Ain’t It Hard

The pictures in that video would have looked exotic to me at one time but they no longer do, as such scenes can still be seen. Someone else says:

I’m tired of the confidence, the guys who act as if the wind is at their backs, all of which cloaks the true effort involved. Let’s stop pretending that this is easy. Let’s confess that writing is hard, teaching is hard, and striking a balance between the two is the hardest of all. Let’s talk about how hard it is to get a piece published in one of the top journals in our field. Let’s talk about how much harder it all is when our universities increase our teaching loads, put us on “furlough” (i.e., cut our pay), or rescind the $325 they had promised to help us fly to a conference. Let’s talk about how hard it is to do all this when you’re single, or when your partner lives 1200 miles away, or when you’re in an unhappy relationship.

Instead of trying to be Federer (2004-09), let’s emulate someone like Rafael Nadal instead — he sweats profusely, he grunts and sneers and has that whole superstitious routine before each point (tugs at his underwear, tucks his hair behind his ears), and you see him strain for every single ball. You might marvel at what he can do, but you’re never tricked into thinking he’s not working for it. Let’s call what we do WORK, and let’s stop wearing white monogrammed dinner jackets when we do it.

I had a job at a place where everyone was the monogrammed type Feminéma discusses here and they were irritating people, in part because they weren’t even that good. I am perhaps somewhat eccentric in my feeling that all the discussions of how difficult academic work is that I have heard in my life are an intimidation tactic, a way of gatekeeping. I do not think it is the work itself that is hard, I think it is the working conditions that make it hard. One of these working conditions involves having to listen to warnings about how hard it is and so on, and how you need to feel that it is hard.

The roof man wants me to trim trees I cannot reach even on a ladder. I said all right, I guess it is time for me to invest in one of those clippers on a pole. He said I had better hire an arborist. I asked the yard man his opinion. He said the roof man’s meaning in telling me to hire an arborist was that I could not do that job as a woman. I think a lot of the discussions about how hard we need to realize academic work is are about that — it is supposed to be too hard for us, we are supposed to perceive it as hard, because we are women.

The difficulty is not the work, it is dealing with the obstruction and the negative work atmospheres. Let us compare, for instance, the conditions of our new assistant professor and our new instructor.

INSTRUCTOR: Local M.A., local network of family and friends, no research or service responsibilities, access to well established, serious hobbies based in this area that ze enjoys. $33K + benefits, for 4-5 courses that are always versions of the same 4 or 5 courses, 3 day a week teaching schedule, ability to earn overtime through evening and summer teaching, is forgiven for putting everything on autograde, testing from a commercial test bank, and never assigning any kind of writing.

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR: Nationally or internationally competitive Ph.D., moved here from far away, not familiar with area, heavy research and service responsibilities, library has not acquired any books in hir field in this century. $44K + benefits, for 3-4 courses that are always new and different, and require serious preparation, 5 day a week teaching schedule, not well advised to take on extra teaching, will have teaching criticized if puts everything on autograde, tests from a commercial test bank, or does not assign writing.

I would say that is hard, yes.

It’s a-hard and it’s hard, ain’t it hard
To love one that never did love you?
It’s a-hard, and it’s hard, ain’t it hard, great God,
To love one that never will be true?

Axé.


18 thoughts on “Ain’t It Hard

  1. “I do not think it is the work itself that is hard, I think it is the working conditions that make it hard. One of these working conditions involves having to listen to warnings about how hard it is and so on, and how you need to feel that it is hard.”

    -This is SO true. I was at a committee training session last week, and the person conducting it kept repeating, “I know that you are all horribly busy, I know that all of you barely have a moment to breathe, I know that all of you have too many obligations as it is. . .” Maybe this was supposed to sound reassuring or something but, to me, it just sounded like something was wrong with me because I didn’t feel all that busy, had ample time to breathe, read, blog and take walks and didn’t have all that many obligations.

    I just hate this idea that unless you act the role of a permanently exhausted academic, you will be seen by everybody as an underachiever and a non-productive person. I fulfill all of my work-related obligations very well and it doesn’t make me all that horribly tired or busy. I don’t think this makes me a bad academic or a weird person.

  2. Z: I don’t think you and Feminema are saying such different things. And as you, her and Clarissa say, working conditions are essential. And expectations. I’m with Clarissa, I don’t feel awfully overworked. But my working conditions are much better than yours: I have a 3/3 load, make 55K a year (you know where I live), have 1k a year to spend on books and 1K for travel. I have to publish 4 articles to get tenure, and nobody will say a thing if those articles are published in “Chasqui” instead of “Revista Iberoamericana”. If I was teaching in a nearby regional state university, it would be hard: 4/4, no sabbaticals, very little money for research and a book already published to get tenure.

  3. Well I’m overworked and under-appreciated. But hard for me is to work for a private school, or a school without graduate programs, or deal with religion. Technically we’re on a 3/3 and have those kinds of publication requirements for tenure, although you’d have to produce more to be tenured and also promoted, and I now make $55K, too. No book/travel money, though — I’ve actually never worked anywhere that had book money, I’m always impressed when people have it — the books are for you, not for your library?

    And don’t you think that assistant professor is right, — the instructor is living fat compared to him? Instructors, $2500 per extra course, 4 extra courses a year on autograde, that’s $10K extra, so it’s $43K, 3 days a week, no responsibilities but those courses, no rigorous reviews of teaching and other stuff such as what the assistant professor will have to go through with his $44K, 5 day teaching weeks, and other work, which he has to subsidize out of his salary since we have no research money.

  4. Or, another thought that I don’t know whether to say at didion’s or here: what I miss in all these discussions of difficulty is recognition of the kinds of things I find hard, which others don’t seem to.

    We’re supposed to have a hard time with writing and teaching and dislike service / administration, but I’m OK with all that.

    The things that are hard for me are different things: adjusting to job descriptions I wouldn’t have done a PhD to get the right to do, adjusting to living in areas I wouldn’t normally, adjusting to not having libraries / bookstores / research culture in general, accepting that this is reality, realizing that I’m possibly the only person who isn’t satisfied with a virtual research life, and so on.

    What’s hard for me isn’t that I don’t know what to do or how to work an R1 job, which is what everyone assumes people don’t know how to do. What’s hard is having a concrete reality that people can’t seem to imagine. What’s hard is trying to figure out how to be myself and also function where I am, where I have to be someone else almost 24/7.

  5. ” I don’t feel awfully overworked. But my working conditions are much better than yours: I have a 3/3 load, make 55K a year (you know where I live), have 1k a year to spend on books and 1K for travel.”

    -I get $47,800 after the recent merit raises, no book money, and the travel money is a problem. Also I’m supposed to have a 3/3 load, but I got a grant that bought be a course release. However, my department is so great that the administration always makes efforts to give is less preparations and accommodate us in terms of teaching days. We are guaranteed always to have 3 and 2 teaching days in 2 semesters respectively.

    So I agree with Z, it’s all about the work conditions.

  6. ‘We’re supposed to have a hard time with writing and teaching and dislike service / administration, but I’m OK with all that.

    The things that are hard for me are different things: adjusting to job descriptions I wouldn’t have done a PhD to get the right to do, adjusting to living in areas I wouldn’t normally, adjusting to not having libraries / bookstores / research culture in general, accepting that this is reality, realizing that I’m possibly the only person who isn’t satisfied with a virtual research life, and so on.”

    -As you must already know, this is the greatest hurdle for me, too. I’m doing great with the tenure requirements, adore the teaching, have selected the best committees to be on.

    But I’m getting really undermined by a) living in this climate (which nobody really understands, but it’s a source of very real suffering and health issues for me); b) not having any kind of intellectual environment like I’m used to; c) the general suffering of a big-city person in a small-town world (which, again, everybody just dismisses); d) a partner who is only in this area because of me and who is sacrificing huge career opportunities as a result.

    I’m glad that your blog provides me with a space to discuss this without feeling judged.

    1. I think the hardest part for me are not job related but human related. I miss having the kind of friendships I had in Buenos Aires, and with one exception, anything in this country that I can call close to a friend comes from my husband social life. I can usually deal with it, but it feels lonely when you are down. This, however, was a sacrifice I knew I was making when I came to the US for my PhD.

      Re work: not working with grad students is the most important drawback from my job. Besides that, I don’t complain: my current institution was the first job offer I received. It was already early April, so I took it without thinking twice. I had had four other campus interviews before this one, but no offers out of them. I can honestly say that there was only one that I would have loved to get (I later found out that the committee couldn’t reach an agreement, so the position was not fulfilled).

  7. I guess more people are actually interested in the small town thing than you or I realize.

    I have come to the conclusion that if you had a choice of undergraduate institutions and you liked the choice you made, then that is also the kind of place you should work. Personalities and tastes don’t change that much.

    Even if you didn’t really like your undergraduate institution, being at a similar kind of place helps because you understand it intuitively. I have a colleague here for whom that is the case. He of course dreams of better things but is at least in a place which at some level is deeply familiar.

    1. Thanks for the link. It sounds like an interesting colloquium to attend.

      Brigitte

      [N. Ed. Si bien que c’est fini. Mais il y en aura d’autres. –Z.]

  8. I still feel like we’ve got two different issues on the table. My post was about objecting to those golden boys who engage in behavior that opens doors for them and, I believe, closes them for others. When they indicate that everything comes easily for them, it’s tantamount to a kind of aggression — a “what’s wrong with you that you didn’t receive the special grant funding?” despite the fact that he received funding from a buddy of his.

    Fair enough that you want to reverse the “feel sorry for me” attitudes of young scholars. I like the mantra that writing is easy, etc. But really, it’s just a different point than the one I was trying to make.

    And as much as I also feel some deep satisfaction when things come easily, my attitude in the current political climate is that it’s best the public hear more about the true contours of our jobs. The fact that we work so many hours per week; that even if our time in the classroom doesn’t sound like much, the prep time and grading time and research & writing time makes this look more like a really poorly paid kind of labor for people who spend inordinate amounts of time in grad school. To myself, I glory in the love of writing while sitting in my sweatpants. To the public I say, this is work.

  9. Didion, but haven’t you always? Is this some kind of new discovery? As I say in my other post, I called it work on the front page of the LA Times and that was in 1983, and to get on the front page of the LA Times with that I had obviously been calling it work back in Berkeley, in smaller venues, for some time already.

    Did you only just now start writing to your local papers and the legislature describing what you actually do in your job? We in Louisiana have been doing this for years. I’m on statewide committees about it.

    I have a different attitude about the golden boys and so on because they’re not my main problem. My main problem is blanket work inequities. Whole departments with lower teaching loads than ours and the same tenure / promotion standards, things like that.

  10. “When they indicate that everything comes easily for them, it’s tantamount to a kind of aggression — a ‘what’s wrong with you that you didn’t receive the special grant funding?’ despite the fact that he received funding from a buddy of his.”

    This is one of the things you ought to have learned to deal with at a personal level in graduate school, already. There are all sorts of snappy comebacks to be made.

    At an institutional level it is why it is important to sit on certain kinds of committees, make certain kinds of remarks, bring in certain kinds of data.

  11. AND the post to which I am still reacting, the call to call things work, which linked to me just after I had finally come out with my manifesto on not suffering and using powers, which is a big deal for me, got on my last nerve because:

    * I have always had to prove I was working, and so on
    * In real life I do do a lot of work for other faculty, representing us and so on, and this is my recreational weblog — just because I am one of the more overloaded academic workers, I don’t think I should have to represent that 24/7
    * Many aspects of my job, like the multiple sections of freshman and sophomore foreign language courses, and the operation of the relevant Cupertino websites, resemble assembly line work, already

    And oddly, and this isn’t your fault, but it is my experience — the golden people I always have had to defer to aren’t those golden boys — they are too far above me — but women in schools with research libraries who claim structural disadvantages beyond just gender. Their university is especially oppressive, etc. Those are the people who have *always* corrected me, demanded deference, insisted I was “privileged” because some things come easy to me, or that I was not taking our oppression seriously enough, and so on.

    So having one MORE person who IRL has a lot more % time to work on the fun part of work tell me it is MY duty to point out to the public that work is work and is hard — especially when they’ve been reading this blog for years and ought to know that the goal of it is for me to learn to enjoy things more again — is really hurtful.

    1. Z,

      This comment is really hard to read and understand. Pretty sure that there is a lot of substance behind it but it needs to be re-worded because the message get lost.

  12. @David, it a note to self, really, but it’s directed to commenter Didion, above. There is BLOG DRAMA behind this. She linked to me in a post that hurt my feelings and I said so and that hurt her and her other friend’s feelings, and they are or were both my blog friends. I am trying to work out a way to even understand all of this to talk about it clearly and yet diplomatically.

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