I have decided not to go on the academic job market this year. I’ve wanted to be a professor for a long time. I still want to be a professor. Just not now.
Making that decision was quite hard for me. If all goes well, I will have my PhD next summer. Thus, it is this fall when I should go on the academic job market. To be proper, I signed up to go to every academic conference in my field this fall. (For those not in academia, academic job opportunities are posted in the fall, with applications due throughout the fall, and interviews taking place in the winter/spring. Finishing graduate students normally go on the market during their final year. Academic conferences are key places for being seen and feeling out different departments and practicing job talks.)
Before he passed away, my advisor and I had many long conversations about whether or not I belonged in academia. He told me that I had too much energy to do research and that I would find academia maddening at this stage in my career. The more I thought about it, the more I agreed with his logic. My reasons for wanting to go on the job market were simple: I *love* teaching, I *love* students, I *love* research. Peter kindly reminded me that this is not what academia is about – he used to joke that the University paid him to attend meetings so that he could keep up his hobby of teaching. Peter was infinitely patient about most things, but boy did he hate bureaucracy.
I feel the need to explain why I’m not going on the job market in a public way, mainly because everyone keeps asking and I expect that it’ll be ten times worse at 4S, AOIR, ASIS&T, and the smaller academic things I’m doing this fall. By no means am I rejecting academic research. Last time I quit academia, I published more academic papers and attended more academic conferences as a non-academic than ever before. I love scholarship and I love the research that academics do and I love academics, especially when they wear tweed coats. I have every intention of doing research when I finish my PhD. I just don’t think that I can stomach doing it as a 1st year assistant professor right now.
There are multiple reasons for which I think that going on the academic job market doesn’t make sense for me right now. The major ones are:
1. IRB/human subjects. I am a huge supporter of ethics in research, but my experiences with IRBs (at multiple universities) have been nothing short of miserable. I feel extremely claustrophobic right now because of it. I will save the details of my anti-IRB rant for another time, but the short synopsis is that I think that IRBs are destroying social scientists’ ability to do good qualitative research and ethnographic research in particular. In theory IRBs are about ethics; in reality, they are about protecting universities from being sued. Qualitative (and especially ethnographic) research is seen as risky because it’s not controlled and structured and formulaic. I do not believe you can do true ethnography under an IRB and it depresses me to think about all of the data that I’ve collected that I cannot use in my dissertation because it didn’t fit into an IRB-approved protocol. I’m told that not all IRBs are as bad as the ones that I’ve faced, but “not as bad” is not good enough right now. I want to do research that is guided by ethics, not institutions.
2. The tenure process. I have been watching friends go through the tenure process and it makes me sick. There’s no room for innovation, for playing outside of the rules. You have 7 years to publish X articles in the *right* journals in the *right* way. My favorite phrase associated with this is “Least Publishable Unit.” In other words, what’s the minimum contribution you can make to get a good publication out of it. I don’t write like that and I don’t want to. I also think that most of the “respected” journals are so locked down as to be inaccessible to broader audiences. I want to be an academic, not a hermit. I believe that academia is an institution built on knowledge creation AND dissemination. My goal is to write for public audiences, to make knowledge palatable and interesting and accessible. I want to contribute big ideas that will make a difference, and to leave the mini-contributions for my blog.
3. Overhead. I had this intense conversation with a young professor about the hells of starting up a new lab, applying for grants, starting new syllabuses, advising students, attending meetings, being stuck on the shitty committees, constantly reviewing, etc. He lamented that there was no time for research. I’ve heard this over and over and over again. Becoming a professor at a top tier university seems to mean death to research. Being a professor at less prestigious institutions seems to mean unengaged or unmotivated students. I’m not ready for either. I do a lot of “community service” right now (Nicole and my JCMC special issue will be done next month!), but I need to do research. I have too much energy to do research right now. And I need to work with brilliant students who are just as enthusiastic as I am.
4. Geography. One of the hardest lessons that I learned was that geography *really* matters to my sanity. I need to live in a city, where I can go dancing at 2AM just to work out some raw energy or grab sushi at midnight. I like to joke that I need the people around me to be more crazy, most intense than me, just so that I feel calm. Living near a major international airport increases my sanity tremendously. And having a beach nearby is extremely important for helping me feel grounded. I need sun because being seasonally affective isn’t so good for being productive. I also want to be surrounded by Big Industry both for consulting reasons and to remind myself of what the corporate world looks like. Right now, I can’t imagine living anywhere in the U.S. outside of NY or LA. That’s not very useful for going on the academic job market. And besides, there’s a part of me that wants to live abroad for a while anyhow.
5. Lack of flexibility. I want to do research – fieldwork – outside of the U.S. This means traveling and having the flexibility to travel. I want to consult and speak whenever it’ll be interesting and helpful to do so. I want to run to DC whenever a bill gets proposed that is nightmarish. I don’t see how this is manageable as a first-year prof. To complicate matters, academia is all about long-term. That’s why tenure is seen as such a reward. I’m not sure that I’m ready to be in a single place for the rest of my life, or even for 5 years in a row. I want the flexibility to jump around and that’s just not fair to academic colleagues.
These are the major issues. The worst is really the IRB. I can’t tell if the pain in my stomach when I think about IRBs is nausea or a murderous desire. Either way, it ain’t pleasant. But any which way you read it, I can’t imagine a full-time academic position that would make sense for me now. And I don’t think that I’d be good for an academic institution right now either. I think I’d make a great advisor, teacher, and researcher. But I don’t think that I’d make a good colleague right now. I need to work out some raw energy first. I still hope to go back to academia, but I need to wait. I can imagine a future where I’ll find the tenure game entertaining, know tricks to manage the overhead, and need less flexibility. And maybe IRBs will one day wake up and get it. OK, maybe not. But still, I can imagine a way in which I’d be a good colleague, but right now, I fear that wouldn’t be the case and I’ve already burnt enough bridges by being a punk-ass public grad student.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that it’s academia OR industry. I think that industry research is equally FUBAR, but for different reasons and I can’t imagine having my research locked down inside of one company. I just think that there has to be another way. I’m toiling with ideas of consulting, independent research, ::shrug:: I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve decided to let the wind take me where it will. I will focus on my dissertation this year and then I will see where I end up. My only plan post-graduation is a desperately-needed vacation. And then I will look for what’s next. I will not even entertain the possibility of jobs until after a vacation. That’s kinda terrifying (especially since I need to figure out health insurance), but I’m looking forward to it. Freedom…