This post is prolly not a surprise nor a shock, given some of my past musings, grumbles and the general state of the world. But tomorrow (Jan 18th) is the start of our spring semester at my university. For me, that means returning to serving students during the day as an advisor, while taking my singular allowed class as part of my slow and steady grind in graduate school for my MFA. I just wanted to process some of my academia apprehension I’m currently feeling. Perhaps writing it out will make me feel better?
Only one way to find out.
Apprehension In my Career
I’ve worked as an academic advisor for two and a half years now (or, starting my fifth semester). At first, I loved my job. Some aspects, I still do. I truly do love working with students and serving in a mentorship role. My organizational skills and empathy make me excel (not being cocky, here, just honest).
Yet, not even four months into working there, the pandemic hit and we went remote. I loved the remote aspect, which we worked for a year, before my university forced us to return in person for the Spring 2021 semester. My office did get to go hybrid, but they are going full force into in-person services, despite COVID being at an all time high in America right now.
So, my main apprehension at the start of a new semester comes from the response–or lack thereof–in regards to the pandemic; the blatant disregard of faculty, staff and student lives, compared to the “financial health” of the university. There have already been three staff deaths in the past semester related to the pandemic, before Omicron became the prominent variant. Yet our administration doesn’t care. They aren’t attempting to mitigate anything (and ignoring creative options like allowing some people to still work remote who can, like my office very well could).
It’s exhausting, disheartening and makes me want to leave academia entirely. Especially when you add a:
My other main source of academia apprehension, in relation to my career, is the current leadership in my office. Truly, leadership is a very forgiving term. In the past year, we’ve had over 50% of our current staff quit, due to leadership failures. Micromanaging, lack of transparency, dishonest “empathetic” responses, attacking questioning or “negative” attitudes, piling on work, no chances for feedback or honest discussions, demanding positivity despite our office struggling with understaffing, the pandemic, etc.
You name it, our “leadership” has probably done it.
As we enter year three in the panini, I wonder more and more if academia is where I want my day time career to me (especially in this office). My dream career–writing, editing and blogging full-time–is nowhere near within financial reach, at the moment. So, I still need a day job. I quite like advising and offering that support. But a positive work environment would be appreciated, too.
Apprehension in My Study
Meanwhile, I’m feeling even more academia apprehension in relation to my MFA. This is my second attempt at graduate school, this time taking one class per semester via tuition assistance (on track for a Spring 2025 graduation date). As the semester starts, I’m left with more feelings of dread than I am excitement, which feels…opposite of what it should be, to me.
Namely, it’s coming from:
- Imposter syndrome that I don’t belong
- A disconnect from my peers (since being non-trad doesn’t allow me to connect the traditional way a cohort does)
- Struggling to balance the additional homework and class commitments on top of my day job and creative pursuits
- Feeling uncertain if an MFA’s ultimate goals (creating “better quality than published” literary works) match my own goals as a storyteller and creator
- Concerns about having an in-person class (with no remote options given) and adding another place to increase chances of catching COVID, on top of my day job
- How the rumored “time to write” bonus of graduate school is non-existent, as a non-trad student
Don’t get me wrong: I have met so many wonderful creatives and writers so far during my second stint at graduate school. There are writers I’ve connected with who inspire me and I cannot wait to support, with their published works.
But I won’t lie: a big part of me would feel a lot of relief if I were to drop out of the program tomorrow.
Yet, there is another part of me. The part that questions where I’d be if I’d stuck it out the first time. A part that fears I’m wanting to drop out because I’m scared to challenge myself as a writer; that I’ll lose integral mentorship and connections that would help support me as a writer. The part who wonders what sort of doors would open with a Masters degree under my belt.
Those parts have been warring a lot, lately.
For now, I’m going to go to class Wednesday night and see how it goes. But, honestly? It just feels daunting.
Where Does This Leave Me?
So, writing it all out didn’t make me feel better. 😅 It just made me crave the life I want even more: one where I’m not just another piece of in the capitalist cog, beholden to an 8-5 schedule that doesn’t work well for me, stuck in an environment that puts my health at risk and barely gives me enough financially, mentally or emotionally to support myself in return–all while everything I want to do is left suffering as a result.
Oof, we got into downer territory quite quickly, didn’t we? That’s, ah…that’s my bad.
I think, if I can take away anything, it’s that I do feel a lot of apprehension, as a result of the semester starting. Fears of burnout, health risks and sacrifices loom heavy on my mind. It’s okay to feel this way. These feelings are valid. Talking and being open about it shouldn’t be shameful. I also wouldn’t be surprised if I’m not the only one feeling this way, given the state of the world.
Rooting for you, if this post resonated with you in any way. Open to chat, too, if you need it. And, if you are in a better place than I am currently, I am hoping with every fiber of my being that not only can you stay there and protect it, but that I can reach a point soon where I feel something similar, sometime soon.
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Kal @ Reader Voracious says
So much of the university’s revenue comes from on-campus housing and dining and it genuinely is appalling that universities are so focused on being in-person. I work in academic fundraising and at least in my uni I think some of it also comes from not wanting to upset the more conservative donors by “being woke” and doing the right thing. There was a donor in the fall who complained that they found out a positive student was “being locked away” in quarantine with food delivered to them and we had to shelve a proposal to them lol.
I don’t know if I told you about my prior job and the toxic environment- we had to file a whistleblower complaint with the uni to get them to look at the toxic culture and it took us all agreeing to tell the truth. It was hard and we got rid of the horrible direct boss, but then realized it was systemic. I’ve moved from an r1 to a state school and let me tell you: my faith has been restored in academia. If you like(d) your job, see about working at a different institution. The Great Resignation right now means there’s lot of jobs out there.
Your fears and apprehension are valid and for what it’s work I don’t think you’re scared of the challenge. The panini is rough. My dms are always open
Thank you so, so much for this comment, Kal. I thought you might connect with this more than some of my other followers! But gosh, more power to you to work in academic fundraising. I can’t imagine.
I have been thinking about looking elsewhere, because I do think part of the issue is my university itself. But, it gets complicated because then my partner would need to find a new job, too, and he just got a nice raise, but it is something we’re considering!
Thank you so much again, Kal. I hope you’re hanging in there and taking care of yourself! 🖤
Off The TBR says
Ugh. As someone who worked in administration in higher ed for over a decade I feel your pain. There are many factors involved I’m sure…the university budget model in the U.S is geared highly toward in person. The leadership tends to have an older generational Outlook on educational delivery models. Sometimes leadership in one dept can be toxic but in another superb. If you’re at a public university it can be difficult to remove people amd you have not just university politics but state/national politics in play. Working for one university can be amazing while working for another horrible. There are many things i miss about the environment in higher education and many I don’t. If it is something you love keep exploring the options. But sometimes you have to make a change.
As for your degree…how brunt out do you feel? Or is it feeling up to the task? When I was working through my Masters there were numerous times I asked my self what the hell I was doing. In the end I decided to keep plugging away because I thought I was going to do something with the degree when done. Turns out I didn’t go into the field at all and am back doing what I used to do. Spent a lot of money doing so. I’m still glad I finished the program though.
Oh gosh, yes, I am not surprised you’ve had similar experiences! I do appreciate you sharing your perspectives, though. It’s always really refreshing to know I’m not alone in feeling this way!
I’m feeling a little burnt out, but after going to the first class, it does feel more doable that I feared. The biggest part of me is trying to stick with it so it might open more doors in the future, but I’m not so attached that I wouldn’t be bummed if I had to leave it if I got a new job, you know? I’m glad you were able to finish yours, too!