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Wedding Woes

Academia is a racket

Dear Prudence,
I am an adjunct assistant professor at a four-year public university. Due to funding cuts, we have not had any tenure-track jobs available in many years. We have one opening this semester and everyone expects me to apply for it. I think I have a decent shot at it, but I am struggling with whether to even apply. It would be a tremendous amount of work just to apply and compete against applicants from all over the country, and I am already overwhelmed with work. I also have major family responsibilities, young children—including a special needs child with multiple medical issues—and a very long commute. Achieving work-life balance already feels like a losing game. I am loath to add more to my plate and fearful of what would fall through the cracks as I prepare for the dog and pony show. If I got the job, I don’t know that I would have the bandwidth over the next five years to do the research, writing, publishing, travel, and presenting necessary to achieve tenure.

What’s more, I feel resentful about having to compete for a job I am already doing. The whole enterprise feels like a political game I don’t want to play. And I am already reaping the emotional rewards of teaching and working with my students without playing the game. But by not applying, I am potentially missing out on the financial and social rewards that come with tenure: the respect of my peers, a better benefits and pay package—not to mention job security. So do I leave this tenure-track opportunity to others who may be more free, with fewer family responsibilities, who will have greater capacity to jump through the hoops? Or do I reach for the brass ring and try to grab something for myself as a reward for the years I’ve already given to this institution as an overworked, underpaid adjunct?
—Tenure Trouble

Re: Academia is a racket

  • Try. At least try. 
  • Oh I have a lot to say about this (given I've now left two tenure-track jobs). 

    1. Yes, academia is a racket and being an adjunct is awful; the pay, the treatment, the respect is never what people doing these jobs deserve. 

    2. The pressure for tenure is intense, and even at the end of it you might get denied. Be prepared for that before you go into it, knowing what is at stake. It is not for everyone. It is a ton of work, that in the end might not pay off. 

    3. Even though you've been doing the job for years, unfortunately (and probably unfairly) unless the Chair has made explicit (in writing) promises to you about this job, it's likely you're going to have a harder time securing the position than a freshly minted PhD or ABD. It sucks but that's the reality. They know you will do the job for less pay (and less job security, less respect, etc. ) so what incentive do they have to promote you? (Yes, academia is really this terrible). There's probably very little credit given to your adjuncting time there. 

    4. The financial and career benefits are huge if you earn tenure. There's no doubt about that. 

    In the end, LW needs to think carefully about whether they want the benefits that come with a tenured or tenure-track job, and whether that is worth the work that is required to get there. It isn't for everyone (After three years I realized it wasn't for me), and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. But if you're already feeling resentful now about the system, I'd say that's a pretty big red flag. There are people who are made for the publish-or-perish life and excel in this environment, but it's definitely not for everyone. 
    short+sassyMissKittyDangerMesmrEwe
  • I was hoping @charlotte989875 would respond :)!  I knew she would offer a good "inside look".

    If the LW felt it was only going to be another year or so that a tenure track would interfere with work/life balance, then I would have said "go for it!".  Since tenured positions don't become available very often.

    But it doesn't seem like their hectic work/life schedule is changing (for the better) any time soon.  As much as I feel it is such a shame to potentially lose out on this rare opportunity, it sounds like it would just be a lot more than they could handle. 

    Wedding Countdown Ticker
    charlotte989875
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