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I have been teaching a humanities course at a higher education institution for about more than three years now. I am expected to get full tenure this year. Perhaps it is the only chair dedicated to my field in my country; it is certainly the only one in the subfield I teach. In other words, yes, I am the only professor who teaches that subject in the whole country, and the only professor totally dedicated to teaching and researching in the broader field of study. However, before I took the position, I was not specialized in the subfield I teach now. At the moment, my research and publications in field A are split between subfields A1 (in which I pursued research for my MA and PhD) and A2 (my new teaching position). To complicate things, I am in a multidisciplinary department in another field.

There is no available teaching position in my whole field (A) in the whole country in the foreseeable future (say, 10-15 years, unless a miracle happens). I could teach in related fields, and that is what I am doing (and plan to do in better conditions in the not-so-distant future).

The conditions under which I work might be described as both appalling and depressive. I know there are worse conditions in my country; and I know that I earn just as much as anyone else, but that is not the issue. The issue is having no perspective of future research; virtually no intellectual life; almost no contact with other faculty. There is only one room for more than 18 professors in the department; in it there are some 5 computers, 3 of which do not function. The library does not have the books I need for my basic, mandatory course -- in fact, it only has one textbook I use in class! I have to make do with articles and books from the Internet, when and if available. Grants and funding are virtually non-existent. I am in debt because of a conference in which a paper of mine was accepted. After that, I could not attend 3 international conferences because there was no funding.

So, in the end, my question is this: is there any way (attitudes, habits) to make academic life more bearable under these circumstances? Should I give up research and focus on teaching basic subjects, at the risk of fading into oblivion for not publishing?

A note: I cannot just "run away", because, as I said before, there is no way I can find a similar job anywhere. I have been trying to busy my mind with other part-time activities, so as not to worry or stress too much, but that also leaves the feeling that my "real" job is useless, or worse: a fake.

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Since you seem to have decided that you must accept the situation where you work, let me make some suggestions to make it less depressive. Some of these might not be good ones for you, so pick and choose those that appeal.

  • the room. One room for 18 people? They don't seriously expect you to use it. What can you use instead? Do you meet students there, or write conference papers, or prepare coursework? Can you do those things somewhere more pleasant? Your own living room, a coffee shop, a park bench, a table in the library, a classroom that's empty more often than not? Do you have to sit in a crowded place jammed with broken things, or can you go somewhere nicer and get more done?
  • no funding for conferences. Good for you managing to get a paper accepted and managing to get yourself there. That's probably one more conference than many of your peers. If there is someone who goes to more conferences than you, go and ask them how they do it. They will probably be happy to show you the tricks. In the same spirit, if you can get your own computer you won't care that the department can't provide decent ones.
  • intellectual connection. The people in the depressing room are half of your peer set - the other half is the A1 and A2 people around the world. Find them! Follow them on Twitter, read their blogs, download their conference sessions and papers, email them with questions about something they published. Use the internet to forge ties with these people - you aren't a moonstruck teenager, you're their peer and they will be happy to hear from you. Who knows, this activity might even lead you out of your current situation some day, but more importantly it will help you grow and solve a pain point for you.
  • the rest of your life. It's common to push everything else aside while chasing tenure. Do you have any hobbies or habits? Even just following a sports team? Try to ramp up that side of your existence, make some friends who don't work at the university, spend some time cooking or hiking or reading the latest celebrity gossip or watching that tv show everyone watches. Do some fun stuff, whatever fun is for you. Meet some people who can bring you joy.
  • find a way to be more connected to the university as a whole, not just your department. Join a club or team that has profs from all faculties, or even better has faculty, staff and students from all faculties. Attend (if appropriate) religious activities that happen on campus. Go to the "our university day at X" events. Help with fundraising or political activities that will let you meet people from all over the campus. You're going to be here a long time right? Get to know the place and the people and weave it into your life.
  • if the tenure you're expecting comes with a raise, start working out now what the consequences of that are. Will you be able to move to a nicer place? Get specific about looking for that place now. Imagine being able to have a lovely view, or a spare bedroom you can use as an office, or quieter, safer nights. The hard work you have put in will be bringing you benefits soon, start to think about those now.

Your department would be amazing if they handed you a bright sunny office, a delightful collection of peers who you enjoy talking to, plenty of important work, a steady stream of bright students, a fully-equipped working environment and a library that's the envy of everyone in your field. But very few places are really like that. So roll up your sleeves and get yourself what you need to excel, and fill your days with work and not-work that make you happy. Your department is never going to do that for you, but you can do it for yourself.

  • Kate, that's what I was looking for. Not that I haven't tried most of those things before, but the situation is so weird and unusual that sometimes I feel I'm living on another planet. – Joseph May 5 '14 at 16:26
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    I'd rather not bother you with more details, but just for the record: people here give you that awkward, sarcastic look if you ask them about funding for research and conferences, as if they were hiding a secret. Besides, there are no fund-raising, and no "political" (except communist/extreme-left events) or sports activities on campus, and no available table and chair at the library... anyway, I'd better roll up my sleeves, as you say. – Joseph May 5 '14 at 16:28
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This question is very specific to your circumstances so it is hard to respond with solid advice.

Your problem is not unique. By the time most faculty get tenure, they are extremely specialized in a single field or have huge sunk costs that make it very hard to move geographically or topically.

There is also the issue of post-tenure blues (or in your case, pre-post-tenure blues) which you should explore.

In any case, you should remember that your university is just one part of your intellectual and personal life. If you don't find your university stimulating, then you could be more active in your academic association's activities -- or be more active in your local community, etc.

Getting tenure is a perfect time to withdraw a little bit and discover new things. People generally expect the post-tenure blues so they won't be surprised to see less of you for a while.

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