[Humanist] 26.143 should I quit

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Jul 10 22:49:51 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 143.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Alexander Hay <alexander.hay at gmail.com>                  (235)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.135 should I quit

  [2]   From:    Hugh Cayless <philomousos at gmail.com>                      (60)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.133 Should I quit?

  [3]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (37)
        Subject: quitting or not

  [4]   From:    Daniel Allington <daniel.allington at open.ac.uk>            (41)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.133 Should I quit?

        Date: Tue, 10 Jul 2012 02:21:38 +0100
        From: Alexander Hay <alexander.hay at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.135 should I quit
        In-Reply-To: <20120709202617.4590E284946 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard,

For me, the main problem is a lack of resources, particularly time. Plus, I
was made redundant from my (non-)academic job, so I'm in even more of a
parlous state.

My biggest fear is that I have worked very hard for a White Elephant
qualification that's either not good enough for some posts, or makes me too
qualified for others.

Thanks, in any case!

- Alexander

        Date: Mon, 9 Jul 2012 22:05:36 -0400
        From: Hugh Cayless <philomousos at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.133 Should I quit?
        In-Reply-To: <20120706201230.9C88B284EE6 at woodward.joyent.us>

The replies so far have been from people who didn't quit, so I thought 
you should hear from someone who did :-).

I quit in 2001, after graduating in 1999. I don't regard my Ph.D. as a 
waste of time97it taught me to be intellectually fearless, something 
that has stuck with me ever since. There is bound to be regret and 
feelings of failure, but failing also teaches you and forces you to 
become stronger. And you have to realize that getting a tenure-track job 
is almost purely a roll of the dice. Of my grad school cohort (4) only 
one of us is still teaching in higher ed, and he doesn't have tenure. 
Further, even if you got one of the mythical tenure-track jobs, you 
might end up somewhere you hate. It's no guarantee of happiness. The 
Versatile Ph.D. site (http://versatilephd.com/) has a lot of good 
information about quitting and beyond.

On a bad day, I would rant about how graduate education is a giant fail 
machine that chews good people up and spits them out, but I won't go 
into that now. We can wish it were not so, but most of the incentives 
are stacked against change. I'll just conclude by saying that it isn't 
your fault and that there is probably a lot of good you can take from 
the experience and apply elsewhere.

Only you can decide whether you should quit, but there are plenty of 
other cool things to do in the world.


        Date: Tue, 10 Jul 2012 14:16:32 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: quitting or not
        In-Reply-To: <20120706201230.9C88B284EE6 at woodward.joyent.us>

Before I was called to my first academic job, which I still hold, I had 
no evidence whatever that I would get one. Involvement with 
computing almost by itself guaranteed that I would never have a 
chance at the tenure-track and would always be on the wrong side of 
those tracks. I had gone from a PhD into a non-tenurable job in a 
university, and after a number of unsuccessful efforts (assisted by well 
meaning and highly influential people) I decided to do what I most 
wanted to do in the time available before, during and after paid work. I 
had a spot of good luck with a grant from the Canadian government to 
fund my research. Then, as we say, fortune smiled on me. Out of the blue 
an e-mail message, and not long after that, a job offer.

It's hard to see that anything of use to anyone is to be learned from 
this much abbreviated personal narrative -- there's too much that just
happened, or didn't. But the mantra that kept me going may be worth 
repeating: the only thing that matters, I told myself, is the work. 
Of course certain kinds of work were impossible under the circumstances 
I then had, specifically any kind which required sustained 
concentration. But I found a kind that I could do in bits and scraps of 
the day and night, and pressed on with that. 

As a result of the obsessive state into which I led myself other things 
did not get done, other things (and people close to me) were ignored. 
Some of the consequences were not good, at least not immediately. 
A life turned out as it has; other possible lives were not lived. Who 
knows which of these would have been better? 

What most matters to you? If it's scholarship, then what sort can you 
do? There's so much to be done that involves only reading and writing 
and thinking.

A healthy measure of de-professionalisation of the disciplines would 
make it easier (if done right, in a good way) for those outside of the 
academy to publish alongside those within it -- not for measurable 
impact (the idea be damned, for it comes from the place of the damned) 
but to communicate and converse. To build and grow a community of ideas. 
To learn from others.

I am also fond of pointing out that the single thing most responsible 
for me getting that academic job was Humanist, neither peer-reviewed nor 
rateable. The historical moment in which thinking it up and making it 
work were possible has of course passed, but surely all such moments 
of opportunity to leap creatively into the unknown are not in the past. 


Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Professor, School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics,
University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist
(www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

        Date: Tue, 10 Jul 2012 14:20:22 +0100
        From: Daniel Allington <daniel.allington at open.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.133 Should I quit?
        In-Reply-To: <20120706201230.9C88B284EE6 at woodward.joyent.us>


For my sins, I sometimes find myself watching talent shows on TV. When a contestant gets kicked out, at least one of the celebrity judges or mentors or whatever can generally be relied upon to tell the unfortunate individual never to give up on his/her dreams, that this isn't the end of the road, that his/her time hasn't yet come, that this is just the beginning, etc. I think that's just about the most heartless bit of advice in showbusiness. Subscribers to this list probably know better than to proffer the academic equivalent (though god knows I've heard it often enough elsewhere).
Perhaps you should have started cranking out articles sooner. But even if someone had tipped you off that it was the right thing to do, you'd eventually have realised there was some other bit of advice that you hadn't heard and that you probably would have been unable to follow even if you had heard it (for instance that research funding counts for more than research publications, or that jobs will be coming up in sub-discipline X whereas you're in sub-discipline Y). Soon, all PhD students will be putting more effort into publishing articles than into finishing their theses, and something else - something equally unreasonable - will be found to differentiate them. Maybe that's happened already.

Assuming that you're looking for work in the UK (because you haven't told us otherwise and I don't know how things operate elsewhere), you're an 'early career researcher', in which case two publications from you is equal to four publications from someone more established for the purposes of the wretched REF - so there's probably something else counting against you besides the length of your publications record. Maybe it's just the fact that you *are* an early career academic. By and large, appointments committees aren't out there to give the next generation a break, they're out there to identify the most economically valuable candidate who will apply for the job under the terms and conditions that the university or faculty administrators have permitted to be set.

The rules are changing all the time, and in any case they are manifestly unfair. At the end of the day, there are too few good jobs and too many good scholars chasing after them. Universities expect the moon on a stick from job applicants, and they get it, too, because we go into this for love and only later - much, much later, and often too late - ask ourselves whether there's any sense to the sacrifices that we and our families have been making. 

You might get a job, you might not. If you do get one, it's likely to be on a fixed term contract, in which case you'll probably find yourself asking the same question a year or so down the line (less if it's maternity cover). I do, however, have one positive thing to say, which is that 'Should I quit?' and 'Was it all a waste of time?' are very different issues. You can quit without its having been a waste of time. You can always quit without anything's having been a waste of time. 
Best wishes - whether you stay or go


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