Hi there. I’m Brendan Myers. And I quit.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the situation of young grad students or people who recently completed their graduate degrees. Many of them, perhaps nearly all of them, face ridiculous barriers to entry into good university jobs in their fields. Here’s some examples:

The Closing of Academic America

The Plight of Adjunct Faculty

9 reasons why being an adjunct faculty is terrible

And my favourite, Thesis Hatement”.

Here’s my story.

I got my Ph.D in philosophy in 2006, and in a short length of time I was working as a sessional lecturer (that’s “adjunct faculty” to my American friends) at a very fine Canadian university, one with colleagues who I liked, and where I generally enjoyed working. However, within a few years I realized that the only job I would ever get at that university, or any other, was insecure, badly-paying, part-time teaching work, with no acknowledgement of any research I was doing.

When I applied for a regular faculty position at another nearby university, where I also briefly worked as a sessional, the head of the department told me that I hadn’t enough publications. I pointed out that I had published four books already, which was more than she herself had published. She replied that none of them were academic books (that was true of one, but only half-true of the others) and that therefore they didn’t count.

That short five-minute conversation left me almost completely disillusioned about the academic world.

So I quit.

And yes, quitting the academy was hard. I got other jobs, some of which I hated. I got help from friends and family, which often left me feeling demoralized. I had pegged my sense of identity and self-worth on the academic mortarboard, and that made it very was hard for me to imagine any other career for myself, or any other way of life. Quitting the university was one of the most stressful and unhappy decisions I’ve ever made.

But the outcome has been great. I teach at a small college now where they pay me only slightly less than what I’m worth, and I love my students there. I don’t give a shit about the fashion-driven rat race of “publish-or-perish”. And therefore I write and publish whatever I want, with trade-paperback publishers and self-publishing tools. And now I’ve published fourteen books, in only eleven years.

In that sense I’m not fully “quit” from the academy: I just changed my path to get to it. I see it now as having quit the “prestige” academy.

And yes, it took me a long time to get to this point. But the single most important thing I did to get here was stop caring about fitting into the “prestige” academic world and start caring more about what my discipline is supposed to be all about: the love of wisdom, the critical examination of answers to the highest and deepest questions in life.

I doubt that I will ever work for a university again. I’m certainly not applying for university jobs: and if a university was to actively recruit me (which isn’t likely) then they would have to offer me something really awesome. Because I refuse to work as a sessional, ever again.

Dear struggling recent graduate: I feel your pain. Not long ago, I was in the same place you are in now. But I assure you, there’s a way out of the trap that your university has probably put you in. It’s called quitting the world of “prestige” academia and doing whatever your academic discipline is supposed to be all about anyway. Just stop chasing the carrot that they’re dangling in front of you, and plant your own carrots in your own garden. Remember, it’s not the word “scientist” on your pay stub that makes you a scientist. It’s the doing of good science that makes you a scientist. And think of how many great minds in the canon of Western civilization were never professors: Jean-Paul Sartre, Baruch Spinoza, as examples. If they could do it, so can you.

So if you’re seeing too many obstacles in the academic world between you and your aim to become a good scholar in your field, then quit the academic world and be a scholar anyway. Use the public libraries or your alumni card or the internet to get your research materials. Work for companies that do work in your field, or work for government agencies that fit your interests, or get together with others in the same situation as yourself and start your own business. It’s a very scary move: there is a lot of risk, and a real chance of failure. But your alternative is to chase after a carrot that your university will almost certainly never give you, and to still be paid barely enough to rent a crappy apartment by the time you are old enough to retire.

I leave you with the words of renowned scientist James Lovelock:

I have had to become a radical scientist also because the scientific community is reluctant to accept new theories as fact, and rightly so. It was nearly 150 years before the notion tha theat is a measurue of the speed of molecules became a fact of science, and 40 years before plate tectonics was accepted by the scientific community. Now perhaps you see why I work at home supporting myself and my family by whatever means come to hand. It is no penance, rather a delightful way of life that painters and novelists have always known about. Fellow scientists join me, you have nothing to lose but your grants.

(Lovelock, The Ages of Gaia, 1990)

(Feel free to share this graphic around.)

This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Hi there. I’m Brendan Myers. And I quit.

  1. cb says:

    Congrats Brendan,

    The same can be said of other non-academic fields. Jobs that were never suppose to be offshored in the new economy, whatever they meant by that, have been, so the lie is exposed for any that want to see. Many do not care to know or see. Welcome to the economy that the US has been working toward since January 20, 1981.

    I mistakenly thought it would work, back in the day, but having lived it for a significant portion of my life, I am willing to be honest and admit that those economic policies, the voodoo economics of trickledown hae utterly failed. Only the insane and self serving ignore the facts and push on otherwise.

    Before my father passed last year, we discussed how his generation could afford a family with 1 salary, how my generation could only afford a lesser lifestyle on two salaries and how his grandchildrens generation would not be able to afford that lesser lifestyle without three salaries. Such is the family unity make up these failed economic policies have pushed us too. His generation trusted government, we know better. It is obvious to all that we are not better off today and the reason for this is strictly economic, lack of jobs paying livable wages.

    Since the social experiment that devasted the middle class and doomed our economy has not stopped, it must get worse before it gets better. It can not be propped up for ever, even now, average people undertand that austerity and QE simply do not work, never will and can not be continued. Since there is no reason for this other than greed, lack of foresight, bad political policy, its a just a shame.

    Those of us that graduated High School in the 1970s had no problem getting jobs. Same was true for those graduating college in the early 1980s. Without jobs that pay a livable wage, capitalizm falters and fails. Ironically those few 9% benefiting from their creation refuse to acknowledge the failure. Insanely they follow the same political policies that hae devastated the majority of Americans while enriching themselves. And when people rise up complain they follow the policies of facism using police and/or military to put down those complaints, yet do not see themselves as such. They should look in the mirror, but would they acknoweldge the truth, probably not.

    My definition of capitalizm requires workers to have/afford a roof over their head, healthy food on their table and health care so that they can be productive in a capitalist economy. Socializm bah, that is capitalism, pure and simple. It seems the politicians (all parties) have lost their way. And given corporate control of the courts and political system, this will not change any time soon.

    Its a shame we have to starve while we make attempt after attempt after attempt to succeed, whatever our field of endeavor. However this is the solution to self actualization, hopefully success and if truly fortunate benefitting society by creating good paying jobs.

    Now that you can benefit from your own research, go for it. Now that you can spend time on the hard questions, no telling what breakthroughs you might make. I wish you nothing but good fortune and success, hoping you do not starve before you reach it. I know I never will give up and after reading your blog post, it is obvious you will not either. Congrats!

    Its a shame those in power have no interest in helping you. Their loss.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *