Thursday, May 04, 2006

competition, status, and job satisfaction

Laura at 11D pointed to a post about academic generations that got followed up here with a post about, among other things, status and competition in the academy. Then there's a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about job satisfaction at midlife that seems to speak to these issues as well. The pseudonymous author of the Chronicle piece claims to have made career sacrifices to keep her family together, and I don't doubt her. She and her husband both have long commutes for the jobs they have, and she's not in a tenured or even tenure-track position (though she does seem to be attached to a prestigious institution nonetheless).

We made different choices. As a two-academic-career couple we used to say one of us (and it was usually me, as these discussions went) would have to go into administration in order to stay in one city. Instead, Mark simply gave up his career. He never did a national search, stopped doing research, took a series of one-year positions, and is now looking for something outside the academy. A large part of why he gave up--besides the overwhelming reason, which was so that I didn't have to--has to do with the structure of the academy itself. As the pseudonymous Paige puts it:

The system rewards unmarried, geographically unattached, childless women and married men with spouses who manage their lives. It favors the silently collegial or the brash productive types, depending on the environment. It undercuts the value of communal activity and, in some environments, punishes those who feel there is value in being actively engaged in students' lives. It adheres to notions of research productivity that encourage a great deal of career-based scholarship with little intrinsic scientific value or substantial public benefit.

We don't do science, but otherwise her analysis seems spot-on. Which is not to say that academe is a bad job, at all. As someone who has had modest success in a demanding career, and who has hardly been overtly punished in the ways the above paragraph suggests, it would be churlish of me not to point out that I have lifetime job security, flexible hours, and good pay. While my health care costs have sky-rocketed in recent years, I still have comprehensive and reliable coverage. I live in an affordable and pleasant city with good friends and real community. My children are succeeding in good public schools and they know where their parents are, and how to reach us, almost all the time. So is it whiny to want more, to point out the ways in which the system is still not really doing what it says it does?

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