Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Reprioritize  §

Academic politics is a devastating thing. My career was harmed and continues to be harmed by academic politics, and real relationships that I valued and that were tremendously helpful to me were lost in the process thanks to the negative intervention of others.

One of the things told to me by a faculty member I no longer get to talk to because of academic politics is that there is a limit to the usefulness of career strategy at this stage of the game. In fact, it's counterproductive, he said.

A young, starry-eyed would-be academic can quickly exhaust themselves trying to prematurely build up the CV. "Opportunities" (read: CV-worthy titles associated with random bits of sometimes menial, sometimes senseless labor) abound at this level and for the student emerging from grunt "nobody" status into the light of "serious potential scholar" status, it's tempting to want to seize each opportunity that comes along. Carpe diem, after all.

Certainly one hates to turn anything down—particularly with the keen awareness that one has of the tremendous competitiveness of this profession and the depth that one wants to be able to show on a CV. But, warned this person, likely the largest intellectual influence on me in some years, to think about the CV at this point is to risk embroiling oneself in entanglements that absorb every bit of one's time and energy, leaving nothing for the one component of the CV—the disseration—that is actually mandatory for an academic career.

Scheme too carefully and/or adopt too many titles too early and the Ph.D. begins to recede into the future… just a few months at first, then a year, then multiple years, and soon one is a hack: an M.A. with years of middling experience and mid-level titles and no doctorate—and hence no tenure, no professorship, no job stability, and no real CV growth. It's a trap.

Yes, earn the income that's needed to complete the Ph.D., but try not to rely on mid-level academic work, and certainly don't do anything at this level solely for the CV. Get the Ph.D. instead, then worry on credentials inflation afterward. The Ph.D. is the first, fundamental, gatekeeping, and most elusive of all credentials.

He was right. And I have failed to listen to him. It is time to clean house and reorganize life a bit, I suspect.

I'm going to reflect on this for a few days, but the problem is at this point that I am working for everyone in academics except myself right now. I am doing favors for everyone except myself, helping with everyone's work other than my own. My own dissertation progress has been stalled since spring. And that cannot be allowed to happen.

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