Academia: Potential Career Vs. Expensive Hobby

Academia: Potential Career Vs. Expensive Hobby November 30, 2013

I’ve been thinking recently about where my time and energy get spent, and what I get out of these expenditures. I’m fortunate in that I have a partner who supports me while I’m in my third year on the job market and my second year adjuncting, so I really am in a position of getting to teach because I love it, not because I need to do it to support my household. And yet… there is some cognitive dissonance surrounding this issue.

In a guest post at Conditionally Accepted, I wrote about the difference between valuing my experiences adjunct teaching based on internal vs. external criteria. I find myself returning to that dilemma now, but from a slightly different angle.

Basically, if I’m teaching because I love it, and if I’m uncertain that I’ll ever get hired to do it full-time, does that make it a hobby? Or if I continue to have the mindset that I developed in (hell, before) grad school that working hard enough will eventually net me a job, does my adjuncting become a stepping stone to a full-time career? What are the consequences of either mind-set, for me personally, and for my investment in these options?

Looking at the way I’ve been approaching adjuncting (in the hopes of it turning into a full-time career), it’s difficult not to liken my lived experience of it to a hobby. A very, very expensive hobby. Even if I’m only going to two or three conferences a year, assuming that they’ll be out of state and hence in the $1K-ish range each, that’s still a big chunk of the paycheck that already isn’t enough to support me. Factor in the cost of materials for research, even if it’s mostly books and stuff, and gas money to get to the library, and print articles, and such… and academia – the really involved kind, with publishing and presenting in addition to teaching – can cost a lot of money and time.

For comparison’s sake, I also spend a lot of money and time on my dancing. That one’s also somewhere between a hobby and a career, as I can sometimes swing paying gigs as a teacher and performer. But maybe because I didn’t go into dancing with the expectation of being able to make it a career it doesn’t bother me as much. It’s not like my dance teachers from Day 1 primed me to expect a career in the field if I would just work hard, be persistent, and be very good at what I do.

I wonder if I should be looking at my time in academia more along the lines of the way I look at dancing: something I enjoy doing, something that helps me connect with others, something that lets me teach and help along students while also expressing myself. I really do feel that my dancing contributes something to my community, if only by example (by conveying positive messages about body image, about making art accessible to everyone, stuff like that). I don’t expect to support myself solely by dancing; maybe I would feel less stressed and icky about academia if I didn’t expect to support myself doing it. That’ll no doubt require some more mental work on my end, though, as I definitely went into academia with the intention to make it a full-time career.

I could write more, but I’ll wrap this up. It’s a busy time of year, and if I spend more time thinking about where my energy’s going than actually going out and doing things with that energy, then I’ve likely got something wrong.


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