Today I was chatting with my friend for a long time about the state of academia – I know; it is corny. But I thought I should put it somewhere. The truth is that for people like us – educated in humanities and looking for a possible career in the education sector – it is increasingly becoming a career leading to precarity not known to our peers. Of course, my parents do not understand that I – with a Masters degree and even a PhD degree – may not have a stable income for ages – if at all. While they had job offers before leaving college and could actually buy homes and educate their kids in the post-1991 liberalization Indian economy, I could not have had a fraction of that security even if I tried. So what has changed? A few things:
- There is nothing like a secure job anymore. Academic contracts are increasingly restrictive and do not allow for researchers any space to grow.
- The pressure to publish and write while grading, reading and teaching is an insane idea which is why a lot of graduate students are stuck in a toxic cycle.
- The students who are going through the system are, then, also being educated without the freedom to explore a subject and shoving degrees down their throat would not be good for anyone anyway.
Here is also a good place to mention that – given these circumstances – there is another facet of the problem: representation of minorities in education. Perhaps it is an obvious thing to be pointed out but here it is anyway: all the pressure that I pointed out earlier is even worse if you are belong to a vulnerable group; e.g., if you don’t have passport privilege, if you are not from the EU, the US etc., if you are a woman, if you are brown (desi rep!) it is likely that your work permit/visa issues make your precarious existence even worse. And given these problems, the representation of “postcolonial”/”Global South” topics has risen in academia while the precarious nature of the people who are from those areas have also become worse. Perhaps, then, one is also given to more anger, resentment and just a disenchantment with a career choice that produces culture, education and discourse.
I suppose this is what I do feel very strongly about. So, here are a few things I keep telling myself about academia:
- Whatever you are working on is work-in-progress. It is okay to edit it and it is okay to live with it as a living text that is constantly growing and changing its form. Give yourself time and give yourself some chilling.
- Whatever you do, make it relevant. If you are one of the privileged people who are in the position of having a voice in this world, make it count.
- Have discipline but don’t burn yourself out. There is nothing as important as your mental health.
Podcast recommendation of the day: Invisibilia had a brilliant story some time ago. The question of empathy and narratives is a very crucial one and this story blew my mind