The Millennial PhD: Creative Survival at Work & Beyond

Ep 32. Quiet quitting academia (BONUS Episode)

September 23, 2022 Carmela Season 3 Episode 32
The Millennial PhD: Creative Survival at Work & Beyond
Ep 32. Quiet quitting academia (BONUS Episode)
Show Notes Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:09):

Welcome to the millennial PhD, a podcast about creative survival and beyond. My name is Dr. Carmela Muzio Dormani, and I'm a sociologist, dancer and creative consultant from New York. In these episodes, you'll find inspiration, ideas, and actionable tips for building new pathways forward in work and life. You'll hear from artists, activists, creative entrepreneurs, PhDs, and professional pivoters. We talk about radical humanity and practical steps to follow your dreams, even in the context of challenging social conditions. Before we jump into today's episode, a quick reminder to follow the millennial PhD on Instagram and to please take a minute to rate and a review the millennial PhD on Apple podcasts. Your rating really helps the show reach as many listeners as possible. You can learn more about me and get access to free creative resources on the millennial PhD Instagram page I hope you enjoyed the episode. 

Welcome back to the millennial PhD. This is your host me, and this is a special bonus episode on quiet Quitting Academia. So if you haven't listened to our last episode, you should pop over there first and listen to it. That's kind of more of a general broad episode, just about this term quiet, quitting, what it means. This episode is gonna be a little bit more specific to academia, but if you haven't heard this term before or you're not sure what it means just for clarity, it basically has nothing to do with actually quitting a job, but it's referring instead to when employees limit their work to the hours that they're contracted for and to the tasks that are specifically within that job description. So this is a new term for a phenomenon that's been around and has been termed in a lot of different ways. 

Of course, um, work to rule, um, along with other terms, just having boundaries, right? But as we know, if you're listening to this because you're in academia or or considering leaving academia, have been academia, then you know that academia does not operate typically with any sort of boundaries, right? And in fact, academia as an industry really relies on folks' uncompensated labor, right? Uh, on people kind of going well beyond the boundaries of what might be typically laid out. Definitely in terms of the hours that one would be working, right? So academics often are working late into the night, weekends, all types of hours, um, on teaching, on prepping, syllabi, on uh, communicating with students on committees, doing service for different schools, but also things like engaging in academic conferences and the publishing, right? So this is, uh, just an episode where I'm gonna talk about 10 ways that I am have been trying to employ to do a little bit of quiet quitting in academia. 

So if you haven't listened to other episodes on the show where I've talked about my trajectory, this is everything I say right now is definitely mediated through the position that I'm in right now. I'm a non-tenure track, but full-time faculty member at a small regional college. It's a teaching and learning focused school. So whatever your identities and positionalities are are obviously gonna influence this conversation as well. But this is just something I'm sharing for inspiration and ideas and conversation about the things I'm thinking about in terms of drawing some boundaries within academia and what that might look like. So here are some of the things that I came up with and thinking about what quiet, quitting and academia could look like. So the first thing on my list is attending, or rather no longer attending academic conferences. So these annual meetings of different academic societies have been, typically, they're in the conversation of something that perpetuate inequality in academia. 

They've been really prohibitively expensive. Definitely. I remember as a grad school, the cost as a grad student, excuse me, the cost of traveling to wherever the conference is of accommodations of paying to go to the conference itself was really prohibitive. And even now it's still prohibitive. So as we know, you might get reimbursement for these conferences, and you might not not, but they're also something that I think that we collectively can sort of work harder to deprioritize, right? Because we know that they don't hold that much water, and we know that they shouldn't necessarily be at the center of our community links that we make with each other. The other thing is that a lot of conferences are having a virtual option still, and that could be a path forward for, for some folks. But in terms of maintaining boundaries around time, I think that attending academic conferences for me is something that I'm deprioritizing quite a bit. 

And I had been doing that informally before, and I will probably continue to, to not attend academic conferences, except in cases where I see them as really valuable or something I'd really love to go to or maybe something that's very local. The second thing, and it's a big one, is working to release myself from the publish or parish mindset. Obviously, that mindset exists for good reason, and it's because to have any currency in this industry, we needed to learn how to publish in academic journals. And that was an incredibly strenuous process when I was first learning to try to get the first journal article accepted. And that being said, this is another area where I understand if this is something that for you to secure your, your position or your tenure, or to get yourself in contention for jobs, you need to continue to focus on this. 

That makes sense. But I think collectively, if we divest from it a little bit, then there is a possibility of this becoming a less central part of what we're doing, especially at the levels of publishing that academics of the last 10 to 20 years have been asked to contribute, right? So the absolute volume of publishing that is expected from junior faculty is through the roof. It's incredibly challenging to figure out how to navigate that in the first place and then to put in the time, sometimes mu usually year years of going through these processes of editing. Of course, this is core to getting scientific social science in my case, but scientific research out into the world. But at the same time, things have been set up in a way that it's skewed so that people are trying to produce many, many articles at a time. 

And it's something that's taking away significantly from, from the ability to have kind of a full life beyond this work environment and have a full identity beyond the academic identity. So for me, I'm deprioritizing academic publishing. It doesn't mean I won't do it at all, but it does mean that I will do some academic publishing where it fits for me, and I'm aiming to do some popular publishing because that satisfies me, um, to, to publish for a broader audience. So if that's possible for you, maybe it's something that you wanna think about as well, and it's something that I'm able to do because of the position that I'm in at, in a teaching focused job at the moment, right? Where research is not part of my evaluation. So again, that might not make sense for everybody, but for me, it's something that I'm taking some energy away from in an attempt to have a better work life balance. 

Okay? The third thing, there's no particular order these, but the third thing is building my skills in a more holistic way. I've talked about this in other episodes for sure, and I talk about it whenever I meet with students, grad students, or folks who are considering a PhD or who are in the PhD program right now. And that is really putting some time into building a set of skills that transcend just this very narrow definition of what academic success is. And I understand that putting time into building skills is counterintuitive to drawing these boundaries that are supposed to be implied with this idea of quiet, quitting. But at the same time, I have found that putting a little bit of time into cultivating my skills in things like content creation, writing for popular audiences, writing in the op ed format, even my artistic skills in dance, in teaching dance as opposed to teaching sociology, I have found that putting the time into those things has taken some pressure off me to be perfect in academia, basically, because the pressure to only have a path in academia, it has lessened. 

And by that I mean if the job doesn't work out in academia, I do feel that I have other skill areas that I've been cultivating that would help me get another job. And that mentality alone is a shift from a couple of years ago where I felt as many people feel like the training only feeds into one thing or into a narrow scope of things. And the pressure, the fear of not having any sort of economic security going forward and of being locked out of the industry for which you're trained is really intense, right? And all of the power over your future can feel like it's in the hands of others, right? So I have found that putting a little bit of time into building my business and my skills and my, you know, o other parts of me, um, has really contributed to lessening that pressure and lessening my need to work every possible hour on writing and doing what I need to do in academia. 

Which brings me to number four on this list, which is building my networks around a broad range of interests. Okay? Same thing. It might seem counter intuitive to have like an additional task as part of this quiet quitting phenomena, but I have found that a lot of folks within academia are so pressed about it that they feel they only have time to interact and network with other people in academia. And that then by the time that it's it's job market time or it's, you know, second year on the job market time or whatever it might be, it feels like this really is the only option. And so the pressure to work 80 hours a week and to work Saturday and Sunday and Tuesday night and, you know, run over here and run over there and get on every committee possible is really, really high. Cause this feels like the only network that there is. 

So I'm continuing to work on building my networks with folks who do other stuff to build my networks with other people who are creative and artistic and who like a broad range of things and who are weird and imaginative, and it just contributes to a richer and fuller landscape that, that transcends that professional identity as a scholar or as an academic. Number five is embracing community ties around my university. This might be very specific depending on where, where you're at in terms of, uh, geographic location, but for me it is my, where I teach is located in the Bronx and Westchester County. We have campuses, and these are communities in which I have strong ties and a strong personal history. And so I'm very fortunate to have gotten a job where I have strong ties. I know not everybody does. Um, I know many, many folks don't, in fact, but those ties are, are something that sustain me, right? 

And there's something that remind me that it's not all about what's going on within the university. That's secondary. The important thing is, is continuing to engage in and connect with the communities that we're located in, um, and that sustain us. So that for me, is something that contributes to a more robust work life balance. Number six, focusing on relationship building with students, sticking with this community tie. And this one might be a little bit controversial, but it is something that I'm working on and not an expert at by any means. I'm working to build more authentic relationships with students. A lot of what we can internalize, or a lot of what I internalize and maybe different for different folks was just like the need to keep a lofty distance between professor or instructor and student. And I've worked to deconstruct that in the past, and I'm still working on that, um, because it does still feel like something that I'm trying to understand how to navigate. 

But again, I think this is something that really serves an outdated model of the university. And so trying to build relationships with students that, that encourage their engagement in the classes, that remind them that they're powerful players in the classroom that they contribute to what go go is going on there. Um, and that transcend the classroom a little bit, right? Around things like food and music and, you know, creative activities, whatever it is that brings people joy is an ongoing process for me. And again, something that just gives me a more robust work life balance. Number seven on my little list is using my non-work time to build my business to dance, and to cultivate my home with my partner. Okay? So this is probably the most basic one. It really gets at the heart of what this whole phenomenon is supposed to be about, right? 

Quiet, quitting by any other name, whatever we wanna call it. Um, and that is just investing in the things that are really giving me life right now and are giving me energy right now. One of those things is building this, this little business I'm working on. Another of those things is dance. I'm always talking about my life as a dancer and expressing creativity through that and making art through that. And another thing is, is, you know, building a home with my family and my family is my partner, Okay? Number eight on my list is taking a step back in spaces I'm not needed. Okay? So look, um, I don't know if you're on any committees person who's listening to this, but a lot of what academia does is because of the pressure to advance in certain ways and to seem to be active and, and, you know, involved in a pretty narrow definition of involved, but the, the need to be seen as involved in in campus life or in in university life, if, if there's no campus, A lot of what this involves is, is folks signing up for stuff and having to participate in a certain amount of service. 

And I would imagine that you, like me, have been in a room, a zoom room or a live room where it just feels like everybody's throwing in their 2 cents with very little regard for the actual contribution it's making in advancing whatever the conversation is forward, right? So this could be around like curriculum meetings or whatever initiative that the university is working on. So I'm not talking about stepping back from conversations that are critical, right? Like never stepping back from conversations about racism or anti-racism, never stepping back from conversations about, uh, how to support students better, uh, or about, you know, violence on campus. Things that your, your voice is always, um, you know, more voices are always needed. Your voice individually might not be needed in a given moment, but we never wanna step back from those conversations necessarily. But taking a step back in, in spaces that, um, you know, you may not have an expertise in and are maybe just there because another committee that looked good on the CV or whatever it might be. So I'm trying to identify those spaces where my voice could, could be pulled back a little bit, as well as those spaces where my voice could, could be brought forward a little bit more. 

Okay, number nine is being selective about events to attend campus events, administrative, uh, admin organized events and about grants to work on. So I don't have a ton of experience working on grants, but I did do some grant writing work this past spring semester, and it's a ton of work with, uh, relative constraints. In my case, this varies for different folks, of course, relative constraints about what you can tangibly kind of take out of that other than kind of bragging rights of saying that you worked on it. So just being selective about that. I know that some people are able to use grant writing and grants to supplement their income, so that's definitely a different conversation. But for me, just being selective about what grant writing work I'm doing and then, yeah, what kind of admin sponsored events that I'm attending. And I wouldn't say that I'm not attending any events, right? 

Some people have said ha have said that. Um, but I would say just, just being really guarding my time a little bit more avidly than I might have been inclined to do a couple of years ago. Okay. I do believe that some of the, a lot of stuff is online still, so some of the in person events are an opportunity to connect with other, with other people and to keep building community together. So wherever possible, I will attend those, but just being a little bit critical about it. And finally, number 10 is communicating with students about boundaries. So I have found, um, in recent semesters, just letting students know that I don't check email on weekends or I'm attempting not to check email on weekends and specifically that then if they email me on Friday night at 6:00 PM I probably won't see that until Monday. 

Can be really helpful in terms of just being clear with students and, and helping them get that clarity about, you know, some of the boundaries that, that I have for my time. Um, and it also communicates something else to them. It communicates to them some, some norms that they could carry with them as they move into different work environments. Obviously that's not possible depending on what the work schedules are like for yourself and for your students and the industries that everyone's working in, but is can show students that it's possible to articulate your boundaries to folks and to just ask them nicely to respect those boundaries and to not be available 24 7. It's like, what are we communicating to students if we're constantly available at the drop of the hat? And the reality is, I do still check my email on weekends just to make sure that there's not any, you know, critical events going on with students just to make sure that I can still be accessible. But I've set up the boundary with them that, that I won't be as responsive during that time. And they respect that. They respect that quite a bit. Um, and for the most part, that hasn't caused any glitches for me in terms of relationship building with students. And I think that they respect those boundaries and they're respect seeing you set them. And maybe that gives them an idea for what kinds of boundaries they can set in their own work lives. So these are my 10 things, um, about choir, quitting academia. 

I think one pathway forward for us in academia is just the, the, the attempt to make it less central. To make, uh, you know, the, the tenure track or the, the professor route less central as the only path forward. I think right now a lot of people are going to an abundance of other industries. I know I've been meeting with people and I've been working with people who are transitioning as your creative industries and entertainment industries specifically. So folks are going to other industries, but people are also building kind of more flexible and more hybrid ways of being in academia and things like having the, the a lectureship, but also being an artist on the side. And some of our prior episodes have folks that still have one foot in and but still have, you know, something else that they're doing on the side. Other episodes feature people who have left entirely and gone into different industries. 

But I do believe that this path forward that we're trying to build is a more hybrid path, right? And drawing these boundaries, whatever they look like for you. Again, this was just for inspiration and for conversation. This is not like the roadmap to boundaries in academia cuz everyone's situation is very different. We acknowledge that and we know that. Uh, but it is an ongoing conversation that we can have about how to map out what's ahead in terms of academia. Whether you're in, you're out or you're straddling, straddling the middle like I am. So I hope you enjoyed this. Let me know. Send me an email or a dm, the millennial or the millennial PhD on Instagram to communicate with me. Did this hit home for you? Are you quiet quitting in academia or not? Is this, am I being silly? I know some folks feel like this term quiet, quitting actually separates us from the meaning from, you know, I guess like the anti capitalist meanings of this phenomenon. I tend to think anything that, that resonates with people and gets people talking about setting boundaries and about their labor is, you know, is an interesting and good thing. So let me know if you disagree and we'll be back in a couple of days with an interview based episode. It should be a good one. Thanks for listening. 

That's it for this week's episode of the Millennial PhD. You can find more content, resources and information on Instagram at the millennial PhD in this collective moment of reevaluating our relationships with work and exploitation. I look forward to connecting with you and building stronger bonds of community and collaboration. I would love to hear from you via email at the millennial PhD with any feedback, comments, questions, or concerns, or if you're interested in coming on the show as a guest. That's all for now. It's been real. See you next time.