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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?
As far as cruelty goes April has nothing on January. Back in the day when I was a teaching assistant January wasn’t so bad. You could always count on student loans to get you through the drought between December 20th and January 31st. Now that I just work for a university, and there are no loans to be had as I try to stretch a check that barely makes it 4 weeks into something that will last 6. I can’t think of an adjective to describe how poor we are – skint seems to come the closest.
As you can imagine anyone in my life with a January birthday pretty much gets the shaft. Sorry folks. Couple that with the fact that January is a busy, busy month for me at work, and everyone is pretty lucky just to get a text on the day. Oddly enough before grad school January was just a prep month for me. A respite between holiday shopping and the horror of February’s birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. Seriously, in February it’s easier for me to count the days that don’t involve celebrating.
The assault on January began with Poppa G, my brother-in-law. One birthday in the whole month. It wasn’t bad. Then my sister-in-law got married, whoops there’s another one. My brother got married, and suddenly the month is getting down right crowded. Suddenly, the poorest month of the year is also the one rivaling February for gifting obligations.
There is, however, really only one birthday in January that matters enough to make me regret my inability to lavish my friends with tokens of my love – January 21st is the day to celebrate ma fille, the Ouiser to my Claree, the Cajun Princess.
Born on the opposite ends of the Mississippi – literally, yet I can honestly say her people are my people, and if I could ever get her north of the Mason-Dixon I know she’d feel just as at home in Frostbite Falls. It is strange and remarkable to think that I’ve only known her seven years; and, can in fact, remember seeing her for the first time at orientation, sitting in that stifling hot room looking around trying to figure out who to hang with. As in most social situations by break time I ended up outside with the smokers, and I’m pretty sure that from their our fates were sealed, not by ease of conversation, but by easy silence. It’s unbelievably difficult to find someone you can just sit with.
It is even more difficult to find someone willing to find your husbands car, visit you in the hospital every day, learn to be your “gentleman caller” as you go up and down stairs. There is no way I would have made it through the last three years without her. There are not enough words in English or French to describe how our lives have become entwined, or how much it blows that I can’t throw her a costume partyor bake her a bleeding armadillo groom’s cake.
Since we are stuck in separate cities today, and I suck at actually putting cards in the mail, I thought the least I could do was publicly declare my undying love and devotion for a woman who has been a sister to me.
Bénédictions et la joie de vous aujourd’hui et toujours.