On top of the ubiquitous imposter syndrome, graduate students who hope to become professors someday must also face the additional challenge of staying optimistic in light of the ongoing tales of terror about finding faculty positions in higher education. This narrative takes several forms, be it ongoing attention to adjuncts and their increased use at universities over and above tenure-track professors, to state funding cuts for higher ed, to new contingent faculty (adjuncts, visiting assistant professors, instructors) who spend years applying for tenure-track jobs, and each year have to make the hard decision of whether to continue trying, or give up and leave academia.
It is this last area, of folks leaving or giving up on academia, that intrigues me. In my past career, I worked in and with investment bankers. When a banker’s resignation letter was interesting or dramatic enough to become public, the reason for leaving was usually that they could not bear the relentless pursuit of the dollar at all costs. In fact, although I don’t have a dramatic and click-worthy letter to show for it, I too left that industry because I could not come to terms with supporting and benefiting from the greed of others.
Reading articles lately about those who have left academia, on the other hand, worry me. The part that worries me most is the echoes of the reasons I saw bankers quitting, the money. To think that an incredibly intelligent potential faculty member would feel they had to leave academia because they could not survive financially, but they love what they do and would want to keep doing it if they could, is another sad reality of higher education. It ties into all of our fears as we work towards our degrees, and there is little I can say or do to mitigate those feelings.
But what I can say is that in both of the examples I referred to above, people were trying to do what they loved, and what felt right. These very public pieces describe a struggle that each of these people have gone through, of trying to maintain their values, passions, and beliefs while still maintain a financial stable lifestyle. That gives me some measure of hope.