Sunday, January 30, 2011

Opportunities in Ecuador

It may seem ironic, but in some ways there are a lot more opportunities for me in Ecuador than at home. For instance, many professors at universities here hold masters degrees rather than Ph.D.’s because very few doctorate programs exist in Ecuador. Many people leave the country to pursue their doctorates in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and most of them don’t return —a classic example of brain-drain which happens all over the world in “developing” countries. As a Ph.D. candidate, meaning that I have completed everything within my program except for writing my dissertation, I suddenly find myself at the top of the pecking order in the academic world here. It is totally bizarre, as at NYU I’m just another drone, slogging through my Ph.D. In Quito, I have been welcomed by the most prestigious university, FLACSO, with open arms and have been contracted to teach classes for a year as a full professor, with the gentle reminder of possibilities of a tenure-track position, if I decide to stay.

Academia in the United States is in a sorry state at the moment (for many recent moments/years). It is daunting to look at the puny number of freshly graduated Ph.D.s who actually land tenure track positions. Especially in anthropology, which is not exactly the most respected discipline in the academy. In fact, the number of anthropology departments is shrinking in universities throughout the country. Colleges won’t make cuts in their “hard-science” departments but quickly shoo the annoying politically-correct anthropologists out of academia. I have never been set on a job in academia—I’m too realistic for that. I decided long, long ago when I started my Ph.D. that I was sacrificing all these years of my life because I simply loved the process, not because I expected any one fixed outcome after obtaining my degree (like a tenure track position). The things I loathe about academia are too many to list here, but I’ve stayed in it simply because I love my project. In fact, I’m in love with my project and although the road has been bumpy, doing fieldwork has been one of the best, most fulfilling, enriching, and truly amazing experiences of my life. I’ve learned so much about myself and have gained such a profound understanding of the worlds around me. I will always view getting my Ph.D. to be worth it due to the experiences I’ve shared over the past year with my sex workers. I will forever be grateful to NYU for accepting me into their competitive program and for giving me the opportunity to do something I love.

But what about the future? I come back to weighing my options between staying in Ecuador and returning to New York. I am almost certain I will stay in Ecuador to write my dissertation with frequent visits home to meet with my advisors at NYU every few months. Economically it just makes more sense. I pay $180 rent in a beautiful apartment and I’m working as a full professor at the university, earning $1,000 a month. My standard of living is significantly higher here, as one would expect. Coming home would mean living once again, in abject poverty, sharing housing with strangers, paying $1,000 monthly rent and being a Teacher’s Assistant at NYU. Here I am able to build my resume on a much higher level by being a full time professor at a well-respected university throughout Latin America. I teach my classes in Spanish, obviously, so that augments my language skills. I have been promised an office at the university, all of which have stunning views of the Andes mountains hovering over Quito and which catch the lingering light of the afternoon sun. This will be my space to write. Comparing that with the dark underworld of NYU’s Bobst library where I’m lucky to even find an available table to sit at, the choice becomes obvious.

BUT…having said that, I’m not sure if I’m ready to make a commitment to Ecuador for such an extended period of time. I am very close with my family and friends and sometimes I miss New York so much it hurts. My chest literally aches with the pain of my longing/yearning to be back. If I do go back home, which I’ll probably do after writing, I will not limit my options to applying for academic jobs. After having received a doctorate in anthropology concentrating on gender relations in Latin America, I hope to make the transition into working in development for women’s rights. Ideally, I would work at the United Nations. That would be my dream job. I also wish to continue making documentaries, any way I can. If an academic job in the states doesn’t materialize in the future, I refuse to sit around and cry because that’s the sad reality of the situation. I’ve always known that a job in academia is a pipe-dream and quite simply, I’m no longer willing to sacrifice my entire personal life to make such a dream to come true (i.e. actually getting that tenure position). No thanks. And, luckily, I’ll always have Ecuador.


  1. I wonder if the changes you are living in Quito will make any difference to your future plans. If you happen to be there in July, it would be nice to meet you. Have you visited the jungle and Galapagos already?

  2. very helpful! It's nice to see you in this process and helps me work out those ideas about academia in the future.