Gossip Scholar’s Reluctant Retreat

March 31, 2014

Anne Helen Petersen, a film- and media-studies scholar who writes about celebrity gossip, gave voice to the regrets of some recent Ph.D. recipients in an interview last month.

Unable to find a job in academe, she told the website the Hairpin, she will take a full-time job as a features writer for BuzzFeed, in New York. Her position as a visiting assistant professor at Whitman College is coming to an end. She had described that job on her blog, Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style, as "totally awesome."

Ms. Petersen, who is 32, said in an email that she was a finalist for the tenure-track line for her position but was not selected, and that she had not heard back about the only other position for which she had an on-campus interview, at another small liberal-arts college. She said she applied for 30 jobs last fall.

In the Hairpin interview, she said she had realized that her work was not a good fit for academe, "but I thought that I could wedge/force/hipcheck my way into a position that would reconcile the type of work that I wanted to do with the teaching that I love."

Much of academic writing "prides itself on being as inaccessible as possible," she told the website, while her own very public, online approach to scholarship "freaks job committees out."

The interview has drawn mixed reactions, she said in her email, with some Ph.D.’s saying that she would probably have found a job within a year or two and others that she was "giving fodder for those who would already like to dismantle the humanities.

"I heed that argument," she said, "but I don’t think that not critiquing the system will also protect us from those critiques, either."