Academia: Potential Career Vs. Expensive Hobby

I’ve been thinking recently about where my time and energy get spent, and what I get out of these expenditures. I’m fortunate in that I have a partner who supports me while I’m in my third year on the job market and my second year adjuncting, so I really am in a position of getting to teach because I love it, not because I need to do it to support my household. And yet… there is some cognitive dissonance surrounding this issue.

In a guest post at Conditionally Accepted, I wrote about the difference between valuing my experiences adjunct teaching based on internal vs. external criteria. I find myself returning to that dilemma now, but from a slightly different angle.

Basically, if I’m teaching because I love it, and if I’m uncertain that I’ll ever get hired to do it full-time, does that make it a hobby? Or if I continue to have the mindset that I developed in (hell, before) grad school that working hard enough will eventually net me a job, does my adjuncting become a stepping stone to a full-time career? What are the consequences of either mind-set, for me personally, and for my investment in these options?

Looking at the way I’ve been approaching adjuncting (in the hopes of it turning into a full-time career), it’s difficult not to liken my lived experience of it to a hobby. A very, very expensive hobby. Even if I’m only going to two or three conferences a year, assuming that they’ll be out of state and hence in the $1K-ish range each, that’s still a big chunk of the paycheck that already isn’t enough to support me. Factor in the cost of materials for research, even if it’s mostly books and stuff, and gas money to get to the library, and print articles, and such… and academia – the really involved kind, with publishing and presenting in addition to teaching – can cost a lot of money and time.

For comparison’s sake, I also spend a lot of money and time on my dancing. That one’s also somewhere between a hobby and a career, as I can sometimes swing paying gigs as a teacher and performer. But maybe because I didn’t go into dancing with the expectation of being able to make it a career it doesn’t bother me as much. It’s not like my dance teachers from Day 1 primed me to expect a career in the field if I would just work hard, be persistent, and be very good at what I do.

I wonder if I should be looking at my time in academia more along the lines of the way I look at dancing: something I enjoy doing, something that helps me connect with others, something that lets me teach and help along students while also expressing myself. I really do feel that my dancing contributes something to my community, if only by example (by conveying positive messages about body image, about making art accessible to everyone, stuff like that). I don’t expect to support myself solely by dancing; maybe I would feel less stressed and icky about academia if I didn’t expect to support myself doing it. That’ll no doubt require some more mental work on my end, though, as I definitely went into academia with the intention to make it a full-time career.

I could write more, but I’ll wrap this up. It’s a busy time of year, and if I spend more time thinking about where my energy’s going than actually going out and doing things with that energy, then I’ve likely got something wrong.

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  1. Philip Wardlow’s avatar

    I say go for it. So what if it costs money, it’s an investment in yourself if you like doing it and you can never predict what lies ahead regarding the opportunities it could bring into your life. Life’s progression is never a straight line from A to Z. ( and the Z is still a mystery) Again as you said at the end don’t waste your energies on thinking to much about it. Trying not to quote Nike here, but Just Do It…:) Good luck dear.

  2. jeana’s avatar

    I appreciate the “just do it” sentiment but I’ve noticed a lot of people saying “so what if it costs money” are themselves pretty well off. If I were independently wealthy, sure, it wouldn’t be a big deal whether I chose to work or not, and whether I could gain a full-time job or not. But unfortunately I do have to take these things into consideration.

  3. Philip Wardlow’s avatar

    Thanks for response. Yes I agree, the actual needing money aspect of life sucks. But sometimes our wants outweigh our needs in life. A new set of priorities need to be set into place when you feel new “need” come into the picture. You can’t just ignore that need that tickles at the back of your brain on a constant basis. It’s always there lurking. Certain creature comforts sometimes need to be sacrificed I found in life to move on to the next step.

    I am not well off either by any means but me and my wife find ourselves at that juncture right now in our lives and found we must be willing to make those changes. We just put our house up for sell and our paying down some debt and have sort of a 3-5 yrs plan for the next step. It’s all about planning and priorities really. I probably didn’t clarify one thing in your mind. Just wanted to help a little…:) Take care and good luck

  4. Kim Jacobs-Beck’s avatar

    Hi Jeana. I’m a fellow tribal fusion bellydancer in the Cincinnati area, and I’m also a professor. Just wanted to offer some encouragement. I was an adjunct for two or three years in the late 90s, and it was very discouraging at times. I actually gave up teaching for a year because my husband and I split up and I needed steadier work to support my kids. Then a visiting assistant professor position opened up nearby. After two years of that, several tenure track jobs opened up locally and I interviewed for both of them, and did land one. Long story short, I have been at my job since 2001, am tenured and recently was promoted to professor. Most of my colleagues have kicked around as adjunct faculty for awhile before they found their jobs. I think the trick may be to really hone in on your teaching, because there are jobs at teaching-intensive institutions. Even in the humanities–I’m in English myself.

    Good luck to you, and don’t be discouraged–just hang in there if you can.

  5. jeana’s avatar

    Hi Kim – it’s great to hear from you! I love knowing that there are other bellydancer-academics out there. Thanks for sharing your story with me, and wow, it’s cool that things worked out for you. I am not sure how much more “hang in there” stamina I have, though; I’m about to enter my 3rd year of adjuncting and I was kinda hoping to contribute more to my household that my small salary. Whether I choose to stay or go, though, I feel like going through this thought process and communicating with people in similar positions has been really helpful. Either way, I’ll make more of an informed decision, which is always for the best, right?

  6. Jennifer’s avatar

    Hi Jeana, I just found this post through your Conditionally Accepted article, “I Don’t Know If I Want To Be a Professor Anymore”. I’m just finishing my DMA in cello from UCSD and am married with a financial situation that seems to reflect yours a lot. I just wanted to say that I struggle with the expensive hobby idea also. In fact, I was shocked to see someone else use that term, so I clicked through! I don’t have any answers whatsoever, but thank you for sharing your thoughts. A little internet solidarity is helpful to me and hopefully knowing I have similar thoughts and feelings is helpful for you. Very best of luck and warm wishes.

  7. jeana’s avatar

    Hi Jennifer – thank you for your comment! I agree that a sense of solidarity can be really helpful in this situation. I mean, it’s not like they prepare us for these situations in grad school, so I find that reaching out to others is really helpful in making sense of all this. Best of luck in your own process!

  8. Helen Pilinovsky’s avatar

    That analogy crossed my mind, too, especially once I had another source of income to which to compare it. My conclusion, such as it was, was that it’s a very *academic* mindset in and of itself: as a class, we’re so monomaniacal that we tend to be a little … dismissive? … of outside interests. I won’t try to speak for anybody else, but my internal analysis was that it was a way for me to denigrate my status, perhaps preemptively, before anybody else could: I know I wouldn’t say anything similar about any friend or acquaintance who was happy/lucky/talented enough to find fulfilling work in multiple venues, regardless of what kind of income distribution it represented.

    That said, I also chose to consciously transition this year, less because it was a choice between hobby vs. career, hobby vs. hobby, or career vs. career, however you want to term it – say, Activity #1 vs. Activity#2 – and more because I’m having another kid any second now, and I can be a jeweler on my own schedule more than I can teach on my own schedule, and I knew if I didn’t makes that choice consciously, I’d constantly be feeling that I was Letting Down the Side when I didn’t hit certain (time consuming) markers re: publishing, presenting, etc.

    Tl:dr, I think your analysis above is spot-on, and that it’s as much about the importance of the activity in the mind’s eye that makes it a hobby as opposed to a career-in-a-phase-of-expansion. If there’s a way to enjoy multiples, grab it with both hands.

  9. jeana’s avatar

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Helen. I agree that many of us in academia are excessively dismissive of outside interests, and we’re taught to be that way for a lot of reasons. For me, stepping away from academia has brought a lot of clarity and freedom to embrace my multiple interests without fearing that I’ll be judged as inadequate or lacking (when it’s really the opposite – things like dance enrich my life so much more than churning out another article might). But it took me a while to get to a place where I could openly state this kind of thing.


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