Friday, October 4, 2013

So you think you can do my job?

Random Family Member: What is is that you do all day?  Just sit around?
Me: I actually work on projects, teach classes, do coursework
RFM: So, you're basically a college student still?
Me: No.
RFM: You just write about your opinion all day, then, right?
Me: No.
RFM: Then what do you do?
Me: Research.  Teaching.
RFM: You must have a lot of fun and free time.  Anyone could do that.  When you do something useful, let me know.
Yeah, this is a conversation a lot of academics will probably experience and HAVE experienced in the upcoming holiday season if they are like me.  One of my grandmothers has determined that I live a pretty cushy life where I don't do anything except scare away potential suitors.  My work week pre-comps was somewhere around 70 hours a week and it was like that for most of the first three years of my PhD.  Everyone thinks life in the ivory tower is easy and silly at times.  We sit around on our asses and twiddle our thumbs.

And if you are a political scientist, you have recently probably had a similar conversation to this:
Random family member's facebook post: If only there were {insert asinine political solution here such as term limits, a balanced budget amendment, no political parties} we wouldn't have this problem.  Those Democrats are the worst!  Tea Party 4EVAH!
Me: Actually, that wouldn't solve the problems that we face {present rational argument here}
RFM: No, that wouldn't do it. We have to have to get them to DO things.  This system is so screwed up and slow!  It's full of so much ARGUING!  If only they followed the Constitution!
Me: Actually, the Constitution designed the system to be inherently conservative.  That's why we see these issues here and not in a Westminster system like in the UK.
RFM: Conservative!  It's the stupid libs!  Liberalism is the death of this nation!  Socialists are running everything!!! ELEVENTY!!!
Me: None of those words mean what you think they mean.  This country was founded on liberalis and both parties come from a "liberal" political tradition.  Socialism requires common ownership of things like the means of production and the provision of service by government, generally.  That does not happen here.
RFM: I think I would know! You're a Democrat, so you don't matter!  GAHHHHHH.  I've been paying taxes for 50 years! You young idealistic liberals won't get it!
Yes, it's frustrating as hell.  Not that I don't have about 8 years of training in the subject or anything!  I guess I'm pretty useless.  It's enough to make your head explode.  It offends me a great deal because when people say things like this, it means (to me) that what I do isn't worthy of recognition or respect.  What I do is not only "silly" or "useless" but somehow begins to OFFEND people.  You wouldn't tell an accountant how to do an audit.  Why would you tell me about politics or teaching?  Why would you make assumptions about what we do?  I don't know but it makes me reel.

The worst part is, the more you dig your heels in and try to make it clear that you know more, the more you try to educate these people, the worse it actually gets.  Because then you just look like an elitist snob in their eyes.  Let's face it, we speak PhD now.  We talk about what we do in ways that people can't understand and it's very, very hard to explain what we do in "normal" terms.

I felt bad recently when my boyfriend told me his parents thought I seemed to be genuinely smart but they couldn't understand what I did at all.  I knew that they didn't get it because I hadn't explained it well.  So, the next time they ask me, I will try even HARDER to explain it in common terms.  We use very artificial, technical language like ABD, comps, R&R, etc to explain our lives.  It's not easy for our parents, family members, spouses, significant others, and friends outside of academia to "get" it.  It's something I have to work on.  And in the case of the boyfriend's parents, I never intended to do anything.  I generally don't intend to confuse anyone.  So, getting upset when people don't get it can be a natural response but not something you should immediately get offended over.

Still, how do you deal with people trying to do your job?  Do you avoid all family gatherings so you don't have to listen to Uncle Joey berate you about how your job is useless to "average people" and how you've gotten so uppity since going away to school?  Do you write Grandma out of your Christmas card list (does anyone still make those anyhow?)?  Do you unfriend everyone from facebook?

The truth is, there are no easy answers.  I try to avoid getting into it with people.  It's a situation where assuming everyone is simply ignorant and means well is the only way to go.  If I just assume that people are ignorant, I look at my responses as needing to be diplomatic.  I see myself as sort of an ambassador to my career and discipline with these people.  They may say things that annoy me but they don't mean it.

Well, except sometimes they do, right?

Yeah.  Yeah, sometimes they do.  You will encounter Uncle Jed the Shitstirring Teapartiest at various gatherings but just smile and treat him the same.  If it gets down to the point of name calling on his point, take the high road.  I had this happen at my sister's graduate party 4 years ago. A cousin would NOT leave me alone and called me a little girl.  He got downright rude, called me a useless person who could "only" think, and then made fun of the way I dressed.  It was clearly coming from a place of insecurity and inebriation, so I wrote it off.

I won't lie and say these things don't annoy me or bother me.  They do.  After all, what I do every day is part of my life's work.  How could I not feel offended when people resort to personal attacks and name calling about it?  Academics is a lot about "love" of what you do.  If someone attacks the thing you love, you tend to get offended.  That's what makes it a little different from a 9 to 5 at a bank (as if those exist!) or a job for a government contractor.  It's all culminating, you can't turn it off, and you have to preach it on a regular basis to students!

The reality is that there are a lot of insecurities. If you approach the situation assuming that, you will be infinitely better off.  When it gets to hitting below the belt, shove off.  Ignore the person.

Hopefully, the people you value the most will either "get it" or at least be supportive and not deny that you do happen to know more on a subject than they do.  Also, they probably won't be ignorant of all the important things you have to do, the amount of time you put in, etc.  My boyfriend gets most of it and he's very supportive of me.  My parents have no clue what I do, in reality, and don't understand a word of methods jargon that comes out of my mouth but they are glad I do what I love.  Those are the people that matter, anyway.


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