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Alt-Ac Impostor

Updated: Jul 24, 2019

I delivered my first lecture as an adjunct English professor on August 25, 2008. On December 7, 2017 I delivered my last, and left the classroom.

At the time I was thoroughly disenfranchised with adjuncting. I was teaching at a college with a supportive department, and an excessively un-supportive administrative system. They seemed to view adjuncts not as useful and necessary supplemental teaching staff, but a lamentable blemish on the institution - so much so that they farmed our hiring out to a temp agency which did not understand the nature of academic work, barred us from naming the institution as our employer (on publications, at conferences, on applications...), and generally mismanaging our employment. Though I was offered a spring load I declined, swearing in my habitually-hyperbolic way that I would never teach again!

A year later, and I forget I'm an academic.

And I mean "am," and not "was"; I actively work in my field. A month after leaving the classroom I organized and presented at a major conference, and in August I spoke at the Comic and Popular Arts Conference. Throughout the year I spent extensive time writing, rewriting, and editing two papers slated for publication within the next few months. In October I received notice of acceptance to present at the next SCMS, and successfully defended my dissertation prospectus.

Today, an editor reached out to ask to reprint a paper they had published five years ago, for an anniversary edition. I stared at the email for a few moments completely flummoxed.

In my daily life I am divorced from the academic community. Though I am an active PhD candidate, I am a state away from my institution; I have only met my advisor in person once, and haven't set foot in an academic library in over two years. I maintain daily contact with two colleagues from the previous cohort, and they are a fount of support and encouragement and fantastic articles about Dracula the BBC series and weird Victorian burial practices ... but they're active instructors living several states away.

In recent months I've come to recognize the extent to which I built my identity on my academic work, and the void that has developed now that I am not employed in my field. I feel like an extraordinary impostor in a way I never experienced before - not that I shouldn't be pursuing my work, but that my lack of affiliation reduces the value of the work I produce. I no longer have a ready answer to the always-looming question of "what do you do?" although I tend towards "Kept Scholar" or "whatever I'd like," depending on how feisty I'm feeling.

The void has me considering returning to the classroom, and just yesterday I even thought of reaching out for another adjunct assignment. But the reasons I left are still good reasons - poor compensation for the same labor, needing institutional support, etc. So what is an almost-PhD to do? Where do we go? How does one assert the value of their work, without an institutions name on their letterhead?

I'll update if I figure this out.

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