I've put off writing here, but I've been writing everywhere else. Chances are, you've gotten email from me recently. Today. In the last 20 minutes. Email is our communicative currency. We're just symbol trading monkeys anyway, but now we can trade really fast.
Today, in the class I teach, we talked about what to do after the MA is finished. The only options are not 1) enter another graduate program or 2) enter the academic job market. But young scholars are often made to feel that leaving academia--even if they plan to return later--is some kind of once-out-never-in deal.
Well that's just not true. It may be the case that leaving academia and trying to return after a few years as an instructor presents a challenge, especially if the time has been spent doing work that can't directly influence or inform teaching and scholarship. But there's a big wide world out there, and sometimes the best lesson we can learn is how to find our place in it. Graduate school forces that consideration for some people. First we must know what we value and need to live happily. Then we can fit our careers and lifestyles into that plan. Certainly, jobs aren't always fun, and sometimes we have to take jobs that we hate to buy food. Of course. But disabusing new teachers and scholars of the notion of "academic-as-an-identity" (instead of "academic-as-an-approach") can be healthy, even if all it offers is an option for consideration. (Shout out to Teresa Hooper, whose fantastic conversation about academic identity I copied entirely in the previous sentence.) This point is especially relevant as I recall a conversation with a young woman last year: "Well, when I finish my MA, I want to have a baby, but I want to have it in May, so I can maybe adjunct in August, and they'd never have to know." It makes me sad that there are some institutions where her secret baby is a secret best kept close.
As job season ramps up and the jobs become ever-more contingent, I do wonder if this opting out isn't a form of self-advocacy. It's a bit Timothy Leary, okay, but consider the power of placing well-trained teachers and scholars in public spaces. Teachers and scholars with knowledge of rhetorical situations and exigency and responsive (not reactive) discourse. These are exactly the people we need in the public sphere.