Staying and Going
My friend Casie posted this today.
I have a couple of responses to this piece, but the primary one is … yes! Just, yes! That I agree with Casie really isn’t a surprising thing.
We first met at her job talk when I walked up to tell her how much I enjoyed her presentation, and before I could get two words out found myself in tears. True story. Honest-to-God tears, accompanied by those “I’m trying not to cry, but it only makes it worse sobs.” She was gracious enough to give me a hug and let me stumble through my little speech. It was my first year on the job and to describe myself as mortified would be a little bit of an understatement. Still, there were few happier moments in that first year then when I heard she had accepted the position.
What could make someone cry at a job talk?
Some of it was probably the stress of my first year. Few periods in my life have been as lonely and as exhausting. The commute, adapting to a completely new work schedule & environment, being the primary source of income for my family, and on top of it all still being a graduate student — I’ve talked before about how all those things add up, and how for me when the stress adds up it usually results in tears. I’m an equal opportunity crier – if I’m sad, I cry; if I’m angry, I cry; if I’m frustrated, I cry; if I’m happy (you guessed it), I cry. In this case it was recognition.
These days it seems like everyone and their second cousin is talking about what it means to be a working class academic, and about the working conditions for graduate students and non-tenure-track faculty. Three years ago, however, it wasn’t exactly the same. Three years ago being a working class academic was just something Ouiser and I talked about sitting on the garage couch when we were in our cups. Ouiser was the first person I knew to start talking about alt-ac careers and the irresponsible mentoring of graduate students. Consequently, when I sat listening to Casie’s job talk about her research with working class academics, it touched something in me. What I meant to say, and what I hope came out between my tears, was that hearing about Casie’s research was like finally being seen. It was the first time I’d heard an academic describe graduate students who could have been me. It was a naming and a calling into being.
So, I guess you can imagine why three years later I find nothing out of the ordinary about once again seeing Casie give voice to thoughts that have been floating around my head. The only thing different is, perhaps, the context. In her post Casie outlines this great list of questions for graduates to consider as they ponder pursuing a PhD and the academic life.
What is it you like about academia? Specifically, what practices make you happy?
What parts of academia stress you out or make you upset?
Is it important that you live in a specific city, state, or region?
What kind of financial compensation do you need to be happy?
What sort of daily or weekly schedule do you envision as your ideal?
Is teaching/research/administration a practice that you could envision yourself engaging with over time?
What feelings do you experience when you think about not working in academia?
What kind of job could you imagine yourself doing and being happy?
Do you like to research and write?
How do you deal with timelines and independent goal setting?
If you had to describe your ideal day at work—from waking up to going to bed—what would that day look like? What challenges might you encounter? What high points might you experience?
What identities do you call on when you consider your self-worth? Your values? How do you prioritize these identities?
Having finally finished and received the PhD (which I somehow still think will be rescinded every time I find another mistake in my dissertation), I find myself looking at the academic job market. I’m considering which jobs and which locations would be right for me, without necessarily thinking about whether or not this is really want I want. Yes, at this point it is what I’m trained to do, but does that necessarily mean it is all I can do, or that it is even really what I want to do? Technically, I am already in academia, and I don’t know that I could answer any one of those questions. I think I am at a point, like the MA student, where it is necessary to decide do I stay or do I go?