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This Real Job of Mine

Updated: Feb 24, 2021

During this year in which both everything and nothing has happened, I must admit that not much has changed in my lockdown life. My projects progress, deadlines approach, and I open my window to change the air in my apartment.


I have been more fortunate than most. The pandemic arrived at the same time that I found myself strategizing my dissertation, meaning that I could still adjust my plans with relative ease. My work as a Teaching Assistant has carried on largely undisturbed from the comfort of a small desk. In some ways, I've been so busy that I've lost perspective on just how long it's been.


Still, I can't help but feel like the pandemic has put some of the awkwardness of academia on full display. The blurring of work and home that has challenged so many sheds light on an industry that's grown comfortable in the in-between.


On the one hand, academic work is a real job like any other. We sign contracts, form unions, and collect wages. If you're lucky, you get benefits.


On the other hand, though, our work gets distributed awkwardly throughout four month semesters. Weeks of relative ease culminate in a mad dash to submit grades before deadlines. We spend hours reading leisurely in a cafe (or on the couch these days) only to then answer emails at 11pm.


Then, when the teaching is done, we get paid to geek out about the things we love - like professional redditors with a little peer-review sprinkled in along the way.


It's a privilege to be an academic, to be sure. As much as we might read Marx (we don't even stop at the Manifesto!) the reality is that most of us wouldn't even be considered working class, really.


And yet many of the pains we've felt since moving our work home reflect the presence of ghosts that have long grown comfortable in our halls.


We've all felt our eyes glaze over as 'the literature' steals us away from the small talk that those around us offer. Felt the frustration when our evening reading gets interrupted as if it was just plain old leisure and not part of some endeavour towards eureka. Lamented the relatives that might try making small talk out of what they see as our full-time job.


In many ways, the feeling of being pulled in two (or more) directions until we lose our bearings is familiar - an old friend that we've been forced to name now that the ivory tower is off-limits.

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