The End of Summer Vacation: A Tale of Ambivalence

Since my last post, I spent five weeks being quite ill with a virus/infection that would not end.  I am just about feeling normal at this point two months later.  That was so not fun.  In my malaise-laden illness daze I managed to send out an application to an interesting alt-ac position.  I heard back fairly promptly with a request for a phone interview and then had an in-person interview.  After one more call-back and a background check, I was offered the position.  I start this week and I am currently experiencing a potent cocktail of emotions.

I am a bit surprised at how sad I feel.  Accepting this position, which I think is a good fit, makes the end of my academic career feel so final.  All of the years of struggle to complete my degree was fueled mostly by faith (and a love of the ideas in the discipline) that it somehow would work out.  And in the end this hasn’t happened.  It has been a long and bitter road.  Securing this position has allowed deep feelings of disappointment and fear to surface.  I actually think that this is healthy for moving on with my life which has been difficult because I have been caught in a cycle of mourning for years at this point.  I fought the fight for so long because I enjoyed many aspects of academic work and its more flexible lifestyle.  The work didn’t feel like work (except when grading large stacks of student work) even though it was certainly challenging.  I fought the fight so that I would have self-directed, engaging work that would keep me out of a cubicle from 8:30-5:30.  And this week I find myself figuratively returning to the cubicle.  I worked my way through undergrad and grad school, so I am no stranger to this schedule, but I remember how it felt a bit like handcuffs.  I worked very hard to avoid those handcuffs.  So as I share the news with friends, family, mentors, I am greeted with hearty exclamations of congratulatory wishes, but I don’t feel like celebrating.  This was not my life long dream.  In addition, I think part of the reason for my less than celebratory mood is the compensation.  I would not be able to support myself on this salary in the expensive region of the country in which I live.  I tried to negotiate salary, an earlier start of retirement benefits, more vacation days, but nothing was negotiable.  Higher-ups recognize that the position pays 20%-30% below other similar positions and work is being done to rectify this discrepancy, but I was assured that nothing would change before the new fiscal year (next July).  I feel a little defeated in the face of what would appear to be a victory.  I spend upteen years working on developing skill sets and I can’t support myself with my job.  I didn’t go into academia to get rich, but it would be nice to think that I could sustain myself with the skilled work required of this position.  Despite its salary, I accepted the job because it potentially offers an opportunity for later transition. It is a foot in the door or a well-paid internship with benefits.  I think (I hope) that the work will be interesting as well.  Much of today I spent reading post-ac blogs to help assuage my fears about post-ac transitions.  Thanks to all of the bloggers for sharing their experiences.

After years of resistant independence (and summer “vacations”) it will be interesting to see how this unfolds.