A green, shadowed forest, sunlit from the right.

Image via Morguefile, http://mrg.bz/OYHOSH

Those who’ve actually been reading this blog for a while (not that there’s been much to read until recently) might have noticed dramatic changes in the last couple of weeks:

  • I changed the website design from one that was basically an online CV for an academic to one that is, well, not.

  • I gave the website a title: The Freelance Academic.

  • I started blogging a lot more. More importantly, I started blogging about more important things.

These changes might not sound like much, but for those of us who are or were #adjuncts and #contingent academics (like @readywriting, @professorEx74, @kelly_j_baker, @claudiakincaid), they are a big deal.

I’ve dumped my online academic identity and claimed one as a freelancer—even while very much maintaining a contingent post at a university. And, on the blog, I’ve stepped outside of the boundaries of acceptable academic discourse to engage in what one of my doctoral advisors called “fist-waving.” (He wasn’t using that phrase as a compliment.) In short, I’m creating distance.

I’m creating distance because the problem with being in academia is

HAHAHAHA.

Let me start over.

I’m creating distance because one of the many problems with being in academia is that you cannot see the proverbial forest for the trees. As Rebecca Schuman (@pankisseskafka) has accurately put it (many times), academia suffers from a “cult-mentality” that is hard to see until you step away from it. 

(By the way, even the stalwart Schuman (yes you are stalwart) frets in the face of freelancing. I’m feeling WAY better about my own fretting.)

So, to create some distance from academia, I made some changes to my online identity. And then this week I made a big change to my real-life one. I asked for a year of unpaid leave from work, and they granted my request. (And I am grateful, truly.)

For a variety of personal and professional reasons, I needed to step away from my contingent teaching job. (The personal reasons will stay personal.) But the professional reasons are very much tied up in being contingent. As I’ve stepped away, I’ve discovered something important.

Here’s the deal:

When you’re a contingent academic, you are bifurcated into two professional beings. Half of you is carved down into the being the university insists you become. But then there is the remainder of you, what’s left, the parts that the university doesn’t want. Often, those parts are the very best of you. What do you do with the leftovers? Squelch them down? Let them wither? 

This bifurcation played out for me like this: There was the Katie who worked at my contingent teaching job, working 50-60 hours per week course planning, curriculum designing, lesson writing, student conferencing, and grading. I worked and worked and worked, hoping that I wouldn’t actually feel bifurcated at all. I hoped I could fool myself.

It didn’t work.

So then there was the Katie who worked on the side seeking to complete the teaching/research intellectual circle. (There was no space in my contingent job description for the research and writing, unlike for my tenured/tenure-track counterparts.) So I squeezed in writing on the side, in the evenings, on the weekends. I wrote novels (two), poetry, short stories (even published some), articles (published so many! no one cared), conference presentations, and a monograph (unpublished).

I felt like I had a split personality. Like I worked three jobs. Like I was a terrible fucking mother. Enter the surprise personal crisis and my request for leave. And here I am.

To be a Freelance Academic is to recognize this bifurcation that we contingent professors face, and then to try to mend it. Yes, I do work for a university as a contingent professor. But I also write and research. No part of me will be squelched or allowed to wither.

But I’m not working 100-hour weeks, either. Because my goals have shifted.

Indeed, the biggest change required to become a Freelance Academic is to recognize that, in the words of a dear friend from grad school, They’re never going to let you in the club. I don’t think her words need spelling out—if they do, PM me on Twitter, and I’ll explain.

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