Advice

The Academic Zodiac

March 03, 2008

We all know that the most difficult part of academic life is the uncertainty. Depending on the field, the outcome of many years of study is often determined by the arbitrary whims of Fortuna more than by our own accomplishments or desires.

The wheel spins one way, and you are tenured at Yale. The wheel spins another way, and you are writhing on the ground, covered in boils, an adjunct at a branch campus of an underfunded state university.

Nevertheless, many ways exist to maximize your chances for success in the academic cosmos, or outside of it, if necessary.

For that reason, I humbly propose the abolition of the career-services office for advanced-degree-seekers and instead plead for the restoration of the long-lost science of astrology -- recognized as legitimate by most every newspaper -- to its rightful place in academe.

Instead of asking, "What was your undergraduate major?" the academic astrologer will ask the far more important question, "What is your sign?" Once that is known, the appropriate advanced-degree program can be selected with an accuracy that is quite competitive in relation to the results of the Myers-Briggs personality-trait assessment, the Strong Interests Inventory, or the latest labor-shortage prediction.

See for yourself whether your sun sign captures your academic identity and prophesies the fields in which you surely will meet with the greatest success:

Aries: (March 21-April 20) You have a strong sense of self; you are action-oriented. You probably talk a lot in class (even when people roll their eyes). You see life as a brutal game, a martial competition, and you have no time for the weak; it is your duty to crush them. You recognized yourself when you first read Nietzsche, and your favorite movie is 300. Some say you could learn to be tactful, but they are cowards, and "This . . . is . . . Sparta!" You need to make a lot of money and dominate others, taking pleasure in their pain, from which they will learn to be strong or die. You should consider graduate work in academic administration, exercise science, or military tactics. You might also find success in security services, professional wrestling, or gender studies.

Taurus: (April 21-May 21) You are an earthy person who enjoys sensual pleasures and hoarding material possessions, like books. You can be enraptured by the smell and grain of a fine leather sofa. You are not particularly intellectual -- you're a dumb ox, really -- and you find it hard to take academe seriously, except for its promise of long-term job security. You are most likely to be tenured: You are dependably mediocre, patient, and practical, though you hold grudges after being provoked. You can also be irrationally loyal, often placing friendship above professional interests. You like to be surrounded by open land, with acres of grass; your love of food can lead to weight problems. Consider animal husbandry, landscape architecture, museum studies, English, and library science. Alternate careers include shepherd, antiquarian book dealer, upholsterer, cobbler, higher-education columnist.

Gemini: (May 22-June 21) You are a free spirit who craves challenges: new ideas, new scenes, and new people. You laugh often, sometimes inexplicably, while rubbing your hands together. You are incredibly productive, in short bursts, because you are easily bored and want to get to the next project. You don't care much about long-term job security, because that might limit your mobility. You always consider both sides of a question, and that makes you seem indecisive. You have many acquaintances, but few long-term friends. Some people consider you moody and two-faced, and you like to gossip about them -- undermining their credibility -- because they don't really understand you. There will be a lot of variety in your career, whatever you choose. Consider studying journalism, English, interdisciplinary liberal arts, and law. Other career possibilities include travel agent, spy, and merchant mariner.

Cancer: (June 22-July 22) You are nurturing, compassionate, and warm. You are successful but not particularly ambitious. You value family relationships and domestic comfort more than career opportunities. You are trustworthy and self-sacrificing. You like to cook for others and insist that they eat heartily, though you do not. You often find ways around difficult questions rather than dealing with conflict directly; you want people to be happy, even if everyone knows you are secretly sad. Your favorite book is The Giving Tree. You like it when people rely on you, and sometimes you find ways to sabotage their independence. Consider academic programs in psychology, sociology, food marketing, and pharmacology. Alternate careers include bartender, literary agent, wet nurse, and sous chef.

Leo: (July 23-August 21) You are a high-maintenance drama queen with an inflated ego. You are often snobby, boastful, and arrogant, but for some reason, people seem to like you and want you to lead them. Perhaps that is the result of your beauty and gracefulness, along with your pattern of generosity toward your friends and cunning vengeance against your enemies. You seem to succeed without substance or trying very hard. It doesn't really matter what you do, as long as you are the center of attention, since you're so great. (I mean, who am I to criticize you?) You should consider studying the performing arts, management, and political science. Alternate careers might include fashion model, butcher, or cat fancier.

Virgo: (August 22-September 23) You are probably a disagreeable person who likes to find minor things wrong with other people's work or ideas, while not having any ideas of your own. You don't like people, and they don't like you, either, but that's OK because you are better than they are, obviously. You are drawn to organizing, labeling, and categorizing. You are obsessively clean and fastidious about diet, and you have a cold, precise way of talking. You frequently wear the same clothes, with only minor color variations. You always get the job done in an impersonal, antiseptic way. Your academic future may include accounting, moral philosophy, rhetoric and composition, and physics. Otherwise, you should consider a career as a laboratory technician, sanitation worker, computer-support staffer, or textbook editor.

Libra: (September 24-October 23) You favor balance, proportion, and harmony, and you try to bring those qualities to human relations as well to the aesthetics of your surroundings. You are committed to high principles and desire to administer justice, as you see it. People often ask for your advice. Your life is orderly but not barren; you enjoy simple things, and you are usually not swayed by wayward enthusiasm. As a result, you are respected by nearly everyone but not often loved, even though you care deeply about personal relationships. Consider studying public policy, architecture, biology, physics, chemistry, and mathematics. You might also find success as a tailor, Feng Shui consultant, cosmetologist, rodeo clown, or college president.

Scorpio: (October 24-November 22) You have enormous strength of character and the will to accomplish your goals. You must always occupy the highest place, and you will never be content because there is always some new mountain to climb. You are intellectually brilliant, passionate, and charismatic. You have enormous leadership potential, particularly in times of change. You feel limited by consensus-based governance, and that often brings you into conflict with defenders of the status quo. You have no obvious future in academe. Consider a career as a military test pilot, entrepreneur, assassin, movie producer, or president of the United States.

Sagittarius: (November 23-December 22) You are intellectually gifted and committed to high-minded notions of truth and fairness, but you are not dour, solitary, or judgmental. On the contrary, you are jovial, extroverted, and open-minded. You are versatile and enjoy travel, learning new languages, and the freedom to discover new ways of being. Your contentment will always be transient; you inevitably feel trapped by long residence in any single institution. You reread Middlemarch every summer. Your guileless honesty wins you few allies, but you draw strength from a deep sense of personal integrity. You could do anything, but consider graduate programs in ministry, philosophy, English, modern languages, forestry, and the fine arts. You might also find success as a freelance tour guide, labor organizer, golf caddy, vigilante, or equine inseminator.

Capricorn: (December 23-January 20) You are a bundle of contradictions: ambitious and aggressive, but also cautious and reserved. You have intellectual talents within a somewhat narrow range. You are good at accumulating small details and identifying patterns that fit established theories. You are sometimes insensitive to the feelings of others. You want a place at the top, and you are willing to delay gratification for years and years, focusing on the future when countless opportunities will be available to you. Sometimes you are overly credulous. You place great value on being connected to high-status institutions. You should obviously continue your studies in English or history, fields that will soon have many openings. If that doesn't work out, consider one of many alternative careers as a famous screenwriter, highly paid management consultant, medical-test subject, or personal assistant to Stanley Fish.

Aquarius: (January 21-February 19) Like all Aquarians, you are unique. You have the celestial gifts of depth and foresight; you are the shaper of new paradigms. You are probably the voice of your generation. Everyone likes you and thinks you are beautiful, kind, and progressive. You are reluctant to stay in one place for too long: You need your freedom to be who you are, and many other places need to benefit from your wisdom and generosity. To Kill a Mockingbird is your favorite book and movie. Above all, you want to help people, and there is nowhere that they can hide in the long run. Of course, you don't want to be the "tool" of any kind of "institution," but you also know that the children are our future. Consider a degree in ethnomusicology, education, women's studies, ecology, or social work. Once you've grown beyond academe, consider expanding your horizons as a community activist, organic farmer, folk artist, co-op worker, weaver, basement gardener, or astrologer.

Pisces: (February 20-March 20) Yours is the most integrated of all the signs, and you possess many qualities and talents. You are self-sacrificing, idealistic, and spiritual. You have an abundance of understanding and empathy. You probably possess musical or artistic talents, along with imagination. Because you are so many things -- and because you are a gifted mimic -- you are rarely yourself in public, choosing to mirror those around you. People believe that you feel their pain and know what's best for them. You feel most comfortable when you are alone. Consider earning a degree in psychology, ministry, the performing arts, or oceanography. Other possibilities include psychic, faith healer, ill-fated arctic explorer, and career counselor.

Academics are complicated human beings, and, while you can easily use the signs of the zodiac to gain reliable insight into your true nature, you must be aware that only the professional services of an experienced academic astrologer can answer the deeper, more complex questions about your destiny. Once you have talked with an expert astrologer, I recommend consulting authorities on chiromancy, numerology, and divination, all of whose services -- judging by their obvious, relative advantages -- should soon be readily found at your local research university in the former offices of graduate career services.

In the meantime, may Fortune's Wheel spin in your favor.

Thomas H. Benton is the pen name of William Pannapacker, a Taurus and an associate professor of English at Hope College in Holland, Mich. He writes about academic culture and welcomes reader mail directed to his attention at careers@chronicle.com.