I recently attended an academic conference to maintain my connections in academia, catch up with my colleagues from graduate school and perhaps make some new contacts who might help me in “the job search.”
I didn’t officially register for the conference because I couldn’t afford the $400 fee on my adjunct salary. I used to register every year as a student because I could pay the reduced student fee. But, now that I’m done with my Ph.D., I have to pay the regular fee which is very steep for someone on my salary. The conference registration fee was higher than my airfare to the conference, so I decided that I’d rather risk the humiliation of being told to leave the conference because I didn’t have a conference badge rather than pay the fee. I was also lucky because one of my very generous and gracious friends allowed me to crash in her hotel room. My friend was a postdoc and she was given funding for the conference from her institution. Thanks to her, I was able to offset the biggest conference expense– the hotel fare.
Also, I was able to crash a few receptions and grab a free meal here and there. Although this was a bit humiliating for me, because I am in my late thirties and am too old to live like this, I had to swallow my pride and “rough it” to attend this conference and try to stay connected.
In addition to these issues, I also had to explain to people over and over again what I had been doing with my life and why I didn’t have a “real” position. I had to explain how I had applied to thirty-some jobs and had gotten no response. I also had to endure comments by some well meaning people about how I should ask colleagues to look over my CV and how I should try to network at the conference…like I hadn’t been doing that for the past four years. I had to nod and then thank them for their invaluable “advice” because, I’m sure the reason I didn’t have a job was because of something I wasn’t doing correctly or something that I hadn’t thought of before. It couldn’t possibly have been the fact that only 15% of Ph.D.’s get tenure track positions and that means 85% don’t.
I don’t know how many more of these conferences I’ll be attending. I used to feel hopeful at these conferences, but that hope has long eroded. I guess I’m damned if I go and damned if I don’t (which means 100% damned).