On 18 December 2017, Coleen Flaherty’s “Where the Grass Is Greener” appeared in the online Inside Higher Ed. The article reports results from a Cornell working paper that suggest those who earned doctorates in humanities and social sciences and who left academia for non-academic non-profit work are more satisfied with their work than those who remain in academia–and, it seems, those who work in for-profit jobs. The study also seems to suggest that women in academia do not suffer from choosing to have children to so great a degree as has often been supposed. Flaherty presents opinions of several involved with and concerned with the Cornell study, as well, illuminating the work further and, ultimately, presenting an interesting read.
What Flaherty presents also corresponds with my own experience of such things. While I am not now and have never been a tenured or tenure-track faculty member–and have, indeed, given up on the idea of being so–I did complete a doctorate, and I did (and do) work in academe, but I do most of my work for a non-profit substance abuse treatment facility in the Texas Hill Country (as I have noted, I think). And I am in contact with no few of my former classmates and coworkers, many of whom are tenured or on the tenure track–and what they tend to share more or less publicly suggests that the life of the mind is far from the idyllic, indolent life many outside it believe it to be. At the same time, although I do face some problems in my current primary line of work, I find myself generally satisfied with my lot in life.
Why would I not be? I am paid by the hour, so that if I work more, I earn more. The job is inside work with no heavy lifting. I get paid holidays and leave time, and I am clearly on the side of good. My job helps people help people, and that has not always been the case with what I have done in the classroom. My skill-set is respected and appreciated, and I am able to deploy more of it than I was in the classroom or the research carrel–as well as deploying my specialized training in interesting ways. And, unlike the humanistic research I have done, I never have to wonder about whether or not my current work matters in people’s lives; I know that what I do and what I help make happen makes people’s lives better.
Yes, I know that my experience is idiosyncratic and anecdotal. Yes, I know that it cannot be taken as representative on its own. But I also know that enough such testimonies can be, and that adding mine to them, adding my small confirmation to the study Flaherty reports, helps enough such testimonies emerge that something might be done with them. And I know that I, at least, am better off working where I work than I might well be otherwise, and I am content with it.