Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Self-Loathing in Academia

Perhaps because they're trained to be critical, academics seem to love criticizing themselves and their profession. We're even at a point where someone who left academia but coaches Ph.D.s to get into academia asks whether academia is "good" and defends herself from those who say it's odd to coach people to enter a profession you left and don't think is good. 

So I like this post by Martin Kich at The Academe Blog, responding to a piece in Salon that argued academia turns people into assholes and it's better to wait tables.

All of us bore the crap out of people by talking about our jobs, and because academics are more articulate than many other people, they are particularly adept at boring the crap out of people in this way.

Exactly. One of the reasons there is a firehose of self-criticism and even self-loathing (e.g. "I chose a profession that made me into an asshole!!") is that we are used to writing arguments, much more so than most other professions. We like doing that. But too often we don't do it very well.

Academia can seem like a weird profession, and most people not involved in it have very little idea of what we do all day. But it is still just a profession, and all professions have their problems. I don't think academia has more--funding crises and corporate management are not exclusive to academia, for example--but we just write about it endlessly.

It's good to be self-critical, so we should be making sure we don't turn into assholes. The problem is that despite our analytical skills, we're too quick to take anecdotes and make them into generalizations about the entire profession. My department is actually full of nice people who hang out together and talk about non-academic things. I could write an article saying academia is full of nice people, and of course I'd be wrong. My truth is not everyone's truth, and vice versa.


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