What did you hope for in terms of employment as you completed your PhD?
I started my PhD in 2006. In 2008 the economy collapsed, and the academic job market collapsed with it. I used to be a journalist—my first job out of college was for the New York Daily News—so I had been through this before when the media industry collapsed in the early 2000s.
When you continually board sinking ships, you stop having hope. In a collapsed economy, this is an advantage. The most unnerving thing I see in the job market nowadays—academic or otherwise—is people working in terrible conditions in the hope of a future that never comes. Hope is something you should have for other people, not for yourself. Hope holds you down and blinds you to possibilities.
As a PhD student, I had one goal—to do the best work I could on topics that I felt were important. In my case this was how the internet is used in authoritarian states—a subject that anthropologists thought was bizarre when I started my degree in 2006, but was of great interest to the public by the time I graduated in 2012. While in graduate school, I published widely. I wrote six peer-reviewed articles, including in two flagship journals in two disciplines (anthropology and communication). I became well-known as an expert in my field.
This made no difference when I went on the anthropology job market, which contrary to popular belief does not value prestigious or prodigious publication. But my publications, as well as interest in my research from people in a variety of fields—media and policy as well as academia—left me in a relatively good position when I graduated…