Friday, December 19, 2008

Why I keep doing this to myself

You all may remember Mr. Zero from his time as one of the more prolific commenters at the old venture. He was a dynasty unto himself there, so Second Suitor and I decided to invite him on board here at the Smoker. Here he is with his optimistic first post: an attempt to remind us that, despite everything, we have a pretty nice job. --STBJD

It's my second time on the market and I'm not doing any better than last year. I'm grumpy, stressed out all the time, and I'm sleeping like complete shit. I check my phone for messages even though I haven't been away from it in hours. Every day feels at least a little like a swift kick in the nuts. It sucks--if you're reading this, I don't have to tell you how much it sucks. Why do I keep doing this to myself?

I keep doing this to myself because I love my job. Over the summer I snagged a VAP. It's a lot of teaching (only 2 preps, though!), a lot of students, not much money (twice what I made last year, though), and located in a part of the country I would not otherwise have opted for. Nevertheless, I get up in the morning and go to work and it doesn't feel like work. I like being in the classroom. I like introducing people to philosophy and teaching them how to do it. (I do not like grading their initial efforts.) I like thinking about philosophical problems, doing philosophical research, and writing philosophy papers.

So, one thing I've learned being in this job is that I really like this kind of job. I like being a professor, and I like it when I read a good paper from a student and I can think, I taught this person how to do this. I like the feeling I get when I clearly identify a philosophical problem, work my way through it, and develop a plausible solution.

All I want is to be able to keep doing this. And since this appears to be an especially bad year for all of us, I thought that maybe now would be a good time to accentuate the positive. So I'll throw it out to you: why are doing this to yourself? What makes you want to do this?

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

I too find that I really enjoy teaching. I heard that this can be the kiss of death, so watch who you say this to. But it's not why I initially got into this racket. I thought teaching would pay the bills so I could write. But I found that teaching is catalytic! Teaching a research can be integrated by ( . . get your own sincere interview speech . . .). Eureka!

Here are some reasons to be an academic:

1. You get to work on your own projects.
It's not like this in most other jobs. You are always doing something for someone else. Even when you are teaching intro for the 30th time, you can still change it up, focus on the problems that you are interested in. And no one gets to tell you what to think about, what papers to right, etc. . . This is huge. You'll realize how great this is as soon as you work in a non-academic setting. . .

2. No boss.
Or, at least, a minimal boss. A chair, a dean, a program director, these aren't at all like a normal non-academic manager. Not at all. For those of us with authority issues, this works out nicely.

3. Light, Flexible Schedule.
Even if you are teaching 4 classes, your schedule is extremely open. In most cases, you can arrange your start time and you just don't have to put in much "face time". Of course, SLAC are somewhat different, with 40 hours a week of office hours. But this is rare. Many of use get days with no precise commitments. Sure we have to prepare for class, and heaven forbid be productive, but we don't have to be anywhere in particular at any particular time. Again, even the most flexible non-academic job won't give you this kind of freedom.

4. Summers Off. + winter break + spring break
You can't imagine what it feels like to look at the next 30 years and realize that you will only get 2-4 weeks off per year. It hurts to burn your vacation early and then have no breaks left for the rest of the year. Happily, this just doesn't happen in academia.

5. Retry
If you mess up a course one semester, you will likely get a chance to try again. . . .

Sure the pay sucks, but these are incredible perks.

(Yes, there are exceptions to all of the above. Some people have to teach 6 courses a semester and teach during the summer, have a micromanaging chair, and teach courses with syllabi prepared by others. But these clearly are not desirable jobs. It would be better to do something else. . . .)

Mr. Zero said...

I heard that this can be the kiss of death

I've heard this, too, and it infuriates me. I think it's so dumb that admitting that you like to teach can hurt you when interviewing for a job that includes teaching, almost by definition. It would be one thing if there were a lot of research-only jobs out there, or if teaching were a scummy, dirty thing that must be done, but which you'd have to be crazy to enjoy. Like scrubbing toilets. Or committee work.

But every single job I applied for involved teaching at least two classes per semester, and often twice that. So it seems to me that you'd better like it, or at least be okay with it, or else you're going to have problems at work.

That said, I agree with everything on your list.

KateNorlock said...

Happily, I like teaching, said so at interviews for SLACs, and got a SLAC job. So if you are blessed with an interview for a SLAC, feel free to tell them you loooove it.

Indeed, doing this definitely means you will be expected to live up to your own hype, in the form of lots of contact hours at the expense of scholarship, all of which you're doing in those summers "off" (read: frantically writing and trying to explain to those you love why no, you can't come see them/paint the house/travel this summer).

Anonymous said...

Saying that you dislike teaching is far far deadlier a kiss than saying that you enjoy teaching.

You will never lose out on a job because you like teaching. You might get the stink eye if you seem to prefer teaching over research. In fact, I imagine only the 2nd coming of Kripke could pull off a "Teaching can suck it" move in an interview and still get hired (and that interview would have to be at a top program). Tossing out a "Research sucks eggs" however might be permissible in many instances (and I bet that some places actively look for that, though more elegantly and euphemistically put).