dimanche 6 juillet 2014

Academia: An Abusive Partner

Mon amie Marie m'a proposé de traduire le texte que j'ai posté ici il y a 3 jours sur l'Université comme partenaire abusif. J'en suis flattée et poste donc ici la traduction, pour que l'on puisse désormais se plaindre de nos conditions de doctorants dans les deux langues.

I’m completing my dissertation and I live in Quebec. Surrounding me are myriads of people who have completed their PhDs and are hoping to get a job at university. I have come to think, as I watch us chasing badly paid odd jobs in our field of research, that this job search resembles an abusive relationship.
Academia, where we have spent multiple years of our lives, an institution in which we have invested time, but also so much emotional energy, takes the form of an abusive partner towards the end of the writing process, and even more so after submission.
A university welcomed you, arms wide open, telling you that you were the best. A brilliant individual with a wealth of possibilities, and it felt lucky to see you start your PhD program in its institution.
(And there you go: you are in love.)
But time goes by and you spend so much time specializing in a very narrow field that you have come to think that academia/research is not only one growth opportunity for you but THE ONLY way to develop your full potential professionally. Since these studies are very demanding and enriching, you come to lose sight of the non-academic world that you now see only through the lens of people like you (research trainees, doctors, aspiring professors, and professional researchers).
(And there you are, progressively cut off from the world, and from the resources that would allow you to escape an abusive relationship.)
Then, you accept to give in to a series of humiliations for which the institution demonstrates an inventiveness ceaselessly renewed. You must explain in long letters why you’re asking to take one more year to finish your dissertation and beg the department for the authorization (the university has reduced or suppressed your research funding and instead requires teaching hours on your part, time which you cannot devote to your dissertation). Once the thesis is done, you send out job applications for academic positions for which it is not even deemed necessary to send you an email to tell you that your application was unsuccessful. You apply to post-docs (badly paid, no long-term possibilities) and once again, your application gets lost among the 400 other candidates.
(Step 2: loss of self-esteem)
Tired of this life which brings you to the brink of your thirties penniless, without being able to plan a future and fearing that things will never change (because you follow the latest news regarding the research labour market, and nowhere do you see any light), you consider retraining, without knowing how or in which way: academia trained you in things very precise and interesting, but not at all in formulating them in a way which make them attractive to employers.
(Losing your independence)
Then, the university throws a little something your way. A short teaching or research contract, completely derisory, but from the vantage point of your very depressed state, it seems miraculous. You take it as a foretaste of what could one day be your job if you were ever hired.
(A bouquet of flowers and the promise that it will all change, promise)
And since you love teaching/doing research (you love him/her), since the outside world is frightening (you’re isolated), and since you are convinced that no one will ever hire someone as specialized as yourself (anyways, I’m such a loser, no one else will ever love me), you keep on hoping that you will one day get hired (that your partner will change, and will treat you as you deserve), and leave to slowly die out (until next time) your vague desire to retrain.
Granted, it’s a rather dire picture of the situation, but I think that my abusive relationship analogy works rather well and that, in the end, I find it rather liberating to be able to look at the situation from this angle. Research needs well-trained people to work, and that is all good and well. Research institutions however currently treat this population of doctors & co. as cannon fodder.
I partly admire those who find the energy to keep going on this tortuous road, hoping to find a decent job that will enable them to practice that for which they were trained. I have a guilty conscience when I think about not trying to get into the race (for a variety of reasons, including the fact that those who step out of the game are mainly women, and I hate seeing those lads that are no brighter than us win with the help of a mixture of arrogance and lack of competition. Yes, patriarchal structures exist in research just as anywhere else. People have written very well-documented and depressing pieces on the subject, here’s one, and it’s far from being the most pessimistic).
Despite the guilt, I’m coming to the conclusion that, regarding myself, instead of getting tangled in an academic web, I want to save my own skin.
Now let me go back to writing a bit of my chapter, and then reorganize my CV to start looking for a job outside of academia.

And yes, I just posted a picture of a bird escaping its cage.
You can totally disavow me.

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