The Staying Alive Project began in the spring of 2006 with a series of extended conversations about the promises and perils of academic life. Our conversations led to a workshop for academic professionals at the Biennial Conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment in Spartanburg, South Carolina, in the summer of 2007, and in Victoria, British Columbia, in the summer of 2009. John and Mark continue their conversations about the challenges of academic life with colleagues at colleges and universities across the country.
Like other learned professions, academia offers a model career path that holds out the promise of a fulfilling life. This organizing fiction begins with graduate school and proceeds through temporary and tenure-track jobs to the watershed of the tenure review, and thence to tenure, promotion, and retirement with honors. While many careers do indeed unfold along this path, many others diverge to a greater or lesser degree. But at every point along the way, one’s experience reflects the interplay of three fundamental factors: the person, the profession, and the institution. And much quiet desperation arises from ignorance of their nature and influence. We are interested in a conversation about these factors and how they operate across the phases of an academic career.
Drawing inspiration from Eric Erickson’s life stages, we define three major phases of academic life across three dimensions of experience. Each of these phases—graduate school, junior faculty, and senior faculty—offers payoffs that are also challenges or costs. At each stage, people experience seduction followed by betrayal-or, in more benign circumstances, disillusionment. Our vision is to cultivate a life practice for academic people guided by the virtues of centeredness, wholeness, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, imagination and collaboration.