to realize that I LOVED teaching and I was really good at it, particularly at the Community College. CommColl will higher for tenure track with just a Masters -no PhD needed (since that wasn’t happening now) so clearly I was an attractive hire now, right? Nope. I fell into the vortex of adjuncting with no hope of full time hire (despite lots of apps and rejections).

    Fast forward again (consistent adjuncting now for several years) and I go back to school again….I successfully completed my dissertation and earned an EdD in higher education leadership. Surely I am attractive to hire for full time TT position at Community College now???? Still ….nope.

    So now I have a BS and an MS in Neuroscience, an EdD in higher Ed, and over 15 years experience teaching (as an adjunct). What else do I need to do??? I give up!!

    So Erin, Thanks for writing your essay. And thanks to everyone who shared their comments. It was refreshing and encouraging in a lot of ways. I honestly thought it was me – something was wrong with me, that I blew my chance back when I chose to start a family. As if I should have instead spent the last decade+ neck-deep in research and trying to publish as much as possible (and postponing family) to plump my CV …..that that was what was preventing me from getting hired. This essay (and the comments) make me realize that it’s very likely the only difference would be that I wouldn’t have my child (and the family life I have now). I never regretted my decision but I have grown angry over time as I matured enough to realize how messed up it was when put in that “either-or” position. (Not to play up the feminist angle, but a lot of the comments here do seem to emphasize the added challenge of “career vs family” that women in academia face as well. )

    For now I have resigned myself to the adjunct wormhole because I like teaching too much to do something else. I am lucky enough to be in a financial position to so. Many are not. Maybe something will come along but at least I feel a little better. It’s not me and I’m not alone. Thanks for “listening.”

  97. Just an amazing piece. As you said, we need to keep invisibilizing stories like yours as part of the many mechanisms we use to continue playing the horrible game of academia -being a little critical, but hoping its not us, personally, who end up
    without a job-. A friend leaves her PhD program out of exhaustion, tired of not getting any support to do her research, tired of being poor, tired of feeling lonely and stressed, but also because she knows she probably won’t get a job anyway, and we tell ourselves that this was her choice, that she didn’t want to be a professor that badly. But she did, she devoted 4 years to the program because she did. And like her, so many of us just leave half way into the PhD dream already with our hearts broken. And then, there’s those of us who stay, and endure. Endure the loneliness, the precariousness, the poverty, the stress, the potential lack of future because we hold on to a glimmer of hope, that if we endure, we might be able to make it to the promise land: the tenure-track job. How different is that from expecting to win the lottery? To think that structural constraints don’t exist and that we will do work so magical that it will our ticket to a better life? To a life where we can research and teach what we want? Maybe its just how they say ‘la esperanza es lo ultimo que se pierde’.
    Thanks for your words, once again. Know that you are not grieving alone.

  98. Another philosopher here. I’m a VAP on my third and last try on the tenure track job market. It looks like I probably won’t land a position. I have been suppressing all of the feelings you describe here. You capture my hidden misery with precision.

  99. Hi, I realize this might be unwelcome, but the book, if you still (re)write and publish it, might easily come out way better if aimed at a broader audience and not to a circle of academics.

  100. I echo the earlier comments about community colleges. I’ve taught at one for 15 years now and love it.

  101. Dear Erin,

    I don’t know how I came across this site, but your writing captured my heart. I read your piece yesterday, and have been thinking of you ever since! I’m a middle aged mother of two, I do not have a degree or any kind of sophisticated job, BUT!! Life prevails and hope grows forever new! I wish you happiness and I KNOW you will find true fulfillment!

  102. I just completed reading everyone of the post about your essay. I would like to say that there are those of us that are not Humanities majors that love your discipline and what it leads to for society. I do wish we would find a better model for compensating professors, as more published work could only help us more. I would love for my Community College teachers to also have their PhD’s and be adequately compensated. I routinely “stop” by a community college just to take classes that I am interested in. I have five STEM degrees, from multiple undergraduate Engineering degrees to another in Engineering Psychology, I continued down the rabbit hole as I got older and discovered more convergence instead of divergence in all my studies. The love and understanding garnered in learning more about how humans actually think lead to double master’s in Human Computer Interaction and Computer Science. Even though my chosen profession does not seem to laud the Humanities as much, knowing about Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper over thirty years ago led me to know more about how the world actually works. Who would have known that sparked my interest in Philosophy and then Military history. I actually know more about Psychology, History, and Economics than any discipline that I was actually “trained” for.
    I am now approaching my 3,000 book that I have read and have thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of going down the rabbit holes provided by this discipline. After reading the completed works in the Oxford History of the United States, I then have to wrestle with the next three or four hundred topics and books that sparked my interest. I have become so occupied with the U.S. Civil War, that I started reading about the civil wars that have occurred in over twenty other countries. After reading your post, I am now researching your topic and looking for your published work. Hmn, seems interesting to me.
    PS- You don’t have to give up… maybe just adjust your trajectory. I wanted to be an engineer, until I diagnosed my own eye disease, went blind and left my university in college. After getting off the ground, I then graduated with two Engineering degrees, went to three Paralympic Games, set US records that still stand, and just kept on going.

  103. There are elements of a useful social history book here. Such a book could help many people who have had to leave their beloved work, whether for reasons of insufficient job openings, health, family or retirement . Related publications could support people in positions of leverage who want to reform academia.

  104. I came by this post in the Chronicle of Higher Ed Daily Briefing. My position in academia at the moment is department secretary. Reading this story has depressed me and is causing me to rethink my entire life plan.

    Before I finally “buckled down” and got my BFA in Graphic Design (compromise for the parents, art for me, employability for them), I did all sorts of things to try to figure out where I fit in. The BFA seemed like the answer, but after working in my field for a few years, I found that I loved the art, but hated being a “tool” expected to create the vision the client had in their head, and not being allowed to inject my own creativity. Back to the drawing board then, to try to find a new path.

    It was always in the back of my mind that I could maybe go on to grad school and become a professor, like my Dad had been. He had a PhD in Education, got tenure, and was able to support us quite well. It seemed like a steady, stable, lucrative career, and the academic environment has always held strong appeal over the 9-to-5 corporate world. The only thing I didn’t know the answer to was what to teach.

    I’d always envisioned teaching something “scholarly” and have a love of Philosophy. But I’m also an artist who is happiest working with fibers and clay. (And there goes my anonymity, as anyone from my institution who is reading this will know who I am just from that.)

    To that end, thanks to an employee benefit tuition waiver, I’ve furthered my studies beyond the BFA in an attempt to answer these questions about Art v. Philosophy, and of course Art outweighs Philosophy by miles. However, my preferred medium (fibers) is not exactly the major that the bulk of those in college art programs are dying to get into (and it’s no longer an option at my school). Philosophy, therefore, seems more practical, despite the added years of schooling to get the required PhD.

    With everything happening in the world today, especially in America, my dream feels suddenly coated in oil. My hesitation to even bother with grad school is deepening. Even then, do I apply to MFA programs to pursue my passion, and hope that the rare Fiber Arts prof position becomes available when I graduate? Or, do I take a more practical approach, apply to Philosophy programs, get a PhD, and hope to find a teaching position in metaphysics 5-6 years down the road (assuming I can finish my diss that fast)?

    Or… is there really no hope at all, for someone who is and always will be firmly in the Humanities, despite my passion for my subject areas and my belief that when you really deeply want it badly enough, you can set that intention and make it so?

    This post, sadly, seems to suggest that there is no hope. But I don’t want to be a secretary forever, and I’m far too feminist to pursue my late mother’s path (“go to college and find a nice husband”). I’m also a bit older than my classmates. And time only seems to go in one direction.

    Alas…

  105. All I can say is thanks for this. It’s difficult to draw the parallels with my own situation but it resonates highly with me, and writing like this feels necessary to highlight how systems created by people can fail people so badly. I wish you luck – I need to figure out my own trajectory as well, so hopefully we can both figure it out.

  106. Erin, thank you SO MUCH for writing this. I’m on the brink of accepting a non-academic position right now and this post validates so much of what I’m feeling. Part of me is thinking “just try for a post-doc!” because I’m so sad to be giving up research, but I just can’t put my family (husband and 2 kids) through the poverty plus uncertainty about where we’ll be living in 2 years. And like you I felt like I didn’t deserve to grieve – in my case because I made the choice to have kids and I knew what that would cost in terms of time/energy. Anyway I know you don’t want advice right now so this is not advice but just a piece of information – if you put your book on Kickstarter I would totally support it! 🙂 <3 Best of luck with everything!!

  107. Erin, this so resonates. Thank you for writing it. I left philosophy after my MA and as I was burned out took a few years off. I then pursued a PhD in Health Care Ethics which was really my passion and work in Catholic Health Care. I thought I wanted to go into academia when I began my MA but by the end of that program I was nearly destroyed.

    I have a few thoughts if you’re up for an email or phone chat about possible avenues to explore. You have my email 🙂

    Again, thank you for this. It is a grief to be sure. Remember, You are enough, tenure and the academy be damned.

  108. You should try looking at community colleges. It’s a pretty good gig!

    • Some community colleges aren’t particularly fond of Ph.D.s. They’d actually prefer to hire master’s degrees. Also, giving all “As” to people accepted on open admissions policy isn’t exactly what most Ph.D.s were trained to do.

  109. Thank you so much for this. My experience with a Graduate degree in Classics and Ancient History was exactly the same. I delayed my grief for more than a year, but it’s all coming back to me at the moment.

  110. I have been working part time in the humanities in academia for 4years. I do not earn anywhere near a living wage. I rely on socia welfare support and even with this o still have had to move back home because I can not make rent. I work hard and am invested not only in the subject matter o teach(human development) but also in the experience the student have in HE. If the government introduced a living wage, I would be willing to continue in this line of work, working hard and contributing to knowledge and education. Even if it ment I was never going to attain as much material wealth as I might working in the private sector, I would accept this trade if I could pay my rent,eat and live a reasonable life.
    Education for the sake of knowledge is not valued within our current capitalist structure and the continuing exploitation of junior academics reflects this, as you and I have experienced , there is no immediate solution from an employment perspective, accept to attempt strike action and getting student unions involved in supporting the struggles of those who they are to work with…this is tricky and unlikely to be tolerated by HE institutions. But a solution to the loss and grief is resistive action, publish independently and circulate the material through alternative sources , if enough people joined together and worked and such outsider journals eventually you student would encounter material through the internet and eventually the lack of support and the decide between senior and junior academics would be exposed, maybe the problem would gain traction and the students in HE may face the same future difficulties and so would stand in support of the outside source publications. It’s a long term plan and it’s a plan to protect a sense of purpose outside of earning power. I feel monetary recognition of your and my own contributions to knowledge may not come in this current structure…but if everybody decides to walk away from the pursuit of knowledge…the problem becomes an existential crisis. Sorry this is a long and sometimes winding reply, thinking out loud as what you wrote echos my own struggle…but I guess what I’m saying is the key is to politicize and rally together, the effect some kind of open conversation in society about this topic.
    Keep fighting the good fight…it may not pay the bills but your mind is free.✌🏼
    -Orna ( academic in Ireland)

  111. Dear Erin,
    I am going through exactly the same thing at the moment. I am not a historian but an archaeologist. I feel your pain, I know where you are at. I just wrote a blog myself a week or so ago, and created a website yesterday to post it on. you can read it at :
    https://legataexfemina.wordpress.com
    Mine is not as deeply emotional, mine is more factual but you have put into words the turmoil of emotions going on inside myself. I have not completely given up I am still dangling by a strong in academia, but the end is near I am afraid, and like you, I don’t think I will ever get that tenure track appointment despite trying yearly. I have survived these past 8 years on research grants and this too is slipping from my fingers because we live in a society that is fundamentally against what we do. How do I reinvent myself now? I too am looking into other options, the “real jobs” as some call it, and I am not sure how I can bend my skills and temperament to fit that world. I wish you luck but I am afraid we will be carrying some part of this sadness and disappointment for the rest of our lives. Michele

  112. I will likely “quit” as well. I ask myself, “Who will I talk to about all this 19th century literature when I quit?” A very sad thought.

  113. As someone who has been on the market for longer and gave up on academia, a couple of years ago when I decided to focus on community colleges rather than research universities, I can sympathize. I am considering high school teaching because teaching is what I love, but I want to do it at the college level. I still have all my dissertation research in a filing cabinet and on my hard drive. It’s even less applicable to anything else than yours. 🙂

    I am an adjunct and am staying that way for a little longer while I decide if I am willing to move down to high school where I know I can do a lot of good but where there are too many restrictions on what teachers are allowed to do.

    I am also doing some preliminary research for a book that I was told was not academic enough to be my dissertation but is an idea that I’ve loved since I finished my bachelor’s degree. And I’ve decided that describes me pretty well.

    I’m not academic enough. I can’t bring myself to fight and scrabble for the things that are part and parcel of academia. I love to learn and I love the work I’ve done. I don’t regret my Ph.D. for a moment, but I had some hard experiences that started off my search for an academic job on bad footing, and I’ve just never gotten it right.

    Few will miss my work on medieval Arabic astrology. Fewer still will even notice, and maybe, if I get my book idea written and published as popular history of science rather than an academic book, it will make others sigh for my fall, and it will never be cited or important.

    I’m just not academic enough to be an academic. I love to learn and I love to teach and I’ve come to realize that it’s not enough.

  114. I received my PhD in History in 2007 and quit academia a year later after failing to find any decent job. Ten years later, my emotions about my wasted research and my professors’ indifference to my departure are just as raw as they were at the time. Where I differ from the writer of this blog is that I kept my feelings and experience to myself, wrapped in shame, isolation and self-blame. I tried therapists but they were completely worthless.

    Although it is undoubtedly healthier to write publicly about academia’s structural inhumanity toward excluded scholars (rather than internalizing one’s feelings as I did), I wish we could collectively think of a more politically effective way to build something out of the grief and frustrated ambitions so many of us have obviously gone through –a new, more inclusive and cooperative version of academia, perhaps?

    • I commented something like this below. As an undergraduate student I am SO disappointed with my education. Maybe all of you can get together and start your own institute – something that is kind to students and teachers and all other staff – that actually teaches!

  115. Thank you for writing this, Erin. I read it earlier in the week and have been thinking about it ever since. If “quit lit” is a genre, this is the only thing that has ever come close to resonating with my own experience. Most of what gets written is about choice, but I didn’t choose to leave academia. It feels more like academia left me. While there are that do make that choice, and all the power to them, it sure seems like there are an awful lot of us who would rather stay – and as you say, we’d be good at it! we have valuable contributions to make! – and yet we have no real choice if we need to be able to support ourselves.

    I’ve gotten all the same comments from family, friends, and colleagues about what I “should” do. I’m in an alt-ac job with a non-profit now and while it pays the bills, it’s boring. It’s all management and organization with almost no opportunity for intellectual or personal engagement. This is not why I got a PhD. I left academia about a year and a half ago and so far it hasn’t gotten any easier. All I can say is I hope you know that there are others out there who understand what you’re going through. Wishing you all the best, from a fellow historian.

  116. I haven’t read the comments and I kinda don’t want to. I do want to thank you for writing this because it encapsulates everything I felt about leaving academia (10 years ago this summer). You are so so right about all of this. And no, I didn’t want to teach high school, and I didn’t want to be an independent scholar (all due respect to those who do). And no, just because PhDs succeed in getting non-academic jobs doesn’t mean you need a PhD to get the jobs you will get. (Personally, I went to law school, and it turned out pretty well, though I would recommend it only under very limited circumstances. And it didn’t take very long for the PhD to become just something I did once, not the core of my identity, which was really a relief. But I remember being pretty close to where you are and feeling pretty close to all the same things you describe.) Thank you for writing this.

    • Anna, it felt good to hear this:

      “It didn’t take very long for the PhD to become just something I did once, not the core of my identity, which was really a relief.”

      I think it’s the primary concern of everyone in Erin’s situation, such as myself (more or less). We did the hard work of finding out what we wanted to do for a living, sacrificed a lot to become the kind of person who could do such work, only for it all to hit the wall for reasons basically out of our control (although doubt lingers; was it all REALLY out of our control? Doing the etiology of “failure” is an insidious kind of self-torture). Here we are with this identity we built for ourselves with no home for it. It’s at the heart of the excruciating misery of all this. Durkheim would have some interesting thoughts to share about this kind of anomie, which to me seems an unusually pure exemplar of his term.

      So, it’s nice to hear what you said above, that at some point the PhD isn’t an all-consuming identity. This intensely personal and encompassing nature of doctoral training is what people outside of this world simply don’t get. My wife who knows me better than anyone still doesn’t get it for this reason, and it’s totally understandable. I myself and looking for any opportunity to shake off the PhD identity as you have.

  117. Please don’t take this comment the wrong way but your sad tale is essentially the same for almost all the people I have ever met in every profession through my 67 years on this planet. You’re talking about life and work, about problems that affect almost everyone at some stage of their working life, so please don’t think you’re alone or being specially picked on. You’re simply suffering from the same realities of life that we have almost all faced once or multiple times in our careers. In my own case, once I understood and then accepted my realities, I moved on to new careers, new opportunities and new challenges and interests. You can and should do exactly the same – accept your realities and take the first steps to doing something different.

  118. Recovering Academic

    February 17, 2018 at 10:25 am

    Erin,

    I’m sorry this is happening to you.

    I don’t know if you have ever have reason to come down to New Haven, but if you find yourself in the neighborhood, I’d love to buy you a cup of tea (or coffee).

    Peace,
    Karin

  119. Being brutally honest – as someone in the last year of a PhD (admittedly a fair bit younger than you were finishing yours) and who will probably not get a job and work in some other field – it is this sort of self-centered and self-important crap that puts me off academia in the first place. Academics can’t seem to treat their work as a job, let alone a normal job that – like everyone else’s job – no one cares about. Can you imagine someone who keeps getting reject from jobs and giving up their first choice career writing a similar post for anything BUT academia?

    • Erin Bartram

      February 17, 2018 at 2:34 pm

      Academics can’t seem to treat their work as a job, let alone a normal job that – like everyone else’s job – no one cares about. Can you imagine someone who keeps getting reject from jobs and giving up their first choice career writing a similar post for anything BUT academia?

      I mean, given your juxtaposition of these two sentences, it’s almost like it’s not like any other job. And yeah, I can imagine there being a lot of ink spilled over a field that’s been declining for a long time, one in which people can’t get the jobs they expected but are fed a lot of crap about how it’s still possible. I don’t even have to imagine it. I can just read the latest piece on the coal mining industry.

      • But do coal miners have their own blogs asking people to buy them cups of tea and critiquing the grammatical structure of the comments on their self-indulgent writings?

        • Erin Bartram

          February 17, 2018 at 5:52 pm

          No, they have the grotesque attention of major media outlets and the false boosterism of plenty of politicians. Neither group has many people interested in the questions its members are asking about who wins and loses when an industry collapses.

          But I understand that the labor issues here are not really what you’re upset about. In two comments, you’ve complained that my writing is self-centered, self-important, and self-indulgent. You seem quite angry that I think I have a self, and that it has value. You do not agree, and you want me to know that. You’re in good company there. Oddly enough, the book I was writing was about precisely that issue in the 19th century. If I ever end up finishing it, I’ll be sure to cite you.

          • Stop whining. You were privileged to do PhD. You have years of time for your own research, for development of your own skills and knowledge. You should be thankful to all those people who allowed it. And then you didn´t make it to permanent position. So what? Do you know how many people never had and never going to have even a glimpse of such privilege? Do something for them instead of self-centered whining. And if you are not able to fully reflect your own history you might not be that good as you positioned yourself in that (way too) long story. I am sorry to inform you but the Earth is revolving around sun, not about you. 🙂

  120. I’ve read all the replies here. I’ve never written any “quit lit” myself, but I’m just now ready to end the abusive relationship with the femme fatale known as academia. I wrote a very long reply here, then I cut and pasted it into my own notes because it was just way, way too long. But here are a few thoughts.

    First, it seems you’ve focused on the word grieve for a reason, and that is because, as one of the posters above said it, being pushed out of academia inch by inch with every rejection letter over 3, 5, 7 years is “like watching yourself die” in slow motion. It also feels like I committed a crime and am being punished. Being a no longer young and shiny, but still fairly recent, PhD getting a monthly paycheck of $800 will do that to you.

    Almost 7 years post-PhD, I’m still totally stuck in the adjunct rut, despite publishing and teaching. I went to an elite R1 and adjunct at an Ivy (the talent of the applicants is not the issue in this crisis). Star committee, accolades, etc.

    Did I fail? This question haunts me constantly, every day, as does, what did I do to deserve this?

    We live in a society that is particularly fond of blaming individuals for their troubles, and never ever critiquing “the system”. If academia was broken in the 80s, it’s a train wreck now. There’s no objective set of metrics to determine the talent and worthiness of a scholar, and even the metrics that have been invented out of thin air are applied in a rather shamefully non-objective, arbitrary way. At the same time, everyone within the system that has drunk the Kool-Aid pretends that such metrics ARE objective, in order to maintain some kind of shared delusion of integrity and fairness. It’s the rough equivalent of “‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    It just needs to be said a million times over and over again: there are dozens of good people, often arguably more talented than some of the tenured deadwood out there, that are 100% way good enough to be TT professors. The market is so saturated the true hiring injustice is the status quo. To use the Olympics as an example, it’s as if 99 people TIED for gold but only one will get it due to a round of eenie-meenie.

    All that said, I repeat that the lucky ones (i.e., my former friends, sigh) strenuously double and triple down on any legitimation they can to feel normal in this fucked up system. And one of the truly dark consequences of this is that it results in just wishing the “losers” would just go away. We remind them that the system is a joke.

    So Erin, I really don’t think many people give a shit about those who don’t get a TT position. The grieving is pretty one-sided, in my experience. You lost, I won, get over it, is clearly the attitude. Decrease the surplus population. The contempt of the TT caste toward the untouchables is as real as a heart attack. So much for community.

    We’re all better off to leave such a toxic milieu, right? It’s right for us to grieve it all. But neoliberalism did this, it’s the damn culprit and we all know it.

    The question is, how can nerds re-build true community outside of this bullshit? If it’s already happening, we need to talk more about it and share ideas. Many of the best and most original thinkers we know about worked outside of academia some or all of their professional lives, lest we forget.

  121. Well hello there! Remember me? We graduated together with our PhD’s, all shiny and full of promise. I was the granny on stage, collecting my degree at the ripe old age of 56! Here I thought I was weaving a remarkable narrative of perservance, of taking the injunction to “follow your dreams” all the way to a later-in-life PhD. And I did it all for the love of the students! I had my reasons, after all, as testified to by the five letters I have from the Provost in praise of my high scores on teaching evaluations. But it all proved if no avail and I find myself on the same page as you. I can say I feel your pain and mean it. I can also say I am truly and deeply sorry for it. Your evocation of the loss of so much hard-won knowledge made me wince. One book I highly recommend is The Next Happy: Let Go of the Life You Planned and Find a New Way Forward by Tracey Cleantis. This helped me grieve the loss of my dream and imagine a new way forward. Godspeed, Erin!

  122. Thank you for writing this. I’m still a PhD student, but after a 3-years scholarship, I have no more funding nor any chances of getting another scholarship. I am also in a foreign country that I love with all my heart, which makes things more complicated as my staying is dependent on finding a job, which is also proving hard, and paying tuition is the only way to not be immediately taken out of a country I have spent the last 10 years trying to get into.
    I am also working at a certain structure at my uni, a job I love and I worked very hard at for the last 2+ years, and earlier this year there was an opening for a full time job – which went to someone who didn’t meet the language requirements, but had a slightly more relevant MA. I was really sad for a while, and then really angry, as I knew what it meant – that my Ph.D was gone and my days in academia were over. My career I had worked to build in the last 10 years, fighting my way up from the middle of nowhere, was over. I’m still sad and I’m still angry, but they won’t give me a visa or a tuition waiver for that.

    I wrote all the useless stuff above just to explain that this post is giving me the courage to let go: I know my professor and my parents will be disappointed, but you said it beautifully – if they give us no chance to be in, why be in? We don’t own them. I don’t need to be this sad and angry and poor and on the verge of tears every single day just because no one could find a space for me to fit in.

    I am really sorry for what happened to you and I understand your sadness and the uncertainty that comes with it. I hope you have something to fall on to help you financially and someone to support you. I sincerely wish you all the best for your future , wherever it may take you. I hope you can find a job you will love as much as you loved this knowledge.

  123. Erin,

    Don’t give up on writing that book just yet. As a result of the expansion of higher ed., and today’s collapse of the academic labor market:

    – there’s a demand for academically rigorous books for a popular audience

    – there’s a lot of clever people with books inside them that nobody will pay them to write

    So you have company. However, there are a few places where refugees from academia, and others, can publish. It’s not a total solution, but it’s a start.
    Punctum books is one. Check them out: https://punctumbooks.com/about/

    Like other people have written – if enough people posting here agreed to get together and pool their resources, then they could probably organize a journal, a blog, or a website. Or just talk. Again not a total solution, but a start.

  124. Dear Erin,

    I feel your frustration, as I was in the same space some 14 years ago, trying to land a tenure-track position (in earth sciences, which is natural history, but history no less).

    It’s a difficult time to be an academic, with more and more PhDs graduating with less and less funding and for the same number of positions offered. Unless you are absolutely stellar in your field and just happen to have the right “qualities” that department was looking for, I often heard the platitude after interviews: “Oh, you were good, just not a fit for our department.”

    After several years of being a post-doc, I knew my chances of ever getting a tenure-track position evaporated. I eventually found meaningful work as a university lab manager (on soft money), but I had to leave last year because of health reasons and because of the threat of funding cuts.

    Like you, coming to the realization that my academic career was over was a shock because the end came so suddenly. I still had papers I wanted to write, data I wanted to share with the community, friends and colleagues with whom I wanted to continue working.

    I share your sentiment that all that amassed information would be lost once you leave academia. So, what to do?

    The only things I could think to do as my last contributions to science were to donate my samples to museums across North America, and to put all my partially published and unpublished data onto accessible on-line databases. Even if I may never write those papers, my hope is that someone can use those samples or those data and weave them into whatever narrative that will help further our understanding of natural earth history. I may only be credited in a small footnote for my hard work in collecting the samples and data, but the end goal is to serve the greater knowledge.

    I also maintain my profile on ResearchGate so that I can continue interacting with researchers in my field. In this profile I have a collection of my publications, conference abstracts and data all in one place for easy access. I still get reprint requests for my papers from 20 years ago, and it is very satisfying to be able to help a researcher with their work even if I am no longer active.

    I am wondering if such options are available to you.

    Take the time to adjust to your change in life status. You will need that time to process. And then look forward and look ahead (not only for your sanity, but also because there are bills to be paid). There are always ways to keep in touch with your peers. For me, I am in a one-year program, training to be a professional editor and publisher with the goal of working on scientific and technical publications. I see it as a plus: it’ll be nice to be paid to edit something, rather than be an anonymous peer reviewer on a volunteer basis.

    I wish you all the best.

  125. Erin, thanks for being brave to write this post. I have recently resigned from a neuroscience faculty position at a US university, which has left me feeling powerless and worthless. Thus, until now, I was not brave enough to talk about my resignation.

    On the last day of my work, I had an exit interview with a HR senior manager, who clearly recognized my experience of academic injustice. However, she stressed that the HR is incapable of directly urging changes to academics within the same organization (not surprising, though). Yet, I still hope that my HR interview could serve as the cumulative evidence to help the next generation in academia. In this regard, Erin’s blogs can help PhD students (and postdocs) to prepare for their academic careers, and/or to make their career decisions.

  126. FrenchClassicist

    February 20, 2018 at 8:10 am

    Thank you for this piece. It articulates how I feel better than I manage to do it even for myself. Especially the part about the things left in your head unused and the loss of identity.

  127. Thanks for the piece. I’m sure many other commenters have said this, but I’m at the same spot. Well, I have been for a few years. Getting out is harder than it seems. Good luck to you. Also, I read the related faq and rolled my eyes at them all. People say and ask dumb things, as if after pouring a decade of our lives into building an academic career we haven’t thought of it. For whatever it’s worth, just from the little bit I’ve read here I think losing you is a loss to your field.

  128. Dear Erin,

    Thank you for writing this piece. I understand what you are going through and think you are brave for saying what we all already know and feel. Moriendo revixi.

  129. Daniel Donaldson

    February 20, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    I’m 60, the time that many people are retiring. During my working life, I’ve risen well up into the upper ranks for earning, and respect for my expertise in multiple fields. This has happened 4 times in industries that I had enormous passion and aptitude for. Each disappeared, in as little as half a year. Swept away by superseding technology or unpredictable shifts in the world economy, none left me with any starting point.

    So although I may have made good money in some years (although without the prospect of pension or other support in ill health or in my dotage, or to support my family through childbirth and so on, and without junkets and trips to conferences or free accommodation anywhere), my average earnings were relatively meagre.

    I’ve researched, mastered and gone on to use multiple skill sets, many involving substantial theory, in multiple domains. I settled into programming in the late 90’s, and spent at least on third of my time simply learning, at my own expense, emerging technologies that I believed would flourish. Many did not. Some did. The effect was to reduce my nominal earning potential radically. I did not receive grants to do this.

    The good fortune to do what was deemed beyond-conscience foolish, buy a house in the late nineties meant that the speculations of capital supported me, minimally for years; a sickness and death in the family and a divorce wiped all of that out in a couple of months.

    During three periods of my life, I found myself invited to teach in college and university level institutions. Memorably, the dean of one department had made it clear that the internet was a fad (around 1997) and not worth teaching design students anything about it. I parlayed my temporary position teaching 3D design and visualization techniques (also deemed a frippery, since pencils had come along so far since the 30’s) to industrial design students into an unpaid course on web technologies, to establish student demand for such a course.

    I wrote a curriculum, and like all the other curricula I had written, it was absorbed, unpaid, into my course, after they deemed me unfit to teach since I lacked a degree in the subject, or any subject. Never mind that in most cases, no-one had a degree in any of these things at the time I adopted those jobs and learned those skill sets.

    My replacement was a kid who had taken a BfA and then worked for one year at a failing design studio. But he had a *degree*. Later, I hired him on a project. He was gone within a couple of weeks, since there was no room for radical incompetence when executing paid work for demanding clients.

    Recently, I’ve been running a technology bootcamp I developed in Bali, with students from around the world. I teach people to do, functionally, what most CS grads end up doing. But rather than costing students $100k in a university, it costs them $10k, and takes about one tenth the time. Some of my students, having established their earning potential, are opting to do CS degrees, now that they can afford them. Most drop out, since they know the chances of using most of what they learn are not worth the hit on what they earn. The magical lure of useless or at least unemployable arcana fades quite quickly for those whose perspective is not entirely shaped by the propaganda streams of universities.

    I financed the bootcamp myself, and in a followup survey, every one of my students deemed it to be “a fundamentally transforming event” in their lives. Out of it has come a program in development devoted to understanding how to match software development to the needs of unbanked, under-organized and impoverished communities. It came out of a program to build software for remittance that was targeted at 2 million economic migrants in the fish processing industry in Thailand. I don’t see any CS whizkids in the migrant camps of Mahachai, but they one did show me his app to get custom designs on users’ cappucino foam.

    After reading this, you may expect me to say something along the lines of cry me a river. You got to 35 in a field where you were given grants, paid to learn, participated in the life of admirable institutions and were encouraged, perhaps, to think you belonged there.

    In fact, I’m quite sympathetic. In my view, the academy exists today, particularly in the arts, to create an economic exemption zone from the nightmare that has been the career I described. I never minded knowing that it existed, it seemed to me that the world was better if it did.

    But I never kidded myself that it represents anything other than a sop to the misery that capitalism inflicts. A fantasy world where the laws of capital are suspended, at least as the rust belt and the farming communities and the retail sector understand it.

    And it was very hard to not notice that things that seemed worth addressing, things that seemed important to the socially involved academics and thinkers of the era before mine, where Angela Davis and Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg took risks, walked with those outside the privileged zone they lived in, and made an attempt to involve themselves in a struggle for a just society, didn’t seem very important to the generation of academics we see today. Academia seemed to devolve into a Foucault-Baudrillard-Derrida-Kristeva-Deleuze wankfest.

    I’m sorry that your aspiration to join the elite disengagement of the academics has failed. But not very. What you would have gained would have been an embarrassment, had you ever stepped outside the Pale. The Stockholm Syndrome will pass. Your struggle will be to pull an oar and row the boat, which is what everyone else was doing while you were cavorting and fantasizing on the upper decks. Welcome to steerage.

  130. I am a student at a community college, not an academic. However this post (as it appeared on The Chronicle) moved me. You sketched out your grief in a way that helped me understand a life unlike my own.
    (I do actually know someone in her early-mid twenties who just quit grad school; she’s incredibly smart but, well, I won’t speak for her here.)

  131. Well, I am also 35 years old with a PhD (but in Linguistics). I’m not doing an adjunct or VAP, but my job is not permanent/TT either (basically, I am just a glorified postdoc). That being the case, I have also been considering quitting it altogether and doing something to help me obtain a stable job in the (hopefully) near future. In fact, I applied to some clinical Masters programs for the Fall 2018 entry – we will see how things turn out. Perhaps I should have done that 10 years ago, instead of applying for PhD programs at that time.

    However, for me, in my heart I knew that academia is likely not something for me, especially on this competitive job market. So, I don’t feel sad about not doing research, etc for the rest of my life. But I do regret the years “wasted”.

    Also, people shouldn’t take up these exploitative adjunct /VAP positions. If we all boycott such jobs, perhaps they can create more proper positions for PhD graduates. At least, this will enable people to realize early that they need to prepare for a different career.

  132. Dear Erin,

    I am going through the same process right now and so are many of my friends/colleagues (me and most of them recent PhD graduates in history in Europe and the U.S.; some of us having graduated from the best schools). What you write is true for all of us… It’s quite tough quitting something you love doing. I am in my mid-30s now and I am doing it already a second time (first time I was 20, realizing that I would not pursue a career as a musician, even so everybody told me I was such a talent). So, I know, it gets better, but make no mistake, it is a process and sometimes it takes the same time healing and orienting as it took actually doing it. For this process I wish you… I wish all of us… the needed strength and also possibilities to move on (in form of a new adventure). Thank you for sharing your feelings and rest assured they are shared (I do not know, if that’s helps… I hope a little bit at least).
    (apologies for mistakes and typos, I am not a native English speaker)

  133. Thanks for writing this. I’ve had friends leave academia. I’m a postdoc on the job market now. I don’t know what my future holds. This really speaks to a lot of the feelings I’ve had about academia.

    People always talk about the great non-academic career opportunities PhDs have. That may be true, but it’s not what I’ve trained for. It’s not what I want and, if that’s where I wanted to end up, then there would have been quicker and easier paths.

    I understand supply and demand. I understand that there is no way to avoid the fact that there are more PhDs than Professors. But having an honest conversation about the situation would be help.

    Enjoy the coffee.

  134. You said your vocation is not being a scholar, what is the difference between being a scholar and a historian? (Message from someone not speaking good English, but interested in the issue)

    • Erin Bartram

      February 25, 2018 at 12:56 pm

      In this situation, my concern was not with what my vocation was, but with the dangers of framing the life of a scholar as a vocation, regardless of discipline. The language of vocation is used to justify work without pay, and is particularly associated with female-dominated fields or occupations regarded as “feminine.” No one calls working in finance a vocation or expects that someone will be willing to do it for low wages or no wages simply because they have a passion for it.

  135. Universities nowadays are very unhealthy workplace. Many tenured profs get ill, and few are happy people. Getting out earlier than later is a good move actually. If your former colleagues are real friends, they would keep in touch with you. If you don’t hear from them, they are not worth your thoughts. Your ideas maybe useless and cannot earn you a living in the circumstances . But many intrinsically valuable things are useless in this way. Trying to sell or make money out of what is intrinsically valuable can often cause great misery. If what you really want is to enjoy doing research, then do it as something you love to do, not as a means to make money, if you lose you interest in research when it does not make money, then perhaps you real interest is in something else – perhaps a long gone utopian life style of a university prof many decades ago, which is not available to anyone now anyway.

  136. Erin,
    Thank you for your courage to post this. You broadened my perception of academia, in which I’ve been working for 20 years now, not as a researcher but a research service person, with usually short-term jobs.
    I wish you all the best in your current situation. I know from experience that grief is healthy and takes its time. It will change again, the strength to cope differently with life and to enjoy it, will return eventually.
    May your cup always remain full in your view!

  137. Capitalism is a plague that is destroying this planet. You studied history; now, help make it. Join the revolution, and actively bring about that mass rejection of capitalism. Progressive movements, including support for unionization, are growing and need someone as articulate and committed as you are.

  138. Erin,
    Thank you for writing this. Just today I made the realization that what I was feeling was grief. Then I read your essay, and it expressed so many of the thoughts I’ve been having. Thank you for putting all of it into words.

  139. Thank you for writing this and for expressing your emotions so rawly and clearly. I appear to be a senior member of this group. I earned my Ph.D. in 1977. I have held eight full-time positions in three states and many more part-time. I have applied for between 850 and 900 jobs. I always thought my “breakthrough” job would be “right around the corner;” after all, I had all that experience. Experience means nothing. Getting out early is probably the best option, but I did not get out early. I believed I could make a comeback and beat the odds. I too had a divorce as part of this dreadful journey I would not wish upon my worst enemy. But, as many others have pointed out, I think the most painful part of this entire process has been people around me blaming me for an outcome over which I had no control. Eliminated positions and filling in on temporary spots was not my choice. Also, my life experience has mostly killed my love for an academic field which meant the world to me from high school.

  140. Dear Erin,
    Thanks for writing that. I got a PhD in philosophy from an OK people program. Over that time, I’ve been adjuncting at 2 or 3 different places, teaching 10-12 classes a year. Somehow I get research out and think, “Oh, maybe this new article or this book will help.” I’m slowly coming to terms with the need to leave academia – I don’t want to keep doing this – but I don’t know what else to do with myself. I’m pretty well stuck in a rut. And I’m completely stubborn. I wish I could quit, sometimes. I imagine I feel sort of like as one who is in a relationship they could/should leave but just can’t. I hope you find something better and ultimately more satisfying. Part of my struggle is I keep keeping the dream alive; I won’t let it die. I wish I could quit, I think. I don’t know. I think you’re making a wise desicion, one I think I’ll be forced to make someday too. But I’m just not ready.

    • “I imagine I feel sort of like as one who is in a relationship they could/should leave but just can’t.”

      Well, exactly. It’s an abusive relationship to boot.

      If it’s any consolation at all: after 6 almost 7 years of adjuncting I’m finally making real moves to quit. But ageism is real, and there is fierce competition for the best jobs in no matter what industry you want to get into. There’s a group called Cheeky Scientist that helps PhD’s in the physical sciences get pharma jobs, but they also have a service to help non-science PhDs get other industry jobs. I’m doing OK so far in my job search, but I may contact them in case I’m totally bottoming out.

      Just remember: your pay can only go up from here. And the sunk costs issue. Get out now!

      I hired a “coach” who while well meaning didn’t offer much in the way of insight, but was more useful over the brief time I worked with him in just kicking me just enough out of the rut to be OK with getting out and seriously job hunting outside of academia.

      Hopefully “quit-lit” will only grow as a genre, and might (I’m not hopeful, but who knows) shame enough faculty into seeing just how corrupt and monstrous academia has become at all levels, from the admin bloat, neoliberalization/cost-cutting/profiteering, casualization of faculty, student loan debt… it feels gross all around, actually, to the point where I’m not sure I want to be a part of it anyway.

      • I had been a tenured faculty for over a decade, and just resigned last year, because I did not want to be part the sickening and exploitative system anymore – I felt dirty working within and for it.

        Now I am free! and happy again!!
        😀

  141. Like virtually everyone here I sympathize but I guess I was always a bit fatalistic about my chances in academia and so being cold shouldered out of the job race (after almost two years of looking across the Western hemisphere for a TT position teaching modern european history) maybe doesn’t hurt as much as it does for those who built their entire identities around academia.
    I guess there must be a special place in pugatory or the idiots’ hall of fame for people like me who stuck with grad school through thick and thin all while being perfectly aware of, and disgusted with, the rampant tribalism, the shitty coteries, the snarking and the endless posturing that is, and will always be – capitalism or no capitalism – at the heart of academia. I mean, honestly, you think an Oxbridge don from 200 years ago was any less ‘superior’ and indifferent than the people not currently noticing your early professional demise?
    Academia, at least as far as the humanities are concerned, used to be an upper class old boys’ club completely indifferent to the problems, concerns and needs of ‘laypeople’. Now it’s a somewhat broader church where you can meet folks from nearly all backgrounds, but the institution turns out has a life of its own that will not yield to ‘democracy’ and ‘inclusion’ no matter how many efforts are made in that direction. There will always be a members’ jacket, and the likelihood is that if you don’t know the right people, aren’t drop-dead brilliant enough, or rich enough, you will never be able to afford it.
    Anyway, even though I’m on my way to becoming a deadbeat ex-academic, I managed to trick a ‘proper’ publisher into considering a revised, streamlined version of my doctoral work, and I have no doubt that you (Erin) would be able to do the same with your stuff. The question, obviously, is whether it’s worth it or not. I did it almost as a self-dare because I’d always wanted to, no matter what, make my dissertation publishable. But at the same time, I know that even if the book sees the light of day it won’t do anything to enhance my ‘profile’ and that it’s pretty much useless profesionally (because 10+ other applicants for every position I apply to will have 4 books published and double the conference appearances I’ve been able to afford with virtually no funding from my university). But as a final ‘fuck you’ to the degree mill, publishing is probably somewhat more socially useful than an actual ‘fuck you’.
    Best of luck to all the rejected ‘bastards of young’. Do not weep; do not wax indignant. Understand – as a failed diamond polisher once said.
    PS: I don’t see how books can ever become useless simply because you no longer get to use them professionally. I’ll read EP Thomson’s Making of the English Working Class for pleasure over the latest scandi-noir thriller any day of the week, but maybe I’m just an incorrigible nerd.

  142. I’m so glad you wrote this, and very sorry about the mansplaining trolls. Also I hope you are no longer ambivalent about the funding link — I’m going there now. I’m a political science PhD who’s moved to teaching English electives at an Asian university because of years in journalism, and adjuncting and short contracts are the trend here too. I’ll share your essay as a warning to my students not to fall in love with academic life — it leads nowhere for too many.

  143. Thanks for your words. I can relate and I’m grateful for posts like this, which recognize the grief that comes with losing an identity and a vision of the good life that you’ve been cultivating for years (and directed/rewarded to cultivate!). Oddly, I read this on the same day a friend posted something in a similar vein, also speaking of grief and the gut-wrenching challenge to one’s identity… as well as something like hope. I hope you don’t mind if I share that here: https://www.raechelannejolie.com/blog/rage-love-working-class-academic-grief-in-two-acts.

  144. AmIStillaSociologist

    February 28, 2018 at 11:06 am

    A good friend of mine sent this to me. We both went to a top program in Sociology, but we find ourselves in the same boat. Strong publications records, top-notch degrees, and no reasonable long-term job prospects that let us do what we set out to do and love. This essay touched us both and helped articulate all the complicated feelings we’ve been having about being pushed out of academia. Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing and for reminding us that we’re not along and the system is broken.

  145. I don’t know that my husband ever got to grieve leaving academia. He received his PhD in Theology , went on the job market for a few years while adjucting at multiple schools, teaching in churches and being a part-time youth pastor. After the birth of our first child, I think he said enough is enough. He’s now an editor at a denominational publishing house, and generally happy with his work. It doesn’t, however, give him the opportunity to teach or dive into research on scripture. I see that lack of stimulation in him and know that it due to the choice he made. I guess what I’m trying to say is thank you for your words here. I have walked this road with someone. It is so difficult.

  146. Have you ever considered starting your own institute?

    As an undergraduate student… it would be nice to have professors who actually taught, actually knew what they were doing, and cared about their students. It would be nice if the University cared about their staff… It would be nice if we didn’t have an epidemic of student suicides year after year…

    If there are this many talented, passionate, trained people out there – maybe you could round them up and start something new – something better. Really teach in a positive environment. Develop a good reputation – make your own certification program…

    Higher education is changing… maybe this is an opportunity for you to be an innovator.

    It’s actually really shocking for me to read how hard it is to become a full tenured professor considering how low quality all of my professors are. Maybe they only hire the worst candidates?

    • I was you 18 years ago Erin, except I was a perpetual VAP in philosophy. I work in insurance now. Not trying to be cute. This is in fact true. It’s an easy 40 hours a week (can you imagine working so little) for a decent salary. It was bitter for me for years in the same way I sense it is for you. I don’t know how you get over that part. If there were a way you could grab your “Erin the historian” identity by the head and hold it under water until the gasping bubbles stopped rising to the surface so you could get on with it, that would be my counsel. But I realize you can’t. I can say this though. You’re younger than you think, and many of us have several incarnations throughout life, and reinvention is possible. You’ll survive this.

  147. Quite honestly, I think you are taking this too personally and responding with too much emotion. (Read Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, and cultivate a more stoic outlook. You will feel better). This is essentially about switching from one career to another. Outside of “academe” people do this all the time. Something about academia makes people too sensitive, too insecure, too self-indulgent… Let go of these melodramatic emotions, which are somewhat narcissistic, and transcend the impulse to take this so very personally. Find a new job and move on. I completed my PhD in history and went to work for the department of higher education. Everything is fine. Academia an absurd distant little memory. The stakes are so very low, so very irrelevant.
    Life goes on. Ca ira…

    • Wow. This was an unnecessary and rude comment.

    • David is right. This piece was so narcissist that it was difficult for me to read as an educator. Life is about options–beautiful options if you can be open to them.

      • Erin Bartram

        May 15, 2018 at 8:35 pm

        And yet you persevered, read the whole thing, and even summoned the courage to leave a comment. An inspiration to us all.

  148. Hi, thank you for writing this. I’ve been in this situation for what feels like a few years, even though I stopped going on the market two years ago (after going on it for three years and getting pretty much nowhere). I started a job that I’m happy in, but there’s still a real sense of loss when I think about my PhD. (And it is about things like, “I’ll never get to write x project,” or that I won’t get to spend time thinking about questions I’m still interested in with other people in the same ways. And losing access to particular communities and resources, even if other forms of both exist.) I don’t know that I have anything to say except that I hear you, I think, it sucks, and I hope you’re able to get the support (material, emotional, and otherwise) that you need right now.

  149. Hi, Erin. I came to this page from your piece on ChronicleVitae encouraging faculty to consider the limitations of advice they have for individuals leaving academe. I’m the n-hundredth poster, and while I want to respect your call to hold off with unhelpful advice, I do care enough to share some personal insights.

    First, a little background. I enrolled in a doctoral program with high hopes of making an academic contribution in my field, but also of bringing scholarship closer to practitioners. The mission of the institution I attended actually promoted this exact goal, but I quickly discovered many of the professors didn’t share this outlook. I should have quit early on. But I persevered, in part because of pride but also due to a dogged determination not to be written off. I think by year three I knew deep down I would never join the academic crowd. Finishing and graduating pushed me to the limit. I remain extremely grateful to my dissertation committee members who pushed me intellectually while also recognizing I was walking away.

    My wife was also instrumental in finishing. I was fortunate beyond words that she helped support us both while I studied, as the assistantship I had was limited. She gave me permission several times to quit, but an ugly mixture of perfectionism, guilt, and fear of failure compelled me to move forward. About two years before I finished, my wife learned she had cancer and, due to unforeseen complications, she was forced to have life saving surgery.

    Again, I should have stopped. To be fair, I did offer (sincerely) to immediately stop and look for a job. My wife insisted I continue, but only if I wanted to. When I did graduate she was incredibly proud; I had conflicting emotions, emotions that I struggled to deal with when we learned we wouldn’t be able to have children.

    Why do I share this information? What purpose does it serve for you, or for others? It’s up to you to decide. But I can definitely relate to some of the things you wrote about: frustration, thwarted ambition, a lost opportunity to encourage students on their learning paths, and knowing I can never contribute ideas to my field of study.

    It’s an interesting coincidence that you wrote about limited networks in the CV article. After I finished, I was unemployed for five months. It was a massively stressful experience and a real lesson in humility, but one I tried to learn. Family and friends rallied to offer all sorts of insights. I gave a lot of thought to what color my “parachute” was. Around this time my older sister shared an insight that I hadn’t considered. She told me to, yes, take advantage of my situation to really think about what I wanted to do, but also to realize virtually no-one walks into their “dream” job straight out of college. Instead, she depicted a journey involving several jobs that would gradually bring me closer to my goal. Her final message was, “Give yourself five years and see where you are.”

    Well, I’m not quite there yet. But things have slowly improved. My path back into the workforce was through analyst roles: institutional research at first, followed by educational research with government, and from there to a branch of government I’m thrilled to be working in – cybersecurity. It hasn’t been a straight or obvious trajectory, and at times it has been tough. I’ve had to build a work record; in other words, convincing people through hard work that I’m trustworthy. But most of all, showing my willingness to help others.

    The strange thing about this arc is I believe it was meant to happen. 20 years ago I had the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science and I turned it down. It was a good offer, but at 22 I didn’t feel I was ready, or rather I didn’t know what I wanted. And yet, although my life has followed a very different course, I almost find myself back nearer the beginning.

    So what lessons can I (or anyone else) glean? Professional networks matter, but if you don’t have any, you can develop them. Remain humble. (Several co-workers have asked why I don’t insert “Dr” into conversations and I tell them, to me the title doesn’t matter.) Be compassionate to yourself as well as others. Allow yourself time to heal, but also to grow. And, lastly, try not to lose sight of what matters: spending quality time with those you care about.

    Erin, it’s clear you do things well. You communicate clearly and you’re raising awareness about issues that, as you point out, do affect more people than the academic industry is willing to admit. I wish you well.

  150. I also followed your article about giving advice. I left academia (involuntarily) 10+ years ago. I had a family, and a partner who was earning at a level that made any monetary contribution on my part irrelevant, so I left paid work as well as academia then. I grieved as you describe, felt like I lost my identity, and also had obscure knowledge shared by 10-20 people in the entire world. The fit for me hadn’t been right for a few years — and, with how the field has turned, I think the fit would have gotten wronger. But when I left, the feelings were grief, for the loss of a sick loved one, or a failing marriage. Since I didn’t need paid work, I shifted my attention and interests to my family, my creativity, and my community. All of that has given me joy, though the scar of loss of my 20 year passion remains. But yes, the grief is in par with the big griefs in life.

  151. AnonymousLecturer

    April 15, 2018 at 1:58 pm

    I read this a while ago and kind of deeply identified with parts of it. After mulling it for about a month, I realized that we’re actually very different. What wasn’t directly apparent at first was how political and social advocacy was intertwined with your identity as a historian, and how you trained as a historian not just to write scholarship, but to be a scholar whose work provides comfort to the downtrodden and fury to the powerful. And you effectively do need to be a full-time tenured faculty member to do that. Sure, you can continue writing on your own, but the tenure protections wouldn’t exist in another job, and you wouldn’t have a platform for sharing your ideas – you’d just be a private citizen writing in their spare time. And for better or worse, independent scholars aren’t taken seriously, due to a complex of experiential and sociological factors.

    And the pain (as you make pretty clear in your piece, but I didn’t fully follow at the time) isn’t just at not being able to do what you want to do. It’s of finding the thing you’re best at, and the thing where you can do the most good for society, and learning society doesn’t value it. That hurts, and it hurts all the more for all the encouragement you got to take this path – and assume the opportunity costs it requires.

    No real answers, and I actually don’t think this is particularly helpful to you, since you know this all I’m sure. But I didn’t catch it at first and from the comments it looks like many other commentators didn’t either. I do wonder if the increasing identity of the humanities with group studies has lead to a situation where there will be an increasing number of people like you who see their scholarship as part of a political movement and who will find themselves unmoored at their inability to pursue a career they feel a moral imperative for.

    As for myself, I’m going to stop procrastinating my commenting here and go back to writing – I foolishly haven’t given up yet. Best of luck in finding something that gives you what you need.

    • Erin Bartram

      April 15, 2018 at 2:02 pm

      And the pain…isn’t just at not being able to do what you want to do. It’s of finding the thing you’re best at, and the thing where you can do the most good for society, and learning society doesn’t value it.

      You say your comment probably isn’t very helpful to me, but seeing my feelings put into words like this was very helpful indeed.

      • AnonymousLecturer

        April 15, 2018 at 10:24 pm

        Well, then I’m glad. I didn’t want to condescend and tell you how you felt; may have gone too far the other way.

        I’m not in exactly the same boat, and the differences are why I’m still trying, but it sucks. It would be one thing to be a washout, but to be good at it – and recognized for being good at it, but not to have it lead to a position where you can do what you’re best at…

  152. Precarious Prof

    May 15, 2018 at 3:13 am

    First of all, I’m very sorry this happened to you, and I feel for you for sure; as a “precarious” prof at a CC, I can relate to a lot of it.

    I am a bit puzzled by some of it, though–there are, basically, two sets of statements that seem to clash, at least in my mind.
    On the one hand:

    -You are devastated because this is all you ever wanted to do, and now you can’t do it. You spent years studying and working and can’t work in the field you trained for.

    On the other hand:

    -you don’t want to continue to study and, if possible, publish, and do stuff in the field, or even continue to work in the field under less secure circumstances, or even spend a few more years as a VAP, or revise and resubmit an already completed essay for a prestigious journal, all of which may wind up getting you a TT position eventually, or at least a full time position (which is all may of us can manage to score these days). And history is not your “vocation.”

    The second set of comments has nothing to do with your competence, which I know nothing about but don’t have dark suspicions about or anything, so don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. It just seems like you’re saying if you had/have a “vocation,” it was “professoring,” not History. But is being a professor, in a field you are interested in but aren’t fully committed to for its own sake, but more as a means to an end for being a professor, really that important then? There are other jobs, right? I am not sure what my point is, other than that elements of the essay are a bit puzzling to me.

    Again, sorry this happened, it sucks and I feel for you.

    • Erin Bartram

      May 15, 2018 at 9:09 pm

      I find the language of vocation really damaging, because it paves the way to the contradiction you see in my perspective, one that I don’t think is valid. I decided I could not endure the uncertainty, the stress, and most of all, the financial insecurity of doing this work anymore, all for an increasingly-slim chance at a TT job. I am committed to history for its own sake, but I am not committed to producing more and more written work, which costs a lot of money to do, if that labor doesn’t benefit me at all. Only the emphasis on vocation in fields like teaching can make me sound inappropriately mercenary and lacking dedication for making this argument; no one is surprised when people in finance demand to be paid for the work that they do, especially when other people profit from that work.

  153. As I write this, I’m also mentally preparing myself for a contract faculty (adjunct) position interview in a couple of days.

    Four years ago, as I finished my dissertation, my university offered me a contract position. I got to teach. I got to work with the faculty members whom I respected and admired. I jumped at the chance. From the beginning, I was tempted with a tenure-track position. I just needed to work hard and be a contributing member of the department. The TT position was created. I applied, was shortlisted, and interviewed. Time passed.

    Months later, I got an email from someone introducing himself as “the new faculty hire”. He would be teaching my courses and wanted help preparing. That is how I learned that I didn’t get the job. Upon further investigation, he had been assigned an office a month prior. I didn’t get official word of my rejection until a week or so later. Apparently, I was ranked last on the shortlist because my PhD was from the same university. Was the possibility of a TT job there ever real? Was I misled? Was I a fool for believing that I was really good enough to get a TT job?

    I’ve since applied at other universities and community colleges. I’ve interviewed, but not offers. I’ve applied to industry positions, but with the same result. Ironically the jobs tend to go to those already working there on contract. People keep telling me that I’ve got skills. But thus far, I’ve been unable to capitalize on them. Almost a year has passed – still unemployed, still searching.

    Thank you for writing your article, and for a platform to sharing my experience. Fingers crossed for my upcoming interview. Please enjoy the tea.

  154. Dear Erin
    All I can say is thank you. I spent nearly a year writing a grant. It got awarded, 5 years funding. Job security. However it was not to be. There was a mistake in it and now, though not named I have been blamed. Bye bye grant for me but not the University or named partners. This had all my IP, I have nothing more to offer. My ideas have expired and I feel I cannot foster anymore right now as I ’m so struck by what I realise now is grief, thanks to you.
    Today was my last day at work and I slipped away unnoticed leaving my desk intact with all those post it notes and books knowing I will have to return. I still will be expected to publish my past post-doc work and supervise my students to completion unpaid.
    But I now have to focus on finding a job to pay the bills. A non academic job. That doesn’t scare me too much. I’m scared of everyone’s faces when they realise I won’t be on ‘my grant’ and that it will be advertised. Everyone will know as a 5 year fully funded post-doc position in ecology is like a golden unicorn and ask why I haven’t taken it.
    I feel like I’ve lost my identity what do I call myself now? Do you start to put your gmail address down for correspondence on papers? Do you change your ResearchGate and LinkedIn to have no institution?
    The powers at be think I will just happily come into work with a smile on my face and do helpful things until I secure another job.
    I’m so glad you said “why should I!”
    I already worked two jobs while writing a grant to secure my future as an academic. Why should I now just do the same another year later? What is my worth to them I ask?

    This period in my life has been so stressful that I have had anxiety and panic attack, have had a skin rash and am producing white hair at 30. They said “you say that you are stressed?”
    I just can’t deal with them anymore. I’m glad I’m on leave from today till my contract ends. Though I have students and a report still to finish.
    As a woman I wanted to say that not only am I losing my career, 5 years salary, but I’m also losing my dreams…my little dream or that voice in my head that let me imagine that I could potentially have children in this period, take paid maternity leave and come back to a job in academia. Shocking I know. Again….it was a golden unicorn.

    Do men have these thoughts about how they can plan a family and have a career?

    Thank you for helping me grieve.

    • Dear A,

      I read your post this morning. I know so well how you feel. I too have worked hard to secure a future in academia, did not have children at that time, was not around enough when a friend died. And was told I hadn’t worked hard enough to get a grand I made possible.

      Especially the thing with children is hard for women. It’s not that we need to children to be a real woman, but it adds something to live. I had my first child with 39, thanks to my ‘scientific career’. I often look at my children and think that I will have less time with them in the end, that I will not see my grandchildren, just because I hoped to have a career in academia. It is devastating and unfair. It’s not worth it.

      I was expected to work overtime for the rest of my contract. I was kicked out of my office on my last day of work. It wasn’t nice. Now, about 10 years later, I’m starting to recover. I’m a freelance science communicator. I can do what I’m good at. But I still feel that I was abused, that the system took a prize not worth the outcome. I guess it’s harder for women because we take our jobs more seriously. We are willing to sacrifice a lot, and in the end we often are the ones who are send away because we aren’t good enough. For the sake of my little daughter, I hope this will change. And I hope my children will find another dream than academia.

      Now I’ve said a lot. The essence is, I know where you stand, I know how you feel and what you have sacrificed. There are so many of us (also men). Maybe by talking to each other, we can get over the grief. I wish you all the best for your future! You won’t forget your dream, but you might find a new one. Good luck and all the best,

      Anny

29 Pingbacks

  1. Happy Valentine’s Day Links! | Gerry Canavan
  2. The Core Problem With Liberal Arts Curricula/Degrees – Positive Infinity
  3. Quit Lit | Alison Fraser, Ph.D.
  4. On Early Career Researcher Grief – Alex Burns
  5. The Double Loss When Someone Departs Academia - Daily Nous
  6. Keeping this here – Toward the Luminous
  7. Hack Education Weekly News | Daniel's EDC blog
  8. The Sometime Daily
  9. Sublimated Grief responses and FAQs – Erin Bartram
  10. Practice Your Craft Creatively – Doctor Tales
  11. the other side of academia – dayregoldfish
  12. 5 Friyays: February 16 - Abbey Color
  13. “What do you produce as an English teacher?” | Interminable Rambling
  14. Impact of Social Sciences – Is pursuing an academic career a form of “cruel optimism”?
  15. Data Science newsletter – February 21, 2018 | Sports.BradStenger.com
  16. On Blogs and Craft Beer: Modern Approaches to “Jobs” – The Temp Track
  17. They’re Not Quitting! Reclaiming a Genre – a #Postac Guest Post | The Professor Is In
  18. Quit lit or Driven out lit? – Erin Bartram
  19. Merit, Luck, Privilege | memorious
  20. Two Views on Leaving – Rachel G's GRAD 5104 Blog
  21. The surprising benefits of a read-aloud reading group – Matilda Keynes
  22. My kids give me perspective – or do they? – Moms on 11
  23. Carry on campus – www.coveredinbees.org
  24. In Which Our Plucky Heroine Gets Her Happy Beginning | The Ivory Tower
  25. The surprising benefits of a read-aloud reading group | The Research Whisperer
  26. Stuff I read for CAPAL | The Incidental Academic Librarian
  27. Job Market Memorandum
  28. Should I stay or should I go? (and why I never have an answer) – Erin Bartram
  29. Musings & Musicals for Job-Hunting Academics – Latitudes of Whimsy

Leave a Reply to paul Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2018 Erin Bartram

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

css.php