1. How many academics does it take to screw in a light bulb? Zero. They'll spend the entire time over-analyzing the political/sociological/philosophical/literary significance of the light bulb, or they'll question whether the light bulb is perhaps symbolic of something else, like the oppression of [insert the name of any oppressed group here].
2. You'll know you've "made" it as an academic not only if you get tenure but also if you get your own office with a fancy nameplate attached to the door, rather than an note card taped to the door that lists your name and office hours, along with the note cards of the other instructors that you have to share the office with. If you get your own office, never again will you have to deal with other instructors who say stuff like, "Well, I need this desk from 2-5 today to meet with students," and "But I need this desk to grade fifty papers, unless of course you want to disappoint fifty undergrads and grade them for me?"
3. Administrators do things like make budget cuts that negatively affect the professors, lecturers, and teaching assistants who would have to spend several years toiling away in the classroom to match the six-figure salary that several administrators get for one year's worth of work.
4. Your skills as a teacher, years of teaching experience, and hundreds of positive evaluations from the undergrads you've taught will never mean half as much to search committees or tenure committees as the scholarly books and articles that you are expected to write and that really only matter to other scholars.
5. If you pursue a graduate degree with any kind of liberal arts major, you may or may not end up with a five or six-figure student loan debt, years of experience as a retail salesperson/waiter/babysitter, and your own students who will earn thousands of dollars more than you long before you ever finish graduate school.
6. If you decide to pursue a career as an academic, then be prepared to have people constantly tell you that you work too hard/you look tired/you might want to cut down on your coffee intake at some point, because it's not normal for your face to twitch involuntarily like that.
7. In graduate school, many people form long-lasting friendships because they can relate to each other's experiences. Others will form long-lasting rivalries, where discussions will focus not on topics like "Who wore it best?" but "Who over-analyzed that poem/novel/critical theory best?" Fellow scholars will have discussions that revolve around their work, saying stuff like, "I presented my work at this conference, and everyone loved it so much that they gave me a standing ovation," or "My article was just published in that academic journal, and the editors loved it so much that they took a picture of themselves giving me a standing ovation and sent it to me. Want to see it?"
8. You will spend years writing a dissertation that should be at least 250-300 pages, depending on your program's requirements. The dissertation is basically a book that, if you are a department favorite and an intellectual superstar, could actually be published, but most dissertations will collect dust in the stacks of university libraries. It should have hundreds of footnotes and will probably only be read in its entirety by the five or six people on your committee, and by zero people outside of academia. You could ask family and friends to read the whole thing for you, but expect for them to suddenly have serious work commitments/illnesses that prevent them from reading footnotes/to move to places where it is illegal to read dissertations.
9. You will deal with professors who are kind and encouraging, other professors who will be quick to find fault with every single detail in your work, to the point that you will run with your arms outstretched to the nearest cafe so that you can drink your weight in coffee and stay awake long enough to write something that they won't find fault with, and other professors who won't have time for your work at all because they're too busy over-analyzing the political/sociological/philosophical/literary significance of things like light bulbs.
These are just some of the things that I've learned from my years of working in academia. What are some of the things that you've learned from your work environment?
Interview with… Adam Byatt - Today it’s the turn of Adam Byatt to sit down and share his writing with us. This is my 13th interview, and there are still some wonderful authors to come!...
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