I find it amazing that academia abandons tens of thousands of people every year and that some fields have almost no contexts for other types of career paths. I wish I had pursued an alternative career path as much as twenty years ago. In addition, if I had never pursued graduate school at all, I could have started working as a Customer Service Representative for the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, an Order Support Agent for a call centre, or a Rural & Suburban Mail Carrier for Canada Post in my twenties and been approaching early retirement by now. I also wish I had continued composing music to a much greater extent after my twenties. I’m 56, have a Ph.D., and have accomplished a great deal, but I have never had any kind of continuing full-time job that pays a living wage.
Alternative-academic and non-academic career paths—and ways to collaborate both with other scholars and with those outside academia—should be discussed and enabled. Those considerations should begin during the time-frame when doctoral candidates have traditionally worked on remarkably narrow concerns in their doctoral seminars, research and teaching assistantships, exams, and dissertations. Fewer people should complete doctorates and attempt to become professors. Post-secondary education usefully establishes and consolidates one’s interests, as well as the ability for critical thinking. However, pursuing it beyond a bachelor’s or master’s degree is unnecessary. I wish I had realized that a long time ago.
Spending hundreds of hours every year doing academic work on book chapters, journal articles, and conference papers when I don’t even have an academic job — and am thus doing it all for free — is highly exploitative. So, after my current projects wrap up in the next couple of months, I’m not going to do these things anymore. I want to do more academic research and writing, but the system is not set up to pay anyone directly. That needs to change.
Of the eighteen people contributing to the forthcoming Cambridge University Press book on progressive rock, sixteen are university-affiliated academics (so it would be reasonable for them to expect to do such things as a part of their employment), one is VP of Education at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and one is a computer technology order support specialist making the equivalent of about $11 U.S. per hour. Guess which one resents doing academic research and writing for free, given that it has nothing to do with his employment?
I’m interested in proposing a paper for the 2016 Performance Studies Network conference at Bath Spa University. However, would the subject matter of my forthcoming listener’s guide to the music of thirty-year Bath area resident Peter Gabriel actually count? His “diverse, interdisciplinary developments,” “global perspective,” and so on certainly do seem to fit the themes of the conference, even though all of the confirmed activities are so far restricted to contemporary art music and world music. How could I afford to go, though?
Kelly J. Baker just posted an article called “Goodbye to All That,” about abandoning her recently-contracted plan to write an academic book on the cultural history of zombies. I have very similar feelings about my work on music in The Simpsons, including my proposed academic book, related possible journal articles, and already-presented conference papers (e.g., 2006, 2013). Without a tenure-track, professorial context, I have to let those types of academic things go and possibly reimagine them as public music history projects instead. I’ve already made that transition from my dissertation on the rock band Rush to Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion (2014) and am currently working on Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion (2016). So, I don’t see why I should stop now. Maybe, I’ll be able to get to the point of making a living wage at it!
Institutionally-unaffiliated PhDs in my field are routinely swept under the carpet. Amanda Sewell’s report in the August 2015 newsletter of the American Musicological Society about an early 2015 conference on the Past, Present, and Future of Public Musicology confirms this by not bothering to mention my paper.
My contribution was called: “The Untapped Doctoral Majority of Potential Public Musicologists.” The paper begins by covering such things as:
- the over-supply of musicology PhDs for the number of academic positions
- what some musicology PhDs actually end up doing outside of academia
It continues by covering my:
I also then explain that I created music history instructional videos and that I adapted my dissertation on the Canadian rock band Rush for a public book called Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). I end the paper with an example from Chapter 1 of my forthcoming book in the same series: Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion.
I have done almost all of that work outside of conventional institutional contexts, so does that mean it doesn’t qualify as “public musicology”?! The Musicology Now (blog) version of the report is only slightly better, with one, highly-misleading sentence about my work: “Durrell Bowman (independent scholar) spoke of the challenges he has faced in the decade-long search for an academic position in musicology.” Both my assigned title of “independent scholar”–which I loathe, in favour of “public music historian”–and the falsely-reported subject matter of my paper–which is actually a whole bunch of things I have done in Public Musicology–may explain why the editor of the AMS newsletter decided to exclude it. Not surprisingly, the newsletter version of the report also excludes the following sentence: “Felicia Miyakawa (academic consultant) explained why she left a tenured position and chose to pursue public musicology.”
I can’t speak for Miyakawa, but “we” are not amused.
Recent thoughts about Academia:
- Here’s an example of how silly academic music job postings can be: “Primary responsbilities include teaching music theory, musicianship, composition, musical instrument digital interface, and low brass private lessons.”
- Academia in the humanities exists so that many of the 50% who are lucky enough to get “permanent” jobs can move around to better jobs, whereas the other 50% never get to have permanent jobs at all.
- On the other hand, a dissertation is an elaborate information system, developed through an iterative and incremental life cycle. In other words, that’s pretty similar to what systems analysts do! So, maybe there is hope for me in my new proposed career in computer applications development.