I've been thinking a lot lately about what I want out of academia. For years, I assumed that the goal was to get a tenure-track job. Not particularly because of the added status that came with it, though that would be nice. But simply because it seemed like it would offer the most rewards for the work I wanted to do.
Kevin's job at UIC, for example, is pretty splendid. It started off paying him around $50K, and is now a decent bit more. He teaches 2/1 -- that's two classes in one semester and one in another. Summers are off. (We won't even consider the fact that most of the time he actually teaches 2/0, or 1/0, because that's due to getting grants from the NSF, and they don't give those to humanities folks.) He does a fair bit of committee work in addition to his teaching, but that still leaves him plenty of time for research. He does work hard -- somewhere between 30-80 hrs/week. But there's a ton of time for the research he wants to do, and he's decently compensated for it all.
For comparison, my visiting position at Roosevelt was a bit tougher. I taught a 3/3 load. (If I'd been teaching full-time at a local community college, my load might have been 4/4, or even 5/5. If I'd been teaching at Northwestern or U of C, my load would likely have been 2/2, or maybe 2/1.) It's hard to say how many hours I actually worked -- if you don't count writing time, maybe 30-50 hours/week. If you count writing time, which in theory I'm supposed to, then that climbs to 30-100 hours/week. For that, I was paid about $45K (plus a $1500 travel allowance) annually. So more work and less money than Kevin, with less time available for writing (which counts as 'research' in my field). But a) he's much further along than I am, and b) Roosevelt is just a tier or so lower than UIC. So, to be expected, and generally a manageable, though tiring, schedule. (Also a nice bonus: I get some academic 'credit' for the volunteer work I do with DesiLit and the SLF and Rasaka, which all count as 'service'. Getting tenure is based on your research, teaching and service (in that order at the higher-level schools).)
Now, adjunct work (which I did at Salt Lake Community College and University of Utah is much worse, for a variety of reasons:
- no health insurance or other benefits (I did get benefits at Utah, but that's unusual)
- no travel allowance
- per course pay is around $4-$5K (so that 3/3 load would work out to a pay of $30K max, no benefits)
- no stability -- any semester, I could be offered anywhere from 0-5 courses at a given institution
- if not offered enough courses at one school, might end up teaching at several, which requires much more commuting time, not to mention mental chaos as you try to keep track of various schools' procedures
- generally, no office -- shared cubicle space with other adjuncts, which is minor, but annoying
- no power in the department, and little choice in what you teach
But now, I'm just not sure it's the right path for me. It's not just the pregnancy -- even before the baby, I was feeling pretty severely burned out and overwhelmed. A full-time academic job was taking a lot more time than I'd anticipated (especially semesters where I was teaching new courses, which require a remarkable amount of prep time). I did manage to write and revise a novel in my first year of the job, but I felt harried and rushed on both the novel and my teaching, like neither was getting the full attention (and enjoyment) they deserved. And the pressure to publish didn't go away -- in some ways, it intensified, because now my academic career future also rested on my publishing well and being reviewed well. True, they don't care so much about how much I get paid for my books, but they care a lot about how they're received and reviewed -- which I have pretty much no control over, which is stomach-churning.
As for baby -- take a look at this brief summary of a recent Berkeley study on how babies alter careers for academics. It's not good news for women. Not even a little bit. I'm apparently having a baby during the worst possible period for someone seeking a tenure-track academic job. And that's not surprising, given the way the calendar works out -- that's what most academic women end up doing. Even if Kevin ends up taking on half of the child-care (and household stuff), that still leaves many many hours of work -- hopefully wonderful, joyful work, at least some of the time. But work that has to come out of one of three places: teaching, writing, or resting. Because, y'know, that's most of what I do. And honestly, I don't know that I can handle losing any more of my resting time; it feels like it's shaved to the bone already.
It's tempting to think that teaching is less work than it is. After all, if I teach three evening classes, I'm only gone 12 hours of the week; Kev can watch the baby that time, surely? But the problem is that there's a lot of other work, prepping and grading and admin, and while most of it (except for advising students) can be done at home, that doesn't mean I can watch baby at the same time -- it's work, and mostly needs my full attention when I'm doing it. I need to be realistic about the fact that a full-time tenure-track academic job really is full-time -- that they're expecting a minimum of 40 hrs/week from me devoted to the job.
All of which leaves me here -- in this position where I'm now thinking that a part-time adjunct job may be the best choice (for the next few years at least). To teach 1/1, perhaps, for a measly $10K a year (no benefits). That pay will barely cover my health insurance plus some fripperies, but at least I'd get to keep teaching, which I do love (and which I think is good for my writing). Kevin's hoping that we can find something for me that has a similarly light load but better pay; I'm doubtful, but willing to try. And I wouldn't mind teaching a bit more -- 2/2 sounds do-able, or at least worth trying. That would leave me lots of time for baby, and maybe even a little time to write. (If Kev helps a lot with baby. :-)
In the end, though, it just feels weird, considering giving up even trying for a tenure-track job. Like I'm letting the side down, somehow, by not trying to do it all, to prove that you can be a successful career woman and a good mom too. That I'm being unfeminist. I know that's ridiculous -- feminism isn't about being superwoman. It's about having the freedom to make good choices for what you want to do with your life, and being compensated fairly for the work you do. But still.
What's funny about all of this is that in some arrogant fundamental sense, I actually do think my career is much more important than Kevin's. I mean, I'm glad he loves his math and all, and I'm generally in support of pure knowledge for the sake of itself. But I like to think that my writing has at least some potential for conceretely helping people, and maybe even making the world a better place. (At least it might if I get over my anxiety about addressing political issues.) So I have absolutely no desire to 'sacrifice' my career for his. But it's also clear that right now, our family finances are likely to do much better if we rely on the stability of his income than on mine! And of course, then we come back to the general question of what will actually best facilitate my writing (once baby allows me to write again), to which the answer may actually be: letting myself depend on his income. Weird. Unsettling. Is that unfeminist of me too?
I know some of you switched to part-time work, or full-time parenting when you had babies. Or your partners did. And some of you stayed full-time. Thoughts? Regrets?
What do you think I should do?