I recently graduated from the London School of Economics with a masters in philosophy of the social sciences. At the graduation ceremony, the university director gave a speech in which she claimed that graduations are exclusively happy occasions, compared to weddings or birthdays. These occasions might be overshadowed by a mean mother-in-law, disagreements over who should pay what or negative feelings towards ageing. Graduations are celebrations of achievement and therefore, happy.
At LSE, I had an amazing time; I was intellectually challenged and felt like what I was learning was relevant and important – it was a time of growth and radical self-discovery. At LSE, I fell in love with rational choice/decision theory and behavioural economics. I wrote my dissertation about this topic and realized that, although it was a lot of stress, it made me so happy to engage with these novel ideas and theories, discuss, debate, write. Graduations are happy occasions, but nobody really talks about how sad it is to leave academia, I don’t want to leave academia.
Ok, so do a PhD.
No, I don’t want to.
So now what?
In one of my favourite books, Stoner by John Williams, the academy or university is described as an asylum. “I’m too bright for the world” says Stoner’s friend, “and I won’t keep my mouth shut about it; it’s a disease for which there is no cure. So I must be locked up, where I can be safely irresponsible, where I can do no harm”.
I am not an “employee” nor an academic in the traditional “do a PhD and become a professor” sense. What do you do? I spend time with friends, I dance salsa, I read, I travel, I go to museums, galleries, concerts, dinners. No, like what do you do for work? I refuse to let labour be something that should define me – I am a project manager, I am a recruiter, I am a lama farmer, I am a circus artist or whatever.
Leaving that university building after the ceremony was sad, it was sad because it was clear to all of us that we were leaving the cosy nest of learning. We now descend into working life: you, a cog in a wheel, walk into the office on Monday and further the capitalistic ends of some company, you look forward to Friday afternoon, or a dinner party on Sunday. Leaving academia is hard. No more will I be expected to write papers on libertarian paternalism or the von Neumann-Morgenstern theorem. I leave the asylum, my cosy nest of learning, and jump into the exciting scary unknown.