Have you ever wondered why all these young people even want your job?
They are brilliant. And they would probably contribute interesting things to debates in your field.
But sometimes that whole “life of the mind” thing seems like a mirage, especially at this time of year.
What would you say if someone asked “How much time do you get to devote to the life of the mind?”
While I was talking to grad students about careers last week, I encouraged them to talk to people to learn more about what different jobs are really like. This advice is frequently given regarding non-academic careers but I think it’s a good idea for academic ones, too. Not least because not all academic careers are the same.
I suggested that they ask professors they know how much of their job is spent on “the life of the mind”, noting that they might get some interesting answers.
What parts of your job count as “the life of the mind”?
Does this suggest reading books and thinking big thoughts?
Spending time in an archive?
Interesting intellectual discussions with peers?
Interesting intellectual discussions with students?
Seeing students “click” with the subject you love?
Are you frustrated at how much of your job seems distant from this?
Is there a mismatch between the demands put on you for research productivity and the scholarship that you think is important?
Is it hard to get that intellectual stimulation from teaching because of increasing class sizes?
Are you frustrated by the mismatch between your desire to do research and the structural forces which require you to manage others doing research under your supervision?
Have you ever talked about scholarship and ideas with your colleagues? Or is most of your interaction about administrivia and student issues?
Does you career fulfill your expectations of the life of the mind?
Does your experience suggest this is an achievable goal?
Have you done anything to prioritize the life of the mind and diminish the frustrations other experience?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this?
Positive stories of the benefits of an academic career.
Negative ones about the frustrations.
Let the aspiring academics see more of what the job is really like. And help me help people like you make their job more like the one they want.