dear fellow academics

Recently I have had a series of conversations with a pretty wide variety of people about what they like and dislike about scatterplot, sociology, and academia more generally. For now, let me focus on what people like. The acknowledgment that we watch TV comes up again again (here and here are examples, even if we worry about it). In short, what lots of folks tell me is they are happy when we seem like actual humans, and not simply people who are huddled up in an academic monastery. Therefore, let me publicly affirm what I have been privately conveying to others.

1.) I watch television. I make no apologies about this. It does not make me a worse academic or a worse person.
2.) I sometimes think about quitting. More than sometimes really. Often it is daily. This does not mean that I hate sociology, or my work (although at times I do). For all its rewards, our job is taxing. Particularly taxing is the sense that I am never done. This makes me want to quit. And I entertain the idea.
3.) I take days off. Sometimes I take multiple consecutive days off. I am not necessarily doing anything productive on these days (I am not bettering myself by going to art museums or traveling around Europe). Sometimes I choose not to leave my apartment on these days. I order in food and watch movies or catch up on watching TV (see #1).
4.) I feel anxious about my work almost all the time. That it’s not good enough. That I’m a fraud. That I should be doing more of it. That it will never be done (see #2).

So if you feel the same way, I’m just here to say, you’re not alone. Wow. That was cathartic. It may not be smart to reveal these things on such a public forum. But I think that by collectively denying them we make it worse for all of us. You may not be in completely the same boat as I, but I suspect there are some similarities for all of us. Now I’m nervous that I wrote this (see #4). Anyone else in my club?

19 thoughts on “dear fellow academics”

  1. I suspect what you’re feeling is pretty normal for TT faculty. But, it may be more pronounced at a place like Columbia. There are places that would support a more balaned existence (if that’s part of the issue). It’s not all or nothing, and “quitting” seems like an extreme position if you like your work and the academic lifestyle. There are lots of kinds of places you could practice your craft. Of course, NYC must be a pretty cool place to live and work.


  2. I’m human too. Partly because I’m not feeling well but mainly because it’s March Madness, I stayed home today and watched b-ball games all day long. Sports are my main tv distraction.


  3. Human, anxious, wildly imperfect. Television happens not to be my favorite way of wasting time, but I do have them. Bad work habits. Appreciative of tenure. Pretty willing to let my grad students see my inadequacies — sometimes they get tired of counseling me, remind me it is my job to counsel them. I have worried that I was too public about my weaknesses, but that would be another issue.


  4. If Peter were the standard (or worse, my other colleague, Chuck Tilly), then we’re all in rough shape. I did however, discover the secret to happiness today. Giving. If you want to be happier you can send me gifts. I will then report back on how it makes me feel. We’ll see if Science publishes my observations as a follow-up article.

    As for this being a Columbia thing: yes and no. Yes, TT at Columbia is stressful. But actually lots of folks I’ve chatted with are not at Columbia. Some are grad students elsewhere; some have non R1 jobs. I really just wanted to say that I occasionally make choices that go against the immediate interests of my work (though in the long run perhaps they are still good choices) and that I’m human. Sometimes I think we academics present ourselves as being nothing but workers – always thinking, writing, reading. So for the vast majority of folks for whom that isn’t true I thought I’d publicly say, “you’re not alone. And if you’re stressed about this, you’re also not alone in that.” Call it cheesy feel-good lame modern psychology of self-affirmation. But I don’t know, I wanted to simply say it… That, and like OW, for some reason I am fairly forthcoming about my own weaknesses.

    Speaking of basketball: I’m in an ungodly number of pools. And it feels like dishonesty that I have picked different teams in each one. I think an honorable person commits to one selection, and consistently enters it! That said, ON WISCONSIN!


  5. My biggest weaknesses are that I work too hard and care too much about my research. But even so I waste wa too much time keeping up with the literature in evolutionary biology and history, trying to really master multi-variable calculus, and attempting to make my jazz piano style even half as good as my weak efforts to translate Dante — what can I say. Human, all too human.


  6. Is Peter Bearman human? Are you kidding? Most definitely! At least he was when I knew him.

    Not an academic, so I’ll refrain from commenting…except, it’s all guilty-pleasure tv-watching, basketball pools and blog-writing here on the other side.


  7. Thanks for posting this, but the condition you’re talking about sounds suspiciously like “having a job.” I think we’d all like to believe that having a career in academia should be free of bullshit, it should just be about ideas and engagement and learning, and what the hell, it shouldn’t be a job. In these moments, I think about having worked service, I think about being bored out of my mind in a cubicle for 40 hours a week. I think about spending the rest of my life running product tests for Yoplait flavors on excel sheets. I think of having to stay late so my boss can skip out and fuck his mistress. Sure, it can be draining, but that’s part of having a job, not acute to having a great and enviable academic one.

    As for TV watching, denying yourself things you enjoy, or resenting yourself for enjoying things that aren’t work related is not a good luck. Wishing you had other (read: more “appropriate”) interests isn’t going to change too much. It’s not a fair thing to do.


  8. I consider myself lucky to have a mentor who showed me that you could both be an academic and take days off. She loves to travel and does often. She goes out to eat, relaxes by her pool, watches science fiction, and reads novels. Of course she has tenure, so it’s different for her, but she set a great example for balance. Right now I balance academic and mother roles, but one day I hope to be both an academic and a traveler-eater-relaxer-watcher-reader.


  9. Just to chip in with my own pop culture consumption justifications here, for my urban class I’m using a part in the second episode of The Wire (where someone identifies dealers with the use of red hats) to the 1500s practice in Venice of marking Jews with red hats, and Akon’s video ‘Ghetto’ to talk about different forms of sociospatial isolation… I’m not saying this makes me human…


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