Annorlunda Books has a new release — the novella Caresaway! Go check it out!
From Rebecca Schuman, the contemporary American university in seven emails (here, also here).
I have been reading “The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your PhD Into a Job” by Karen Kelsky. It’s interesting and very engaging, and I believe it is an invaluable job-hunting resource for people in the humanities and social sciences. (Some of the wisdom translates well to the physical or biological sciences, but much does not, as the cultures do differ.) The book has been reviewed extensively on Amazon, so I won’t do it here. What I wanted to highlight is a rather personal essay by Kelsky from her website “The Professor Is In” on how her successful business as an academic coach and the accompanying book came to be (she also writes a column at Chronicle Vitae). She completely left academia after ~15 years; at the time she held the position of department head at a midwestern R1. She cites two key reasons for leaving, one of which was that she felt that her soul was dying because of the culture of the place. The essay describes elements of the culture that are common at research universities and that I recognize at my place of employment. The issues she discusses are exacerbated for expat academics away from metropolitan areas: the locals are indifferent to or even uncomfortable around foreigners (or perhaps certain kinds of foreigners), so that non-church and non-work friendships are exceedingly difficult to forge, yet work relationships are usually just “colleagueships,” i.e., situational friendships at best but usually just decades-long civil coexistence. If our family were to pack up and leave today, my kids’ friends might be sad, but not a soul would truly care about either DH or me leaving (beyond a few being irritated that my massive teaching and service now have to be covered by someone else). But, it is what it is, I suppose; it makes me cherish our little family and the connections I do make, IRL or online.
Speaking of connections, here’s an interesting story from Louie CK.
“But, it is what it is, I suppose; it makes me cherish our little family and the connections I do make, IRL or online.”
Word. In last 6 years I have made perhaps no more than 2 connections with other faculty and 2 connections with non-faculty. This is really sad. Why is this so effin difficult?
I’ve made some friends with faculty at my campus, but they are in different departments. We all went through new faculty orientation together, and we have been hanging out ever since. We go out for dinner weekly, so we make sure to keep in touch even if we don’t talk much throughout the week. I actually have found it easier to make friends here than at my previous college (large state research university). I suspect that’s because things were so fractured by department there, and it’s best not to get too friendly with immediate colleagues. Meeting people outside the department can be tough, and they often have family obligations (the latter makes it tough to make friends in general – I’ve wondered if it gets easier as kids move out and people get to have lives again). This is one thing that I wasn’t going to compromise on, personally. I feel being close to family is important for my personal mental health but also everyone else’s (kids, grandparents, siblings, etc) and have felt the propensity for academia to destabilize people’s lives by making them move all over does more harm than good. We lose a lot of good people that way.
I’ve been making a conscious effort in the last few years to improve my friendships, and … really no success to report. Everyone at the university is busy with work, kids, aging parents etc and I don’t really fit in with the local culture. I feel like a freak when I talk to people off campus. So now I have a much bigger pool of casual acquaintances, which is good, but not enough. No one will miss me much when I finally lose it and quit.
Reading Kelsky’s post and your comments makes me sad for you guys. I’ve struggled to make really good local friends since having kids (and I’m in San Diego, which has lots of scientists!) but I have a few. Making friends as an adult is hard, and I can only imagine how much harder it is in your situation. Hooray for online friends!
Wow, this resonates. It is very true that one of the most depressing and unexpected things about my career has turned out to be the social isolation. After 27 years working at my semi rural midwestern R1 as a woman faculty, when my kids graduate from high school I will have zero ties to the area. I made a few friends when I first moved here as a postdoc, but they were also postdocs, they were from somewhere else originally, and they all subsequently left the area while I stayed on as faculty. I have not had any success making more new friends here after I became a faculty member despite enjoying a large number of excellent professional friendships/collaborations, and despite a lot of trying. Almost all of my colleagues/fellow faculty are men so maybe that’s the problem. The male faculty here do golf or fish or go out drinking together, but never with female faculty since this would lead to brutal gossip–women my age simply do not do hang out with men they aren’t related or married to. The very few other female faculty here are adamantly not available for socializing–either young with overwhelming family/health/professional challenges taking up all their time, or else old and often gay/closeted with a firmly separated social network. Amusingly, my closest friends here are a couple men who I used to date and who I meet with once a year or so for coffee! It’s bizarre- at this point I’ve given up on making any real friends here and I am looking forward to moving away when I retire in a few years.