We recently had a post asking for reasons for a woman to stay in philosophy, and a lot of discussion. Eventually the original poster chimed in to say that she really did want to stay and that what she need was inspiring tales to keep her going. And some really wonderful ones came in. I decided it would be useful to have these in one place, easily consulted in low moments. (It bears emphasising though, that staying is not the only reasonable thing to do. As also emerged in that discussion, lots of women have been very, very happy that they left.)
So here, for when you want inspiration, are some Reasons to Stay. (Feel free to send more through the contact form.)
What’s best about my job as a tenured professor of philosophy
1. There really is no boss of me. Yes, academics complain about our provosts, our university presidents and so on, but it’s not the same. My landlord is around fifty, not much older than I am, actually; he was downsized from his long-held job and has taken a series of other jobs since. He regularly finds that he just can’t stand bosses, being bossed, the petty antics of bossy boss-people, especially at his/our age. I listen to his anecdotes, such as being yelled at, daily, by a ‘boss’ half his age, in the middle of Wal-Mart, and I think, “I love my freedom.”
2. I have a creative life. By that I mean that after a decade or two of crafting classes at intro and advanced levels, I’ve found that within reasonable parameters I can really make a class into anything I want. I can have them read an amazing essay, watch a classic movie, and write a terribly dense paper on their interrelation, and never use the same reading or movie twice. It is actually true that I am rarely bored (except when grading!). I push them and myself to try new things constantly. My partner can only marvel at my constant discoveries.
3. I found out that I’ve got mad skills. I’ve got skills at teaching that I didn’t know existed. I don’t have all the skills I need. (E.g., my organization is for shit.) But there is nothing like managing an intense, unpredictable conversation among college-level students about the most enduring questions of life to bring out sides of me that are surprising.
4. This academic life, it’s filled with these relationship thingies! I’m in this wide, thick web of relationships that I never expected. There are thousands of philosophers, more thousands of students! I hope that if I left the job tomorrow to be ambassador to Antarctica or something, I’d still take part in this web. I’m richer for having been a part of it.
5. Last but not least: I feel my powers growing. Seriously.
Things that I love the most about my job (I’m an associate professor in a philosophy department), in no particular order:
1. The flexibility and freedom — I can work the hours that fit me best, rather than working a strict 9-5. If I want to go to the grocery store or to a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day, I go. I don’t have to ask someone’s permission. I often work from home. Papers are a lot more fun to write curled up on my couch, in comfy lounge pants, with my dog there for moral support.
2. The people — Yes, I’ve met some jerks in philosophy. But I’ve also met some truly amazing people. People that are as peculiar as I am. People I can talk to. People I love.
3. The confidence — In graduate school, philosophy killed my confidence. I had a hard time in my program, and I ended up thinking that everyone was better at philosophy than I was, and that I was pretty stupid. Now that I’m in a supportive environment, philosophy is slowly starting to help me rebuild my confidence, and on firmer foundations this time. Philosophy is *hard*. But there’s nothing quite like the feeling of making progress on a philosophical issue, and nothing more satisfying than a growing sense of “Hey, I can do this!”
4. The travel — I get to use my job as an excuse to go to all kinds of cool places. It’s fun. I always feel like I’m going on an adventure, which is maybe silly, but I love it.
5. The students — If I’m being honest, about 80% of them drive me crazy. But that final 20%. . .they’re magic. When their eyes light up in recognition, when they follow you back to your office to keep talking about a point you were discussing in class, when they see some philosophical point and seem almost overwhelmed by it — to know that you’re involved in helping them get there is one of the best feelings ever.
6. The subject — And this is the big one. I get paid to think about philosophy. That still seems too good to be true. It means I get paid to think about what I love, because at the end of the day I really do love philosophy. I used to worry that I didn’t, or didn’t love it enough, because all the boys wanted to talk philosophy 24-7, and I didn’t — I have other interests, and I can easily feel intimidated by rapid-fire philosophy talk. But there’s more to loving philosophy than obsessive philosophy-talk, and I love philosophy very much.
Stay — I am a relatively young professor and just tenured this year. There were days I have wanted to leave and go do something else. I have experienced overt sexism and that mild form that is more institutional and when pointed out shocks the person who perpetrated it.
But, when the day is done, I love my job. I can mentor young women who are students–both undergraduates and graduate students. I can, in mentoring male students, let them know what women go through. And in talking with my colleagues, remind most of them that women go through something different than they do in the daily grind of their jobs. And I do, in fact, do all these things.
And most of the time the daily grind of my job doesn’t confront sexism in the overt sense and is a wonderful and rewarding profession. I will admit, the context I work in, might be typical in the sense it is primarily a teaching not a research institution, and atypical in the sense I am at a religiously affiliated school with a strong sense of justice from the faculty to administration, the students at all levels, and in all the support staff from secretarial to custodial.
But even when the sexism is at its worst, I can’t think of any job I would rather have–it is personally and professionally rewarding, it allows a freedom most jobs do not, and interestingly enough, provides and intellectual forum and area of research to combat the problems we find in our own pursuit of this work.
As one of my dear colleagues used to sign his (and I mean “his”) emails to me before he left for another position out of state and outside the academy (he is now a parish priest), “Courage!”