19 November 2017

Goodbye Academia: When Slaves Answer their Calling

When I left academia, one of the things that made it quite easy for me to do so was the fact that I never considered academia to be my calling. Heck, I never had the mentality that it was my calling to do something specific. I found myself in academia simply because I was curious how far I could push it. It was never my calling to have good grades in university, good enough to get a funded PhD studentship. It was never my calling to devote 7 years of my 20's to earn MA and PhD degrees. It was never my calling to conduct experiments and publish my research for the next 4 years. None of this was my calling: I just found myself in that situation because I was curious how far I could take it. And when a barrier appeared, which remained even after being challenged, then I shifted course.

So for me it was an easy exit. Yet for others, this is not the case. Mostly because they believe that it is their calling and true passion to do what they are doing. And the sad thing is that this sentiment is being abused by the system, by universities who want cheap labor.

There are so many people stringing together various adjunct positions in colleges and universities left and right, being paid a measly sum based on how many hours they taught a class, with no insurance and health care benefits whatsoever. Given this scenario, it is not unimaginable for a very highly-educated adjunct professor to be relying on food stamps. After all, university administration typically thinks of professors are cheap, renewable labor.

The other day, I saw a faculty position advertisement, in which part of the job description reads as follows:

In recognition of the employment challenges sometimes faced by academic couples in small communities, [we] will also consider applications to share equally a single full-time faculty position. Applicants must each submit an individual application and indicate in their cover letters that that they are applying jointly.

This was disgusting. This more or less shows that the administration is capitalizing on the fact that there are highly-educated yet desperate people out there, desperate to continue doing what they think are their true calling, so why not enable them by splitting a single full-time position for two part-time positions? That way you get two highly-educated slaves for the price of one!

I still find myself scratching my head trying to figure out what makes people think that academia is so special? I admit, I used to think the same. Whenever I hear that someone is a professor, I almost immediately associate some sort of halo to this person, being very highly educated and an expert in whatever field he or she is in. But after having a taste of what academia is like, I am afraid I don't have good words to say about it. When I started thinking that academia is just another job, it made it way easier for me to find an alternative. I used to think that there won't be any fitting job for me outside of academia, given the highly specialized nature of my training, but I learned to adapt.

Unfortunately, I do not see university administrations changing their ways any time soon. After all, some universities still have practices dating back to the medieval times. But if more and more people start thinking that they are not cheap labor, if more and more graduates start thinking that academia is not the only option they have, then perhaps the system will change. Alas, I don't have time to wait for this change to happen. Hence I bid goodbye.


  1. Apparently, academia has the same mindset all over the world. My brother is a bit struggling with that, as he is completing a PhD. He knows that academia isn't necessarily his calling, yet reaching out to the world when you're at university seems challenging.

    1. Zhu,

      Then I recommend that your brother read the book "The Professor is In" by Karen Kelsky. It is a very valuable resource not only for finding a position within academia, but also when one decides to leave academia and do something else.