Julia Flanders, “Time, Labor, and ‘Alternate Careers’ in Digital Humanities Knowledge Work”

My first job in the academy, as for so many people, was as a graduate teaching fellow. … My pre-tax income for the academic year was $12,500, and my formal work responsibilities were to prepare and teach two undergraduate writing courses of my own design. The time commitment for my teaching responsibilities was assumed to be approximately twenty hours per week. In addition, it was assumed that I would undertake my own research and make progress toward my PhD.

A few points are worth noting here: first, that the research I conducted as a student (preparing for professional advancement through field exams, writing conference papers, and participating in the intellectual life of the department by attending public lectures and university seminars) was not considered work, or at least not compensable work. In my first year, like all graduate students at Brown with financial aid, I received a fellowship that provided me with a living stipend and a tuition waiver, but even in that case my research would not have been characterized as work I was doing for the university. Students are positioned as net gainers from, rather than contributors to, the reservoir of knowledge the university contains, and the fellowship stipends they receive are characterized as ‘aid’ rather than as compensation. And second, although the compensation for the formal ‘work’ portion of my activities was reasonable (formally, about twenty-five dollars per hour for twenty-six weeks’ work at twenty hours per week), as an annual income it was quite modest, and yet it would have seemed remarkable and inappropriate to hold any additional job. In other words, while formally compensating me for only part of my time, the university implicitly laid claim to all of it. What is interesting about this point is not the question of whether that claim is legitimate but rather the effect it had on me: namely, the idea that I was accountable for all my time to the PhD program I was in, not just for my paid duties or even for a standard forty-hour work week, but potentially all the hours not devoted to sleeping and eating. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this erosion of a boundary between the professional and personal space is a familiar and very common effect of graduate study, and (even more anecdotally) I would observe that the people who typically enter a graduate program are likely to have the kind of personality that lends itself to this erosion: highly motivated with a strong sense of duty and an established habit of hard work and deferral of personal pleasure (or an ability to experience hard work as pleasure). In my own case, lacking any common sense about how to set practical boundaries on the work to be accomplished, I tended to feel that the research work required of me was effectively limitless: that no amount of effort could be sufficient to really complete it and that therefore no time could legitimately be spent on anything else.

Julia Flanders, “Time, Labor, and ‘Alternate Careers’ in Digital Humanities Knowledge Work”

Published by Catherine Addington

I am a translator from Spanish to English and a writer on saints, myths, and icons in both religious and secular contexts.

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