Drezner On Sorting The Wheat From the Staff

As someone who’ll soon be walking away from the day job to pursue research, writing, and teaching opportunities, I find this sort of thing useful (if terrifying). Pundits like Patrick Thaddeus Jackson and Peter Howard have been making some pretty clear points on the vicissitudes of pursuing an academic career. Drezner’s take on their discussion puts things in perspective:

Over at Duck of Minerva, Patrick Thaddeus Jackson and Peter Howard have had a lively exchange of blog posts about the decision to become a professor — i.e., is it a calling, or just one of many kinds of symbolic analyst jobs? Start with Patrick’s first post(arguing that the academy is like a religious calling), then Peter’s response(pointing out the structural problems with this analogy), and then Patrick’s reply.

I’m far more sympathetic to Peter’s argument. Indeed, I confess to a visceral distaste for the undercurrent in Patrick’s disquisitions that, “oh, this is just the most special job in the world!” It is to him, to be sure — but there are many aspiring academics who don’t ever get the “good” jobs, and there even more inquisitive souls who possess the intellectual heft and curiosity but feel no need to enter the academy to continue a life of the mind. I also think Patrick completely ignores the powerful socialization effects that take place in graduate school — effects that can thoroughly f*** up people’s priorities in unhealthy ways, to the point where they start sounding like… Patrick.

That said, he still has half a point. There is a certain type of mindset that is well-suited to the academy, and will be happy even if theylive a life of post-doctoral fellowships, adjunct positions,andvisiting positions. And given that higher education might be the next bubble to burst, it would be good if we had some kind of Sorting Hat mechanism to inform people before they entered a doctoral program whether they’re doing the right thing.

For those academic wannabes out there, here’s a simple three-question survey to help guide you through this very important choice:

A) You are happiest when you see your name:

  1. Mentioned on television.
  2. Tagged on Facebook.
  3. Listed in the acknowledgments of an obscure article written by a former professor for whom you were an RA.

B) It is 2 AM on Saturday morning. You are:

  1. Asleep.
  2. Still out partying.
  3. Feeling an odd compulsion to catch up on Arts & Letters Daily.

C) Which of the following phrases gets you the most excited?

  1. “This job offer comes with a 401(k).”
  2. “I scored two tickets to the Red Sox game.”
  3. “Your paper has been accepted without revision.”

If your answer to all of the above was (3), then yeah, you’re pretty much doomed fated to trying out academia.

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