Intellectual Soulmates

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 478.

My contribution to a thread about quitting the search for an academic job (and the resentment of years devoted to graduate work that do not come to fruition in landing a tenure track position).


A long time ago, I too tried to land a position in the academy. I am very lucky to have friends who too went that route and who have carved out for themselves niches in which to engage in intellectual activity. We get together regularly and catch up on our various projects.

The sense of community was what I thought I would miss the most by being barred entry into the academic club. But the walls of higher learning are porous and what I thought I would miss I have found through online networks and choosing to live in a large metropolis (Toronto) with a lively civic commitment to book and film culture.

For the most part I have dwelt with the not landing an academic job with a certain degree of equanimity -- I have after all access to an excellent reference library.

However there are times when I find that academic departments are insular and fail to reach out to the larger community. I believe they sometimes need publicists to encourage coverage of events and greater use of recording technology for play back would be great -- there is at times an alarming unknowingness about creating accessible archives of the events of academic life.

Some would argue that being extra-muros brings its own rewards. I am not prepared to say so. It presents very specific challenges to anyone who would claim the mantle of scholar. Being extra-muros does have its own charm (especially when I consider the workloads of my friends and colleagues who teach and conduct research). Charm of course is not a reward nor is it a gift. It's a by-product of the story we extramural folks spin. It takes an incredible effort to keep the story spinning so as to avoid resentment. To have the energy and time to reknit one's sense of pride and purpose is sometimes a matter of luck. I have been lucky and part of that luck has been Humanist and its readers.

I am not going to trivialize someone's decision to quit the race by producing some platitude to the effect that it gets better. It doesn't. Nor will I intimate that they didn't try hard enough - that's simply uncouth.

I will suggest that the academy -- the collective invisible college -- make it easier to prepare future scholars to exercise their abilities whether or not they come to occupy a place within its walls.

I was lucky my alma mater did encourage us to think of career paths beyond the academy. What it didn't do so well was help us imagine being scholars for life. Humanist and other networks can -- and should.

Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large

And so for day 278