Content note: what follows is a sincere reflection of my feeling dispirited at my current situation and how I am grappling with ways to move forward. This has been building now for months and I have been hesitant to write about it openly. Everything adds up to a sense of despair that bleeds into this post, but I also recognize that many of my issues are coming from a place of privilege.
More than a week in the making, this post has proven–and continues to prove–almost impossible to write, which, in turn means that most of what I had originally intended to write has been jettisoned, perhaps to be picked up from the cutting floor sometime down the road. However, the starting point remains precisely where it would have a week ago, so perhaps I ought to begin there.
A bit more than a week ago I cleared the last remaining academic hurdle for my doctorate, defending my dissertation first thing Monday morning. This means that I am no longer ABD (all but dissertation) and now just ABB (all but bureaucracy). The dissertation defense should be–and was–something to be celebrated and I am more than a little relieved to have finished this process. Another post would and will go into reflections on the dissertation process because I believe that such introspection is not only good for me, but might be valuable to others going through the same process. And yet, without the immediate demands of the dissertation, the specter of the future has cast a pall over my sense of achievement.
I entered and progressed through graduate school clear-eyed to the brutal employment statistics in higher education. I can see in my mind the trend lines for full-time employment, the rise of contingent faculty, and costs of higher education and in some ways this shaped my experience in graduate school; for instance, I came to University of Missouri precisely because my department offered funding for the MA. I also maintained that I was willing to work outside higher ed, should I not get a job teaching. At the same time, I thought “why not me?,” and so set about doing the sorts of things one does in graduate school in order to be competitive on the academic job market. I am not here to boast of my accomplishments and I made mistakes along the way, but I also think, inasmuch as I was able, I put together a competitive resume with a body of work that continues to grow.
Then I started applying for jobs. Suffice to say that it has not gone well.
I am under a month from graduation, once again facing an uncertain future and feeling stuck in neutral. On the one hand, I am still applying for teaching positions at colleges because this is still something I want to do with my life; on the other, though, it is a lot easier to be cavalier about resiliency on the job market when you’re not worried about how you’re going to eat next month.
I could lash out, casting blame for my current predicament. I could throw in the towel, abandon the dream of teaching at the college level. I could dig deep for resolve to keep on with the types of activities that would be attractive to a future academic employer.
I am closest to the last option, with a hearty dose of current responsibilities thrown in. At a time when I see other recent PhDs getting at least something of a respite from the grueling schedule that got them through, I gave myself just the rest of the day after my defense. The next day, I went to interview to teach one course next semester. The day after that I had a guest lecture, and the two after that were my usual teaching days. Between these obligations, I have been marking student papers (I received 80-ish) so I can get them back in a timely fashion, started revising my dissertation for submission, and continued applying for jobs. I have barely had a chance to read fiction, which has been main concession to relaxation in the past few years.
This is terrible self-care on my part. I should rest. I need to rest if I am going to do the quality of work that might lead to future success. I know this, and yet I can’t help but feel that I can’t afford to take the time off.
My dissertation defense is in the past, but uncertainty is simultaneously putting a damper on my mood and contributing to the feeling that I am being pulled in multiple directions, which itself is making it difficult to move in any one of them.
One thought on “Finis”
Your feelings are totally understandable. There has been the enormous arc of preparation and execution. There remain the exigencies of routines and commitments, there is an uncertain future and a real chance that a long-term dream will be deferred or denied.
I know the feeling of preparing for a marathon. Training all summer (you ‘trained’ for years.) Then the day of the running. Falling short of at least parts of the goals. Having the world applaud and celebrate the accomplishment, but feeling somewhat let down by not feeling that I met my own goals, that I don’t feel as good about the thing as I should.
I think your prescriptions are on the right track. Take regular time to rest and recover. Take regular time to detach and reflect. You are still very close to the finish and it will take time to find a balanced perspective.
You are relatively clear-eyed about the academy itself. You can’t change what it has become/is becoming. You may well have to create alternatives that allow you to pursue scholarship and teaching in an alternate framework. It could be writing and posting on the web, a free chapter first and then micro-payments for subsequent chapters. I think the bread book idea would be a perfect vehicle for that. It may be blogging. It may be courses at Free Universities. It may be something that hasn’t been invented yet.
It would not be surprising if you find yourself on the course so many of us have taken—where your primary passions are (sometimes, or even often) not identical to your financial ones. Or not. You are in a field where one opportunity is the difference-maker and where persistence matters.
Most of all congratulations! Good luck! I am super-proud, of who you are, and of what you are: Doctor Nudell.