after the LTA · DIY · good attitudes about crappy possibilities · stockpiling letterhead

DIY Academia?

I ran into an acquaintance of mine outside the library today. I met her last year at the new faculty orientation (aside: DO NOT SKIP THIS. It is one of those rare chances to meet people outside your department and it is also really heartening to meet a bunch of other folks who are new to the city/school/teaching/research gig. Seriously, you should go to this.)

Anyhow, she is on a limited term appointment much like mine, meaning that as of May 2011 we’re both out of work. Unless, of course we get jobs which is, yes, what we both would like.

As we chatted in the sun, relishing the last few days of on-campus quiet, conversation inevitably turned to what-ifs. What if you don’t get a job? We asked each other. What if you don’t get a postdoctoral fellowship or some other similar research-based position?

I was surprised to hear the answers that came out of both our mouths.


My friend intends to return to the Southern United States where her partner is situated. She’ll take some time to write articles and flesh out the publications section of her CV. My answer was similar: I’ll stay where I am. My partner has a great career going, we both like the city, and there’s no reason to uproot us both if we’re not moving for a great job. So yes, I’ll also work to cobble together some sessional teaching while I write and try to publish.


It struck me then that both my friend and I are planning for life as DIY academics. Given time, but not money, institutions, but no institutional support, we’ll each work away at getting in to this profession we love. Not the best case scenario, obviously, but one that needs to be thought out and planned and discussed more openly. What happens when—if—you move from being an Assistant Professor on an LTA to an unaffiliated DIY academic?

7 thoughts on “DIY Academia?

  1. Erin — I love the blog! As you know, I'm facing the possibility of being a DIY academic too. I can cope with the lack of money and institutional support because I'm fortunate to have a partner who has a permanent job. But what I hate most about being in this bind is that I have to start (well, really never stop) applying for jobs and postdocs instead of focusing on my current job that has only just begun. We have to always look ahead, yet it feels a bit like institutional treason.

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  2. First as a former student of yours, it would be completely ridiculous if you no longer taught. I would be upset, as your class was the only one that actually challenged me to think in a meaningful way.

    Secondly, as a fine arts major, I'm forced to either go take my masters so i can teach at a university level…which i don't want to do. Or, to take another degree to take some sort of other position that I don't really want.
    So i am left with being a full time practicing artist. Which is scary, it means no guaranteed income. No stability. A lot of hard work, and a giant amount of “what do I do now?”.

    Ever feel like the university has influenced you into too academic and not commercial enough to make money in the real world? I wonder if that's a global thought from all DIY artists (writing is still an art form I think?).

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  3. @Vicky: So glad you've found us! Yes, institutional treason is a lovely way of putting it. Something I realize I wanted to post but neglected was a list starting some suggestions for how institutions might help DIYers:
    -allowing a former LTA to maintain a university email address would be extremely useful.
    Other thoughts?

    @Cheryl: Your thoughts about DIY artist brings up two more important points
    1) as another colleague said to me this morning it is more than possible to interpret this post's title as obvious: aren't we all, always DIYing? (yikes!)
    2) What might it take to shift the institutional strictures to make the realities of many of us working in a myriad of disciplines more legible? (Though, of course, I realize not everyone want to be institutionally legible, and with good reason)

    Thanks for your comments!

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  4. I'm definitely a DIY academic–or, in older terminology, an independent scholar. I adjunct when I can, but even when/if I have non-academic jobs, or alt-academic jobs, I still identify as an academic. I'm glad you've brought up the topic here, since with the current job market it seems like many of us will be DIYers in the coming years. All I can contribute is that staying active by going to conferences and publishing has helped me remain part of the academic community.

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  5. After about a decade of part time teaching, I have been an independent scholar for many years. One of the things that has made it possible was a renewable research affiliation at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women – no stipend or salary, no office, but faculty level library privileges and a great community of like-minded and like-situated feminist scholars.
    I recommend checking out the possibilities of affiliating, there are options out there, depending on where you are and what you study.

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  6. @Erin-Forgive me I am tired but:
    I sometimes wonder if maybe the institution that seems to be grooming its students to either remain forever tied to its academic structures and systems could do a better job of preparing its students for that. Or maybe each department should be substantially more realistic in what it takes to make it in what we consider “the real world”. I don't mind that I'm being pigeon-holed into a position where I feel forced to choose between remaining in school or at least headed in that sort of direction OR, having to pick a more…taboo form of income. Yes tattoo artists are still looked down upon. Especially among fellow artists. But I would really like it if the university I am paying thousands of dollars to actually gave me options after graduation that related to the directions it pushed me towards.

    I think that all artists of every discipline, regardless if they are working with their discipline in a school, or some sort of company, or the editor of a paper, or a music writer, or anything…we are always having to do it ourselves.

    Apparently artists have some sort of endless supply of awesomeness that employers rely on. At least that's what it feels like.

    Pulling from a previous blog entry about choosing between a job and a family…I think that even she is DIY'ing, despite working towards a tenured position.

    Maybe as artists we have no faith in the systems we were brought up with so we feel obligated to always remain even mildly DIY as a back up plan?

    Perhaps I misunderstood your questions Erin, but I hope that I made at least a small amount of sense.

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  7. CherylIwanchukDotCom:

    I think you make a great point about institutional support. It's not only necessary, but it's actually the ethical thing to do. The university *should* offer more career options and support to the graduate students admitted into its programme. I remember reading about a Professor who put together a three week seminar on professional development and careers outside of academia for his grad students (I think it was in the Chronicle of Higher Education). He invited in various business people to discuss options and to help the students write up resumes, prepare for interviews and networking, etc. A mini-seminar like this shows a level of responsibility towards students, given the terrible job market.

    With DIY academics, somebody (either yourself or your partner) is subsidizing your career and it's not the university. What other career demands this of its employees?

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