Friday, April 29, 2011

The Ultimate Career Goal

I think it really helps to know what it is you ultimately want to accomplish in your career. Unless you have a very concrete vision of your ultimate destination, it is hard to avoid making false moves and wasting time and energy on moving in a direction that will ultimately prove to be a dead-end.

I do have a vision of where I want to get in my career. I don't think that something like tenure can be the ultimate goal. For me, tenure is a means to an end. Of course, I will be very happy and celebrate massively when / if I get it. However, that will only be one of the sine qua non conditions that will help me get closer to my goal. There are academics who never look beyond tenure while on the tenure-track. The tenure process is such a time-consuming, complex and often daunting proposition that it often tends to obscure the fact that one will spend many more years in academia after one gets tenure than on the actual tenure-track (which normally takes between 5 and 7 years.) I know several people who experienced a major letdown and a couple who got seriously depressed after getting tenure. For years, the list of tenure requirements was the organizing principle of their lives. Once it was gone, they had no coherent vision of why it made sense to do research and publish any more. (I felt something very similar after I passed my doctoral comprehensives and was left without a reading list that would organize my existence.)

My ultimate goal (and if you want to make fun of its sheer grandiosity, feel free) is to become a female and non-Marxist Terry Eagleton. What I mean by this is that I want to arrive at a point where I will write books on scholarly subjects that interest me (ideology, identity, feminism) for wider audiences. I chose Eagleton as my model because he manages to write in a way that is accessible to any reasonably educated person who is not a literary critic. He does so, however, without compromising the quality of his ideas. Eagleton doesn't dumb down or simplify. Rather, he uses his incomparable writing style to explain even the most complex matters in a way that makes them easier to understand.

Most people believe that academics live in a world apart, that they condescend to those who are less educated, that they can only speak in jargon that nobody other than them can decipher. I can't say that these opinions are completely misguided. The image of the academia as an Ivory Tower is more relevant today than it has ever been. As I said many times before, I am not a Marxist. I don't believe that economic interests guide people's actions and form the basis of everything that happens in society. History has demonstrated time and again that economic interests are nothing compared to the power of ideas. By locking ourselves in our Ivory Towers and excluding everybody not versed in our jargon from gaining access to ideas, we end up creating a society that will eventually expel academia altogether. We are seeing the beginnings of this process already in a slow erosion of tenure and closures of so many programs on the Humanities. 

Yes, politicians do damage to academia and so do anti-intellectual corporate administrators. I love ranting against them as much as the next person. (Read the archives of this blog if you don't believe me.) However, we are to blame, too. There needs to be a greater effort made to bring our ideas to a wider audience. And this is precisely what I want to end up doing.


Anonymous said...

Great goal, good luck in your pursuit! A few days ago, I was thinking that the success of your blog has been due to your capacity of making whatever you’re talking about approachable and sharing with us your personal experiences, so that we as readers do not feel alienated but a we can sit with you, that is figuratively, as we see you talking, and ranting about many different subjects.
By writing books about which academics only have dare talk in the language and style of academics you’ll definitely capitalize your potential.


PS. Could you expand on this “History has demonstrated time and again that economic interests are nothing compared to the power of ideas” I’m more into the theory that genes are behind everything, not even the economy or the ideas are as strong. I’d love however, to see the examples, and the ideas you have in mind to back your statement here.

Clarissa said...

Oh, thank you for this wonderful comment! This is just what I needed to make this day of endless and boring meetings bearable. You are right in that blogging has helped enormously. When I reread how I used to write just 3 years ago, I always end up literally rolling on the floor with laughter. I was pompous, grandiose and my sentences were interminable and jargon-ridden. So I'm glad it's getting better.

Thank you also for the post topic suggestion. When I'm done with these meetings, I will write a post on why economic factors are not crucial. And then I will write a post on why the genes aren't crucial either and dedicate it to you. :-)

Pagan Topologist said...

Genes aren't crucial? Bear in mind that only genes distinguish a human from a maple tree.

Tim said...

Is there anything wrong with being a maple tree ?!

Pagan Topologist said...

Not at all, Tim, but it is a somewhat different life from being a human. Maple trees live longer but travel less, for example.

Clarissa said...

This is what happens when you answer comments while trying to get into the bus. I meant to say that genes are not crucial in how we choose to lead our lives, what we make of ourselves, what we do or do not want, etc. But, of course, they are fundamental in helping us not become maple trees to begin with.