Why I’m going to stop listening to generic career advice

This week I’ve decided that I’m done listening to generic career advice because, frankly, very little of it is applicable to my life.

I was reading a Thesis Whisperer post earlier this week that pretty much reduced me to tears.  Don’t get me wrong – if you are a generalizable early academic career woman, it’s a MUST READ.  Seriously. Read it now.  It’s well written, smart, and perfect for 99% of the population for whom it’s written. In it, Thesis Whisperer (TW) answers a letter from a recent PhD grad trying to decide what sort of job she should take – the temporary research positions (which she seemed to prefer) or the long term faculty position – both of which she was offered.

First, TW warns the grad to be skeptical of the advice of male advisors, as these things tend to play out differently for women than for men.  She also describes how a woman taking fellowships and research positions over traditional (long-term) faculty positions must be mobile regardless of family or else watch her career dwindle into obscurity. Finally, she tackles the concept of the trailing academic spouse.

It’s a great post. It also suggests that I’ve done everything wrong and have no hope of making anything notable of my education and that I’ve also reached the pinnacle of any career I might hope to have.  Crap.

The day after I read the TW post,  I was chatting with the neighbor-women as we were waiting to put the kids on the school bus.  Even though all of them (there were probably five that morning)  used to be (high power, highly paid) professionals,  they are currently career mom-wives.  I am the only one of this group currently working outside the home (caveat – the part time health provider neighbor was not present that morning).  These are high energy women. When they aren’t running the PTA or taking their kids to their tutor or to violin lessons,  they are doing pilates, barre, or training for a 10k (often all on the same day).

Well, we were all standing around and as part of the conversation I mentioned that all sorts of alarming things had started happening to my body the minute I turned 40 this spring.  They were sympathetic, of course, but then told me there’s no way I should take it all so lightly.  “You got to go out fighting,” apparently, and fighting means two hour daily workouts, hair dye, botox/fillers, and a plastic surgery (before things really get bad so no one can tell you got it done).

Well, despite the fact that I used to run my own MedSpa (yes, I injected botox and fillers into people), I don’t have the time or patience for any of that.  Apparently I’m about to lose some sort of fight without really trying.

Crap X 2.

All this impending failure sparked some serious contemplation and here’s what I came up with:  I am not and never will be a career academic – I don’t want to be.  Well, I kind of do, but I don’t – I like action in my life way too much to spend years writing a book, for sure.  And I will never be a career mom-wife (as defined by my socioeconomic/geographic cohort), because I don’t want to be.  I have different priorities.  I just do.

In short, I am both and neither of these groups of career women – and because of how I’ve lived my life, I’m quite a few more, too.  Therefore…

Generic career advice from pretty much anyone?  It doesn’t apply.  There’s no point in listening.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Good post, Laura. I too was 40 when I finished my Ph.D. 10 years ago and I had a hard time with the usual career advice. I had two kids in school, a husband with a career, and the realization that I would not be a tenure-track faculty member as I had hoped. I have been in higher education in many satisfying alt academic roles and have been able to teach, research and present. There are lots of opportunities that I never dreamed existed, just keep your eyes open.


    1. Laura Gogia says:

      Thank you, Jodi. That’s the sort of message we need to get out there. There are different desireable outcomes. There are different pathways to success. I probably would have liked to have had more of that conversation sooner rather than later, but now is good too :). Thanks for your support and congratulations on doing it your way 🙂


  2. Kate Bowles says:

    I know how you feel reading those posts. I often find myself watching the stream of advice on how to do all this right with a sense of bemusement at how many of us have done it wrong, are doing it wrong or (in the worst cases) are wronged by doing it at all.

    The thing is, we’re not isolated, and we may not even be a minority. There are lots and lots and lots of us on non-traditional paths, sometimes for years, and reading your post I find myself wondering why it has become difficult for the systems that hire us (in whatever capacity) to encourage this kind of diversity. I don’t feel anyone voted for this fairly brutal career monoculture, it just became a kind of common sense, a discourse that propagated itself through various forms of advising until it became unthinkable to work otherwise.

    So I’m here to cheer you on, and also to say how much I’m loving your blog design. This feels like a beautiful space to be in, thank you for making it.


    1. Laura Gogia says:

      Thank you, Kate, for the encouragement and the compliment on my blog space. Working to make it like ‘home’ was one of the activities that got me through my month between employment earlier this summer.
      However, to your important points on academic monoculture…I find it curious that I am just now coming to realize that my career path is okay and not isolated. I’ve spent the last three years among “alt-academics” and digital/public scholars. The majority of people I would consider peers are not in traditional career paths. I’ve had private conversations other other “unicorns” – logically, I knew I was not alone and that people whom I respected were doing similar things in their offline, physical spaces. Nevertheless, the pull of the monoculture is so strong that I struggled with feelings of abnormalcy and failure. Until now. It took months. That in itself is a curious phenomenon. I am so glad that I wrote this post; the support has been overwhelming. But I think there is something here that warrants additional exploration through a broader lens. Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Karen says:

    Thank you for this post. The path through academia felt more like a forced march or a hazing than professional training in conducting research, sharing the outcomes, teaching, etc. Perhaps the intensity of my experience was compounded by studying at a so-called “prestigious” R1. I have joked about being in recovery from the experience, but even a joke raises a mishmosh of feelings. And of course, the threat of tears. I’m moving, slowly, to find my way to work that feels useful and interesting. It will not be traditional, it may not be respected by friends or mentors who live within the monoculture (love that term), but it will be mine. In the process, I will reclaim my confidence, self-esteem, and even more important, for me, my joy of curiosity and learning.

    So many people who talk about the alt-ac path are women. (WTF is that?) Perhaps you’ve seen _Moving On: Essays on the Aftermath of Leaving Academia_? https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HOH011A/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s