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Episode 5 with A Zhu, working in higher ed as student, teacher, and administrator

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Episode 5 with A Zhu, working in higher ed as student, teacher, and administrator Off Campus: Humanities Scholars In Alt-Ac Careers

In this episode, I interview A Zhu about her transition from graduate school in communications to working as an administrator in higher ed. We share our experiences with heavy workload, vague expectations, blurry work-life lines, lack of positive reinforcement, the feeling of inefficacy… and the false belief that we are in it alone.


You can contact A Zhu at law.history.2010@gmail.com if you’d like to have an informational interview with her.


Transcript

A Zhu: [00:00:00] At four when I finished my working the afternoon, I no longer have to think about it. When I was a graduate student, there was no end. Like every hour, every minute. The paper, the research was on your mind. It was really, really exhausting. But now I’m just glad that I have this clear division of my work and my life. But back then, I surely didn’t have a life.

Kino: [00:00:25] You’re listening to Off Campus, a podcast about humanity scholars in our tech careers. I am your host, Dr. Kino Zhao. This is episode five, where I interview A Zhu about her transition from graduate school in communications to working as administrator in higher ed.

Introduction

Kino: [00:00:46] A Zhu pursue a graduate degree in communications. She later decided to leave the program for a changing career. Currently, she works as a program manager for a master’s program at a public university. Welcome to the podcast.

A Zhu: [00:01:00] Thank you for having me.

Higher Ed as “Natural Choice” for Smart Students

Kino: [00:01:02] You pursued graduate education in communications. What made you decide to go to graduate school in the first place?

A Zhu: [00:01:08] That’s a very good question. So back in 2013, actually, I started graduate school in the US, but actually before that I already had graduate school experience in China. Back then, going to graduate school almost was a no brainer for me because it was like it was the thing a top student did back then. So I was kind of a top student when I was an undergrad in China. I was an English major, and back then one of the things I really wanted to do was to get graduate education in the US, mainly because I was exposed to the language and also exposed to a lot of cultural aspects of these English speaking countries. When I was reading all these things and watching popular TV shows and that, so that was one thing I really wanted to do. And actually upon graduation in undergrad, I actually was admitted to a graduate school in the US in 2007, but it was so expensive and it was not funded. So I chose not to come to the US but instead took the I was admitted actually without taking the exam. It was like, I don’t know how to describe that in English.

Kino: [00:02:21] Specialized admission?

A Zhu: [00:02:23] Kind of a fellowship, scholarship, whatever. You don’t need to take the exam. You are the top student. You just naturally went to the graduate school. But despite of the years in China, in graduate school and also I even got a job which was considered really good in China, I was actually a lecturer in a public university in China. I taught for three years, but the dream of coming to the US still didn’t die. I was still trying very hard to apply every year and also found a major that I was really fit for. So after constant trying I was admitted again to another graduate program in the US in 2013. So I came over finally and yeah, that was the path through graduate school to the US, that was how everything started. So I started over in the master’s program again in the US and then after that I think I just, I didn’t really think much about, well, is this really for me? So I just went directly to apply for PhD programs without even thinking about, Oh, I could have got a job or think about other career options. It wasn’t until later when things got so messy and difficult that I really started to think, Oh, was this really for me?

Kino: [00:03:44] Yeah, I totally relate. For me, it’s kind of similar. My grades were good, I didn’t hate school, so I guess I would do more school. There was a sense in which it was a waste not to keep doing school, right? Because I was good at it, I guess. And then it wasn’t later I was like, Wait, but you know, just because I was good at it doesn’t mean I need to do it right.

A Zhu: [00:04:05] And also, just because you are good at it doesn’t necessarily mean that you really like it.

Kino: [00:04:10] Yeah, exactly. So was your earlier degree also in communications or did you have a change in China?

A Zhu: [00:04:16] My degree were… Both of my degrees, the undergrad and grad, were in language, like English language and literature, and that. And the graduate degree is here. They were both in communication studies.

Kino: [00:04:29] Right. Can you tell me a little bit about the kind of research you did?

A Zhu: [00:04:32] Communication is a very broad field in different schools because of different institutional history. Communication might be encompassing different things. In some schools, there’s media studies and film studies and rhetoric and communication science like health communication, something like that, all combined together. Basically, it’s a hodgepodge of things. The subfield I was in was called rhetoric. It was a field with a very long history, actually. It’s a subject matter that started the discipline in history. Always said that it started some like several thousand years ago in Greece because of the democracy and the civic whatever, and people gather to discuss democratic matter. So they talk about things that were people giving speeches, doing public address. So basically back then, in the traditional sense, rhetoric was mainly about public address and persuasion. So basically persuading people to do some things, mostly for political purposes. But in the contemporary era, rhetoric has been so broad that it basically studies everything that has meaning. So. I would say every kind of discourse is something that rhetoric can look at through what we call the rhetorical lens. So we use different theoretical frameworks to analyze discourses and analyze the meaning behind it, and also sometimes to critique a certain kind of discourse.

A Zhu: [00:06:04] For example, the research I did was, specifically the topical matter that I studied was the discourse around population. Historically, there were trends in social movements where there were people saying, Well, there are always some kind of problems about the population. Either there are too many people or there are too few people for different reasons. Sometimes they would say, Well, there are too many people because the resources are scarce. We should have certain kind of movement to curb the fertility rate. And sometimes they would say, Well, we don’t have enough young people because there are too many older people. The population structure is not right. Among all the discourses that talk about these demographic problems, what are the ideologies behind it? Why does population become a problem in the first place? One of the research questions I really asked to look at the discourse and really go deeper behind things and understand why would population be a problem? Is it because of environmentalism? Is it because of the economic structure and why? So that was what I was doing back then. That was actually the topic, my dissertation, which I didn’t finish.

Kino: [00:07:21] So that’s fascinating because I have been recently reading up on some of these where people one one group will say there are too many people or the other group were say too few. And then you kind of think, what is there a target that you’re hitting and how many is exactly right.

Grad School Struggles

Kino: [00:07:37] I also want to ask you about other aspects of of your graduate school experience. Did you teach as part of the graduate school? Did you enjoy teaching? What are some of the other aspects that, whether you like or not, about graduate school?

A Zhu: [00:07:50] My graduate experience, the first two years when I was in a master’s program, luckily I was funded, very surprisingly, because they don’t normally fund graduate students, international grad student in a humanities program. But luckily I got that. So mostly I was just taking classes. During my PhD time, I was taking… Each semester, we were supposed to take three seminar courses and teach 50%, which is like 20 hours of teaching related tasks, and then research, then classes, and then all those research papers that are assigned in the classes and the endless reading assignments and reading reports that you have to write weekly. So my experience overall, I would say, was not very pleasant, mainly because the workload was always too heavy for me. I never managed to finish everything. I was constantly, most of my time I was either trying to finish the reading or finish the grading or preparing for the teaching or the rest of the time. When I do have some spare time, I was just worried about whether I understood what I read, whether I wrote in my reading report, actually made sense, whether I was really built for this, because why was I worrying all the time and not trusting myself for actually doing this? So I was consumed by a lot of anxiety because of all the things that I didn’t seem to be managing really well.

A Zhu: [00:09:19] And when I was looking around like everybody, everybody else seemed so put together. They said smart things in the classes. They don’t seem to be having these struggles at all. I was wondering was was it just me? Like when I first started, I thought it was just me. But it wasn’t until quite later that I realized everybody was like that. But back then, really, the the experience was just like so much work. It’s like an endless work. So back to your question, whether I enjoyed teaching, I would say compared to doing research and writing research papers, I preferred teaching better because it was just a little bit more natural to me because I already had that experience when I was in China. I had a lot of teaching experience. I seem to manage teaching at least really well. I was good at the admin work related to teaching, so it seemed like something I could at least comfortably handle, but not research. I was constantly struggling. Writing research papers was so painful for me. And yeah, that was basically very painful. Writing research papers, okay, doing teaching. But also at the end of the entire graduate school experience, I was so burned out that I didn’t even feel that I enjoyed teaching anymore.

Kino: [00:10:42] Right? Yeah. The workload thing. I was going to say empathize, but I don’t because I feel like, I’m from philosophy, and philosophy is on the lighter workload of the humanities, because sometimes I talk to people in the more, I guess, more humanities side like literature, communications, history, and they just casually read a book a week. And I was like, how how do you, how does one do that? But they do it every week. And then people who seem to be successful or it didn’t seem to be as big of a toll on them, would say, Oh, you read in a special way, or you read, you know, you skim, but you’re rarely taught how to do that. You’re just supposed to know.

A Zhu: [00:11:25] The skimming thing. Everybody told me you should just skim, but I never know how to skim. I always try to read everything.

Kino: [00:11:32] And also I do emphasize the like. Everybody else seems to be managing fine except me, but then usually not until it stop mattering. That you realize that it wasn’t the case that everybody was managing fine for me in my first year, I struggled so hard and I thought about quitting. Like I seriously thought about quitting and I thought everybody was so successful. I was the only one struggling. I ended up not quitting. But then a couple of years later, I chatted with friends. I was like, you know, a little bit ashamed of myself. You know, I’ll tell you a secret. I thought about quitting, and two more friends are like, So did I. And they were like, Because you seem so accomplished and not struggling, I didn’t want to tell you this because I was really struggling. I was like, I thought you were so. Yeah, this is. Yeah, it’s something that happens a lot, I think, in graduate school.

A Zhu: [00:12:25] Yeah, I would totally agree. I think people like there was the expectation that the graduate students should always perform well. And I think under that unwritten kind of rule or unwritten or invisible expectation from the faculty member and we all kind of struggle like alone, we didn’t really gather and chat about our problems. Yeah. Later we, we did do some of that and realize, oh, everybody was just struggling and everybody probably also thought about quitting. And the first year in my PhD program, the end of first semester, one student from my cohort, she just left. She was the early quitters. I wish I could do that too, but she was an American. She didn’t have like immigration issues. But I had all these, like, complications if I quit immigration wise.

A Zhu: [00:13:16] Back to, even though you didn’t ask me this question, but I would like to add something more on top to explain why the workload was so heavy. You know, each university has the policy about how many courses of graduate students should take the credit hour requirement. And in our department, the requirement is never clearly stated to the graduate students. I feel there is this gap between the university policy and the faculty members expectations. For example, policy wise, graduate students could just take two seminar courses and then have teaching and that’s fine and meets the graduate school requirements. But the individual graduate student in my department for some reason was always advised to take three courses, three seminar courses. That’s actually a lot if you combine teaching later, we found that other grad students in other departments similarly, like another field in humanities, they didn’t have to do three courses. They were totally fine. There are professors who are fine with them taking two courses and they graduate without any kind of delay. So it was never clear to me why, as an unwritten rule, that we’re supposed to take three courses, which was such a heavy burden to an extent that was wasn’t productive anymore because it just broke everybody’s back. It was just too heavy.

Kino: [00:14:45] Yeah, that also touches on, we had a similar thing. It’s not about workload, but faculty members would give these advice year after year, and most people would find that super stressful for one reason or another. And it would only work for like the two people out of like a cohort of eight. And then later on, it wasn’t until like I was a senior student where I chatted with this faculty member. I was like, You know, that advice that you gave that I took as the Holy Bible was the main cause of my stress, and I almost quit because of it. And then the faculty member was like, Oh, I didn’t know this because I thought it was a great idea. It sounded like a great idea. I chatted with so-and-so who said it was a great idea, and so that’s why I’ve been giving. So they have since stopped giving that advice. I guess it comes hand in hand with students hiding their struggles, that there’s a lack of feedback to faculty member about what advice is actually helpful.

Transitioning into Alt-Ac

Kino: [00:15:41] I like to then ask you a little bit about your transition away from academia, or I guess you’re currently still work in a university setting. So it’s kind of like a para-ac. Some people say that. You’ve taught at a university for three years before you started your graduate school in the US. So you have had a little bit of an experience of what it would be like to continue. When did you first, and what prompted you to, start thinking about doing something completely different?

A Zhu: [00:16:10] Ok, so I think upon this, the end of the first semester when when one of the grad students from my cohort left, I also thought about, should I leave? But I still stayed, even despite of the other multiple dramas that happened in my in my family, which which brought a lot of pressure to my life in graduate school, I still persisted till I would say, till I passed by prelim and became a PhD candidate. And after I had that one last push, actually it’s like one last push I did for graduate school becoming the PhD candidate at year three. I think the one year afterward I was supposed to write my dissertation and finish. I did some research for that. I did go to the archives and did archive some archival research to gather materials, but in the process my motivation was just constantly dropping, like dropping almost to zero, and there wasn’t much progress made at all to my dissertation. I was like, I couldn’t drag this on forever. It’s like I made no progress and I wasn’t willing to write it at all. Every time I sat at the table to write the dissertation, it was just so painful to me. And also another like Giant Life event happened the two years after the candidacy was that I had a child. I became a mom. So my priority also changed in life. At this point, I seriously started to think about, Well, if academia is not for me, what else can I do? What job is out there for my training?

A Zhu: [00:17:52] Then I thought hard, well, you know, the the apple doesn’t fall far away from the tree. So I think well, I’ve been in the higher ed for so many years, the entirety of my adulthood, I’m in the higher ed either as a student or as an instructor. Some kind of role in higher ed? Definitely not as a professor, but there should be something that I could do in higher ed. This was the point. I started to think, okay, then I should start to look at the job descriptions in higher ed and what kind of roles and positions there are, and whether I’m a good fit for that. So I started to do these searches at the same time. I also actively reached out to people who are like me, who were either former PhD student who decided to leave and but still stay in higher ed and do the academic staff job or some other people who don’t have the PhD experience but end up in higher ed anyways. So I had a lot of informational interview with them. I had about 40, I would say, talking to different people, getting a feel of what higher ed is like, and also ask them to connect me with more people, you know, networking. That was the first time I really started to actually put in effort to get a different kind of job. And then I tried different route. There’s academic advising, there’s also program manager, so there are multiple different roles in higher ed. Academic staff is a large group of people. They do so many different things.

A Zhu: [00:19:27] And I found this current position that was a mixture of academic advising, combining with admissions, combining with event planning and some admin stuff. So that’s how I got on to the current path. It took me quite a while to actually land the job, mainly because I, I was not a very action oriented person. I tend to think forever without taking much action. So it took me almost a year to actually land the current job. I, I think I sent about 30 something resumes to different, 30 different positions or something. And also it was COVID time still. So it was, was not easy to get a job. So I got a lot of rejections and also I was frustrated a lot. I also actually had the option of another air, quote, career that is being a full time mom. But that was something I didn’t want to do. So I’m quite privileged because I still had a choice to choose to be a full time mom, but I chose not to be. And then I got this job. I got this job towards the end of when COVID regulations started to be loosened up a little bit. And then earlier there was the hiring freeze almost at every place and. Eventually all the universities and the campuses, they started to open up. And that was when I got the interview and landed the job. It was in August 2021, which was the last year, a month before the new semester started that I had interview and then got a job.

Kino: [00:21:03] One thing I wanted to also highlight, one thing you said earlier is about being able not falling far from the tree. Just the fact that we have spent so long in academia in one way, especially graduate students also teach, even if it’s just a TA, they teach in a university setting. So that really, I think, teaches us a lot about how the university works. Yeah. And that could be, I imagine, valuable in trying to help it work.

A Zhu: [00:21:31] Yeah. I think my unique experience as an international student going through the higher ed system in the US really helped to boost my resume because the current position that I’m in mainly work with international students who come here for graduate school, and it would be helpful that the program manager actually knows what it is like to be in the graduate school in the US and what kind of problems or issues the graduate students would run into. So I think there are specifically looking for some people like me who understand international students.

Working as an Administrator

Kino: [00:22:08] So we as people who have gone through graduate school, have probably interacted with a number of different administrators throughout our career, both within our department and maybe sometimes the school at large. But we often don’t see the full picture of what the work is like. Can you describe to me some of the typical tasks that you need to do as a program manager?

A Zhu: [00:22:30] I would say the number one thing any academic staff do, especially those people who are in the advising role, is to keep track of things. So my number one duty is to make sure that the students make satisfactory progress towards their degree, which means that I advise them to pick the right kind of courses that are required in their curriculum, making sure that their grades are okay because they’re requirements for their grades and also making sure that they know where the campus resources are when they need them. For example, they may need help for writing. I would channel the right resources to them. So that’s part of my job. That is academic advising, making sure students complete their degree smoothly. And if any problem pops up in the process, I’m the contact person to solve the problem. And another part of my job is admissions. So I’m not specifically on the admission committee.

A Zhu: [00:23:33] My job doesn’t give me a lot of agencies to make big, important decisions. I mostly execute policies that are ready made, which are not policies actually made by me. So in terms of admissions, I don’t make decisions about which student to admit, but I do the first round of material screenings making sure that the student’s materials are all there. They meet minimum requirement and then compile all this data together to present it to the decision makers who are all faculty members. They make decisions and then I just do all this material preparation and that execute their decisions. One other part of my job is to plan event for students. For example, they would plan social events for them to hand out and communicate with each other or with the faculty member, sometimes with people from the industry, so that they get to do their networking a little bit. But mostly my job is on the academic side. I don’t do a lot of career service to them. We have another person who is in charge of their career related stuff preparing them to be job ready. I’m more like in that regard, I’m more like a liaison. I communicate with our career person and she will let me know what the students are doing, where, what other things I need to help her to do.

A Typical Work Day

Kino: [00:25:03] Can you describe to me what a typical workday is like for you.

A Zhu: [00:25:07] My day compared to my graduate school days is much easier, I would say. So my typical day would be I go to the office. It’s a very routine, kind of 9 to 5 job. Mine is more like 8 to 4. So I go to the office, I check my emails, I usually check emails throughout the day, but mostly I have first hour and also the last hour of the day to check emails. I have large chunks of time to do that, respond to emails. What? Responding to emails seem very easy, but it’s not sometimes reply emails could. Very time consuming. Mainly because many times the kind of emails I get are mostly inquiries about policy. And for that matter, I need to make sure that I understand the policy correctly. I need to make sure that I’m not passing around the wrong information. Because of that, I need to compile the right information, but at the same time also communicate the policy and the information in a way that is not misleading. You really need to watch the kind of language you’re using in the email and there are requirements. Actually, my supervisor would tell me, well, you’re still new here. Before you send the email, let me go over the email to make sure everything looks okay. So even though sending emails sounds really easy, but actually it requires all this very detailed kind of preparation for it. So sending emails, that’s throughout the day.

A Zhu: [00:26:38] I also create a newsletter like at the beginning of the week, I create a newsletter. It’s basically like an information bulletin for the students. It’s a newsletter that is sent out weekly about academic information and also information such as workshops and resources, events, everything that’s relevant to them. So I put them together in the newsletter and send it out to them occasionally. Like I said earlier, there’s also event planning. So sometimes I need to contact everybody to check their availability and when they will be available and check my students calendar to see what is a good time to plan things for them and who should be invited. And then I need to contact the catering persons to make sure the food is there. So these are sort of, I would say, medium term planning. And then the more short term thing is like answering emails because you need to do that right away within 24 hours.

A Zhu: [00:27:39] Another thing that more like a medium term planning is admissions. I do a lot of admissions stuff, mainly answering emails as prospective students and ask a lot of questions. So you need to answer their emails. And during the admissions season, my typical day would be very busy because I will be screening the materials all the time, all day during admissions season. I also help the professors to upload their recommendation letters. Nowadays, professors rarely. I think at least in my department, they don’t upload these things themselves because it’s very time consuming. They have to do multiple scores, so usually an admin person help them. I sometimes do that too. So my typical day is a lot of small things adding together. It’s like small tasks, small tasks, small tasks. It’s filled with all these seemingly small and detailed things. I also see them as really important because they if you need to run a machine, all these nuts and bolts need to be right for the machines to be running. I think I’m kind of the person who takes care of these small things to make sure that everything runs well.

Kino: [00:28:52] Right, right. In my department. Also, we have the administrator to upload letters for us. Very often, that’s Godsend, because it would take weeks to get the professors to get the letter. But the administrative person, the one that at least that was helping me, was very responsive and get things in on time. And I was like, I wouldn’t be able to apply for jobs without the administrative person.

Working Differently in Service Roles

A Zhu: [00:29:15] Yeah, the administrative person, usually they… At this role I work differently. When I was a grad student, procrastination was a big issue of mine on the current position. I think because of the nature of the job, I rarely procrastinate. Every day I would have time to deal with the urgent tasks, but also have time to break down the not so urgent task into smaller pieces and do them each day. I think it’s also because that those not so urgent but bigger project, even though they are bigger but they don’t seem ginormous like like a research project or a dissertation, even though I mean back then I could have done that, use the same approach to my dissertation breaking down and do a little bit. But yeah, I didn’t do that anyhow. All my point is right now I don’t have procrastination issues anymore because I just finish the tasks as they come and add for when I finish my working the afternoon. I no longer have to think about it. When I was a graduate student, there was no end. Like every hour, every minute the paper, the research was on your mind. It was really, really exhausting. But now I’m just glad that I have this clear division of my work and my life. But back then, I surely didn’t have a life.

Kino: [00:30:38] One thing that you said that I also echoed, and I think you put it in words that I wasn’t able to. I do a lot of service in my capacity as, when I was in graduate school and also still now. And I enjoy service a lot. And by service I mean things like organizing a conference, organizing some sort of events. They energize me in a way that I never quite understood why. But I think what you said was exactly why. It’s there usually is a clear progress bar. There’s usually a sense of accomplishment multiple times throughout the process is usually an interaction with other people who tend to be thankful. Not everybody’s thankful, but many people are. That is helpful. Usually I will do a little bit of something and then someone else will do something before I can continue. And so there’s this back and forth that helps give a definitive stop to my current task.

A Zhu: [00:31:33] Yeah, I think I have some other points to add on to what you’re saying. I think it’s because the service kind of job, we get immediate feedback. For example, we help a student to resolve an issue immediately. The issue is resolved and the student feels happy and I’m happy that I got to help the student at the same time also because well, yeah, these things are resolvable, I feel. And also it’s not like a long term grand noble goal that I’m trying to achieve. But in graduate school, because of the nature of my field, many of the things seemed very noble. I would say the cause is the kind of work my colleagues were diving themselves into. They were very noble work, but at the same time it’s so huge and the feedback does not come like the positive feedback doesn’t come in short term your entire life. You’re waiting for that positive feedback.

A Zhu: [00:32:33] Let me put it down into more specific details. So the kind of work my colleagues do, the kind of things they really care about is social justice. So we talk a lot about civic participation, social movement, fighting for justice. And we even in our research, we critique a lot about the kind of political discourse around social issues and causes. And those are very noble causes, I would say. But at the same time, for politics, for a certain social issue to be changed, it takes generations. And you your effort in the grand scheme of things, it’s just one tiny drop of water in the ocean or in the current that would actually push things for a positive change. Sometimes some people would be energized, thinking about being the drop of water, pushing things forward. But sometimes people like me, I would feel this kind of nihilism. It’s like, What is the point? I did this every day. I wrote this paper, but things didn’t change. It was just like it was even getting worse because I came when Obama was the president, but then things went down and Trump became the president. All these things we were discussing in the classroom writing papers to what end? So sometimes I would question that it was like very frustrating actually.

Kino: [00:33:55] Yeah, that’s interesting because I do think there was a current of academic activism, as it were, but academics who have never been interested in doing action oriented activism, who were motivated by the Trump presidency, probably motivated by something similar to what you just described.

Thinking Differently

Kino: [00:34:14] So we talked about the different tasks that you do as an administrator. I started, like a lot of it, was communication with various different people within the department. Having graduate level training definitely is helpful, but also having been a member of a department in a different capacity helped with that. Do you think there are other kinds of tasks that your graduate training helped you prepare?

A Zhu: [00:34:38] I would say my graduate school training was mainly being critical of things because our job was to be critics of things, of institutions. We critique things so that things get better, but that training wouldn’t manifest much in my current job because my role right now is not to critique or make things better, but to get things done. These tasks they need to be done and I need to do them. So I wouldn’t say particularly those training would be helpful. Actually, it would be counterproductive if I turn my critical lens on because I would critique the very creation of the program I am in, because I would say such programs are a product of neoliberalism because federal funding is cut for public universities and each department is left to their own to generate their own revenue to make their school survive. If I’m on that kind of critical lens, the. Training I got from graduate school. I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing right now. I particularly have to shut those down just to get things done right now. But at the same time, deep down, sometimes after work, when I think about things, I also would think about, Oh, see how everything that we were critiquing in the classroom back when I was a student, they were actually in motion under my eyes right now. And I’m part of it. So, how ironic that was.

Kino: [00:36:17] How do you learn to turn that part off?

A Zhu: [00:36:20] At a certain point, I have reconsidered it with the fact that I need a job that pays the bill. It’s truly just mainly pragmatism. I need to be practical. I need to pay my bills. I need to get a job. I also, because I’m already in this kind of neoliberal system, I wouldn’t say I am actively battling against it. But at the same time, also, I’m I’m trying to I’m trying to do things in a way that make me feel slightly better. For example, I would say, well, yeah, these students that are here because, you know, it’s a result of the US government cutting federal funding to public education and universities. And if you put it in a way the students are in a way cash cows because the universities need them, but at the same time as the person doing them, the service, I also think they are here ultimately also searching a better opportunity for the education. And then I as the person who is doing them service, I should do my best to give them the best service that would match up to at least the kind of tuition rates they pay. So yeah, I wouldn’t say, well, these are just rich kids. They can have whatever, they have everything, whatever. But I also see myself as, yeah, they’re here for an education. They paid a lot of efforts financially, mentally, whatever. However you put it, I need to do the best of my job just to make sure they can get their money’s worth. Let’s put it in a very kind of capitalistic way.

General Advice on Alt-Ac

Kino: [00:38:06] Thank you for all that insight. Suppose a listener finds what you just described to be very interesting, but it’s the first time. I mean, it shouldn’t be their first time knowing that this job exists because they are presumably graduate students, but they don’t know how to enter. You mentioned before that you conducted a lot of information or interviews before deciding how to you advise them to proceed, maybe how to go about finding information, interviews or the other tips that you would give them.

A Zhu: [00:38:35] Well, if any of the listeners are interested and wanted to do an informational interview with me, I would be happy to do that. And you can just ask them to send me an email, the email address that you have. If they’ve ever been in a university setting, it would be very easy for them to have direct contact with academic staff. And one thing they shouldn’t be shy about is to ask them for help. Actually, academic staff because of their personality and also the nature of their job. They’re they’re very willing to help people. If you ask them to for a short information or interview, usually they will say yes.

Kino: [00:39:13] Do you have any last advice for graduate students who are thinking about leaving academia?

A Zhu: [00:39:18] Yeah, I would say don’t dwell too much on the fact that you didn’t finish, but look forward and see all the other possibilities that are opened up because you have chosen differently because the past is already done and cannot be undone. It’s no use wasting more time on regretting, on not finishing or even spending time on it. It’s more productive just to spend time looking forward and moving on and then start something anew.

Kino: [00:39:51] That was very wise and I’m sure it’d be helpful to many people listening. Oh, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.

A Zhu: [00:39:59] Sure, no problem.

Kino: [00:40:06] Thank you for listening to the fifth episode with A Zhu. I have been your host Kino. You can find me on Twitter at OffCampusPhds or email me at offcampuspod@gmail.com. I’m always looking for suggestions of guests to invite questions to ask and hope to explore. I’ll see you next time.

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