I May Need to Re-Read This One on My Own

I’ve had a really hard time writing of late. All kinds: my dissertation, fic, blog posts, you name it. The words have been hard to come by, even harder to put on the page.

Part of it, no doubt, lies in the building veil of anxiety that surrounds what will happen this fall. That is, come September, there’s a very real possibility that I might be the only person in my cohort going out on the job market.

Now I do my best to be a “run your own race” kind of person, so at some level, this development shouldn’t concern me at all. My colleagues and I, we are all of us faced with very different life choices at this time, and what they do or do not do on the job front has little impact on me.

However, as I’ve noted before, in my department, the job hunting season for upcoming grads is freaking spectator sport, and in this equation, I will be the object of that gaze. With the prospect of perhaps being the ONLY object from my cohort in those sights, well. Pass the Pepto and the nearest paper bag.

No doubt this has contributed to my sticky keys.

But there’s something more to it, something even more fundamental and confusing. Setting aside the problem of what employer might pay me for what, I’ve been battling the question–what kind of scholar do I want to be, exactly? What kind of job might I want (dare I even think such a thing)?


As recently as this past Christmas, I’d have told you that I was aiming for an R1 (a research university, that is). Certainly, this is what my department has in mind; nay, it’s the prospect that they’re salivating over. To be blunt: it’s what I’m expected to aim for, what I’ve ostensibly been trained to do.

At a research uni, I’d research more and teach less. I’d be expected to publish ad infinitum, contribute something exciting to theory in my field, and teach 2 or 3 classes a term. On paper, this is the kind of gig that most people think of when they dream of becoming a professor: a life of reflection and privilege far above the madding crowd of first-year comp, some money for travel, and an office with my name on the door–at least until my tenure review. Any hope of tenure would be tied to all of the above + “service”–that is, sitting on committees and contributing to university life–but most of all, on publication. At the very least, I’d be expected to have one book out, most likely based on my dissertation. I’d have to be seen participating in the right conversations and doing the right kind of work.

(At least, this is what I’ve been led to believe after years of reading The Chronicle of Higher Ed. There’s been almost no discussion of what an R1 job actually looks like in my department–but then again, I’ve never asked. And my uni is itself an R1, so perhaps it should be obvious what such a life would entail. Hmm.)

In what’s called a “teaching” job, by contrast, I’d teach more and (in theory) research less. I’d teach 4-5 classes a term (which yeah, is quite a lot), leaving me little company time to do good work and make a name for myself in the field, whatever that is, exactly. My tenure hopes would lay less in publication (though it’d still be important), and more in teaching evals and university service. These gigs aren’t as prestigious, in the minds of TPTB, and, to be blunt, is regarded generally as below my station (given that I’m training at an R1 and all).

So pros and cons on both sides, to be sure.

But here’s what’s been giving me heartburn:

I’m a really, really good teacher. It’s the best job that I’ve ever had (and I’ve had A LOT). And I love it–even when I’m drowning in papers or rushing to complete the reading before class or marching through 10 student conferences in a day, there’s nothing I’d rather do with my life than teach, than spend time with my students, than read and respond to their work.

It’s the greatest gig, and yet it pays for shit. I know that.

Now, I enjoy my research, too–parts of it, anyway. I love going to conferences and talking with smart people fired up about their own work and presenting whatever project I’m currently muddling through. I dig tangling with new problems and finding cool stuff other scholars have done and having an excuse to chalk hours on Twitter up to “research.”

However, I don’t relish the prospect of spending the rest of my career writing articles that no one will read.

I’ve said before that I know more people will read my fanfic than will ever read my academic writing. And I’m ok with that–in part, I’ve figured out recently, because I’m proud of my fic. Each of the stories I’ve written, there’s at least one element–be it a metaphor or the whacked-out structure or a really sweet moment of porn–that, at least for me, make the whole effort of writing the thing worthwhile. I learn from my fic, and from my readers’ responses, and best of all: I always know that I’m writing towards a particular set of readers who share my same affection for the characters or worlds that I’m playing with.

I look at it this way: in writing fanfic, I always know that I’m writing towards other people’s pleasure. It may be an audience of 15 or 2000 or whatever, but the people who read my fic do so in search of pleasure, be it of the fluffy, angsty, or porny variety. And that is just bloody well not true when it comes to my academic stuff. Not because it’s bad, but because I think the impetuous for most people in picking up an academic essay is more obligation than a pursuit of possible joy.

I’m never going to receive a comment like this, for example, from anyone who reads my academic wank:

Wow….just so much wow….very well written….think I may need to re-read this one on my own…..

And on the one hand, that’s ok. Fanfic and aca-wank are two different genres with different operational guidelines and audience expectations. Cool. (And I’m choosing to ignore the entire “but writing porn might hurt your job prospects” question for now). But look, get so much more joy out of creating work that a) I like; b) allows me to take creative risks in structure, word choice, formatting, and sexual positions; and c) I know will bring other people (and me!) more pleasure than crafting 12 pt. font essays that maybe five people will be forced to read as part of a lit review.

Now am I saying I don’t *want* an R1 job, should someone deem me qualified? No. Am I saying that I want to quit academia and write romantic smut full time? Well. Am I saying that I regret my PhD education? NO. Absolutely not. But what I think I’m saying is that the whole job thing is even more complicated that the whole pleasing-my-masters problem, or even the-market-sucks-right-now reality.

I’m not sure what I want. I only know what I’m good at, and what I enjoy.

A delicate balance for the future that I’m just not sure how to strike.

Well, hey. Like the man says:

So I gotta be doing it right.




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