The Altac Chronicles, Episode 2: Flexibility

Cross-posted from my blog Words Are My Game

…doubt can feel like an admission of error — and the stakes of such error can be too high to countenance. (Having spent ten years preparing for a career, for instance, experiencing doubt about the choice not only feels like failure, but like a failure so long-term that it raises the possibility that one can have wasted one’s life tout court.)

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “Doubts”

My first post in this new…um…series…was a snapshot into how I was feeling when the news that we were officially moving to Texas sunk in. I had been thinking about this moment last weekend when I finally sat down and starting filling out job applications. I had been procrastinating on this, as you can imagine, but now that I have done one application things are moving.

This morning (April 3rd), after I chatted on Twitter for a while, I hopped in the shower, late as I was for work. Somehow, it occurred to me while in the shower that one of the big themes in yesterday’s post was flexibility, but I hadn’t really explored it. I focused on giving you a narrative picture of that day, but I didn’t delve into the issue–or should I say, the idea–of flexibility and alternative academic careers.

Here are my tweets from this morning:

The always-insightful Jo Van Every reminded me:

Now that I’ve had some time to think about this some more, I need to revise that part about “job security a la tenure track.” (Oh Twitter and your 140 characters…) It sounds like I’m saying that tenure track jobs offer job security, which is not what I was going for. I am aware that tenure track as path to job security is an illusion. Also, I’m not arguing here that altac means no job security whereas teaching or the tenure track is. What I was trying to work through was the stability of the idea of the tenure track that kept me focused throughout graduate school for so long. I was focused on getting a PhD because I believed that was the step before getting a teaching position, and so that goals kept me focused. When I decided to pursue alternative academic jobs, I didn’t have that one job/focus to keep me moving. Instead, now I have a career that can be comprised of different jobs.

That flexibility of jobs to choose from is one of the things that appealed to me about going the altac route. However, that flexibility can be scary, because flexibility could mean, like it does now, that you leave one job and go for another one that may not be in the same department or field or office or division. (I’m not saying this is unique to altac folks, but that this is the situation I find myself in at the moment.) However, the way I work around that is I’m trying to focus on jobs that are in areas I am interested in and that I am skilled for. Like Jo mentioned this morning:

The writing center is my professional home now, and the work I have done there has been emotionally and intellectually fulfilling. However, I know that, for better or for worse, I will not find another opening for Graduate Writing Specialist in Houston. I’m focusing on the things I liked about my job, the things I excelled at in my job, and the skills I developed at my job, and using that as my compass while I search.