Anonymous asked: How did you "gain access" to the academic world? How did you manage to publish your first paper/give your first lecture etc.?
Honestly: hard work, talent, and luck in that order. I am by no means ‘there’ either. I am between my masters and PhD, which I will start this fall, but the only way one actually ‘gains access’ is by obtaining an actual academic job. It is crucial to note, though, that the ‘academic world’ is a professional market separate from the life of the mind. Living an intellectual life does not require an academic job, in fact such jobs may actually preclude or inhibit many sorts of intellectual ventures.
Entering the academic profession is rather straight forward. BA, MA, PhD, Job or more rationally BA, PhD, Job. The problem is that there will always be more PhD’s than there are jobs, especially good jobs if one harbors research ambitions. If you love books and love to teach you will in all likelihood be more satisfied teaching at a posh private high school than a low end college. If one commits to the career academic track, though, it requires you, or at least it did me, to both work harder than I ever have and to emotionally divest myself from the process and realize that no degree or job could ever define me body, soul, and mind.
A PhD is about getting a job not finding yourself or giving yourself to a book/subject your really like- unless of course you are independently wealthy and have no need to recourse to employment to sustain the lifestyle you desire. I would say that the first step is to be honest with yourself about what you want out of life, what you are good at, and what path has the most rational likelihood of bringing you happiness. If there is a teacher/prof whose life you envy in a very wholesome sense, ask to have buy them coffee/drink/whatever and simply say: ‘I admire you, I want a career/life like you, how did you get here and what advice do you have for me?’ Then listen. They may not say what you want to here. But listen. You always win be being sincere, humble, and listening.
Then establish a plan, way points, goals, etc. INCLUDING, and this is crucial, the level of short term pain/sacrifice you are willing to tolerate to get what you want in the future. And know that what you think are short term sacrifices, esp. in the world of relationships, have long term consequences. Establish in your mind an absolute level of debt you are willing to accrue and do not exceed it. Debt will make you hate the very reason you acquired it in the first place. I left Oxford for the sole reason that it was no longer worth the money. For a time it was, but I reached the point where the expected outlays did not justify the expected returns and consequently I sacrificed the short term (3-4 years) of genuine fun and academic and personal pleasure I know for a fact to be found at Oxford for the chance at a career on both sides of the Atlantic. So the long answer to your question is that I don’t quite know how it happened that I gave my first paper, but I do clearly know the path I put myself on, which is the important part. If you put yourself on the path, work hard, are kind to people, demonstrate a level of talent- and the ability to knuckle down and just out work everyone else is a talent- and show you give a damn but, however, you are not defined by your degrees, good things will happen.
If you try to go into the field b/c you think it looks fun/it will validate you/people will look up to you/you will have an easy job/etc. it will break you. My life looks fun on tumblr precisely b/c I only blog the fun parts. All of the Oxford pix are on my way to and from work. What is not blogged is the day to day tedium and petty frustration and anxiety that comprises most of adult life regardless of job.
*sorry if this seems patronizing or pedantic. I mean it quite sincerely. As David Foster Wallece says, I wish you so much more than luck.