Poverty in the Ivory Tower

This post is a modified and expanded version of a post that originally appeared on my personal blog.

I went to an awesome small conference a few years ago. The location was gorgeous, I got my own room, the talks were all well prepared and about stuff I’m gaga over. There were enough acquaintances attending to feel comfortable and enough new folks to make some useful connections. Plus, the conference sponsors gave away lots of free and super nerdy books.

I also got to interact a lot more with two postdocs from my university who I had developed little science crushes on and really admired. When I prepare for discussion groups, I try to work through the material as deeply as they do. When people ask me questions, I try to respond as carefully and thoughtfully as they do. When they say a book really impressed them, I go read it. So, naturally, I was pretty excited to spend more time with them.

The thing about role models, though, is that they can really let you down.

I took a walk with these postdocs after a long day of talks. Somehow the conversation turned from cool research in my subfield to poverty and homelessness. Specifically, how the homeless people one postdoc saw couldn’t possibly be homeless because they were sitting out in the rain instead of finding shelter. Then the other postdoc jumped in, and suddenly they were talking about how annoying it is to have to walk around homeless people on the sidewalk, how offensive it is for homeless people to ask you for money, and just generally being disparaging of the poor and especially the homeless.

I’ve never been homeless, but we were poor enough that my mom used to put water in the milk to make it go a little further. While my family’s financial situation has improved, I’m now the most financially stable person in my family – and I’m a graduate student.

Home sweet home. Old tobacco barn and tree by Flickr user snowleslie99

Home, sweet home. Old tobacco barn and tree by Flickr user snowleslie99

Anyway, at some point I’d started to identify with these postdocs, to see some part of myself in them. And that made me feel more confident in my own potential. When they started talking about the poor like they had some sort of moral failing or disease, all that vanished. Suddenly, they were just impossibly clever and talented people who I had nothing in common with.

Later I got angry, told myself how ignorant of their privilege they were and got right back to doing my work and loving it.

But in the moment, I couldn’t say anything to them. Instead, I just muttered an excuse and took a different trail, irrationally terrified that if I opened my mouth they would know that I’d been poor. Being poor is nothing to be ashamed of, but when people talk like those postdocs it is so hard not to be hurt and humiliated. If I hadn’t looked up to them, personally and professionally, it would have been easier for me to deal with their poor-people trashing. I still would have been hurt and angry, but I wouldn’t have spent even a second questioning my ability to do my job.

Academic scientists don’t talk about class much. We don’t regularly acknowledge how money keeps talented people out of academia. If we do, it’s usually framed as an educational problem (poor students go to poor schools) or a lack of funding for science. Individual classism like I described above and the enormous structural barrier of a thousand small bureaucratic hurdles faced by poor people in academia rarely are even acknowledged. Worse, the poverty of graduate school is often joked about. How many professors reminisce fondly about just scraping by in grad school? How many people joke about the number of people they fit in their hotel room at the conference or how many times they had to eat ramen?

The financial hardship of graduate school is often downplayed or thought of as temporary. However, finishing a PhD and finding a job is often an incredible financial hardship for even a relatively well off student now. Many students must beg or borrow 10s of thousands of dollars from relatives or otherwise rely on family resources and still end up in crushing student loan and credit card debt. Poor students can’t rely on family – they often have family members relying on them.

Even worse, we don’t even have the promise of a secure well-paying job at the end of graduate school: the academic job market looks more and more like a pyramid scheme, graduate students receive almost no training for non-academic careers, and the non-academic job market is incredibly competitive, too. A poor person may beat the odds and make it through graduate school only to face a lifetime of overwork and poverty level wages as an adjunct or low pay, constant moves, and lack of job security as a postdoc. Even making it on the tenure track isn’t a guarantee of financial stability when you’re coming from poverty. Going into massive debt to train for a career that is less and less likely to exist or pay well means that people who lack external resources cannot make it in academia.

So there are some hard things about money in graduate school, and they’re even harder when you’re already poor.

There are also cultural fit problems. Co-workers are often unsure how to respond when I share stories from my childhood. They ask seemingly innocuous but painful questions like “where did you go on vacation when you were a kid?” or they want to split the bill down the middle, assuming available income. Colleagues look down on my parents when they find out they’re incredibly religious. My parents couldn’t help me with my college applications or give me advice on navigating academia (I can’t count the number of successful academics I know with professor parents.). Other scientists want me to pull out my carefully hidden accent with its blatant class markers as a party trick. I had to learn which stores and restaurants I shouldn’t go to (thrift stores > WalMart, a reversal from my childhood when getting new things was a treat). Dress is particularly fraught for me. I spent a lot of time developing a style from thrift stores that’s a sort of vintage chic to hide my poverty. If you’re wealthy, you can show up in sloppy REI outfits, but the poor (wo)man’s equivalent is less acceptable.

There are things you can do to help students from impoverished backgrounds. Most of these are geared towards PIs, but #1 especially applies to everyone.

  1. Don’t distance yourself from poverty. Learn about it. What is like? Why is so hard to escape? What are the structural factors in our society that perpetuate it? Get to know some poor people. Don’t say mean things about them. Don’t walk around or move away from visibly poor people in your environment. Make it clear that you don’t think poor people are lazy or weird or scary. Don’t treat us as noble either.
  2. Tell us when we don’t fit in. Overcoming cultural differences is often key to gaining access to resources. Don’t be shy – or cruel – about talking to graduate students when they don’t quite fit in culturally. Tell them about cultural norms and how other people interpret your students’ behaviour. We don’t want to sabotage ourselves, but sometimes we don’t know we’re doing it.
  3. Set up a fund in the lab that students can borrow from for conferences and field work. Universities take forever to process reimbursements. A poor student probably doesn’t have a credit card with enough room on it to buy that $1200 plane ticket and if they do, they’re paying interest for the 6 months the university takes to issue a check.
  4. Send your students funding opportunities and make it clear that you believe they’re qualified and that you support their application. The first research funding I ever got was for something I thought I was completely unqualified for, but my mentor told me otherwise.
  5. Offer living wage stipends, even if that means taking fewer students. You can calculate a living wage for your area here. If you’re worried fewer students will hurt your competitiveness for grants and tenure, advocate for it to be a university- or funding-body- level policy. The base stipend for graduate students at my university is less than half a living wage for the city, and that’s not uncommon. People try to justify the terrible stipends by calling a PhD a “training” position. I’d argue graduate students provide enough value to be treated as entry-level employees. Low stipends are an added barrier for poor students; being poor is remarkably expensive – there are so many extra things to buy and family emergencies. You have to build your own safety net when escaping poverty and that takes money.
  6. Include perks like moving expenses if it appears students may not be able to afford to move. I almost couldn’t start at my current position because of money. If my supervisor hadn’t been willing to chip in for moving expenses and a well-off relative hadn’t lent me money, I probably wouldn’t be here.
  7. Tell us about personal and family leave options and available funding. Poor students will likely be called on more by their families and friends for support. Help your students support their loved ones without giving up on a degree.
  8. Ask us if we’re doing ok financially and personally. It’s really, really hard to ask for help. You can make that easier by just asking, acknowledging that personal and financial problems are not unexpected and are nothing to be ashamed of.

If you’re poor and want to attend grad school or are already there, there are also some things you can do to get where you want.

  1. Talk about being poor. Don’t be ashamed of it. Use your story and the survival skills you’ve gained to succeed. I use my escape from rural poverty in personal statements to show that I have incredible drive, creativity, and independence.
  2. Apply for money. Apply for ALL the money. I applied for 38 scholarships in undergrad before I started getting money in my second attempt at an undergrad degree. It took awhile partly because I was slow to get good at writing scholarship applications. But it also took awhile because the best way to get money is to have money. Once you start getting money, it’s easier to get more because funding bodies take an endorsement from one of their own more seriously than anything you say. Getting the first agency or person to invest in you is really, really hard. Everything after that is easier.
  3. Figure out the unwritten rules. You’ve got to learn how to speak the language of the middle class and academia. The best way to do this is to read and observe and ask questions of a trusted mentor. I was incredibly fortunate to have high school and middle school teachers who took an interest in me – taking me to nice restaurants, symphonies, and foreign movies – to teach me how to act and interact in rich people and urban spaces. Female Science Professor, other science bloggers, and friends with more experience helped me learn the language of academia. Send your mentors drafts and questions – is this how you write an email asking to be considered for grad school? How do you write a personal statement for a fellowship?
  4. Keep an eye on non-academic jobs. You can do a lot with your PhD outside of academia, but this will be really hard if you haven’t been keeping an eye on possible non-academic careers. Lots of universities and conferences have workshops on “alt-ac” careers and there are some great resources like Versatile PhD.
  5. Support your loved ones, but not too much. You are getting a regular paycheck and probably even have health insurance. This may be better than many of your family members. If they’re struggling, it’s hard not to help, but make sure you can pay all your bills and go to a conference before you start mailing those checks. I know this is impossible advice, but try not to give your family more than you can afford unless there’s a true emergency. Read a book on financial literacy and follow the advice. I liked On My Own Two Feet.
  6. Ask for money without asking for money directly. People _hate_ being asked for money, but love being able to help. You’ve got to ask for money without making it sound like you’re asking. For example,
  • I was accepted to a really cool summer short course, but had no money to attend. They offered fellowships to some students, but not originally to me. I wrote to the program manager and told them how excited I was to have been accepted and how much I wanted to attend, but that without full funding, I simply couldn’t afford to go. Full funding materialized.
  • When I needed help with moving expenses, I asked my professor not if she could help me with moving expenses, but if there was funding available for moving expenses. Asking if something is available rather than requesting it from someone directly is a good strategy for getting funding you need. It both expands the pool of resources a person considers and is way less awkward if they have to say no. If it gets awkward, they won’t want to help you in the future and will avoid you.

Poverty is horrible, and academia is a hard place to be poor. If you’re an academic, you’re supposed to be solidly middle class, but that’s becoming less and less true. The best thing we can do is advocate for policies within higher ed that promote better and more equitable salaries for everyone and for policies at the government level that alleviate poverty across the board. This will make academia a better place for people already there and open the doors to students from more backgrounds.

81 thoughts on “Poverty in the Ivory Tower

  1. Thank you for this very thoughtfully written post. I especially appreciate the concrete list of things PI’s can do (and entering students, although less relevant for me personally). I recently served on the NSF GRFP (graduate fellowship) panel, and several students described their childhood struggles with poverty in their personal statements and their strategies for overcoming this hurdle. It certainly helped the applications and demonstrated drive and motivation. I think of myself as a very open-minded, politically aware and left-of-left-wing person, but I must admit that I probably have not spent enough time thinking about the challenges of coming from a poor background for graduate students.

    • I never spoke about poverty in application materials until a professor who knew my background told me it made my application stronger and coached me on how to include it. I’m really glad you brought up a specific example of people’s economic hardships helping their fellowship applications. That’ll mean a lot to some people.

  2. Thank you for your post. I’ve been struggling to figure out how to help a student that I know that comes from a disadvantaged background. I don’t want to insult hir or make hir feel uncomfortable. This post has given me some general ideas, so thanks!

  3. This really rings true. I grew up in what some call genteel poverty. I had to support my mother when I was in grad school and on the job market. I wouldn’t have had it any other way, but as a result, at 48, as a full professor, I have no savings. Colleagues often look at me like I must have some secret drug or gambling habit when they see that I am “one of them,” making good money, but can’t buy a house or go to Europe every year. Long after grad school, there is still a sense that growing up “poor” has left a permanent imprint on my academic life.

  4. Thank you so much for this post. I feel like I could have written it myself, with the exception of a few details. When I was in graduate school, I made more money than I had ever made in my life — including the years I spent working 70 hours a week doing retail and waitressing. And I had health insurance!

    I also experienced the culture shock you’re describing. Several times, my paycheck would be screwed up, or I’d need to travel internationally and be expected to float the difference. I’d explain that it wasn’t possible for me, and admins would say, “your parents will help you with that, right?” or “Just put it on a credit card!”

    The other thing that I still struggle with, as a faculty now, is that no one ever taught me how to deal with money. I had a car repossessed in college because when I moved to go to school, I couldn’t find a job in my small seasonal town. My credit was wrecked for ages. In grad school, I finally got a credit card, with a limit of $300, and that was a triumph. Even now, though, I don’t know anything about investing, and saving isn’t intuitive — as a postdoc, I still lived paycheck to paycheck because we were never been able to get out of the cycle of debt — moving expenses hit, and we’d be wiped out. A car repair, and we’d be wiped out. We’re just now trying to figure all of this out, because even though my income has double twice in two years, we still don’t feel safe.

    • I’ve got a really nice fellowship that lands me firmly in the middle class earnings-wise now, but I still don’t feel safe. I don’t know if I ever will. Poverty has a long, cold arm.

      • It’s so, so true. There was a recent post going around about how poverty isn’t about money — it’s like navigating a boat without a rudder, a motor, or both. Wealthy people grow up with a full-functioning boat– they have direction and forward movement.

        If we ever meet in person (I hope so!) dinner and cocktails are on me! 🙂

        • I saw that post and liked a lot about it. but it made me angry too by saying that poverty isn’t about money. What he really should have said is that in a society uncommitted to eradicating poverty, escaping poverty is about learning the cultural norms of rich society to get access to money.

      • I applied to and gained the opportunity to enter an amazing PhD program working with someone I really respected in my field – at the same time I received a really good job offer. I really think it was that long, cold arm and the drive for safety that had me turn down the PhD program, even though it’s my passion still, and choose the corporate life.
        It was my own Sophie’s Choice as it were – fulfillment or safety.

        • I really hope you’ve been able to incorporate your passion for whatever field you were hoping to do a PhD in into your life. I’m sorry you had to choose between fulfilment and safety. I don’t think I’ll be able to stay in academia, partly for financial reasons, and am trying to figure out a way to keep the cool question asking and data analysis parts of the grad school gig in a career.

    • You’ve been a professional role model to me online and hearing you talk about some of your financial problems is really helpful for me. Makes me see my struggles as more struggles than personal failings.

      • Aw, thank you — and especially for opening the conversation. And your struggles are most certainly not personal failings, despite the “by-the-boostraps” mantra that’s so ubiquitous.

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  7. Thank you so much for writing this post. There are so many unspoken problems with this in academia, and I’m glad you shared your story.

    My sister, who is also in academia, and I have talked about his issue of fitting in many times. Poverty was a normal part of the community we grew up in, and we often joke that we have split personalities – one that can interact with the folks back home and one that lives in academia. In fact, we have both recieved surprised comments from other academics (after they find out where we come from) about how good we are at fitting in. A part of me is flattered by this, but another part of me feels like a fraud. I have tried so hard not to reveal just how poor I really am, but I am constantly debating with myself at what the personal price of this is? Just how much we should try to “fit in”?

    • I was debating myself about some of the advice I gave. I think I come off a little bit like I’m dissing poor cultures, but I don’t want to do that. I just want to say that as things stand, it’s easier to get ahead when we learn to “pass.” I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing. There’s a lot of amazing in the culture I came from that I miss.

  8. As far as conference funding, I’d say it’s reasonable to expect a grad student (or anyone) to float about 1 months pay. After that, push back. And if you don’t have that, say so. Not many supervisors really realize that a conference can cost a grad student more than one months pay when it’s all added up. There are plenty of grad students that don’t have the resources for any number of reasons, including those in the middle class. Departments / universities are used to this (or they should be!).

    • That would be a big fat NEVER for this (formerly) poor grad student. When I did push back, I was told “put it on a credit card!” or “ask your parents!” If I hadn’t gone to conferences, I probably wouldn’t have the job I do now. It shouldn’t be optional, because that just creates a caste system that’s even more divided than it is now.

    • Until I got a really good fellowship, I was also living paycheck to paycheck. With the help of a credit card, I was able to float approximately one month’s pay sometimes, but then the interest I had to pay on that while the stupid university took 6 months to reimburse me set me back further.

      When you’re coming from a poor background, you often have higher expenses. No good hand-me-down car, your sister is getting evicted, no nice clothes for conferences or fieldwork, etc. You have to adjust your expectations for how far a paltry grad stipend goes when you’re working with poor grad students.

      Actually, you probably could adjust your expectations for how far a grad stipend goes period. In many cities, grad stipends are less than half a living wage. That doesn’t leave any cushion.

  9. This is a problem in professional/ middle class society at large. The security feeling is huge, but there are other concrete impacts on future potential as well. How many grad schools does one not visit/ apply to because of money? I had to cancel an application because the grad school didn’t book the flight until two weeks before, so instead of a $400 ticket to cover for my spouse to visit I was expected to come up with over $1000. I did not finish grad school (which is not to say that I would have if I had gone to a different grad school, but maybe). This is just a concrete example for me, but there are plenty of ways that professional advancement is linked to having money (like the ability to be unemployed for stretches of time while waiting for a better job opportunity).

  10. Much needed article. “Genteel poverty” fits the bill here – my parents were educated, artist types, and explaining my worries and responsibilities to people in academia felt like talking to a wall. I ended up leaving graduate school because my family was such a wreck, they couldn’t look after themselves, my father was terminally ill but kept hanging on and on and so every six months he would get removed from hospice and left without any care. His long decline and constant teetering on the edge of financial catastrophe made it impossible not to be constantly stressed and distracted. I still feel the insecurity and fear, even though I have a decent full time job.

  11. Thank you for this post. Living wages for PhD candidates is needed now more than ever as people who are older and often have families are going back to school. The amount of money offered by schools is so tiny it’s terrifying.

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  15. Reblogged this on Swift, like Shadows and commented:
    This post – I like it. Another, for the tenure-trackers, who need to read this and learn a few things about how better to support their actually-poor (lower-middle and working-class) students.

  16. Reblogged this on Venti Belli: The Winds of War and commented:
    Interesting post. Has parallels and contrasts with something I was reading the other day about the inherent “privilege” of pursuing a PhD. Also a number of points that remind me of my own childhood. In any case, I think we underestimate the inherent class biases in graduate education, and should I ever be fortunate enough to have graduate students, these are points I will remember.

  17. Thank you for this post Another thing I would add to “what you can do as an advisor” is become well-versed in the institution’s policies regarding tuition waivers and stipends and pass that knowledge to the graduate student, or make sure the graduate student has all available resources to make informed decisions. Depending on the institution, navigating these policies can be murky with no clear answers when you get stuck in a gray zone; for example, what if funding from an external grant is delayed for months and you are left with no stipend, yet a need to remain enrolled in a program to maintain active graduate student status? This can be immensely costly, and if one has no family to turn to for monetary help, can be financially and emotionally devastating.

    • Yes! Many profs are completely unaware of how inconsistent things like pay dates and reimbursement times are. Their ignorance often reads as a lack of concern or expectation that students have thousands of dollars lying around.

  18. I dropped out of college when I was 21 because I couldn’t afford to pay for it. I finished my undergrad degree and started grad school in my late 30s. I’ve supported myself since I was 17 with various jobs. My undergrad advisor told me about how poor I’d be as a grad student, but sadly, I make just as much from my graduate student stipends as I did most of my working life.

  19. Pingback: One of these things is not like the others: on being an academic from a non-academic family | Tenure, She Wrote

  20. Thanks for posting. I pursued a J.D. rather than a Ph.D., but I also had the experience of having the most money I’d ever seen at one time when I started grad school. I did a terrible job of refraining from sending money that I needed for myself to relatives. Now I can at least pay all of my own bills first, but it’s hard to fight the guilt and take care of me first.

    I really liked your statement that “being poor is nothing to be ashamed of, but when people talk like those postdocs it is so hard not to be hurt and humiliated.” I remember conversations in law school (and even now in the firm) that really made cringe and deeply ashamed of my past. I feared being honest and admitting that I grew up poor or an immigrant meant that I was complaining or playing a race-card/immigrant card/poor card. I felt like I needed to apologize for my life story and for making others uncomfortable because they didn’t have the same experience.

    I also agree with the comment that that desperation for security stays with you and its hard to make certain personal and professional choices — even if they might benefit you or save you from a toxic environment — because you cannot imagine risking the financial security that you finally have.

    I think that you offer great practical solutions and I hope that someone in academia is listening for the sake of PhDs everywhere.

    • I think I might be better suited for a career outside of academia, but I feel like leaving and preparing to leave are big risks. I know that endless adjuncting or postdoc-ing aren’t very secure either, but they sometimes seem more certain than jumping into something new. Fears about money definitely play into how I think about my future career.

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  22. Extremely important topic and great suggestions for PIs. I grew up in a very wealthy family but almost never had cash handed to me–I worked for it through babysitting, extra jobs, etc.–but I did benefit from getting a great education (including financial) from my parents and graduated without debt. I didn’t realize until my mid-20s how many people didn’t have the first clue about credit cards, reasonable savings rates for retirement, budgeting, investing, etc. My first thought is that it’s a darn shame such critical information isn’t made more available to people, or they aren’t encouraged to seek it out. I feel like in almost every close relationship I’ve had (romantic and platonic) since college, at some point, I’m helping the other person set up a Roth or get a better credit card. Would it be useful to have financial planning seminars for grad students?

    My second point is that this “long, cold arm” extends across relative, not absolute, distances. Although I’ve never been in debt, I spent most of my 20s with very low net worth. Fear of poverty touched me throughout graduate school and my postdoc especially, when I lived in an expensive area and thought I would probably have to leave academia and start a new career at some point. I worked part time on the side, which cut into my research, because I didn’t feel comfortable mortgaging my future financial health for the academic lottery. I eventually landed a TT job, which feels wonderful (financially), but I’ve never forgotten the endless calculations and worry. I’m worried that people who are more family-oriented (read: women) are perhaps more likely to be aware of the tradeoffs and to leave academia as a consequence.

    • They do have financial planning seminars for grad students or in general at universities. I think the hard thing might be getting people to attend them. They’re always advertised as how to be more responsible with your money and often are full of terrible suggestions and advice on things that are out of reach. When you’re already scrimping and saving and still not able to pay all your bills, a workshop that spends a quarter of the time talking about savings and investment is extremely demoralizing.

      • That’s a really good point. It’s such a bummer of a topic that there needs to be some strategy to manage the emotional context before talking facts, and the facts need to be really relevant and tailored and useful. When I get a bit more established, I would love to help something like this get set up. I’d love to know what kinds of information would be most useful–is it about paying down undergrad debt? Finding an affordable place to live? Figuring out whether to buy a car? I honestly don’t know. I wonder if a blog post on this topic might help, or maybe a whole blog or book. Academia is stressful enough without the financial trouble.

        • I think a lot of times financial stuff feels tricky and overwhelming, like the whole financial world is set up against you. You can’t tell when you legitimately owe money or are being taken advantage of, which fees are worth arguing over and which aren’t. Maybe framing the workshop in a way that makes students feel like they could fight back, actually make sense of it? A lot of those workshops also start out with the premise that you _are_ making enough money. A good one would acknowledge how far short of a living wage the stipends at their university fall and help students understand how to make up some of the difference with local resources like food banks – alongside teaching good budgeting, basic cost-benefit analysis, and options for paying down or putting off debt, etc.

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  24. Reblogged this on Ambika Kamath and commented:
    Fantastic Piece from Tenure, She Wrote on being poor in grad school. Being well-off in academia is definitely a privilege that doesn’t get talked about enough, and I learnt a lot from this piece.

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  26. Thank you for writing this. You are not alone, and I have a feeling this post will resonate with a lot of people. Would have loved to see this when I was starting grad school!

  27. I want to add a wrinkle to the story. Consider how lucky you are to be a US citizen doing graduate work. Let me tell you my story. I came from overseas to get my PhD, but when I graduated the opportunities to get an academic job were becoming slim to none and I could not risk not getting my green card and returning to my home country for a salary of $60/month (you read well: sixty dollars a month. Before starting graduate school in US this was my salary at the national research institute in Romania and the prices at that time were not lower than the ones in US!). So instead I found a job in the industry where I successfully climbed up the career ladder. Ever since getting my green card (which took an insanely large number of years) I wanted to come back to academia, but I became financially trapped due to success in the industry: now I have a mortgage to pay and starting fresh with a postdoc cannot cover the bills. So while I toil at my day job during the day, I do independent research during evenings hoping to strike it big and re-establish my academic credentials to come back to academia to do what I love most. I grew up poor in a hopeless country and I made it out of that mess but I am still not out of the woods. I hope I could make you realize how lucky you are if you do not have to deal with immigration issues, even if you are poor.

    • I am dealing with immigration issues also, but since I come from a well off country and am immigrating to another developed country, I am not in as dire straits as you were. That sounds like a real struggle and I wish you the best. I hope your isolation from academia makes your ideas all the more original and gets you a place back in the ring.

      • Thank you for your kind words. Fortunately I am not in bad shape now, but it is a race against time. I also got to experience how the people outside academia are viewed from inside academia. It was a rude awakening when I realized I was completely ignored when I did come up with very good insight. From the inside it would have been a walk in the park to accumulate credibility, but now I had to first cut through a large background noise of crackpots. After this I had to fight through a layer of charlatans (dishonest academics), and now I hope to finally get recognized again. Everything was a big uphill battle: upload the first preprint on the archive, attend the first conference in the new domain, get an academic affiliation, publish the first paper after the inactivity gap.

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  29. Thank you for this. As a former homeless woman who’s currently working and studying in one of those ivory towers – now in a country with little poverty – I hear disparaging comments about the indigent way too often. It truly boggles my mind, the ignorance spewed from the mouths of supposedly brilliant people. Thinking about it, though, I never felt ashamed or embarrassed for myself – only for them. As it would take a lifetime to educate them on even the basics of poverty (like the complications of getting to work or an appointment when you can’t even afford a clock) and I’ve never met anyone willing to learn, I now keep my mouth shut and excuse myself. That said, this is great information and I wish I had it when I started my journey instead of having to learn things the hard way.

    And the ridiculousness of this has been stuck in my craw for over a year now as well: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2012/9/28/Homeless-People-Speak-Sociology/

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  35. Thank you so much for this post. It’s incredible that academics in the humanities and social sciences can be so adept at analyzing class in history and literature and yet so blind to it within their own environment.

  36. I really needed to read this right now. I am a second year Ph. D. student who is really struggling to make ends meet for my family. Consequently I find it difficult to justify why I am in school on occasion. Working towards a graduate degree in humanities is much more of a gamble than in the sciences, meaning that job placement within academia after graduation for my field is about 1/3 of us. Anyway, thanks for telling your story, we must make ourselves visible within the system, otherwise we risk erasure.

  37. Hey! I plan on entering academia. It has confused the heck out of my family. My mom has been on various government programs for the past decade-and-a-half. My parents are super supportive and are just happy with whatever I do, but he rest of my family is confused–everyone else has jobs.
    Sometimes I feel very guilty, that I should be working like most other people my age, to help my family.
    I feel more apprehensive about my decision after reading this.

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  40. Pingback: On mental health – again

  41. Pingback: Dalhousie Faculty Association » Grad student anxiety, depression a growing problem

  42. Pingback: The Rising Cost of Higher Education: An Overview | lklocins

  43. Pingback: The Rising Cost of Higher Education: An Overview | Laura Klocinski's Senior Seminar Blog

  44. Pingback: Higher Education! Is it really worth it? | Monique Polk

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