Last week, on perhaps one of the last sweltering days of New York summer, I trekked to the Brooklyn courthouse to register myself as a business. Mostly so I could finally open a business bank account, streamline my invoicing, price point, packages, tax IDs, etc. Oh, and, actually writing a business plan. Phew. This is a lot of real-world things for a humanities Ph.D., but nevertheless I persisted.
As I ascended the steps to the Brutalist-inspired courthouse (and that’s a generous description to what most people would just call ugly and poorly aged), I watched lawyers zooming past me in full suits. And there I was, sweating, or rather, dripping, from the walk from the bus stop, wearing cut-off jean shorts, one of my explicitly lesbian-themed tank tops, and for the cherry on top of this delightful visual juxtaposition, my short hair is currently lavender.
And there, in my super gay t-shirt and purple hair, I registered myself as a business. To quote Jay-Z, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” Literally, the name of my business is just my name because I’m lazy. I stepped out of the courthouse with a disappointing looking Xerox copy of my registration (I had envisioned a beautiful or at least official-looking certificate of some sort that would be instagramable, but alas, that was not the case).
On the other side of this exhilarating process, is exhaustion. I’m still mired in legal drama. This drama is so inert that you might mistake it as having disappeared.
I can dissociate as much as I want from my legal drama and my very public whistle-blower position, but it’s still there, lurking just beneath the surface, poking its ugly head just above the water at random intervals just to scare me, to remind me my battle is not done. That I cannot be tired of fighting.
I realized I need to come to terms with my experience in academia and put it to bed so that I can continue to write about higher ed and the alt-ac reality. But this is easier said than done.
I’ve agonized over what to write in this post. Truth be told, I’ve been overwhelmed by the many spinning plates I’ve eagerly taken on in the past few months.
And then, after my 5th or 6th in-person or email conversation with fellow alt-acs about the process of professionalizing ourselves, converting not just our CV into a resumé but also translating our hard-earned academic language skills into business language skills. It’s like the work of translation, you can’t just look up the word in the dictionary and call it translation. You have to immerse yourself.
It’s really about immersing yourself in that world and learning their language. Like academic language, it’s full of jargon, and usually that jargon is obscuring some vague and unsubstantiated points. Learning how to decipher that and write transparent and directly ensures that not only you succeed, but that your clients or company also succeeds. Why? Because then we rise above the muck of badly executed business plans and unclear business writing.
For me, this has involved a lot of ‘market research’ and analysis of current trends in business writing, identifying gaps, translating my obsessive research strategy from academia into this realm, and continuing to hone my writing.
And through this, here’s what I’ve realized about what goddamn assets alt-acs and academics are to the rest of the world. And, further, if we insist on int, we will be respected for it.
Also, it’s important to remember that we’re coming from the Land of No Boundaries, Ever. This means we open ourselves up to becoming the workhorse of the workplace in the real world. We work tirelessly, need little supervision, and have been trained, over and over, to never. say. no. Oh, and to never value ourselves because we are replaceable. But we are, in fact, quite the opposite in the business world.
But, in the real world, paradoxically, saying ‘no’ and establishing boundaries makes our co-workers and superiors respect us more. Like I said, we just have to study and then implement what we learn from our obsessive research skills that, when applied beyond the academe, makes us unstoppable. You just have to be willing to sweat for it. Like with all good things— you gotta earn it.
In the business world, PhDs (especially PhDs) have the reputation of being hopelessly navel-gazing despite being intelligent. And there’s a reason for that. And yes, it sucks, but we have to work harder to overcome that stereotype. But, shit, we wrote dissertations that took years and years with little to no reward. Hard work doesn’t scare us, it’s the only way of being in the world that we know.
Why PhDs and Alt-Academics are the
Ultimate Asset in the Work Force:
For starters, we’re obsessive. We know how to research, and what type of research is trust worthy. Then we know how to process dense and large amounts of information and translate it in real-speak from our experience teaching.
It sucks that we have to sell ourselves to the real world, it takes a lot of extra work to put into concise and conversational terms why we are a goddamn expert and the ultimate asset to any strategy-driven industry.
That’s because it’s hard to pin-point why critical thinking skills and analysis are important to a world that believes they are doing just that, but are in fact, usually doing something far from it (for instance, I present you with the over-used lexicon of business jargon: disruptor, innovator, synergy, agile, eye-roll).
I’m intellectually satisfied, and once I get my business up and running, I can return to a huge passion project I’m writing (and hopefully you all will be reading in 1-2 years) and I’ll balance out business writing with creative writing, which is paramount to me.
This is the advantage of freelancing, and I’m up for the hustle.
Right now, I’m working on content for women-run businesses, start-ups with a social mission, consultancies specializing in global supply chains, and medical startups designing for muscular dystrophy in the workspace. It’s a thrilling range, and lets me learn more and more about what I am best at and what I like best about business writing.
So, I guess, stay tuned. And, don’t worry, my blistering critique of higher education will continue, as will my desire to help anyone who contacts me in the best way that I can.
Let’s figure out how to fund our revolution. Stay strong fellow alt-ac’s and academics of the resistance, our day has not yet come.
If this post was helpful to you, please let me know, and, you know, sharing it with friends on twitter or IRL is always, always appreciated.
Also, if you want more posts like this, let me know by contacting me. I’ve got plenty more where this came from, it’s just about being strategic about it.
And, if you haven’t already, subscribe to my monthly newsletter with blog updates and a reading list of articles and important scholarly essays that are informing how I think about business, writing, and of course, higher education and its much needed reform.
Also, I’m actually putting effort into my post-alert emails, in fact, I’m even being so bold as to call it a Newsletter, which goes out at the beginning of the month. In it I put links and documents to what I’m reading for both the alt-ac hustle and articles that explain, in no uncertain terms, the sh*t show academia is becoming.
Here’s an excerpt from this month’s newsletter to entice you to subscribe and join the conversation!
What I’m reading:
This article that addresses the pros and cons of leaving your freelance/solopreneur business for an employee position. While I have no intentions of doing so, my original intention when I began freelancing was to build up a portfolio to go in-house somewhere, so I suspect this might be a motive for my fellow alt-acs.
How to write a professional bio (*groan* it’s really more like an abstract of why you are qualified for whatever job you’re looking for). It’s tedious, but important.
Also, Get In Formation alt-acs, if you are freelancing or thinking about it, or just in general, this article by Dorie Clark gives a great example of why it’s important to plan your professional development for the year. Dorie Clark is also a great resource of all things networking, which seems to many alt-acs and academics Achilles’ heel.
And this article about thriving in the gig economy. I love working for myself, and carving out time to keep up my other writing habits, so I’m determined to make it work. Hence, all the research.
For Higher Ed: (usually this reading list is far more populated)
Of course, Avital Rondell’s fall from feminist glory, who is living proof that it is essentialist (ie bad and reductive) to think that feminists cannot also employ and benefit from structural inequality, entitlement, and other rich-white-man behavioral stereotypes.
*Special thanks to the follower who wishes to remain anonymous (because ain't no backlash like academic backlash for being a whistleblower) for being the first conversation I got to have about Avital Ronell.
And, because I need a break from the doom and gloom, what better way to talk about structural racism and inequality than through a novel about vampires?? I’m continuing my Octavia Butler kick and devouring The Fledgling like I’m a vampire in need of fresh blood.