The break-up hasn’t happened yet. I’m still trying to find a way to tell my partner of the last five years that I don’t want to be with him anymore. That he’s too possessive, all-consuming, elitist and that he offers me no future.
Academia, the ivory tower, is the former-beloved to whom I refer. Ever since I finished my undergraduate degree and my former teachers persuaded me back into the hallowed halls of the university to take up postgraduate study, because I achieved a an unexpected First in my degree and ‘I would be an ideal candidate for the MA in Political Philosophy’, I have had a love-hate relationship with the academy.
A year of disappointment in the real world, after achieving a first class honours degree in Politics and Sociology, left me craving the life of the mind. I wanted to be back in the seminar room discussing theories of the state, equality, wellbeing, the individual, the family and society. I missed writing essays and reading canonical texts. I had been unemployed when I graduated, worked in a call centre, was put on anti-depressants and eventually got a job as a university admin assistant when I finally decided to apply for that MA. I got on the course and I received some funding. I had an amazing boyfriend and I came off the anti-depressants. The anxiety that I was really suffering with would be with me for many years to come, however, and would only grow in strength.
After receiving an MA with distinction I moved to London to start a fully-funded PhD working on my favourite philosopher. I loved the research seminars and conferences, discussing my ideas with other academics. I met the philosopher, on whom my work was based, several times throughout the PhD process and he generously gave me feedback and support for my work. I taught students from a range of backgrounds, despite being initially terrified of the prospect, and I loved it. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. I often lacked motivation, I had many lows alongside the highs, I doubted my abilities constantly and I became increasingly agoraphobic to point where going to the corner shop was an ordeal. Academia became my life and my partner had to learn to cope with my erratic behaviour acting as a crutch and safety net on whom I became far too dependent.
When he decided to change careers and retrain, he had to return to university and the best university course for him was back up north. I went with him. I hated London and I knew I couldn’t survive there on my own, either emotionally or financially. I assured my supervisors I would continue with the PhD and visit regularly. By the end of the third year, when my funding ran out and I hadn’t finished my thesis I knew I had to get a job. Luckily for me I found a part time administrative job in a local university where I would have my own office, access to research facilities and was invited to participate in the research activities of the department.
And this is where I currently reside. My thesis has been submitted and I await my viva. I have one paper published in a decent edited volume. I have organised two conferences and 2 workshops. And I have teaching experience at three different universities. But it’s not good enough. The academic job cycle has offered up two jobs that I could reasonably apply for, one of which is back in London. Both are temporary one year posts. I knew things would be bad, but I never thought it would be this bad. The competition is fierce and I feel that I don’t stand a chance. So my options are to wait for the next cycle, spend the next year applying for postdoc funding, or cut my losses and get out of this destructive relationship now. I’m leaning to towards the latter choice.
This blog aims to chart my progress as a post/alt academic. It will provide some of the structural and some of the personal reasons for my decision to leave. The analogy of a relationship and a break-up is one you will see time and again in post-academic blogs, and it is the analogy I can relate to most. Only a romantic relationship with another person has brought me as many highs and lows, heartbreaks and disappointments.
The blog is mainly a cathartic endeavour and a way for me to force myself to keep persevering in the post-academic world. However, I have made it public (albeit anonymous) in the hope that it will help someone else who is in a similar position and feels like they are alone. I have come across lots of American blogs from heartbroken grad students and adjuncts who have also broken up with academia, and they have been immensely helpful in reaching this decision. But it seemed to me that there was space for another voice to add to the burgeoning conversation around leaving academia. I’m not in mourning yet because I’m not out yet. Instead I’m still trying to work out what I’m going to tell my former-beloved. For me, in my head, it’s already over, the relationship is doomed. But as far as most people can see, at least on the surface, we’re still happily married and we have a future. I’m not really sure how to break the news to them.