roasting marshmellows in phd hell

My So-Called Post Ac Life

with 10 comments

So as I wade through a mountain of shitty papers and make notes for my own shitty paper, I’ve also been trying to sew a few panels into my post ac golden parachute.  I feel pretty disorganized, like I’m half assing 87 things at once and not really doing anything well.  But even sewing a few stitches a day makes me feel better, like I’m making progress towards the kind of job or career I want.

My business has a name.  And a website.  And I have business cards.  So I’m practically Gordon Gekko already, or at least the Kardashian husband with the slicked back hair who seems to be cut from the same cloth.  And as I know from hours misspent watching old movies and reality television, the next step towards business success involves networking.

I don’t particularly like that word because it feels slimy.  Like you’re out to grab each person passing by with a suctioney tentacle, flip em upside down, and shake them until their 1980s rolodex falls out of their big-shouldered business suit.  (why are all my visions of non academic life drawn from Wall Street, Baby Boom, Working Girl era hollywood?)


I was never good at academic networking either.  I always felt too nervous to approach a group of people, and I certainly did NOT want to find myself trapped between a plate of wilting sandwiches and some asshole who just gave an emperor has no clothes talk, of which I understood nothing.

So networking was never my strong point, but I figured that business people couldn’t be as bad as those who worship at the font of Foucault.  I was right, which is a relief, but my first foray into the business world was kinda surreal anyways.

I went to a local ‘networking’ thing for entrepreneurs, which happened to be at an all you can eat Chinese buffet.  Now I am a lover of won tons,  but this struck me as a weird venue.  And sure enough, there was something supa David Lynch-ey about the proceedings.  Everyone took turns giving an ‘elevator pitch’ about their business, and who they were hoping to connect with.  The types of people there generally fell into three categories (which occasionally overlapped):

The Multi-Tasker- these people had 2-3 businesses that they were promoting.  None of them seemed connected or complimentary, like the person who had a machine repair business, a SEO company, and a day job as a taxi driver.  Why would someone choose a SEO expert who also has to drive people around all day and fix machines to make rent?

The do as I say, not as I do people- this category included 3 obese ‘health and wellness’ type life coaches.  I’m sorry, but this is insane.  If I’m going to pay you $200 million rupees an hr or whatever to make me the picture of health, you should look like you woke up at 5am to do yoga on a beach.   I would also not hire a voice and diction coach who spoke like James Gandolfini.  The category also included people who wanted to tell you all about wealth management, yet here they were sitting in a shitty all you can eat buffet with entrepreneurs from the land of misfit toys.  there was no wealth in that room, my own bank account included.  This made me doubt their business acumen- they couldn’t possibly have that much wealth to manage if 1. they decide to trawl for it here, and 2. think it’s a good use of their time.

Captive Audience Lovers- these people barely mentioned their businesses and then spent 3 times the allotted speaking slot to tell everyone about their health issues.  These people prevented me from taking full advantage of the all you can eat buffet.

and, most relevant to me, the Inarticulate- I’d say about 70 percent of the people there were unable to tell the assembled audience what exactly the fuck they do.  Like the person selling the health shakes: “It’s really good, there’s this stuff in it that makes it really healthy, its organic….I forget what it’s called but if you google it, you should find it.”  This made me feel a bit sad for humanity, but I figured, these people will probably need help with writing content, no?

Maybe I’m being harsh with my own mental assessment of what happened, but I can’t help it.  The whole thing was sad and desperate and most of the people seemed like they had no idea what they were doing, or that they were projecting this confusion to the world.  I do think it was the particular group I chose to network with though.  I will certainly look for a more ‘professional’ gathering next time.

I did connect with a few of these people over email in the days after, but since I’m new to this world, I can’t tell if these are legit requests for business or creepy coded invites to meet up in a starbucks bathroom for some afternoon delight.  A few of the emails stuck me as a bit ‘off’ and I’m not sure how to proceed.

The whole experience did leave me with a newfound sense of gratitude towards academia.  I thought I was doing pretty fucking badly with my life choices, and while there are more efficient, less expensive ways to learn these lessons, academia has served me well in a number of ways.  I can think critically.  I can express myself through words and speech, even if I feel uncomfortable doing it.  I can research and analyze the shit out of stuff.  The thing is that when you are trapped on the 56th floor of the ivory tower, you believe that everyone can do these things too.

This is not the reality though.  And this realization makes me a bit more confident that my ‘skills’ are marketable and that one day people will pay me for them.

10 Responses

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  1. Great post! Yes, I’m also glad that I had time in that place called ‘academia’ too when I find myself in similar situations as the one that you’ve described here since it makes me realize that I did learn how to think critically, express myself through words and speech, and know how not to give one of those super uber painful talks which you call “the emperor has no clothes on talk” where you feel as if your brain falls out….I think that the problem is as you rightly point out that if you’re trapped in the ivory tower you do think that other people can do all this stuff.


    April 17, 2013 at 19:16

    • Absolutely! WE ARE AMAZING. 🙂 The transition is tough but we’ll excel. I’m convinced!

      Jennifer Polk

      April 17, 2013 at 20:37

      • yes, Jennifer, if we can make it through academia, everything else looks kinda simple! thanks for the comment 🙂


        April 17, 2013 at 21:15

    • thanks for the comment, anthea!

      yeah, it’s just another way that the ivory tower grinds down your sense of worth and self-esteem.. and it’s extra shocking once you venture into the big bad world and see that it too is filled with big egos, yet a lot of em can’t walk the walk…

      glad we are both out there in the outside world 🙂


      April 17, 2013 at 21:14

  2. Yes it is a great post….maybe your future is in writing a warts-n-all book for all us jaded academics and all of you ex academics who have had the guts to leave. P.S. I liked the themes that emerged from the business Eat All You Can Chinese Buffet meeting…you clearly have excellent qualitative skills that you are still putting to good use without being pressurized into explaining how you coded them, why you chose that particular tool, whether you did a member check…and blah bah fishcakes 🙂


    April 17, 2013 at 20:40

    • thanks, Jane!

      I’ll have to come up with a really good pseudonym though, preferably a string of latin curse words or something.

      and the launch party will not be an all you can eat buffet.


      April 17, 2013 at 21:17

  3. This post made me laugh a lot. I have some stories of inept people from various temp assignments as well (maybe not quite as inept as the ones you met at this event!)- like one person who would watch Law and Order on one computer screen while doing work (or something like it) on the other. Or an intern who was mad that zie wasn’t being praised for showing up to work on time. Or department heads who could not send out a single email that wasn’t riddled with typos. Or various other people who have somehow talked their way into real, reasonably well-paying jobs and yet routinely screw up basic parts of those jobs. I am continually shocked by the number of people out there who are just not good at paying attention to details – though, then again, when I think back to some of my students, I really shouldn’t be.

    But yeah, all that is to say, once you are out of academia, everything you say about being a good job candidate and having real skills is true – anyone who has a strong work ethic and good writing / critical thinking skills is ahead of a lot of people out there. When I decided to leave academia, my dad (who has worked in the business world his whole life) told me that the stuff I was doing in my PhD program was harder than most of the stuff anyone in the business world does. I didn’t believe him (and I still think that’s an overstatement – sure, nothing in the business world is quite like trying to make sense of Kant, but you also need skills that you don’t learn much about in academia). But, in my experience working in office settings thus far, it is true that nothing yet has been nearly as stressful / hard / soul-crushing / mental-health-destroying than the stuff I was doing in grad school. Once you’re able to get started doing whatever it is you want to do next, you’ll be great at it.


    April 18, 2013 at 01:01

    • thanks for your comment!

      and it is kind of positive to think that if we survived academia, our souls and minds are relatively safe.. it certainly can’t get harder or worse. (in first world terms, o course)


      April 19, 2013 at 00:13

  4. @anotherpostacademic

    I’ve heard the same thing about the stuff that we did during a PhD programme being far harder than what was expected/required in the business world. I’d have to say so far from my non-academic experiences this is true since I’ve not had that stressful/hard/soul crushing/mental health destroying stuff now that I’m out of the academic world. I’m also often amazed at people who routinely screw up but don’t seem to have that ‘oh my god I’ve screwed up” look as I saw a great deal in academe.


    April 21, 2013 at 21:56

  5. Hi there, I couldn’t find where else to write this – You’ve got a great blog (I just finished my PhD and I can relate to a lot of what you post), so I’m nominating you for the Liebster Award (it seems to be a sort of unofficial blog recognition award, which I’m looking at as a way to share some fun facts and show my appreciation of other bloggers). Here is a link to my post, which has the instructions, feel free to participate or not, it can be quite time consuming, but fun too.


    May 1, 2013 at 09:18

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