Persistence counts for an enormous amount in academia. Intelligence, talent, and luck all play a part, of course, but sheer hard work (or just hanging in doing little pieces of work) can get you a long way. How many times have you heard the narrative of the Ph.D. who adjuncted and visited and finally, finally, got the tenure-track job?
There are a lot of ways to abandon the race (I’m still thinking in bicycling terms, and allow me to note that next year I’d like to see both Schlecks on the podium). And these may be “better” lives than staying in; it depends on what matters to you! Here are some abandonments I know of:
- go to France to do dissertation research and never come back.
- get a job as an editor and give up on the dissertation.
- finish the dissertation, get seriously ill, get married, follow husband to his job; after recovery, raise children and adjunct.
- finish the dissertation, get a job, hate it, go to law school.
- get a job, write a book, get tenure, jack it all in to do something completely different.
- get a job at a teaching-oriented school, mine excellent dissertation that could have been a book for enough articles for tenure, put energy into family and community life, eventually get into administration (not very happily).
I turned out not to be a high-flyer. I often wish I were more like a couple of people I went to graduate school with, who swoop and soar above me. But I am still here. I may be slow to publish, but I haven’t given up. I don’t want to give up. Sometimes I wonder if I should, but I don’t want to. I want to keep doing my work.
In academia, there’s always the hope that if you don’t give up, eventually you will put your name on the map, somehow. I have a colleague whom I admire greatly because he has persevered at doing work he considers valuable even when he got no departmental support for it and at least one other colleague openly disparaged his obscure field. He knew what was important to him and didn’t care at all what anyone else thought. One day he published a book with an important flagship press, and the department changed its tune about him. He continues not to care what anyone else thinks, and to work on what matters to him.
So today’s slogan encapsulates these thoughts on perseverence, in a form borrowed from a friend who competes in triathlons: Dead Fucking Last is better than Did Not Finish is better than Did Not Start.