An Unlikely Athletic Comparison

Despite my abiding not-giving-a-shit about sports, a simile about academia and athletics popped into my head the other day. Ahem:

"Securing a tenure-track job in academia is to graduate school as playing professional sports for lots of money is to being on a varsity team in high school (or, maybe, college.)"

It's the same species of insanity. You have all of these people who are genuinely talented and love the idea of participating in this world that they've followed for years, if not their whole life. They practice, they hone skills, they develop social networks based on this shared obsession. Then, they hit a certain point in life when they don't get the call, and they end up drifting from one temp adjunct or lecturer position to another (academia) or working in a tire warehouse and grunting a lot (sports.)*

It's actually pretty funny. Most of my friends and I have always been good at playing the "we don't really care, we just want to teach, we don't have any delusions of grandeur" game for all of these years, but it is a little shocking to get that cold bath of defeat at the end, especially since most of us have succeeded at all of the intermediary steps in the meantime (i.e. we got grants, we did research, we learned languages, we passed qualifying exams, etc.)

Mostly, I think I'm just super-bummed that I have to do a semi-normal job hunt pretty soon. I've really enjoyed the six years off from that particular grind...

* I'm being a little mean here. Failed sports people can also coach middle-school track.

P.S. I thought the "Fall of Numenor" graphic would be a cool kind of 70s dragon-metal image for this post.


Chrissy said...

Well, assuming that the comparison is between you and folks who played college sports, at least in the end everyone ends up with a degree on the ol' resume (yours being the MUCH more impressive one) and that can help keep a guy out of a warehouse or grunting TOO much.
Also, in the case of professional football players, the sport is really rough on their bodies making even a pro career pretty short (unless you go into coaching afterward). AND unless you were like a top-paid super star athlete (which the majority of the players in the NFL arent) you are probably going to need a plan B after you re-injure that knee for the 45th time. Im just sayin that, yeah, the dream happens in sports, but not very often on the scale most people think about when they imagine dudes in mansions and Escalades. Sure, the league minimum is something like $500,000 a year, but I imagine that its gotta sting a bit when you've sunk your whole life into playing a sport that made you even THAT much money and then you have to start over mid-thirties will the stark realization that you are in no way qualified for any sort of job that will pay you that salary. All Im saying is that THAT moment in a guys life has GOT to suck.

kungfuramone said...

Dude, totally.

I think my big point was "these are both pipe dreams, just on opposite sides of the nerd vs. jock spectrum."

noncoupable said...

don't sell yourself short. I think you will be fine. The job market thing K, MM and I attended tonight was sobering but also promising. We got tips from the search committee side on how to get from the big pile to the small pile. Such as: don't be remotely modest in any job cover letter, say how the world will end without your research and teaching, and for the years you spend in between a good job and crap one and/or in menial jobs make sure you do SOMETHING (submit pieces of your dissertation to publications... notice I said "submit", even if no one publishes it) that will make you go to the small pile in the future.......

So in other words we learned how to finagle language to make you sound like A pile material even if you aren't.

Kelly said...

just piping in to agree with noncoupable - you MUST sit down and talk with MO'H. The presenters gave really solid info on how to get through the 1:164 selection process. I know the "real job" sword of Damocles is hanging over you head (that 'aint no crime! - sorry, Rocky break), but don't give up next year's job cycle completely. You are a strong candidate, maybe your materials weren't arranged to maximize the search committees' "keyword" searches.