Friday, February 21, 2020

The Quiet Part Loud

I wish I had a better story for my, what, six week absence from this space. There was no dramatic illness or kidnapping incident or horrible finger injury that has prevented me from typing here. I think there have been a few reasons that I've been extra quiet since around the middle of the fall semester. One is that I was using a considerable amount of my writing chops writing a weekly newsletter related to the advocacy work I've been doing at my church. While that has been a welcome challenge and I think a great use of my time and writing ability, it has meant less left over for writing here.

The biggest reason I have not written is because I have not been sure about how to present some Big News to this semi-anonymous space. My people are fine and I am healthy and our marriage is happy, before you worry. The big news is that this semester is my last semester teaching at my university.

Without going into detail, an application I'd submitted (was enthusiastically encouraged to submit) for a tenure track job at my university blew up in a spectacular and uniquely academic fashion. I believe(d?) that I did everything I was supposed to do to make myself attractive for this particular job. It was a long process that truly began when I started there ten years ago. In the recent three year period I've submitted three manuscripts. Two were published. I've done research with students. I've taken students to present at national meetings. I teach three classes a semester, sometimes with an additional lab. I've developed new courses and have a solid portfolio of eight classes that I have developed and taught multiple times, classes that are generally full. I've woven my research into my classes and even had one class launch four ozonesonde weather balloons as part of our curriculum. I help lead a teaching with computation workshop every fall. I get along with my colleagues and have many good friends on our campus.

It wasn't enough. When my chair asked if I could stay on as a visitor while they figured something out, I declined. I have been on this treadmill too long and it was clear that it would never amount to anything, or at least I wasn't willing to pay the price to my mental health and family relationships to make it happen.

For financial reasons, I am finishing out this semester. It has not been easy. One of my classes is a particularly challenging upper level engineering prep and planning the curriculum each week is like the icing on a really terrible cake.

And now we are six weeks into the semester and I still feel like I can't truly get my legs underneath me like I normally can by this point. All the being gentle with myself, yoga, meditation, prayer, going for walks, reading good books, and focusing on the positive has not been able to take away the sting of the end of this multi-decade dream, or the anger related to the unfairness that went along with it.

I do know what I am doing next and I will tell you all about that as it gets closer. It is something that I was considering long before the job-splosion happened. In fact, the first thing I thought when my chair told me about this situation was "Welp, at least I already know what I want to do next!" (and then somehow managed to get through the rest of the meeting without crying and screaming the F word, at least until he was a suitable distance down the hall and around the corner, and then it was ON). I am REALLY looking forward to the next phase, which will be quite different and also kind of perfect, even as I attempt to simultaneously grieve and finish this role and limit the disruption for my current students, who are as wonderful as always. They make it worth it, even when I have to grit my teeth through an entire lecture.

So there you have it, the elephant in the room. It's been hard. I've learned a lot. I'm spending a lot of time reading and journaling and one day I came home and made a chocolate cake then ate a good portion of it while watching Parks and Rec in the middle of the day. No, the next phase is not a book about healthy ways to cope with disappointment, but great suggestion.

I hope to bring back funny blogging because sarcasm and oversharing have gotten me through many a stressful situation and I can't believe I didn't think of handling this situation the same way before now.

22 comments:

Jamie said...

Hi, Becca, I am so sorry to hear that things didn't go as you'd hoped. Best wishes to you with whatever comes next.

Carolyn said...

Being disrespected and dismissed and devalued is for crap, to put it politely. Welcome back; you have been missed.

Chiconky said...

A hood friend told me recently, “The journey to success is never linear.” Screw them for being awful, but I’m excited to see what your next chapter looks like! I’m sure it’ll be amazing!

Chiconky said...

That was supposed to be “good friend.” Me and my hood friends will help you egg their houses

Lucy said...

Congrats on already having a plan!! Moving to a TT in your own institution is really really tricky! Unfortunately I am not surprised it hasn't worked out. They typically think that you are already there, so why pay you more? Props for being able to do research while teaching 3 courses a semester!
I have also left academia and part of it was the toll it was taking on my personal life. I love academia but I love my life even more and it has been very liberating. No more accepting to be an associate editor, reviewer, in a conference organizing committee, no more having trillion of emails or the pressure to find funding.
The other side is green and very enjoyable!

Kathleen said...

I'm sorry for your disappointment and stress.....my DH has recently had to survive a (failed) tenure process and I know how difficult it can be to come back. I'm so happy you have plans set and are being gentle on yourself. I look forward to reading your blog (I've been missing it!!) Good luck.

Candy or David Masters said...

Jump on through that open window and enjoy your life, full of new personal choices. "A change is as good as a Raise" I always say!! ❤️���� Hugs

What's Next said...

I had a visceral response reading this (longtime lurker, but this post hit close to home). My husband recently had a similar experience. Very different in the sense he'd been an adjunct for a much shorter timeframe, but the enthusiastic administrative support for his application, the going above and beyond the expectations of his role and the eventual, unceremonious rejection of his application resembled your experience. Followed, of course, by the expectation he'd carry on as the exemplary adjunct he'd shown himself capable of being. It's been almost a year now since he dug deep to finish out the semester after making the choice not to return. I feel fortunate to be able to say neither of us has any regrets about his decision. He went a semester unemployed, but now has found a job he loves. While it has us in the midst of an interstate move (to Texas, as it happens), his dignity and value was worth it - yours is too. I'm so sorry things haven't worked out as planned, but I hope as time passes you will feel just as confident in the choice you made. I look forward to reading about your next adventure.

Megan said...

Academia just takes and takes and takes the talent and hard work that its amazing faculty give out of love. When that love (for the research, for the students, for the institution) pays you back, great. But when it doesn't, I think you're smart to run far away. I'm just sorry it couldn't happen on your own terms. On to the next phase, and may it show more gratitude for all that you're worth.

LeighTX said...

I've been reading your blog for years but rarely comment; this one made me come out of the woodwork. Fourteen years ago I went through a Great Career Disappointment of my own (disappointment being a vast understatement; I stayed in bed for days). It took time and I shed quite a few tears, but I pulled myself up and through God's grace, my own hard work and networking, and a little luck, my career turned out so much better than I could have expected at that time.

It is not easy, and it does take time. My advice from the other side is to allow yourself to grieve what you've lost while using this setback as a little fire to propel you into something else awesome. I'm not going to say that my own life is better than it could have been had I not experienced that Disappointment; there is no way to know how that path could have turned out because that's not the hand I was dealt. So don't let anyone tell you that this is all for the best, or that this is how things were SUPPOSED to go. Life is crappy sometimes, and in my experience it's easier to accept bad turns when you allow yourself to be sad about them, and then push yourself forward on your new path.

Stay strong, momma.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry!! I'm a prof and have sat on lots of search committees. As I'm sure you realize, politics play a huge role in hiring. It is more about them/politics/the department than you. But they shouldn't have treated you so badly.

Stephanie said...

I’m sorry. That must be so disappointing. :(

Anonymous said...

Like a few others: I am a long time lurker and reader but have never posted. The sentence about giving up a multi-decade dream really resonated. After 8 years in graduate school, including one spent across the world doing fieldwork, 3 postdocs, several campus visits for tenure track jobs that went nowhere, incredible strain on personal relationships, and volumes of material for therapy, I find myself at a similar juncture. I'm in my third potsdoc (Not Ideal in my field) and so far complete radio silence from all of the jobs I applied to this cycle. I have no idea what I will do next and still can't imagine how the skills I painstakingly cultivated will apply to a paid gig. I will miss my students and the connections I made with them, I will miss my colleagues and the intellectual inspiration of the academy, I will miss the autonomy and the creativity and the flexibility. But I won't miss the way I've felt every time I've opened my email between December and April over the last 4 years. Best of luck - I hope the next stop is everything you want.

Mary said...

Becca, I'm so sorry. As a staff member in a teaching center at a private Midwestern research university for the past 13 years, I've had a front row seat to a lot of truly idiotic decisions made by university administration and departments. I'm so sorry they led you on like that. I hope that whatever comes next will be fulfilling and satisfying. Good luck!

Allison said...

I am so sorry to hear this, Becca! Just based on knowing you through this site, I can tell that your university is making a mistake in letting you go. The tenure process, and university hiring processes in general, suuuuucks, but especially when you know you did everything right!

I had a similar experience recently - not in academia, but I lost support in the job I had been at for many, many years, and it became untenable and clear I had to leave. Amid all my tears, anxiety and anger, I kept telling myself that this would be good in the long run. That I once I figured out how to land on my feet, I would eventually look back and be grateful for the impetus to change, even if I hated how it was done. That mantra and hope kept me going and got me through, and I am successfully back on my feet (still working on the anger, but I’ll get there some day, I’m sure). Sounds like you have a great plan and something to look forward to, and I hope that (and your family, friends, and faith, of course!) gets you through this rough time. Whatever you do next, I’m sure you will be great at it!

Kate D said...

I'm so sorry. You don't know me, but I am hugging you from Houston. In a non-creepy way.

LL said...

I'm so sorry Becca. Work/career setbacks are so hard. For all the "it's business/work, not personal" we all know (and as Erin Brockovich/Julia Roberts so eloquently described) that it IS personal. It's our work, our sweat, our time away from our kids... I'm so glad you have a next step that you're excited about, but I am sad/angry/etc with you at the path you were on being taken away. I hope you're being kind with yourself and look forward to hearing more from you soon!

Anonymous said...

Another long-time lurker here. Just chiming in with my commiserations. It takes a huge amount of resilience to bounce back from much smaller punches in the guts, this sounds like an absolute shocker and I'm sure it will take a good long time. Universities are unbelievable in the ways they use and abuse talented people without offering them a real career. Somehow we all just accept the abuse, both of ourselves and our colleagues, it's a sad state of affairs. It certainly makes me encourage my students to think long and hard about careers outside academia. I don't know what it will take to change things, but I hope one day it won't be like this.

Mommy Attorney said...

Long time lurker, fellow over-sharer on a blog (that no one reads).

I'm so so sorry. That just sucks. I'm glad that you know the next step. If my career blew up (which could happen), I would really and truly have no clue what I wanted to do with myself. So that is amazing. Academia is just cruel. Lots of prayers for you.

Andrea said...

I'm also lurker and chiming in to say that you have a lot of wonderful thoughts above. I'm really sorry that this has happened and I appreciate your sharing this news and a brief description of the experience with all of us. I have treasured your blog posts for several years.

I'm a department chair in religious studies, doctorate in a different humanities field. I just want to add that 1) historically, PhD programs have done a poor job of teaching students that the degree should open multiple career and life pathways, all valuable and meaningful. I am inspired by your ability to find a way forward and to flex. And 2) changing dreams is serious business and I think that it requires equally serious mourning and reflection, over time.

I'm thinking of you and hope that the sting eases.

Anonymous said...

Delurking to add my support to all the above. I'm inspired by all you've accomplished and look forward to hearing about the next chapter. But also so sorry for and frustrated by the setback. Ugh. And then onward.

Unknown said...

I've been reading you from afar (DC) for MANY years and took a blog (reading) break and came back today (hello, time since self isolation) and ... wow. I'm gobsmacked by your news. My daughter is a HS history teacher and when she talks about her students it is with the same passion I hear (read) in your voice when you talk about your position.

I'm sorry the university didn't see that in you, as well. That you already have a new (better!) plan in place, is icing on the crap cake! Can't wait to read all about it!