My name is Rebecca Schuman, and I am Academic Adjacent.
I hold a PhD in German literature from the University of California, Irvine. I worked as a lecturer and visiting assistant professor of German for four years before I left academia in 2013, and I am now an accidental entrepreneur — working on the fringes of academia as a consultant, translator, writer, editor and giver of advice.
WHAT IS ACADEMIC ADJACENCY?
During my five years of graduate school (all right, nine if you count the MA degrees), I noticed that while the institution of academia is fairly adept creating the next generation of scholars, it does so at the expense of several aspects of life one might consider to be of relative import. (You know — happiness, relevance, productivity. No big whoop.)
Academic Adjacent works to fill these voids — personal, intellectual and cultural — in the current academic status quo.
Forming healthier work habits
Graduate students and junior academics are some of the most depressed and anxious individuals in the world, and after two decades of both observation and immersion in the academic milieu, I can tell you why this is the case: The mentorship system (sometimes called an “apprenticeship” system) is tragically uneven in what it prepares academics to be able to do. Most (if not all) academic mentors prioritize the creation of brilliant scholarship, often to the detriment of all else, and they pass these unfortunate values and habits on to the next generation. For example, most professors on the tenure track never learned to manage their time properly — or, for that matter, to compile a monograph manuscript in the least-traumatic possible way! — and so the culture in any given academic department is one of chronic overwork and competitive business, where scholars are essentially rewarded for sequestering themselves in their towers of brilliance during every weekend and vacation. When these are the people from whom young scholars learn time management (or rather lack thereof), the toxicity and accompanying unhappiness replicate themselves infinitely. As an academic workflow and productivity consultant, I work one-on-one with clients to redefine their relationships with their scholarship, and break the cycle of missed deadlines, self-loathing and the constant pressure to research and write in every available second. My clients meet all of their deadlines — and take their weekends and vacations off, too.
Making connections with the outside world
If I had a dollar for ever hand-wringing think piece I’ve read about how the humanities and social sciences do a bad job of writing things that appeal to the Common Human, I’d have…well, at least seventeen dollars, which is more than most academic researchers get paid to write their meticulous, highly specialized peer-reviewed articles. And yet, they must write these — hundreds of thousands of words of them — in order to be competitive on the Hunger Games-style job market, or for tenure, or for promotion, or to keep up with the Professor Joneses. This leaves very little time to do what must be done to write for a wider audience: forge relationships with editors, craft pitches, and (oh hey) learn to write in a completely different way (shorter, punchier, way way way way way way way way way way way less equivocating) with no guidance about how. It’s easy to demand that scholars devote some of their imaginary time to writing fun pieces for the Huffington Post or whatever — not as easy to do it. This is where it becomes majorly convenient not to have an institutional affiliation (except for library research — but don’t worry, I have my ways). In the past decade, I have developed an extensive portfolio of published writing for such outlets as Slate, the Awl, Guernica, Literary Hub, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Atlantic and the Washington Post — I also published a memoir, Schadenfreude, A Love Story, with Flatiron Books in 2017. My work is nominally about dozens of subjects, but everything I write is woven through with the ‘red thread’ of my years of rigorous engagement with German literature and thought, whether that be a light-hearted exploration of the Bavarian guy who commutes to work by swimming down a river, or a longer-form examination of how Franz Kafka makes for a very poor life coach.
The task of the translator
Speaking of communicating across disciplinary (and cultural, and other) boundaries: The Counter-Enlightenment philosopher Johann Georg Hamann famously (or possibly not-so-famously?) argued that all language is translation, from Engelsprache (or “angel speak”) to Menschensprache (“human speak”), that the very ability to understand what something means is a gift from the divine and we are all just doing our best not to mangle it completely every time we open our maws. With all due respect to Hamann, he hadn’t seen anything yet — today, many people labor under the illusion that machines can translate between existing human languages, that human translators are no longer necessary. While machine learning has enabled online translation engines such as Google Translate to improve far beyond the gibberish of yesteryear, however, there is still no machine that can do what a good human translator can: Make a translated work look like a native work. This is what I do. Whether it’s a specialized scientific magazine article in Germany or the text under a museum object in Switzerland, or the promotional copy from your favorite language-learning app, I provide dozens of clients around the world with clean, elegant and accurate translations from German to English that reflect my deep understanding of both languages — and, of course, the gravity of the translator’s task.
How can I be academic-adjacent to you (in a non-creepy way)?
If you would like to see my portfolio or work with me in any capacity, you should find what you’re looking for here.
Thanks for stopping by. How can I help you today?