Why I’m Not a College Professor

Ideal World Road Sign

  • Not a tenured one, anyway, and without that, it’s not a living wage; you’re a migrant brain-picker.
  • Immaturity, arrogance, and an idealistic dreamer’s misperception of how the real world works — to throw out a few words.
  • Ironically, I find this encouraging as I am now, as I approach retirement — humbler, more cautiously observant, and altogether more Machiavellian than I was as a young man.  A few words of clarification:
    • Immaturity.  I have always been a late bloomer.  Yes, I’m 64 and still blooming.
      • Will you still need me?  Will you still feed me?… when I’m 64?  That is the question to which my blogging endeavor seeks the answer.  Let the dice roll!
    • Arrogance.  I wasn’t so much arrogant as rather too full of myself, convinced that my talents and inspiration would lead me inevitably to success!  All I had to do was not sell out!  The classic mantra of the ambitious hippie.
      • “Alas, poor hippie Counter-culture!  We were an overloud minority that lorded it over the silent majority of the time.  And look now.  Karma.  Payback.  Turnabout is fair play.  What works for you against your opponents will work for them against you.
    • Idealistic dreamer.  I knew perfectly well that Academia was no more an assemblage of disembodied pure spirits than any other human community, though less parochial and more stimulating.  And I am mostly a Machiavellian in observation,  yet in practice still more of a Kantian.  But at least now I see it coming, and, though I am not prepared to become a ruthless master of expediency, I can now and then arrange that when things fall into place, they do so to my advantage.  Call it passive-aggressive Machiavellianism.
  • Now, before we continue… a warning!
  • Ah, gentle reader, stay alert!  Be wary of the acrid taste of sour grapes, the cloying reek of self-justification.
  • It’s easy to attribute one’s failures to external factors.  I hope I will avoid that here, but you be the judge.
  • I like to think that I’ve better learned the art of the After-Action Report (see post of that title).  What did I do right?  What could I have done better?  What can I learn before my next attempt to raise my chances of success?
  • Publish or perish is written over the entry gates of Academia.
  • I submitted four articles for publication, with these characteristics:
    • They flew in the face of the conventional wisdom of the discipline.
    • I did not closely follow any well-established line of interpretation.
    • I submitted only to top-tier journals.
  • Remarkably, I got 2 “leaners” out of 4.
    • Here’s the publication peer review process.
      • Submitted articles must pass first through the journal’s editor, who functions as a gatekeeper.  The editor weeds out articles obviously not suitable for publication in an academic journal generally, or their journal in particular.
      • Next the editor selects 3 professors from his journal’s reserve of established academics to review the article.  Each of them judges it to be worth publishing, arguably worth publishing, or not worth publishing.
      • In case of a tie, a vote of 1-1-1, it goes to a 4th, reviewer, who breaks the tie.
    • So, I made it twice to the final, 4th, reviewer, but not past.
  • Unremarkably, I didn’t get published.
  • After-Action Report (in retrospect; I didn’t do this at the time, not with this clarity):
    • What did I do right?  The general quality was good, or I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I did.
    • What could I have done better?
      • I should have submitted to journals the same way students apply to colleges — applying to reach journals, match journals, and (relatively) safe journals.
      • I should not have frontally challenged mainstream views.
      • I should have focused more on getting a foot in the door, not on being true to myself.  “To thine own self be true,” as Hamlet knew better than I did, is great advice, once your position is secure — but until then, it is more prudent to keep a low profile and to keep your hole cards to yourself (the more so, the more you feel a new path is called for).
    • What could I learn to increase my chances next time?  I’ll present this as a series of rules to play by:
      • Understand the game as it is played.
      • Enter sideways, not with a frontal challenge.  If you mean to challenge the conventional wisdom of those into whose ranks you seek entry, do so in a veiled way; save bolder moves for when you are less vulnerable.
      • Clothe yourself in the authority of the current insiders, until you are an insider.
      • Aim initially for small victories.

Living the Dream Plan B - Big

4 thoughts on “Why I’m Not a College Professor”

  1. Proverbial advice to take to heart. Like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s characterization of Aaron Burr said, “Talk less. Smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.”


  2. “I should have focused more on getting a foot in the door, not on being true to myself. ‘To thine own self be true,’ as Hamlet knew better than I did, is great advice, once your position is secure. ” Interesting reference here to Hamlet, especially since this line has different interpretations and can be quite ironic regarding the way you used it because one of the interpretations of this quote is that you should act with integrity to yourself and others. However, if you are more focused on getting your feet wet and securing the position by leading them to think that you are exactly what they want, you would be doing quite the opposite of what the quote says. Nonetheless, when you look at the comment you made and the different interpretations of the quote, it fits perfectly with the argument you are trying to make.


    1. Yasser, great to hear from you. Yes, I was aware that the line has multiple interpretations. I remember being surprised, on my first full reading of Hamlet, to discover that, what had always seemed sterling advice, came from Polonius, depicted as an old man, full of platitudes, and out of touch with the realities surrounding him, that he played the part of a useful tool to a usurping villain. Polonius dies hiding behind a curtain to spy on Hamlet, who mistakes him for an assassin, before discovering he has killed a meddling old man of dim perception. I’m not sure how this reflects on the wisdom of being true to one’s own self, except that all such principles require context, judgment, and pragmatism in how they are applied. We should live up to principles, but if we are to leave behind more than isolated, easily forgotten acts, then we must play the long game.


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