Gilmer Post 3: “Alt-Ac”: Concretizing Plan B

Although this week’s readings cover a wide array of material, I’d like to focus on Julia Flanders’ “Time, Labor, and ‘Alternate Careers’ in Digital Humanities Knowledge Work”–an essay which tackles some of the questions I’ve been encountering personally this semester. I was struck by a mirrored epiphany we had:  

“[F]aculty positions make up only about 30 percent of all full-time employees at Brown, whereas 45 percent are some other kind of professional: technical, administrative, legal, executive, and managerial. Thus on the basis of pure statistics (and even allowing for my apparent level of education and socioeconomic positioning), I am much more likely to be anything but a faculty member.”

It’s all summed up in that last sentence: I could be a genius, or the hardest working person in the world, but the statistics simply aren’t on my side. And should my studies continue, I can expect more discouraging figures to appear on the horizon. As a graduate teaching fellow, Flanders’ “pretax income for the academic year was $12,500.” Granted, that was in 1991, so let’s account for inflation: in 2015, the number rises to $21,871.88. Embarrassingly, my first thought upon seeing this figure was “Hey, that’s pretty good!” This brings up another question, one raised often by academics–how willing are we to undercut ourselves to fulfill institutional expectations? Flanders notes that a common side effect of academic life is an “erosion of [the] boundary between the professional and personal space,” a symptom I’m certain we’ve all experienced. So where do we draw the line? How much time, money, and personal sacrifice can we invest before the balance tips?

For me, these questions are not defeating, but inspiring. I need to refocus, broaden my research, and rethink the term “Plan B.” Flanders’ career trajectory, while not traditional by any means, “mediat[es] usefully between purely technical information on the one hand (which did not address her conceptual questions) and purely philosophical information on the other (which failed to address the practicalities of typesetting and work flow).” Ideally, I’d love to do the same–it sounds so nice in writing–but I’m thinking back to the obsession with pragmatics saturating academic scholarship. After all, in 2012, Flanders herself had been an adjunct for 7 years. If that’s the idyllic future of interdisciplinary study, then count me out. And really, this is the concept I’m getting at: from a practical standpoint, where are these mythical interdisciplinary jobs, how much do they pay, and what do I need on my CV to land them? Maybe I’ll take Flanders’ advice and embrace “a truly alternative career: becoming a goat farmer.”

(By the way–I shared this on FB, but in case we aren’t friends yet, I’ll repost here. Take a look at this Alt-Ac careers article, courtesy of Dr. Emerson: http://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/whats-up-with-alt-ac-careers/)

Bibliography:

Flanders, Julia. “Time, Labor, and ‘Alternate Careers’ in Digital Humanities Knowledge Work.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. By Matthew Gold. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota, 2012. N. pag. Print.

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