Archive for the ‘Academia’ Category

I’ve been contemplating this post for way too long, and I’m still not entirely sure I should post it here. But reading the accounts of others who walked away from grad school without finishing or academia after getting a degree has been helpful to me, so I figure I owe at least this.

To get right to the point, I’m seriously considering walking away from my dissertation and the PhD program I’m in. I’m not 100% ready to go, but I’m pretty sure.

I entered the program in fall of 2006 and am currently ABD, but I just don’t really see the point in finishing. More importantly, I feel like the only reason I didn’t leave earlier (like 3 years ago when it would have made a lot more sense to bail) was some sense of duty–needing to finish what I started and not letting people down and other rationalizations born out of indoctrination and stubbornness.

A quick rundown of how I view the upsides and downsides of staying or going:

Arguments in favor of leaving:

1. I have no intention of pursuing an academic career, and getting such a job isn’t likely to happen even if I did. People, and I mean people who are better academics than I, and people who are willing to move for jobs, for the most part aren’t getting academic jobs. The academic job market sucks, and I want no part of it.

2. I need to adapt to the place I live and we don’t want to move. Despite moving here for grad school, the town where I live is home now. My daughter is in kindergarten, has great friends whose parents have become our friends. My mom moved here to be near her granddaughter and provides free childcare when needed. We own our home. Our garden is awesome I like my neighbors. The cost of living is low, and there are many things I would be satisfied doing for a living here.


The analogy between aspiring academics and the cycle of abuse isn’t an altogether apt one, but “the exploited becoming the exploiter” just sounds stupid.

Earlier today, I received an email with the subject line “Copy-editor wanted!” via a university listserv I subscribe to. It both irritated and intrigued me. Since I won’t republish the whole thing, here’s the setup: the sender is working on a book project (as an editor, ahem), and ze (yeah, I’m gonna do this pronoun thing) is looking for “a grad student who is interested in helping with some copy-editing and formatting.” Ze explains the book’s focus and then goes on to tell prospective editors that:

while I can’t offer any payment, I can offer acknowledgement in the book as a research/editing assistant and a line in your CV.


I’ll get right on that.

Anyway, as I read it, this person took on the role as a book’s editor and needs help because ze can’t do hir part alone. And, ze would like a graduate student (everyone knows grad students have tons of time on their hands) to help out . . . for free. Now, the suggested rate for a decent copy editor for light editing ranges between 30 and 40 dollars an hour. Yes, some charge less than this (full disclosure: I edit at $25 an hour with a decent discount for certain people, like other graduate students), but this is what is considered fair in the world outside of academia. So ze is basically asking someone who is already pretty busy, probably gets paid poorly for a teaching load that exceeds the terms of the signed contract, and made a shitty decision to get an advanced degree in xxxxx to do editing work that ze originally signed up to do by taking on the role of a book editor. And all this so as the lucky grad student can have an acknowledgement in a book tens of people will read and another line on a CV that will likely do nothing to actually help secure a decent job. Ze probably also sees nothing wrong with asking this because ze would have jumped at the opportunity as a grad student.

I, however, find it offensive that anyone would ask a graduate student to take on this kind of work for what really amounts to no compensation or reward.

The irony in this (and I don’t know the person and had to look hir up) is that the sender hirself is not tenure-track faculty. Ze is an adjunct instructor who, like a grad student, makes a poor salary and likely has a lot of work to do outside of the book publishing arena. This also likely explains the fact that ze can’t at least offer this as a paid research assistant position at a great salary of like 10 dollars an hour.

So, the sender is someone who continues to be exploited by a university system that cares little about actual teachers, and you would think hope someone in such a position would know better than to push this kind of work off on others for nothing, but no.

What is really sad and frustrating is that somewhere there is a graduate student (probably a Ph.D. student in the first couple years of a program and eager to build a CV and network) who will jump at the chance to do this. Why? Because he or she is still a believer that this kind of volunteer work will benefit him or her in the long run. That that CV line will make a difference somehow.

This seems unlikely to me, but what do I know? I’m 90% out of academia already. And, personally, if I’m going to volunteer, I’d rather read to kids at a library or help restore wetlands than help edit some academic book.

To return to the analogy of exploitation, what I see here is someone who went through some degree of exploitation in grad school. Ze is now in a slightly higher position (though still an exploited one) and is repeating the cycle of exploitation back down the hierarchy. Through hir training as a graduate student, ze has learned to think of this as okay/the way things work/a small price to pay for that eventuality of a tenure track position [snicker]. This sucks. Please tell me I’m wrong.

If young, non-established academics (and by this I mean grad students, post-docs, adjuncts, and the like) cannot find the means to stand against their own exploitation, it would at least be nice if they didn’t perpetuate the cycle on those slightly lower on the low end of the hierarchy.

I’m not the right person to comment on Aaron Swartz’s death. Plenty of others who are better informed than I have done so already. A few of the more insightful articles I’ve read are:

Lawrence Lessig: “Prosecutor as Bully”

Glenn Greenwald: “The inspiring heroism of Aaron Swartz”

Alex Stamos: “Aaron Swartz Died Innocent”

What I do want to do is reprint Swartz’s “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto” in its entirety and invite some discussion about how academic publishing works and how those who participate in this type of publishing view the prosecution against Swartz (especially in light of pushes for increasingly open access).

My general take is pretty in line with Aaron’s: traditional academic publishing is a dinosaur living on borrowed time that young scholars are pretty much forced to feed. If you don’t publish in respected, old-timey, usually paywall-protected journals, you are reducing your already slim hope of a tenure-track job. The publishers’ commoditization of your work does nothing to compensate you; it merely stands on tradition that you work for pennies while they make a good sum of money off of you and others like you (which you actually indirectly fund, at least as a grad student, through journal subscriptions at the campus libraries paid for by your tuition). Meanwhile, you get backpatted for being such a successful author as to publish in one of these prestigious journals and add that line to your CV. It is a shit system, but, at least for young scholars, there’s very little one can do about it. You aren’t in a position of power at all. And the pushback for flouting the system (what MIT and the prosecutor did to Swartz) reinforces the reality that we aren’t all going to they aren’t about to let us publicly rebel and just toss everything out there for the public to find (though a lot of people have over the years have been doing just this).

Anyway, the text of the manifesto is below the cut. And thank you for everything, Aaron.