Call it Real-Ac

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 Kellee, 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 Kellee and Kelly, who together coined it.

Similar Posts:


Call it Real-Ac — 6 Comments

  1. This. And this doesn’t even begin to approach the ways in which TT academics and higher-up administrators look down upon and shame the non-TT academics, who do most of the work that brings students into the university’s classrooms and tuition money into the university’s coffers, as well as doing most of the research that helps the country and the world keep running.

    I’m an academic. What does that mean? It means I have a Ph.D. and I use it to improve the world. The way I use my Ph.D. to improve the world is by teaching and academic coaching. I don’t have to be tenured to do that. I don’t even have to be on the tenure track to do that.

    But the attitudes of TT academics and higher-up administrators have to change. If they keep devaluing what I do, and what my other NTT colleagues do, they will shortly find themselves without people to shoulder the real burden of their institutions. Eventually, we will all find jobs and careers that use our Ph.Ds but don’t require their institutional framework.

  2. Pingback: Advent, a Year Later: A Post-Ac Story - Sarah Bereza

  3. Personally I am not crazy about this. REAL – what exactly is REAL? Academia has never really been REAL for me, for many reasons (I am the 1st person in my family to do ANY education beyond high school) As someone who has gone and come back more than once in order to achieve my PhD goal, this term REAL feels more like “FACING REALITY” which I don’t buy at all. We shape our realities to a great extent by our willingness to embrace the moment, and find the tools (within & without) to move us to the place we wish to be. How about LIFE? There are so many ways we can approach higher ed and the incredible knowledge and responsibility that comes with that, but first we need to see ALL of this (the shrinking # of tenure positions AND the increasing # of amazing opportunities beyond the ivory tower) as the movement of LIFE. So many options and opportunities in life that we have due to the privilege of education, let’s use that blessing to better the world and ourselves.

  4. Are the various “Ac”s so different or any less academic? I am wrapping my PhD and was offered a really well-paying admin position (with FULL BENEFITS!) working with faculty at a college I have been adjuncting at while finishing my degree.

    I’m accepting this “Real Ac” position because I don’t want to move across the country for 1 year visiting or post-doc positions. I have a family and just don’t want to do that with them…and benefits would reallllly help us.

    Does taking this job now mean that I cannot return to academia if the right academic job came up after defending my PhD? I’m really unsure about whether or not getting “off” the academic path means I can’t get back on later.

    Any advice from the community is appreciated!

  5. What’s real for some of us is: going through bankruptcy, living on welfare while publishing several books and continuing to present conference papers and contributing book chapters and journal articles, doing additional studies to try to launch alternative career areas (which fizzled out), and ending up working full-time as a low-paid customer service representative. That’s all from after going through visiting/adjunct hell for about a decade.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.