Monday, December 20, 2010

Misery Is Fashionable

College Misery is a very popular blog that offers a space for academics to vent their numerous frustrations about academia. When I first started reading it, I really enjoyed the blog. The 90+ academics who write for College Misery are all undeniably brilliant and write beautifully. After a while, though, all the whining about how horrible it is to be a college professor gets quite daunting. I mean, it's not like anybody is being forced to work in academia. If you are really and truly all that miserable, why not quit and find a career that will make you less unhappy?

College Misery gets between 30,000 and 50,000 visits each week. I get exactly ten times less visitors per week. I'm not feeling competitive or anything. Obvioulsy, 90+ very talented people will be able to produce a lot more great material than I can ever hope to put out single-handedly. Still, the popularity of College Misery means that the message of unrelieved professorial suffering resonates with many people. And I just find this very hard to understand.

Sure, this semester was very onerous for me because I chose to pile all of my service requirements onto it in order to free myself up completely for research in the Spring semester. And, yes, I did have that one recalcitrant grad student about whom I bitched so much that I truly have to admire the patience of my readers who put up with it. I also caught almost 20% of my freshmen cheating on their final essay, which made me physically sick for several days.

Nevertheless, I never forget how amazingly blessed I am to have found this wonderful career. Back in Ukraine, when I was in my early twenties, I was very comfortable financially. In material terms, I had stuff that I most certainly will never have here in North America. I worked as a translator and as a teacher of foreign languages, which was in great demand. Still, all of that material and professional success never made me happy. It took me a while to figure out what was missing: intellectual growth. Now, I have a lot of free time and endless resources to better myself intellectually. (Only a person who grew up in an environment where books were an unattainable commodity will be able to understand the perennially novel joy of going to Amazon and getting any book you can possibly want.) And even though I have all this freedom to develop myself intellectually, I still make a very comfortable living doing what I love.

My colleagues love complaining about underachieving students, boring service requirements, and the ills of academia. Still, it is obvious to me that wild horses couldn't drag them away from campus. Even when they are on sabbatical leaves, they keep showing up at the department to share fruits of their engaging research. Even during holidays, they are ready to rush to campus whenever a student needs advisement. Even on weekends, they keep sending out inspired emails on how to improve our courses. This is why I find it hard to believe that they are really all that miserable.

Last May, I blogged about whining as a way of life in academia. The more time I spend among my colleagues (either in real life or in the blogosphere), the more convinced I become that all this whining is part of some weird fashion trend whose origins I still fail to understand. Whenever I tell my colleagues honestly, "Gosh, I love this job to death!", they - the people who love it as much as I do or more - look at me like I'm need to be institutionalized.

Is it time for somebody to start a "College Happiness" blog? And will it get any readers?


Anonymous said...

I empathize with your "intellectual growth" need. After graduating from engineering school, I practised in the private sector for several years. And though I didn't necessarily dislike my job, I was getting bored. I wasn't able to fill that gaping void in my soul until I began studying for a long and difficult licensure examination. At the conclusion of my studying and like a desperate junkie looking for a fix, I quit my job and went back to grad school. At present I continue to try to figure out how to avoid returning to the traditional rat race when (and if) I'm forced to leave the friendly confines of the university.

Jonathan said...

I used to read Rate Your Students, the predecessor to College Misery. College misery, after seeming amusing for a little while, just gets wearisome. Someone complained that a student begged for a higher grade... Not the most serious problem in the world. People worried about students texting in class--just tell them to stop, it's not that hard.