i need to figure out my life

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Over at Chronicle Vitae there is an article called “Stripping Was the Easiest and Quickest Solution.”  It is about a woman who got a PhD in English, but instead of deciding to go into academia, she decided to become a stripper.  She cites a variety of reasons, but chief among them is that she didn’t want to move away from her city and force her husband to go through a job search with her, that she has a three-year-old child that she didn’t want to be in day care all day, and that she finds academia to be tiresome and full of struggle.  In the article, she says this:

I don’t feel like a failure or a waste. Indeed, I felt like I would be living a less meaningful, more wasted life if I forced myself into the academic path that I now regarded as unduly stressful and all-consuming, not to mention a sinking ship. Would it be more “respectable,” more socially acceptable, for me to adjunct my ass off all across this state for peanuts and gray hairs? Sure it would. Will I live my life according to the judging eyes I feared might be watching? No.

I find myself identifying with this.  When I first began my PhD 6 years ago, I didn’t intend to become an academic at all.  I wanted to be a researcher at a non-academic institution, primarily a government agency or think tank.  My specific area of social science happens to be one that’s pretty hireable outside of academia.  I didn’t want to be a professor.

Sometime in the middle of my program, though, I began to consider it.  That’s the thing about getting a PhD, especially at an R1.  My advisor says that that’s the way it’s supposed to work out – you’re around these very successful academics all day, and they teach.  They went into the enterprise because they wanted to be professors at a top research university, and they got it.  In some ways, they’re a little bit disconnected from reality, so maybe they don’t realize how difficult the job market is – or maybe they do, but they believe that their students are the “special” ones who will make it.  So everything you do is geared towards turning you into an academic and you’re discouraged from doing things that won’t turn you into an academic.  Summer corporate internships?  Frowned upon. I kind of laugh a little when I see us sneaking around career services.

Now I’m just confused, which is why I opted for a postdoc.  I am by no means only considering academic careers, and in the back of my mind, I know that if I never get an academic career I won’t shed a tear.  I can stay connected to what I value about academia by adjuncting while holding a full-time job and/or volunteering with organizations that help high school and college students achieve.  But I wonder how far am I willing to go?  I really want to stay within research, if possible, but could I go to market research?  Consulting?  Something that’s basically not academia but not non-academic “acceptable” research?

Because I agree with her on many levels.  There are certain places I would like to live, and my husband also needs to have a meaningful career.  I don’t want to move to the middle of nowhere just to have the opportunity to call myself “professor.”  I want to make a lot of money.  Okay, I don’t have to make six figures (yet), but I’d like to be close.  I mean seriously, after this postdoc, I’d like to start out around $70K.  And there are certain things I’m not willing to give up – a family life, comfort, my sanity…

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ADVISOR, WTF R U DOIN

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A member of my family graduated from high school last Monday, and so I trekked home to see her graduate.  I met with my advisor the Wednesday before the trek.  Our goal was to distribute my dissertation by last Friday, because I have to defend by a certain date and distributing then would’ve enabled me to have a lot of flexibility in that date.  My advisor said that he would send me the feedback he had on my dissertation that Friday – I think it was 5/14 – and that I would get my edits back to him by the beginning of the following week so that I could distribute 5/23.  This would’ve been totally doable.

Instead, an entire two weeks went by in which not only did I not get any feedback from my advisor, I also heard absolutely zero from him despite trying to contact him at least twice during the time I was gone.  I had tons of downtime to do what I needed to do on this dissertation in the time.

I didn’t hear from him until this morning – ironically, the day I came back, the day I was planning to show up at his office and be like “Yo Sponsor, wtf are you doin?!”  He apologized for the delay.  STILL NO EDITS.  I meet with him tomorrow morning to get his feedback.  He says he thinks I can have it done in two days and distribute but that has made me late, so I have to hope to god that 1) my committee is very available and open and/or 2) that the DGS of my department will allow flexibility of a few days (here at My U you have to distribute a certain number of days before your defense, which means they won’t schedule a defense before distribution + X days.  It’s really an excessive amount of time and not all departments follow the rules, but ours does).

OH MY GOD, a full draft.

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AWOL again, and for a whole month!  I know, I know.  I keep thinking about this blog, but every time I think about updating I keep thinking, well, I could be spending the time updating on working on my dissertation!

I made a serious breakthrough, both in a conventional sense and in a mental space-sense.  The conventional one is that I have a complete manuscript of all 5 chapters of my dissertation.  YES.  It’s in pieces – in 5 separate Word documents, for right now, imported from Scrivener (opens in a new tab/window).  But it’s still complete.  There’s only one connective piece I need to put in, which is that I have to insert my hypotheses and the conceptual model for them somewhere, and I am not quite sure where to do that.  (It’s either at the end of the literature review, or the beginning of the methods.  I’m leaning towards beginning of the methods section).  My task right now is editing it and compiling into a Word document.

This is more time-consuming and difficult than it might sound.  The reason is because I want my Word document to be useful, if that makes sense.  I’ve gotten Word document copies of friends’ dissertations to use as a reference, and they are behemoths.  My dissertation is, at present, about 110 pages; when I add the section on hypotheses & conceptual model and format it with all of the front matter, it’ll probably be closer to 120.  And that’s not including the references and appendices.  Nobody wants to scrollscrollscroll through all that.  I know that my examiners/committee will want hard copies (UGH) but I am also taking it upon myself to try to make the Word document more easily navigable, for editing purposes as well.  So, for example, I am inserting bookmarks at the beginning of every section.  I am also formatting the headings so that I can auto-generate a table of contents when I’m ready (more about that in a separate post on tools).  I’m planning to link to each bookmark from the table of contents.  That way you don’t have to scroll if you want to read one section!

I’m also editing it, which you could understand why that might take a while.  My advice for writing is totally different than what I might have said 6 years ago.  I was the ever-careful writer, editing as I went along, stopping myself ever so often to insert a better worded sentence.  Not so anymore!  Now, I just write.  That is my philosophy.  In fact, I wrote it on a white board behind my monitor until I got the hang of it.  Writing is at least 50% rewriting/editing/revising; you can find a better way to say it later, but it’s best to just get it on the damn paper.  That said, I have many more typos, spelling errors, and structural errors than I would’ve had in a first draft from 6 years ago.

(Well, perhaps it evened out – I am also a much better writer than I was 6 years ago.  So there would be fewer of those errors overall, but I’m more likely to let them slip in the first draft.)

The second breakthrough that happened is that I started to like the process of writing my dissertation and thinking about research.

My doctoral program occurred kind of like a dip, or a parabolic curve.  Years 1 and 2 were pretty good.  During years 3 and 4, I entered a progressively worse depression and frustrating period.  I began to emerge out of that in year 5, and year 6 has overall been pretty good.  During years 3 and 4, I lost a lot of love for – well, a lot of things, but research and writing being two of them.  I began to wonder why anyone would want to do this for the rest of their lives, and formulated an exit plan from academia and perhaps research in general.  It was hard to remember why I had entered a PhD program.

Year 5 helped me emerge from the depression in a more personal way.  I got married, and I reconnected to my friends.  I started exercising and eating more healthily and overall just spending more time on my personal development.  I think I had hit the pavement a bit too hard in my first two years, and got burned out quickly.  Year 6 was spent reconnecting to myself as a scholar, and I rediscovered my love for research and writing.  I actually really mostly enjoyed writing my dissertation – even the data analysis and the literature review.  Yes, it was an intensely independent act of scholarship, but that was the best part of it.  I love working with other people, but this is a project that is largely my own.  I was able to dig into some topics I really love and read widely about the background of them.  I taught myself some important skills and concepts – all the way from theoretical foundations of the early part of my field to new statistical techniques to how to create a freaking table of contents in Word the right way.

So one of the most useful things about this project is that it taught me how to love research and writing again, and to look forward to a career as an academic and/or researcher.  A lot of people say that their dissertation years were some of the darkest, but I have to come out and say that they can be some of the most enjoyable depending on your outlook.

Sometimes this is actually kind of cool. Sometimes.

 

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If nothing else, my dissertation research experience has helped me explore new avenues of research and gotten me interested in a lot of different areas and research agendas.  I have questions that could last an entire career.

I’m in the process of writing my literature review right now – a long, tedious process that’s also pretty enjoyable when it’s not excruciating.  It’s kind of like studying for quals on steroids.  I get to read all of these really interesting books, chapters, and articles that are directly connected to my research and think about the ways in which researchers before me conceptualized of my problem.  I get to also see what kinds of research they deemed necessary for stepping forward, and see how my research and my future ideas fit into that niche.

It’s really kind of a cool process, when it’s not horribly frustrating and slow and recursive.  I really thought that writing this was going to be a somewhat linear process.  Four sections, bang ’em out, boom.  HA!  It’s not.

I got sucked in.

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I know I haven’t posted to this blog in a long time.  Believe it or not, I was actually dissertating for a good deal of it.  I also had surgery and was out of commission for a while, so when life got busy I unfortunately stopped doing the whole point of this, which was chronicling my dissertation year!

Several things happened between December and now, though.  I know where I’ll be next year (I will be a postdoctoral fellow at a research university); I finished a draft of another chapter (RESULTS!  YES!) and I’m about halfway done with a draft of my literature review chapter.  No defense date yet, but I anticipate defending at the end of June.  I also went to a conference a few weeks ago, and this post is about that.

I got sucked in.

When I first started my PhD, I told my adviser two things: I wanted to finish my PhD in 5 years, and I didn’t want to be an academic.  I wanted to do research at a national agency for government, or at a think tank or something.

Both of those things have changed.  I decided to take a sixth year to finish, and I had an epiphany after this conference: after six years in academia, I totally got sucked in and I do, in fact, want to be a professor.

I realized that there are so many aspects about the academic lifestyle that I have come to love and get used to.  I like the flexibility – the ability to set my own hours, and I’ve gotten much more used to structuring my own time (which I used to hate).  I like the autonomy; while I could work under the direction of others, it’s actually kind of exciting to direct my own research and answer my own research questions.  That’s why entered the field in the first place, honestly.  I really love doing research, and I love most aspects of that.  I love sharing my work with others at conferences (I thought I hated them, but I realize that I just really dislike the large conferences.  I like smaller ones).  I love writing papers, and I love collaborating with others who have interesting and intersecting research questions and coming up with an innovative way to answer our questions together.  I think my work is important, and I like the idea of pushing forward the social sciences in my field.  I don’t mind writing grants so much anymore; furthermore, I think I can be pretty competitive for grants because I’m a good writer.  I like reading academic papers.

But probably most of all, I like teaching.  I thought I would dislike teaching, and my first teaching experience was pretty neutral, but as I’ve gotten more experience I realize that I really love teaching and mentoring students in my field.  I’m super passionate about my social science and I like to share it with other students, and teach them how they can use it in their own work (regardless of whether they pursue graduate school in my field).  As you can probably see here, I’m a statistics nerd, and so I like teaching statistics to students as well.  I like working one-on-one with students and giving them career advice, and I like helping make important decisions about curriculum design and learning outcomes.  I even like grading papers (although not stats homework!)

I think what I would like best of all is a job at a small, elite liberal arts college.  I’ve been reading some testimonials from current professors at SLACs, and the environment is pretty much exactly what I want.  Lots of personal relationships with students, small seminars and discussion-based classes, expectations to mentor students and supervise senior theses and independent study projects, and the expectation to be involved with the college in a really meaningful, deep way – attending speaker series, organizing those events, advising student groups, attending student productions and such.  I would really love and want that!  But I know that elite SLACs also offer a balance between research and teaching; their professors all conduct research and are expected to publish, and I know some even get grants.

I could also see myself at a smaller research-intensive (RU/H or R2) university like a regional branch campus of a state system (e.g., UNC-Greensboro or Asheville, or a CSU campus).  The upside is that many of those institutions are more diverse and I would love to work with a diverse population of students.  Many of these campuses also have small master’s and doctoral programs, and while supervising master’s and doctoral students is not a major priority for me I think I would like it.

But I realized that I was denying my desire to do so because I was scared – scared of the freaking job market, which is terrible, and scared that I wouldn’t be able to hack it as an academic – that I wouldn’t be able to get the grants, get the publications get tenure.  But you know what, I think I’m actually a pretty competent and competitive academic, and I think I COULD get them.  I’m excited and passionate, but more importantly I’m motivated and pretty hard-working, and I’ve realized that I don’t mind working a lot of hours if I get to mostly determine what I am doing with them.  So I’d definitely want to be somewhere with good work-life balance, because I want to give time to my family and friends and personal interests…but also somewhere I can really dig in, too.

And now, oh god, I have to face the academic job market.  Great.

Oh Model. Why won’t you work.

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So…my models aren’t working out the way that I want them to.  I proposed a statistical mediation model and my X isn’t even preducting my Y, much less being related through an M between the two of them.

 I know this doesn’t mean I won’t graduate (lol) but I am a bit bummed because it’ll be harder to get any publishable articles out of this.  I also need to explore some alternate stuff.  I started exploring the relationship between the M and the Y and there’s none of that, either.  I still haven’t looked at a fourth variable I’m interested in – there may be some stuff there, and I plan to explore it a little tomorrow morning and Friday – but jeez, it’s a bit depressing.

I’m also sick now, so of course I didn’t feel like doing anything today besides listlessly clicking through websites and shit.