What do you value?
At one point I would have said, “Homer!” But something a professor of mine in grad school once said has stuck with me through the years: “The text will never love you back.” I’ve realized that I loved academia for the connections it let me make with hopeful, hurting, eager, weary people looking for ways to understand the world around them. I loved teaching; I loved batting around ideas with my friends at all hours in the grad student office; I loved meeting people from other institutions at conferences to share our experiences. That thirst for human connections formed around the ideas we have together has given me a new focus for the next stage of my academic life. This fall, I will begin full-time studies for a Master of Divinity degree with a view to becoming an ordained clergywoman in a few years’ time. I never thought I’d have a bona fide calling, but it became increasingly hard to ignore. I come from a context where women are not supposed to have that calling, and I wonder if I went into higher ed in the first place because it was a way to scratch that itch for connecting with people around big ideas. Funny thing about self-knowledge, right?
If you have left academia, why did you leave?
I left academia about four years ago, having finished my dissertation right before the bottom dropped out of the humanities job market. I was one of the lucky ones, because there was a postdoc for me. I had two years at a gorgeous small liberal arts college to think about the question I challenged my Greek civ students with every day: “What is best in life?” Funny thing about self-knowledge: you talk about it enough, and you start to take it seriously. I left because I couldn’t make a viable career out of loving to teach in my field, and I realized I didn’t have the passion for research that would keep me in the game after it became seemingly unwinnable.
If you have left academia, what do you miss, and not miss, about it?
I don’t miss the constant grinding pressure. Am I writing enough? Am I still a worthwhile human being if I don’t get this article published? Am I going to get any interviews at the big conference? Am I going to have a job next year or not? Am I doing enough, being enough, writing enough? I do miss being in the classroom on a regular basis. I have some training responsibilities in my current job, and I relish them–but man, I just want to get a group of people in a classroom and talk about Greek verbs some time.