My Quitting Story Part I (second installment): The 18 Step Program – From Idealist to Disenchantment to Relief

Step 11:  Send out “cold call” CVs and get bites from two institutions so I have some part-time work equaling a full time course load for the next academic year.

Step 12:  Start positions as adjunct.  Do the freeway thing.  Should be writing a book, but burnt out completely from the dissertation and can’t stand to do it even though I try.  Start an article in between learning two more institutions and their students.

Step 13: A full-time VAP position opens up at one the schools.  I apply and get it.

Step 14: Work full-time and a TT position in the department opens up.  Apply, get shortlisted and then not called for an interview.

Step 15:  Decide that I will quit academia.  This is the first time.  I spent over 10 years getting a Ph.D. and honing my skills.  I mentally had a hard time publishing afterwards due to the crushing end of my original contingent contract and learning two new institutions.  And I was just pain burnt out on research after a five year struggle a ridiculously ambitious dissertation.  I just do not want to do more crazy-hard work for free.  (I consider writing a book crazy-hard.)  You have got to be kidding me that I am expected to write a book on my own time, with no institutional or financial support for the slim chance of maybe getting a someday position.  I found a place that I loved living and was not willing to give that up.  I sacrificed enough, I think, and have proven myself capable of doing this job.

Step 16:  While I made this choice to leave, I still felt like a failure, that I wasted my precious youth, and that I never achieved my dream.  Spend summer aimlessly working on creative pursuits and trying to figure out “the next step” while wallowing in a failed career.

Unexpected Step 17:  Mr. Leftovers (who left his program ABD and began an administrative career after following me to my first VAP) sees a good job opportunity across country and for shits and giggles applies.  He interviews. Wants job. Gets job.  To entice him, they offer me a “trailing spouse bonus prize” of a small teaching contract for two years.  Isn’t this an interesting twist on the trailing spouse scenario?  There is some vague language that there might be more opportunities later.  I really don’t want to leave the place I love, but Mr. Leftovers is super into  this opportunity and there should be more opportunities for me there.

Step 18:  Fast forward a little over one year and I find myself in the third semester of a four semester contract.  I don’t love where I live at all.  I am teaching again at a top SLAC and do enjoy it, kinda, I think, but my soul dies a little each day as I walk into the borrowed office I squat in and face a lack of integration into the department and the institution as a whole.  Reminders of my status surface at every turn, just like the other three institutions I worked for as a contingent faculty member.  This, I thought, is my last chance.  I am not applying for any other academic teaching positions as I am no longer competitive with my lack of publishing.  If this works out, I will try this career again and restart my research agenda.  So, instead of waiting until the contract closes, I am pro-active and ask about “future opportunities.”  Denied!

Next, how I quit.

My Quitting Story Part I: The 18 Step Program – From Idealist to Disenchantment to Relief

Step 1:  Apply to and get accepted to top program in the country (but with tuition only aid).

Step 2:  Face: backstabbing, simple conversations that become a battle of wits proving who can outsmart whom, backstabbing (did I mention backstabbing?) ego-bruising toxic atmosphere for over a decade – where is the romantic life of the mind I dreamed of?

Step 3:  Relatively quickly realize that my image of the professor life sharply differs from the reality of: scrambling for funding (I didn’t get into this to be a fundraiser); the crush of the clock to produce, produce, produce; spending so much time manipulating course material and lesson plans to “make it interesting” to students; the crushing loneliness of working alone most of the time; and the daily judgment of your work as a scholar and a teacher.  The best part about the last one is that you are often judged by entitled 19 year olds who actually have the power to determine your future through course evaluations.

Step 4:  Have some doubts but press forward because it feels too late to turn back.  Teaching is interesting at this point still and I enjoy research just not in the way expected of me to succeed in this profession.  I also don’t want to feel as though this has been a honkin’ waste of time and my youth.  I still idealize the job of “professor” at this point.

Step 5:  Spend 1.5 years creating my own data set based on hundreds of interviews and document research.  Spend years coding and wrestling with the sheer amount of information to process it into a coherent document called a dissertation.

Step 6:  Go on job market with a publication, ABD.  Nothing.

Step 6:  Go on job market with two publications, ABD.  Nothing.

Step 7:  Go on job market with two publications and a paper award for second publication, ABD.  Hurray, a full-time Visiting Assistant Prof. position at a SLAC!  At this point, I am scratching the walls trying to get out of the city I live in so I am super happy.  I feel elated for the first time in years and am a bit delusional that this VAP might actually lead to something greater and is a good career choice.  My hard work and complete sacrifice of my ego has finally paid off!  (Or so I think.)

Step 8:  Finish Ph.D.  Yay!

Step 9: This should read…profit!  But the reality is high five-figure debt accumulated from undergrad, an MA program, and the Ph.D.

Step 10: Start dream job.  Love location, colleagues, and actually buy a house in an awesome neighborhood.  Live “the dream” for 1.5 years.  (It wasn’t really a dream, which I will write about in a future post, but it had its good moments.) Get caught up in administration changes, department politics, and economic fallout.  My contract is very unceremoniously and unprofessionally (lawsuit territory) not renewed after two years when I initially was told I could realistically work up to seven years as TT positions opened up.

Steps 11-18 coming soon…