There have been some interesting conversations going on in the Twittersphere over the weekend, that’s for sure. It’s MLA weekend in Chicago, and the tweets on precarious labour and big conferencing have been particularly fascinating, because they question how much the tenured professoriate really cares to know about the struggles of the precariously employed. Here in New Brunswick, Canada, we are in countdown mode as we await a strike deadline at my home university (it expires at midnight tonight). I have felt particularly precarious in these negotiations, because even though I am in a full-time tenure-track position, I am on maternity leave this year and the effects of a labour action on that status have not been made entirely clear. In the midst of all of this, I have been catching up on old tweets about Faculty Orientations articles, and I found some feedback on Jacob Remes’s recent guest blog contribution “For Complaining: Three Anecdotes, and an Argument.” One tweeter (@imposterism) used the analogy of kvetching Ring Theory (see this article in the LA Times for a explanation of Ring Theory and for a useful graphic, which @imposterism references) to discuss the politics of tenure-track employees complaining. To quote @imposterism: “while relative privilege doesn’t erase value of complaints, it should perhaps determine their direction and aims.” Yes.
In 2014, one of my goals is to update this blog on a semi-regular basis (every week? Every two weeks? We’ll see how it goes). I’m starting here by outlining some topics that I hope to cover with the help of guest bloggers in the next few months.
Part of this effort will involve expanding our guest bloggers to include anonymous writers, so that we can try to cover some of these issues with greater honesty. Many people have approached me to say that they want to write something, but have said they are afraid to speak their truths online. I hope that this blog will provide these important voices with some writing space soon. (If you haven’t contacted me yet with an idea because you have been hesitating to put your name on something, I hope that you will take this as an open invitation!).
By Jacob Remes
William Lyon Mackenzie King Research Fellow, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University Assistant Professor of Public Affairs and History, SUNY Empire State College
I have a friend who is a star. At a conference panel recently, half of the people in the standing-room-only room left after she was done, and those who stayed directed all their questions to her at the end. Her first book has become a textbook and a landmark on graduate student exam reading lists. Not only that, but she and her partner are both tenured in at a research intensive university ranked in the top 60 national universities by US News. In short she seems like she’s won the game. She has the job most of us imagine, or are trained to imagine, that we want. Her ideas are well known, recognized as important, and spreading. Her book sells.
I’ve spent the last four years doing contract and sessional teaching gigs. When colleagues, friends or family ask me where I’m based, I self-identify as an itinerant academic and then explain that I’m currently at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Eyes light up at this response, and they lean forward intrigued, looking to hear more, and so I go on to explain where my teaching has taken me. I won’t lie – it’s not an easy career path, particularly at this stage. But then I look back and consider all the benefits I’ve reaped in the past four years, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing.
It appears I’ve reached new heights in multi-tasking. There are laws that prohibit talking on your cell phone while driving, but as far as I know there’s no law against talking into a micro-recorder. So here I am today, driving to Halifax for a conference and I’ve got five hours ahead of me so I figured I’d dictate this blog. Multi-tasking is, of course, something we’ve all learned to do, especially those of us who have kids.
By Alison Toron
PhD, English, University of New Brunswick
Co-owner and co-operator of Nashwaak Noodles, Currieburg, New Brunswick
Among my closest friends, I am affectionately known as Dr. Noodle. This nickname represents the complicated tension that exists between my academic credentials and my employment situation: I successfully defended my PhD in Canadian literature in 2011, and I am currently self-employed as the co-owner and operator of a small business making and distributing fresh pasta. (I am also a new mom and a combatant with the MCAT, but more on that later.) My absence from academia is equal parts personal choice and the product of a dismal job market that offers so few full-time permanent academic positions that it’s almost laughable. My personal narrative of earning an advanced degree and then making a living that has little to do with said degree has led me to consider what it means to “use” one’s PhD, and more broadly, what this discourse reveals about our attitudes toward the general value of a graduate education.
There’s an urban myth out there that says part-time academics (aka “lecturers”, “adjuncts”, &c) aren’t really professors, because they aren’t required to do research. If it ain’t in the job description, it ain’t happening. Part-timers are a) too busy teaching b) working at other jobs to keep a roof over their heads c) not interested in doing something for which they won’t be paid.
As most of us already know, that’s not even close to true. Sure, we part-timers may have to put more emphasis on our teaching – that’s what’s bringing in the bacon, after all – but even course-prep writing is still writing. Besides, there’s nothing like doing lots of writing for undergrads to make you itch to get back to the crafting of sentences, the building of arguments, that got you that PhD in the first place. Most of my lecture notes are peppered with crossed-out clever phrases and erudite references that have bombed in the classroom. The only way I’ll get to use them is to write for other academics.