Post Academic


Taking a time out *after* grad school: The personal benefits

Yesterday, I wrote about the novel–and completely impracticable–idea of taking time off after earning your Ph.D. as a way to take stock of where you stand in academia.  Of course, the kind of ambivalence I described regarding the professional side of a career in higher education might only be the result of being on the ego-bruising job market, and not some kind of existential state seeking out these insights.  Since it’s all-too-easy for soon-to-be Ph.D.s and recent doctorates to get on the academic job cycle hamster wheel, but hard to get off, whether with a tenure-track job or by leaving the profession behind, maybe a cooling-off period wouldn’t be the worst thing to think things through.

Here are a few “life” life things I probably woulda and shoulda appreciated more, if only I took the time and psychic energy to jump off that hamster wheel, even temporarily…

1. Living conditions: Being on the academic job market really warped my sense of priorities, both in the present and for the future.  The odds of the academic job market are geared to failure–in MLA fields, not only are the odds you’ll land a job about 1 in, say, 200 these days, but there’s maybe a 10% chance you’ll even make the first cut of a convention interview–so there’s a baseline feeling of anxiety and miserableness fighting over the few crumbs being offered.  It was easy for me to obsess over the process–or, rather, the Academic Jobs Wiki–as if more attention to it would yield a better result.  As a result, I kinda forgot why it is that I was seeking a job in the first place, and I’m not just talking about whether I liked teaching or research.  For me, the job is a means to an ends of enjoying my life, which, actually, was already pretty great and fun, so long as I didn’t get caught up in the vicious circle of job market-induced self doubt.

Why my life was/is so great, after the fold…

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Our turn: Some thoughts on reanimating the Ph.D. (with poll!)

"Classic Comics: Frankenstein" by Chordboard (public domain)

Over the past few days, we’ve discussed how MLA President Sidonie Smith has put forward some provocative ideas for reforming the dissertation process.  We’ve been “admiringly skeptical,” as I put it on the MLA Twitter feed–admiring because Pres Smith seems committed in her attempts to make the lives of very vulnerable MLA members better, but skeptical because we’re not sure what will end up happening and when.  So while the MLA seems sincere in responding to the concerns of grad students and recent Ph.D.s, help can’t come soon enough for those facing the Worst. Job Market. Ever.

I think the main reason for skepticism–or at least, anxiety–has to do with whether or not recent Ph.D.s and current students are going to be made even more obsolete in any kind change over to a new way of doing things, unless the MLA has come up with the academic equivalent of a digital conversion box or something.  I’d wonder what would happen in the transitional phase, if it gets to that: Practically speaking, how would changing the system affect both those playing by the new rules or those playing by the old rules, the latter who have dutifully finished a long, long dissertation as they have been expected to?  This might be too petty on a personal level, but I wrote a 400+ page dissertation that included some very thorough argumentation and extensive research.  What took me a long time was to figure out the connective tissue within and between chapters, so am I going to be penalized for the time and effort I spent above and beyond the “suite of essays” approach PresSmith mentions that doesn’t seem to put a premium on thinking of the dissertation as a holistic thing?

On the flipside, I might also be somewhat hesitant of being the guinea pig for composing a whole new kind of dissertation, although, considering what the market is like, what would you have to lose, especially if you finish your Ph.D.a few years earlier?  The reason why I wouldn’t be so sure I’d want to be in the vanguard here is that I wouldn’t have confidence that the folks–i.e., long-time tenured faculty–judging my scholarship or even advising me on what to do would know how to evaluate new forms of scholarship.  In any case, I guess what I’m saying is that any kind of transition should have a principle of fairness built into it, even if that sounds naive.

We’re not really sure how to resolve these issues, but nobody voted us to represent anyone else either!  Below the fold, we’re–finally!–offering some suggestions on how to streamline the process that might not require the daunting task of overhauling the entire conceptual structure of what the Ph.D is.

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