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Academic single moms, please help me not panic.

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

No matter how often I chant, "I am not an academic", I seem to have been sucked into full-on PhD-level craziness and I can't do it anymore. I also can't afford not to do it anymore. I'm a writer in a university department, hired for grants work but am now the "oh my god she can fix all the writing and do all the media and work auxiliary magic too" lady. The thing is, my job was created in the usual academic way -- someone farted out an idea in a panic, no research as to whether or not it might actually help -- so I do in fact have to fix yada and work auxiliary magic until someone, somewhere, disgorges a five-or-six-digit check and makes it out to the university, and I can claim some responsibility for having made it happen.

I am paid beans, though, and can't keep on like this. There are no better local job prospects and moving isn't in the cards. Freelance works for shoring-up but not as a main income (I'm too far away from the action, deep midwest). Seriously, I will wind up in the hospital. Academic single moms? Halp?

post #2 of 14

WHat is your degree in pre-PH.D program? Like what is your field in general? Sounds like you are quite invaluable to your dept. Is there any way you could get a pay increase to help you work your magic?

post #3 of 14

What about applying for some other higher paying jobs in the university or another university?

post #4 of 14

xo  I'm a PhD'er with three kids (4, 8, 12) and separated since Sept. 2012. Can you TA? or get an RA-ship? What is your relationship with your supervisor and committee members like? Your department? You should feel supported by the people around you. If you're not, can you seek out other committee members who can be supportive? I switched departments and supervisors and committees partway through. It's possible. I can't imagine doing this without such support. But I know many profs simply can't comprehend how challenging and stressful it is to be a single mom and trying to be a successful academic while being so financially precarious.


Does your university have a bursary program based on need? Student loans? Loans might make the difference between you being able to finish and having to drop out. Often, too, once you are in the loan program, there are other financial opportunities for scholarships and bursaries. That's how my university's bursary program works - you must already be using student loans.


Hugs. It is so so so hard. And it's so much harder to focus and actually progress when you have so much additional stresss in your life. I know it so well. 



post #5 of 14
Thread Starter 

hey guys, I appreciate the responses, but as I said above, I'm not a PhD, not looking for one, either. I'm a writer, employed as a grants editor, media person, writing teacher, and sixteen other things at this point, simply because I'm the only one in sight who's been outside academe ever, which means I know how to do lots of things. Which isn't usual in academe. It's a physical-sciences dept in an area where I have a background.  I'm staff and an adjunct instructor (I'm not in the PhD club, so I'm not called faculty). I'm in my mid-40s, with no family support. My social circle is what you'd expect for someone with my background, which is to say mostly-marrieds with HHIs many times mine and with various intergenerational problems of their own, most of whom would not cope well at all with living like I do, nor do they understand it. Just too much work, too much stress, too much going it alone. They're not helpful in any practical way, partly because I don't live as they do and can't reciprocate, and I don't have time/freedom to develop a social circle that might maybe be more helpful.

I will not be getting any significant raises. I came in low on the payscale, my job will not be redefined, and there's no higher classification that suits. Ignore the fact that I'm doing work that in another place would fetch 4x what I'm making here: locally, that does not matter. I am not qualified and will not be qualified for jobs that are substantially better paid. (Again, university town without much else going on, and no PhD.) Unfortunately, I can't leave the area for several years. Apart from the legal fight I'd face to do it, anyplace I went would either be a near-identical remote college town or have a much higher cost of living and a strong likelihood of having to send my kid to a private school I'd have no hope of paying for, even if I had the time to do the politicking to get her in. I'd also have no support network and be too busy establishing myself to help her acclimate.

In a year, the only way I've found of shaking the money tree is to sign on to teach more as adjunct. It's eyepoppingly well compensated for adjunct, but it's Yet More Work and I'm already having hallucinations from lack of sleep. I will also never make top dollar there as adjunct, or climb whatever crazy ladders they have, because (again) am not a PhD. I get email from deans on vacation, on weekends, telling me how wonderful I am and how they're looking for opportunities for me. And at this point I've seen enough of the machinery to believe that yes, even these people don't know how to work their own machine to make it spit out what they want on anything but a geologic timescale. I've actually been able to make things happen very fast by university standards -- expanded my job by 100% inside a year, helped push a new program's creation, bunch of other things -- but it's been incredibly exhausting and I can't keep up that level of politicking. I've also been freelancing throughout to make ends meet. Used to freelance solely, which was also exhausting, but one of my income streams dried up and won't be coming back, and I can no longer make a living freelancing, so can't go back to that.

Essentially, you're supposed to have a spouse or supportive family or be childless.

I had a closer look today at the numbers behind my job's creation...it's not a pretty picture, and I wouldn't be surprised if the job disappeared in a few years. Like many depts these days, this one's in some trouble, and it's not unreasonable to be thinking about its future & viability. Which means it's necessary to keep up the networking and the extra bits of work here and there outside my dept and the freelancing.

Bottom line is I'll probably have to go on like this for years. Not panicking about the mountains of would be very helpful, but I've yet to learn how.

post #6 of 14

Hi again,


I am a single Mom (sole financial support) and work in academia (non-PhD). The beauty of an academic job is the security. If you don't think your position has that, I suggest eeking it out for say 2 more years and during that time work towards a new job. During those 2 years, work on addressing the legal issues that would prevent you from moving. I think a better job is out there for you.

post #7 of 14
Thread Starter 

Hi - thanks. Academia's...well, it depends on the kind of university, but in general, it's not what it used to be. The money has to come from somewhere, and when it doesn't -- either because state appropriations or gifts are down, or because grant income is down, or the university's restructuring in a survival bid -- jobs and even departments, occasionally, disappear. If you lift up the curtain on many universities these days, you'll see fiscal osteoporosis.

So I really have no idea what will happen, near-term or long. None of us do. The tenured will get paid unless the department goes -- and we've had a few vanish in the last few years -- but staff is contingent, and of course some tenure lines dematerialize along the way. My job isn't critical to the functioning of the department, even though it's officially defined that way.

Better jobs are out there, but they're far away in metropoli where I'd do fine on my own, but I'm just not set up for raising a child in any of these places -- I'd need support and financial backing I don't have, and she'd need someone to rely on while I got established. So moving is just not on for the next several years. The legal issues won't change for the better anyhow unless her dad moves away.

Anyway. The issue is: too much work, not enough money or support, too chronic a situation, none of it likely to change. I am probably in the best situation I'll be able to arrange for several years. Ways of not panicking or growing despondent would be helpful. Part of the issue's that academia really is a nuthouse, and I can see why: all these nominal grownups who've never been outside the wall and really don't know how things there work, all trained very narrowly, most of them seriously neurotic, and they're left to manage a half-billion-dollar enterprise on their own. I've seen poorly-run businesses, but this really takes the cake (and of course many of them become indignant if it's referred to as a business, because the money comes from, I don't know, God, or Zeno). Most of the people in charge got there through extended hazing processes and take rank (and themselves) extremely seriously. And of course you're unlikely to run across, say, a provost who'll say, "I actually have no idea what the hell I'm doing. I'm a cultural historian of the 17th century, I don't know what these budget numbers mean or why I'm at this meeting, and I have no idea what our nursing students do when they leave here, but they haven't set fire to the place, so I guess they're employed." There is no chain of command, only courtier fear and a guy named Doug who sets budget numbers. The joint is full of people with big ideas and not the least notion how to make them go, and in a year, I've seen that that's true even at the highest levels of administration. There are islands of psychological health that depend largely on ignorance of the surrounding Boschian sea. I've compared it to working for 11-year-olds, minus glitter. On the other hand, they're totally willing to throw me students and equipment for whatever projects I propose. My computer cost more than my car. I have more students working for me than half the faculty do. Every harebrained idea I come up with gets thumbs up. So I'm entirely free to work myself to death for not enough money to live on. That appears to be how academia works, so it's not that I'm doing something wrong: that's the job.

post #8 of 14
Thread Starter 

I must say, this is really part of why things become difficult. In the very first post, I said that I'm not an academic, there are no better local job prospects, and moving is not in the cards. Every reply so far has roundly ignored all of what I've said, and either commiserated about grad school, suggested I find a better job, or suggested I move. If you have no suggestions based on the realities I've laid out, that's depressing, but fine.


It's very hard to feel well, and to get help for problems, when people simply ignore what you say. I find the same is true when I go for therapy; in fact I have to fire my therapist this morning. He keeps autocompleting my sentences, and he's almost always wrong, then doesn't want to hear that in fact he hasn't listened and has got things wrong.

I don't understand this difficulty people have with listening to the words that are actually said.

post #9 of 14
Originally Posted by mama41 View Post

I must say, this is really part of why things become difficult. In the very first post, I said that I'm not an academic, there are no better local job prospects, and moving is not in the cards. Every reply so far has roundly ignored all of what I've said, and either commiserated about grad school, suggested I find a better job, or suggested I move. If you have no suggestions based on the realities I've laid out, that's depressing, but fine.


It's very hard to feel well, and to get help for problems, when people simply ignore what you say. I find the same is true when I go for therapy; in fact I have to fire my therapist this morning. He keeps autocompleting my sentences, and he's almost always wrong, then doesn't want to hear that in fact he hasn't listened and has got things wrong.

I don't understand this difficulty people have with listening to the words that are actually said.


:(  I'm sorry you're not getting the response you were hoping for. It feels terrible not to feel heard. :Hug


I think most people (including myself) have not been on the inside in academia, or know how it works, so our comments are probably out of ignorance instead of uncaring. 


This may not at all be the sort of comment you are looking for, but you are a fabulous descriptive writer. Your paragraph in post #7 that began with Anyway. --I understood more about your situation and probably all of academia from that paragraph than I think I have ever understood before. And it made me chuckle. I can actually see why you are in high demand, because you are competent and smart and skilled. 


So I will out myself for being ignorant about another field: writing.  Have you thought at all about your prospects for writing outside of this university? Being a grant writer for other organizations (usually in high demand), writing for a magazine,......Do any of your current connections (in the islands of psychological health) have a way to help launch you in this direction? 

post #10 of 14

SORRY! You said in post 1 that freelance works for shoring up but not for main income. 


I'm sorry, really, I just think your writing is terrific and more people deserve to read it. 


OK I'm sticking with grant writing. I know around here (new england) grant writers are highly sought after on  a contract basis for non profits. So are PR/marketing type people. 

post #11 of 14
Thread Starter 

:) 'sokay. And thanks.


Grantwriting's actually a tough racket. The main thing is that the people who can actually pay you enough to live on are not, in general, people you'd want to help get money. Around here I could get a salaried job writing grants for a major publisher bent on developing eighty zillion more standardized tests to inflict on children, the aged, the infirm, anyone who can't escape. Even scientific grants...you know, a lot of these people really shouldn't be getting money. It's very large money, and unless you're really a crackerjack scientist working on something helpful to mankind: why? So that we can shore up your rationale for drawing $110K/yr as a professor?

Beyond that, I'd be looking, again, at freelance work. (PR...long ago I worked in advertising, and wound up at dinner with a Saatchi exec. He asked me about myself, I told him about my job, and he laughed and said I wouldn't last a year. I was offended, and asked why he'd say such a thing. "Because you have ethics," he said. He was right, I lasted ten months. Not all my dialogue's so Spencer/Tracy, btw.) I did work all-freelance for about seven years, but again, for that you really need a backup plan, enough money that's not freelance.

I actually went and had a look at the university's pay structure, and the result just gave me a laugh. I'm actually doing as well as anyone who hasn't been there a decade can be expected to do, and my salary will never be anything but anemic. The people who run universities are devoted, first and last, to the notion that rewards go to PhD-holders who behave like olde-fashioned professors (while responding like shocked lab rats to undergraduates' emails). In the end, this is why universities will die. The scholars who run them genuinely don't understand that only public funding can sustain that kind of enterprise on a large scale. We used to do that, and some other countries do it, but 21st-c America is truly uninterested in paying people to study [fashionable humanities thing or currently-useless science thing] for decades. Paying them well, too, though the profs tend to believe they're martyrs to knowledge because they don't make doctor money. The only other candidates for supporting them in such style are students and their parents, and...well, I'm afraid we just can't afford them. Especially when they send so many kids out the door without much that's useful for jobs. And again, it doesn't help that the profs have zero knowledge of what those jobs might be and might require.

Anyway...yeah, I think it's just going to be rough. It's coping that's the issue.

post #12 of 14
Thread Starter 

You know, this is really part of the tension of working at the place. I know perfectly well -- lots of staff do -- that the institution's untenable. They honestly don't know how to adapt, and when the current wave of high-tuition-paying Chinese students ends (I estimate we've got less than 10 years to go on that), a lot of doors will suddenly lock and not open again. The admins will be trying to figure out how to rent empty classroom and lab space to businesses. They view it as inconceivable now, but that's silly; the institution of the university's changed a great deal over the last century and is just changing again, but knocking up against its own walls; only so far it knows how to go.

Anyway -- so all this is perfectly plain, but it's like being in Soviet Russia in 1987; you can't say this stuff out loud, and there's still hundreds of faculty either fighting for their career-lives or bound and determined to ride the tenure train to retirement. The fantasy element's not very healthy. And I'm not good at pretending out loud. I guess the nice part about the USSR in 1987 is that they're too busy trying to keep themselves taped together to worry about people wandering off to France or developing little capitalist businesses in their apartments.

(It was so crazy -- I'd been on the job for about two months, went to a meeting, said two things, and all of a sudden this director of whoodly's throwing herself and a $50K job at me. A PR job for which I'm totally the wrong person, even if I were qualified and interested, which I'm not. You never want a literary person doing PR, they'll say true things. But this is the measure of their desperation, a savior at every conference table.)

post #13 of 14

Sorry, this is a bit late for the thread, but I had to respond.


Last time something remotely comparable happened to me, I quit and got them to rehire me as a contractor on my own terms, working from home and doing only the bits of the job that I liked. They were quite happy to do this, because the job I picked to bid for (after I had invented it to suit myself) was one that almost everyone hated doing except me, and I freed up all the other staff from what was seen as a bit of a waste of time for them. But I knew I would enjoy it, day in, day out, working from home in my pyjamas, and not having to deal with all the interpersonal stress and a too-clear vision of office politics. I have never gone back to full-time, in-house work since, and can never imagine myself doing so.


Is there scope to remould this into your own post-1987 capitalist business in your apartment? Your clear perception of the world you work in is a huge asset, not just a source of pain and irritation. Most people don't go in for that level of seeing, day-to-day, for good reason. But if you can't help it, then you can use your understanding of people's fears, and their neuroses, to sell what you want to sell to them, because you already know what they lack/desire (was it Lacan who said they are the same thing?), and what you would like to give.


You are clearly a gifted writer. I'm sure you could churn out press releases while changing nappies, in between orange juice and cornflakes. The issue seems to lie more with the work environment and how you can't help but see every darned thing in full HD and then not be able to switch it off...Maybe I'm just talking about myself here, I don't know. I think I'm borderline Aspie, though was refused a diagnosis. I'm certainly INTP.


As for the sense of insecurity, it fits the profile of someone who is a battler, who self-relies; a go-it-aloner. It is very easy for this sub-personality to amplify real threats and concerns and create a world in which everything goes tits-up, eventually, always, reliably. This trait runs in my maternal line. My DD has it, and watches Titanic too much. As I tell her, the ship doesn't always have to sink...I have been in an insecure freelance state for nearly 12 years now, and I still fear losing my main client. That may well happen before I reach retirement in 20 years. But is that fear dictating your every move and making you put up with stuff you don't have to? It made me try teaching (part-time only), which in turn made me realise how out of control the fear can get.


I love that you fired your therapist.


Good luck!


PS I've just realised I haven't factored in healthcare (being from the UK), which may render much of what I suggest meaningless. But maybe not...;)

Edited by artoflosing - 1/28/14 at 8:55am
post #14 of 14

Because you have to fire your counselor- have you considered starting a blog? At first it can just be a catharsis, but with you're writing style, even people who don't care about what you're talking about would likely read it just because they enjoy how you write. If it starts out just as a way to vent, it won't be too much stress or effort, and if you get lucky you could get ad revenue, if you get enough fans you could do a patreon or even write a book. Here's an example of someone who gets $1.5k/month through patreon alone for her writing and videos about writing- http://www.patreon.com/nikaharper It's not a humongous income on its own, but it may help to have the boost to your income and you never know if you might get wildly popular and able to make loads of money with your writing.

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