I am one of those people who probably never should have gone to grad school. Although I had intended to get a secondary-school teaching credential during undergrad, I found myself putting it off and thinking how much more fun it would be to teach college students. After auditing a graduate seminar and learning about microfilm (my undergraduate institution’s library didn’t have a lot of digital archive subscriptions), I also liked the idea of doing more interesting research and making more sophisticated academic arguments. I had a vague idea that maybe I should take some more practical technical writing classes, but by that point I was too enamored with the idea of grad school. Mostly, though, I just wasn’t sure what else to do, and unfortunately nobody told me not to pursue a PhD in the humanities.
Now, I have taught both high school and college students in varying capacities, and I know they are not that different. I like teaching, but I don’t love the daily slog of it. I also know that, for an introvert, teaching is an exhausting job, one that has probably impeded my “real” academic work. And in retrospect, the office work I did outside academia, before I entered my PhD program, actually involved the parts of teaching I enjoy (i.e., helping people learn) without its detractors (e.g., grading endlessly, fielding procrastination-fueled emails at all hours). As far as research goes, I enjoy working on my family’s genealogy at least as much as I enjoy working on my dissertation.
In retrospect, I also should have known that the conditions of writing a dissertation would not be compatible with my natural work habits, my need for structure and organization. If I am truly honest, I sort of did know this might be a problem, but I felt sure that I would work around it—I told myself I was passionate about my field. It seemed that some vague “everyone” always said that you just had to find your passion and pursue it, and surely this was my passion! If not this, then what? And I knew I would be poor for years, but until that point, I had lived what I admit was a fairly privileged life and had not yet figured out how to plan or follow a budget. And while age thirty seemed very far away, it also seemed reasonable to scrape by until then, because then, if I was lucky, I would start an academic career! And if that didn’t work out, well, I supposed I would find something else. Now I am turning thirty this year, and it turns out that having credit card debt and no savings at this age is worse than I had imagined, and it’s easy to be cavalier about “finding something else” when that’s six years away.
I have known these things—and have intended to leave academia—for a long time now. In fact, I’ve had impulses to leave for years, but leaving graduate school is hard to do. There is always the lure of staying in, jumping through another hoop, and why not, when the economy is terrible, anyway? The last time I seriously considered leaving was a few years ago; ultimately I relented because leaving just felt so difficult and because the beginning of another school year pulled me back into my project for a little while. Being in graduate school and planning to leave feels like living a double life, and now that feeling is harder to endure than ever. To most people, I am trying to write my dissertation, trying to professionalize, even when I know anything I can accomplish in that area might be too little, too late, for the academic job market. Privately, though, I am coming closer and closer to the end of my time here, and I need to figure out how and when to prepare for a job outside of academia: What will I do, and where? What do I need to do to prepare? When do I need to apply? How am I planning to go to an expensive conference far away, when I have these other concerns in mind? As I write this, I don’t know if I will finish my dissertation. I am still closer to its beginning than its end, and it is becoming more and more difficult to devote myself to something that seems more and more pointless.
This blog is an attempt to work my way out of that despair, toward something that will make me happier, more productive (and with no intention of further accidentally referencing Radiohead).