In the past few weeks I have written, revised, rewritten, rethought this post. I’ve debated whether to post it or delete it, but I always end up clicking the “Save Draft” button and promise myself I’ll come back later. However, I realized this past weekend that perhaps the problem is that I don’t know what I am trying to say with this post…or maybe I’m trying to find answers when all I have are questions. Maybe I should just post and see what comes of the post; as Kathleen Fitzpatrick says on her blog: “my task for the coming weeks is to work on just making the words fit, on just putting them out there, unashamed that they are nothing more than what they are.”
Now that I am finally The Doctor–regalia, hooding, and everything–I feel like I can finally start thinking about The Future. Not as in “the rest of my life” but in terms of my career. The last year I would think about employment from time to time, but I usually let those thoughts drift away; after all, I had a dissertation to finish and a clock that was ticking away. I focused on the concrete goal I had in front of me (defend my dissertation in the spring semester) instead of the abstract, scary thing that was my career post-PhD.
Lately I’ve been thinking about career versus employment. I spent the last eight years training to be a fellow humanities scholar in the academy. That is not only what I was trained to do (and we can debate whether that is a good or a bad thing), but what I wanted to do. I wanted to become a scholar, an intellectual. I went into graduate school to become a professor but I also went to graduate school because I had a passion for learning and for thinking. A humanities degree is meant to prepare graduates to find their place as scholars in their fields of research.
Indeed, the past year I have felt more like a scholar than a student. (I don’t mean that students are not scholars, but instead that, in my case, I used to think of myself as a student and not as a scholar. In the past year I moved away from that mentality, while not losing sight of the fact that I had to finish my PhD.) So, even though I am not currently employed in something directly related to my research, I still feel emotionally invested in my research. My identity as a scholar is connected to my research. It also helps that, later on in the writing process, I rediscovered my personal connection to my dissertation’s topic, and so now I feel like it would be a disservice to let it go. As I work part-time, now I have a little extra time to devote to reading articles, doing research, working on revisions. However, I am still part-time, and I need full-time employment; eventually, that time I have now to work on my own research will be diminished.
In the meantime, I have been thinking about what it means to be an unaffiliated researcher. It seems like this may be my fate, at least for the next few months. Because I obtained a graduate degree in the humanities, I am very familiar with what employment and careers within the academy look like. I also currently work at a doctoral-granting institution. But what does it look like to do research and work on subjects you love without the sponsorship of a college department? Am I stretching myself too thin, between my work and my research, which I do on my own down time? Maybe these questions arise because I am moving from Career to Job. (Or am I? I’m still working in higher education, and my current position requires me to use my research skills and think critically about the information I come across.) I’ve been trained to think in terms of careers all throughout graduate school, and as a graduate student all of my research endeavors felt connected to one career: humanities scholar. Maybe I need to do better at weaving my research into my work, so that it all comes together again.
At the end of the day, I know three things: I want to continue doing research. I have new directions I want to take my work in. I may be coy or even unsure sometimes about my teaching abilities, but I am certain my research skills are strong. Research is something I enjoy doing. I also want to continue to write. Writing makes me happy; specifically, being able to balance academic writing with non-dissertation-related writing helped me regain my mental sanity over the past year. Whatever comes next, I want writing to become a central part of my future. I also want to return to teach…in some capacity. I enjoy teaching. Like I mentioned in my post for U Venus in May 2011, I didn’t leave teaching because I didn’t like it. Now that I’ve been away from the classroom for a year I’m thinking of how to make it back into teaching.
Such is my life post-dissertation…