Hello Expat folks! It’s been a while, again. We have certainly been busy in the Dr. Boson(s) household. We recently moved across the country (again). Both Finn and I are in roles that are largely telework, and took the opportunity to relocate back to the Midwest. This decision was both an emotional and financial one. Emotionally, we wanted to go somewhere that we felt more comfortable; neither one of the new Bosons are big city people. Washington DC just felt too large and stressful for us. Financially, the East coast is expensive, and we wanted to go somewhere where we could save and be more comfortable. Before I continue in this post, I fully realize that our employment gave us the privilege to move, and the financial stability that made it possible. We realize that this is not a position that everyone is in, and that this advice will not be relevant or helpful to everyone. But the purpose of this blog is to talk about how we were able to do thing, and present options for people to consider. All that being said, this is how we wrangled our final cross country move.
We again recognize that we were extremely fortunate to take our jobs with us to the Midwest. This kind of mobility is not possible for everyone, in academic spaces or outside of them. We were fortunate enough to have jobs that allowed for teleworking and had a national base. In an upcoming post, we are going to talk about what it is like to go back on the Out-Ac job market and how to navigate the issue of multiple moves on a resume.
The well is dry and tired.
Black faculty on predominantly white campuses are both hyper-visible and completely invisible.
There is nothing shocking about that statement, but the grinding reality of it is something else. As all of you who read Academic Expat know, I’ve been gone from my tenure track position for over a year. In this time, I found employment outside of academia, planned a wedding, given talks to college students about making exit plans, moved across the country, and blogged. I have thought about my past role often, and of the ways I could still support the students I left behind. I’ve presented at an academic conference, joined a working group, and continued to write. It’s been a busy year. I also just received an email from a former colleague who had not noticed I left, asking me to work with a student of his who has a “passing interests” in aspects of my research. Again, I’ve been gone for over a year.
When I think about my time in the academy, I think about the ways I was extremely visible at my university. At my last count, I was one of less than 7 Black professors (or adjuncts, or non tenure track faculty) at the entire university; I was also by far the youngest: a newly minted PhD, and a new hire. I had a fashion blog that documented what I wore (and the ways I was physically injured at the university) every single day. As my CV will attest, I was extremely active on campus, where I often hustled for other departments, giving talks, leading panels, giving workshops, advising students, and running a student group. All of this in my first year. During my year, I was hard to miss, and colleagues often contacted me to show up for their classes and speak. Which I did. I did a lot of extra labour in my year, because I thought it was important, especially as a Black Queer woman on that campus, to be seen.
The curious thing about my hyper-visibility is that nobody seemed to see me. My colleagues didn’t notice as I became visibly unhappy, or I was physically injured (see the PD post with my arm in a sling.) Few people, outside of my own graduate students, asked about me, or offered me any support. Nobody came to speak to my classes, or offered to help with my extremely heavy advising and speaking load. As my obligations on campus grew, I began more and more to understand that my role was to serve, and be grateful, and not to speak too loud. All things I am not the best at.
The role of my hyper-visibility is more curious now that I’m gone. For all of the labour I did, and as often as I was called on during my year, how is it that my absence is not noticed? I was not expecting a large announcement to be made that I was leaving the department, but I at least expected an email sent to faculty, so they would stop trying to send me students to advise. I expected people to notice I was not on the website. Or that entire job search was conducted, and the role, and my former office filled. That I was not in meetings or giving talks on campus. That student clubs disappeared because I was the only faculty advising them. How do people not notice one of the few Black professors leave?
When I left the university, multiple students emailed me, asking why my class was canceled, and if I was okay. They emailed, messaged me on Tumblr, searched out and found this blog. They deeply felt my leaving, and I deeply felt the grief my leaving caused them. I know my being there was a lifeline for a lot of students, and I did not make the decision to leave lightly. They mourned the ghost I left behind. My absence was only noticed by a former colleague when he had work for me to do. I am not saying this, or writing this post to shame him. He took the time to reach out, and write a kind email when I explained the reasons for my leaving. I’m writing this post to emphasize the point that no matter how much of a good game departments talk about wanting Black faculty, more often than not, these faculty are not supported. They are overworked, undervalued, and then told to shut their mouths, serve, and be grateful.
One of my mom’s favourite sayings is, “You don’t miss the water ‘til the well runs dry.” The older I get, despite a marked lack of experience with retrieving water and wells, the more that statement makes sense. When some folks I used to work with went to look for the well of my labour last year, they didn’t find it dry, they found it gone. But the absence of Black visibility, Black voices, and Black bodies in that space is a constant, and largely expected. Some folks found the well dry and gone and called it ungrateful. Some dumped poison in the spot they thought the well was going. Some called to see where they could come get the water they thought they were owed.
I am still trying to process the idea that someone only noticed I was gone because they wanted to send me what amounts to more labour. It was obvious that as one of maybe 7 Black professors in an institution, I would be taxed with an immense amount of emotional labour on top of the rigours of being a new, tenure-track professor. It is still exhausting to think about how many other Black Assistant Professors are doing the same grind that I did. That their bodies are hyper visible decorations and that their labour is invisible but demanded by the institutions they work for. Also, why is the work of Black women so undervalued and expected? I feel that the intersections of my race and gender was a specific reason I was so often told to be “grateful” for all of the extra labour I was volun-told to do. Young, Black Women, and Black Queer Professors are often expected to do extra labour in terms of visibility and emotional work.
The really frustrating part is that there is no real take away here. Especially for young, Black faculty, but for all Faculty of Color and Queer faculty of Color, we know our bodies and work are both demanded and undervalued. That we are there to look nice, but we “better not dare” do or say things that even attempt to upend the stranglehold of white supremacy, sexism, and general violence of our departments or institutions. None of this is news. And it is still hard to find ways to support each other. There are some amazing programs, like the work done by Kerry Ann Rockquemore, but not all new faculty have the funds or departmental support to join and take part. There is the general isolation and exploitation that Black faculty experienced as grad students, that only intensifies as they are “lucky” enough to land a role in the academy. We all know how heavy the boulder we push uphill is.
I think the purpose of this blog is, that I am here, and I know and I want to support ya’ll in whatever way I can give support. I mean, real talk, endgame here is that I want to use this blog to build a support resource and network for grad students and new professors. Help start support alliances. Help support those of ya’ll who stay and fight. I know the wells of your labour are constantly drawn from and that you are tired. Some of you are tired and stay. Some of you are tired and leave. There is nothing wrong with either decision. I stand by mine, especially when I get emails, one year out.
It's been a year now
I know it’s been a while since updating, but in my defense, I’ve been working. It’s been exactly a year ago today that I walked into my current job, and began this little adventure in being an academic expat. Wait, that’s not exactly true. I started being an expat when I realized the section of the academy I was in was unsustainable, deliberately aggressive and marginalizing for Black women, and just generally not a space where I wanted to spend the rest of my career. But a year ago, today, I walked into my office and started to try to figure out how to adapt to life outside of the academy. One of the things that has been admittedly the hardest to navigate is my relationship to a field and craft I basically dedicated my entire life to, and what to do with the relics that remained.
It’s hard to be an expat. 98% of my friends are in the Academy still, either as embittered adjuncts, professors, or graduate students. A few of them are trying to convince me to come back. That maybe it will be better at a different school, a different program, with different people. And for most of this year away, I have hard core flirted with the idea of maybe returning. The arguments my friends make are seductive, and parts of me really misses teaching.
This blog was born largely in part as a response to me wishing that I had heard better advice and more of the truth while I was still in graduate school. I was told that my skill set would only be fully realized in the academy, and that I would feel unfilled outside of it. Those narratives are in some ways bolstered by people I know, who still tell me that there is space for me in the academy still, and that I should come back. It is even harder to ignore these voices when they come from other Black Queer people who are doing amazing work inside of the academy. A big part of me wants to go back and do amazing work with them. To go to conferences with them. To support Black grad students and undergrads with them.
And then, I step back.
One of the things I’ve been doing lately is asking myself what I miss the most about the academy. The things are:
-reading incredible books
-interacting with smart and driven students of Color
- creating interesting work
These are all things that I can do and engage in outside of the academy. I actually have time to read all of the books I skimmed over during comps. I can read the things that were sitting on my bookshelf when I was busy drafting lectures. I can still do research and write things for blogs, make YouTube video lectures, do public speaking appearances. I have started to volunteer with youth organizations, I have use my time to help friends who are in the academy organize their comps/dissertations, thesis papers. I engage with grad students and try to help them find ways to navigate the academy. The third one is the trickiest, but I’ve still managed to make it work. I have been putting a lot of energy in to the creative work I neglected while I was in the academy, and using it to collaborate on creative/academic works with scholars.
I wrote that little paragraph not to brag about my life, but to give others (and myself) some perspective. One of the hardest parts of being out of the academy is trying to rebuild your self-perception. I spent so many years situating myself as an academic, when I left, I didn’t know what to call myself or do with my time. I thought, and sometimes still fall into the trap of the idea that my identity is so bound up in what I do, that without it, I’m not whole. That is another one of those things that the academy tells you, and when you’re stuck in the echo chamber, it is all that you hear. I’m doing the really hard work of learning to be a person, and not a career title.
There are still ways to do all of the things you find fulfilling inside of the academy when/if you choose to leave. You can still write. You can still do research (esp. if friends are willing to EBSCO you articles). You can volunteer with youth, or organizations that are meaningful to you. If you are passionate about the work you were doing, you can still do it, without the clock of tenure, or the sniping of colleagues. Or you can do none of those things. You have the freedom to do what you want, on your own time and terms. That was honestly one of the hardest things for me to navigate. That I am my own person, and not just an “academic”. That I’m allowed to watch TV shows, and have hobbies, and not think about how to write about them.
Another thing I’ve been really struggling with is this whole work/life balance thing. When I first started the blog a year ago, I got a few comments that called me naïve and unrealistic. That there would be no way that I would find a job that allowed me to balance my life and my work. I’ve been extremely fortunate, and I have. I’m fortunate to really enjoy my job and the work I do. I know a lot of people are not this lucky.
I guess the point of this blog post is really just me fleshing out what it means to be out of the academy for a year. I am still struggling sometimes with what it means to be in the corporate sector. There are days that I really miss the academy, and think really hard about asking my old advisors to write me letters. There are times when I cruise job boards, and daydream fellowship applications. Then I think about the reasons I left the academy, and what going back would realistically look like for me. I have to remember that what happened to me at Oregon State was not just a massive collection of isolated incidents. How I was treated, and how I saw other Black women treated is exactly the same as I see all my friends treated at their institutions, and how Black grad students, undergrads, professors, and adjuncts are treated. There will always be that dismissal, the violence, the overworking, the forced emotional labour. And please hear me, I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with the folk who stay in the academy and fight to make it a better place. They should be supported, and the academy should be better. It has to be better. I just know that it is not the arena I’m interested in being in right now. And that I can be just as much as a shaper and activist outside of the Academy as I can inside of it.
I regret NOTHING.
Life is funny sometimes. Today was my second week of my Out-Ac job. I realized going home on Friday last week that I had an entire weekend to myself. I had no papers to grade, no articles to write, nothing to research. I had no guilt about taking an entire weekend to do whatever I wanted, which was incidentally watch professional wrestling and make apple butter. The important thing is I had both free time and peace. I used a bit of that time to think about whether or not I missed the academy, the tenure track life, and the grind of research. And for a few hours, I did.
Fast forward to today, where a couple of big things happened. I got an extremely touching email from someone who reads the blog, and sounds extremely unhappy in their tenure track position. I also had a former student reach out to me to ask me about things they've heard about my departure. I also had some former colleagues reach out to me with similar questions. These are three things that really closely encapsulate what I've been thinking since my departure, and wanted to address here.
First, to the scholar who emailed me, I am so sorry you are feeling this way. While you are in your current situation, I would like to offer this small advice that I gave myself:
1. Every day, do something, no matter how small or big, to take care of yourself. Self care, especially in isolating and demoralizing circumstances is a revolutionary act.
2. Make and stick to a viable plan of both self care and movement.
3. Know you are not obligated to go on a field trip of someone else's feelings about you. People are going to say what they want to say. You are not required to walk through their feelings about you with them. You are not obligated to entertain them. You are not obligated to respond to them.
4. I'm still serious about the imagination thing from my first blog.
I'm seriously wishing you luck and sending support to you. Despite what you've been told, suffering is not in the job description. There is a difference in doing hard work, and feeling sad by it on occasions, and suffering for the sake of suffering. This narrative of suffering in the academy is just as toxic in my opinion as the narratives of busy-ness that tells professors to work 80 hour weeks, neglect their families and health and happiness for the possibility of tenure.
Good luck, and always feel free to reach out.
I'm going to combine points two and three here, because I feel they overlap. I want to start with the best advice I've ever given myself; which is, again, I am NOT required to take a field trip through someone else's feelings about me.
I guess the round about purpose of this entire post is about dealing with "fallout." I've gotten a lot of questions and requests for me to be specific around the exact reasons I left the academy and my former position. I'm going to use this space to publically say that I'm not going to do that here. Having bad experiences in a situation does not mean you need to say bad things about a situation, especially not in a massively public forum.. And that is the philosophy I'm going to take here.
As far as dealing with fallout with former colleagues and former students, I'm of two minds. There are students, from every institution that I've been at/worked at that I keep in touch with. They are always free to ask me questions, and I try to make a habit of telling them what I understand of situations. With former colleagues, I as always, respect them and their work. I know institutional politics are a thing, and I do not begrudge them for doing what it is that they do.
I suspect that I'll be dealing with "institutional" fallout for a while. Especially since I am planning to still attend a few conferences I was slated for this year. (I already paid, and I miss my academic friends. I'm also loathe to give up a chance to talk about my side project, Professor Dresser in Exile). In the midst of parts of this fallout, I miss parts of the academy. I miss my students. I miss aspects of the community. But then I have moments that sharply remind me of why I left. I also am happy so far in my Out-Ac role. Ultimately, when I receive letters from people who appreciate the blog, or think about fall out, I remind myself about not having to take field trips. I have no regrets about leaving.
If you make the decision to leave the academy, you will most likely deal with similar "fall out" issues. There will be backlash. Things will be said. Ultimately, you are responsible for taking the best care of yourself that you can. Let people run through their own feelings theme parks by themselves.
Thinking about "Gratitude"
I have come to hate the word "gratitude".
This is not to say that I am not extremely grateful for the years of excellent mentorship and friendship that I received in graduate school and undergrad. It is not to say that I am not thankful for the program I worked in taking a chance on me and giving me a tenure track position. In all of those locations, I learned a great deal about myself, the academy, and exactly what I could take and grow from. I am extremely thankful that I had all of those experiences. I hope that I served well in them and gave as much as I got. But this isn't the kind of gratitude I've been told to feel.
Ever since my first year in graduate school, I've been told to be "grateful". What was always implied in that statement is that I should be happy and quiet and never critique or examine my environment, peers, professors, and program. That I should offer unwavering allegiance, despite what was happening to other marginalized bodies in the program, or myself. That I should absolutely not negotiate for more pay, better treatment, more humane conditions. That I should not dare make moves that would make my life better. That I better not dare.
I've been getting a lot of mixed reactions about my leaving the academy as word officially spreads. Some people, including my fantastic advisors from my grad programs, are extremely supportive. Some people are hurt, angry, and feel abandoned. Some people have already decided that my decision is their story to tell. I'm also getting a lot of "you are selfish and ungrateful."
Let me make this plain. Both for folks who have decided that I am ungrateful, and for folks who are thinking about leaving the academy.
You are not ungrateful for assessing your needs and following them. You are not ungrateful for engaging in acts of self care, especially within an institution that was designed to do nothing but dehumanize and marginalize you. It does not mean that your program, your dept. you peers or professors are bad people. This does not mean you are a bad person if you leave them. It does not make them wrong for staying. You do not owe the academy your blood, your tears, and your identity. You are not dependent on the academy and those in it for your self worth or identity.
Ever since graduate school, the narrative of "gratitude" has been used to silence me. "Be grateful I'm even in the program. More Black people will show up if you are here. Be grateful we even talk about race and gender. Be grateful you are here." I am thankful for the things I've learned, the student's I've taught, the friends I've made. I'm thankful that I learned enough about myself to fully learn what I can handle and live with. I'm thankful for the opportunities I've had, but I'm not going to let myself be bound to them. Especially if they are wearing me down to the point where I'm losing myself.
How do you say goodbye to something that you have worked most of your adult life for?
A few days ago, I quit. I walked away from my coveted tenure track position at a majour university, away from a prestigious humanities center fellowship, and away from the academy in its entirety. After one year of being an Assistant Professor, I decided I couldn't do it anymore and left.
I know how flippant that sounds, but leaving was by no means an easy decision. There was a lot about the academy that I used to love. I had some amazing students, and worked on some really great projects. But the love I had for it always felt one sided. And staying in a system that was designed from day one to exclude me, at best, was something I could only sustain for so long.
Before I keep typing, let me make it plain that my leaving the academy, nor this blog post is meant to be a sweeping condemnation of the program I worked in. I worked with some of the most passionate, smartest, and interesting people, both in terms of other faculty and students. My year on the tenure track was no harder, or no more isolating than that of many Black women in the academy. Some of the problems I had during my first year are problems I would have had, regardless of the program I was in, because it is what it is. It's the academy.
But I couldn't stay.
I left in part because honestly, it's not the life for me. Simply, the tenure track life is not a life that I want for myself, and I did not like what my year did to me. I felt diminished and isolated physically, emotionally, and in countless other ways. I did not have the energy to do the emotional labour that being a Black professor requires, especially at a PWI. The toll that this year took on me damaged my family, health, and perception of myself.
I spent a lot of time during my year telling my students to imagine themselves in places that fulfilled them and made them happy. I told them that the fundamental beginning of being the change they wanted to see was imagining it and then taking tangible steps towards their own happiness and empowerment. During those talks, I thought about myself, and although I had achieved a goal that I had worked for during the four years of my doctorate, I was not happy, nor being fulfilled by the work that I was doing. But I refused to imagine myself in something else. It could have been in part that nobody ever leaves the academy, ever. There are no models on how to get out, how to translate your skills and experiences, or how to practically enter that process. There are too many narratives that your identity is tied into what you are researching, writing, and where you are teaching. I've been bound to the academy for too long to see myself out. So I didn't imagine.
Over this summer, several things happened that shifted my view of myself. I honestly owe a great deal to the late Brook Stevenson, who not only saw so much in me, but inspired me to be my happiest self. He made me promise to seek things that made me happy, and reminded me that I deserved them. I owe an infinite amount to my partner, who supported me through the year, worried about me, and encouraged me to be honest with myself. I owe a lot to my former students, from several institutions, who checked on me and held me accountable for the lessons I taught them.
I've said in a few spaces, that while my year on the tenure track was not as damaging as the years that other Black women have experienced (my story did not make national news), it was enough to encourage me to look outside the academy for my happiness. My exodus was not wholly because of this year. This leaving has been years in the making; the "breaking straw" events just happened to happen this year. Some inside of the academy, some outside of it.
This blog is meant to be a model to give people options. I learned about my options in the Rhode Island Writer's Colony, from my friends, from my former students, from my partner. I want to be a model to help grad students turn CVs into Out-Ac jobs, and give adjuncts, lecturers, and professors options on other things they can do. I want to be honest with myself as I was with my students when I told them to imagine the things that made them happy and to actively seek after them.
I'm really serious about the imagination thing. Seriously. Imagine your perfect day. Imagine a career that would be fulfilling. Imagine not feeling degraded and dehumanized by an institution. I'm not saying that the Out-Ac life will be unicions and high fives. It will have its problems and downfalls, and issues. But it's something I'm willing to explore, and will of course, keep tabs on here. I'm out here imagining for myself and blogging it here for you. The imagining is powerful. I had several former students tell me how much that imagining changed them, saved them. Right now, in my imagining, the life I save needs to be my own.
For those interested, Professor Dresser is still going to go on. It's renamed to: Professor Dresser in Exile, and it will be my Out-Ac outfits. The website remains: professordresser.com.
Alt-Ac or Out-Ac
One of the biggest decisions to make after you decide to leave the academy is to figure out if you want an "Alt-Ac" or "Out-Ac" position. Alt-Ac is alternative academic (there will be a bunch of posts about this from Dr. Lease) and are usually academic adjacent. This includes things like curriculum development or instructional design. Roles like this can be found in universities, and function more on the administration and staff side rather than tenure track.
"Out-Ac" are a different animal entirely. These are roles completely divorced from the academy and are largely in the corporate or non-profit sector. They may have totally different cultures, mores, and work systems than you may be used to from the academy. These may also have stricter, or more rigid rules around appearance, and gender conformity. Or they may not. It all depends on the culture of each corporation. So if you are considering an "Out-Ac" position, these are all things that you will have to take into serious consideration. As always, do your research. Out-Ac jobs also require you to change the way you represent yourself on paper. See the Resources page for more on that.
Deciding which arena you want to enter is a big decision. I'm providing ya'll with the "pro" list I made for each. We'll discuss the con's list in another post.
-you'd be working with a familiar university system
-you may have already begun networking with people through conferences or your current department
-Alt-Ac jobs often understand how your skills transfer into work off the tenure track
-Document to use to apply: CV/Resume hybrid
-often better financial compensation
-removed from academic culture
-flexibility in terms of location. (you can move to where ever you want rather than being bound to college towns
-Document to use to apply: Resume
These are all things to think about while you plan you "out".
"Out-Ac" tips and suggestions
So, applying for “real world” jobs is awful.
When it came to the academic job market, I was EXTREMELY charmed. I don’t say that in Billy Mays font to sound vain. My academic job search was impossible. I applied for one tenure track job, ever, and got that one job. Let me reiterate. One cover letter. One skype interview. One in person. And then I started my life on the tenure track. I realize how this sounds to absolutely everyone else who has applied for hundreds of jobs. I’m not trying to salt the wound here, but the only story I can tell is my own. My experience applying for “real” jobs is much more similar to an everyday reality.
In the course of 2 months, I have applied for 130 jobs. The experience has been horrible, demoralizing, soul crushing, and terrifying. Even though two members of my immediate family work in corporate hiring and recruiting, I was largely flying blind throughout this process. Partially because they were sick of me asking them to look at my resume every other day, partially because they thought I was making a bad decision leaving the academy. I may seriously be making a bad decision leaving the academy.
I wanted to write this post to document some things I’ve learned about transitioning between a CV and a resume, and how to write a cover letter. When I get a “real” job, I will post examples of my cover letters on the site. Here are some things I’ve learned through this process:
1. CVs are a measuring contest. Resumes need to be short. I cannot stress this enough. Resumes are supposed to be no more than two pages. Nobody in the corporate world cares that you presented 3 papers at a single conference. Nobody cares that you went to every regional MLA. No one wants to read every book review your advisor pulled strings to get you.
2. Academic skills are super transferable. You just have to sell it right. All those humanities skills you picked up in classes are transferable. Did you make a syllabus? That’s curriculum design. Did you teach a class? That’s training and instruction. It’s all about telling the story right and figuring out how to repackage yourself.
3. Research Industry key words. Know what words to put on your resume that are specific to the field you want to get it. Recruiters search resumes by looking for key words. If you don’t have the right ones, your resume doesn’t get looked at.
4. Learn how to read again. Being in the academy really messed up my reading comprehension. I have a really hard time reading every word of every job post. While it may not seem like a big deal, it is something that you have to do. Skimming over job calls is not going to get you anywhere.
5. Get a LinkedIn account. I found it really helpful and a great way to connect with recruiters. Spend the 10 minutes to build a nice account, upload your resume, and have a good head shot.
6. Have multiple resumes. I have different resumes for the two different industries I’m applying for. Because they are so short, they have to be specialized. I will also post examples of my resume up somewhere.
7. Cover letters have to be specific, but not too specific. I have 3 major cover letter forms; one for every industry that I’m applying for. Each one talks about specifically why I want to relocate, why I want to work for that company, and what skills specific to the call I can do.
8. Save every cover letter. Every single one. So when they call you, you can remember what you told them you can do, and what the company does. That’s why it pays to be specific in the cover letter about why you want to work for the company.
Documenting the "up and out" process. Somedays are easier than others.