At the start of every talk that I give on the academic and post-academic job market, I state that in a decades long reality in which only 5-35% of PhDs (depending on field) will get tenure track jobs, the so-called “non-academic” job should NOT be called “Alt-Ac” or “Post-Ac” or “Non-Ac” — all of which continue to center the academic job as norm — and that the tenure track job should be considered the non-normative “alternative.”
(My audiences’ faces inevitably freeze at this moment. Denial continues strong in our Ph.D. programs.)
I urge my listeners not to attach to these academia-valorizing terms, and to quickly move past them toward visions of work that are not “not-academic” but pro-actively and positively oriented toward new realms and ideas.
But the frustration continues that our language for the normative work trajectory of the majority of Ph.D.s has remained so impoverished.
Until last Friday, when Kel, during a conversation about this issue during our weekly Facebook Live, exclaimed, “let’s just call it ‘Reality Ac!!'”
And listener Kelly Zacha Merritt chimed right in — “call it Real-Ac!”
Readers, I was shook.
I knew in that instant that that was the term I’d been looking for. It’s the term that centers reality instead of delusion. “Real” in this case does not oppose academia, the way “non” and “alt” and “post” do. It simply modifies it – pushing academia itself away from its self-serving delusions of tenure track normativity into an embrace of the variability and unpredictability of academic endeavors in a world where the majority of people with Ph.D. bring their insights and training to other fields. It allows for the truth that people with Ph.D.s stay “academics” even if they are not in “academia” – ie, that “academia” as a category exists in the REALITY that scholars work everywhere, whether by choice or not. And that academia is often a route to the reality of poverty, debt, and struggle at least as often as it is to university employment, job security, and productivity.
I’m going to use this term exclusively from now on in my talks and blogging, and I’m going to make it a hashtag.
I hope you’ll join me in using it. And thank you to wordsmiths Kel and Kelly, who together coined it.