For several years, before they get access to tenure and those coveted lazy summers, academics are unpaid concubines.
First, the academic spends years in the limbo of graduate student life. Depending on her area, she could easily spend up to a decade in a PhD. During most of that period, s/he will usually be discouraged from working full-time–a factor which has very real consequences for marriages, families, health, children, and overall life chances.
Still, worldwide, a PhD remains the Holy Grail for the educated classes. A PhD is a long haul. It is a frighteningly long haul. Don’t romanticize it before you jump into it. In some ways (though not all), higher education is a strategy to delay the entry of people into the job market. It’s a good way to keep people spending money while NOT getting paid. It stretches your resources to the ultimate.
Once the Holy Grail of the PhD has been reached, the process of lowering expectations begins. So, from expecting a tenure-track faculty position in the same metropolitan city where your spouse is employed, you whittle prospects down to a contractual or post-doctoral position in a small semi-rural town three hours away from one’s spouse/family. In a state that offers depressingly poor assistance for children of low-income families.
Unless you’re a) an academic star b) with ALL the potential teaching/research/service experience AND c) lucky, your application may fade into the dozens of PhD applications on the search committee’s desks.
In the graduate student community (an exploited underclass if ever there was one), you fight each other for scraps of unpaid labour. Before and after you land your dream job, you continue to work and produce like a demon if you have any plans of getting a steady income.
Much of this work is unpaid.
Endless hours and hours of top-quality intellectual work in the academic profession go unpaid and unrecognized, – and often don’t even see the light of day. You spend endless hours of working on article and book manuscripts – that “build” your career so you can land a good job.
Sometimes you keep building and building and building and one day you get the feeling that you are building castles in the air. Castles of words, that remain just that, in an ‘intellectual’ profession, where – well, did you expect to be paid for brain-work? When you don’t produce a single brick, a single latte, a single hamburger, why should you expect to be paid? From being a member of a supposedly elite profession, you feel like the most useless professional who expected to hold down a job, the person with the most *imaginary* skills possible.
You are ever the concubine, for the longest time – never a bride. Journals, professors, colleagues, projects, contractual jobs, – you are available for everything and never rewarded. Like a lady of the night, you wait by the bus stop, flashing your cerebral personality, your sparkling words, your deep ideas, waiting for a university, a community college, – hell, a broke nonprofit, – to come pick you up, use your amazing skill at crafting words and ideas, and leave a note on the table. – Not cash, but just a note that recognizes your quality as a scholar, just a line in your curriculum vitae.
Some day, you dream, after being used again and again in this way, some day, they will leave a check on the table. You beg them to use you. I’ll work without insurance, you plead. Sometimes I’ll work without a salary or even a wage, just so I can remain “current” because my credentials depend upon affiliation with names of prestigious – no, ANY institutions and colleagues.
Once you are (shudder) an Independent Scholar (insert name of cheap town), you’d better start worrying.
You put your family on hold, you protect and nurture this relationship you have with an exploitative fantasy. And you ask for more time so you can do more and more to “build the career.”