Thoughts on life after the PhD
I defended my dissertation on May 8 and got “hooded” two days later. Amazingly, I managed to do it without my cap falling off or my hood getting stuck to my chin (plenty of other new PhD’s were not so lucky).
It’s been a week of reflection, so I thought I’d start off this short series of posts with a look back at how I got here.
1998: Like a lot of wide-eyed English lit majors, I imagine a career as a college professor. If I remember correctly, I have images of being adored by my students, being surrounded by smart people, and reading lots of books and talking about them. I know there’s also some kind of writing and research involved, but I’m not very interested in that part.
2000: I decide to do a one-year stint as an English teacher in Japan, mostly after experiences student teaching in an Austin junior high school left me miserable and frustrated with my chosen career path in secondary education. My one-year stint will end up lasting six years.
2003: I want to stay in Japan longer, and I still like books. M.A. in Comparative Culture at a Japanese university–why not?
2004: I turn in my first graduate paper. My M.A. advisor is not impressed. I’m humbled, but I learn from the experience and get a lot better over the next two years.
2005: I realize that I’m not done with this whole school thing and start applying to PhD programs in the U.S., still having only a vague notion of what an academic career is like. I apply mostly to East Asian programs and one Comparative Literature program, thinking that comp lit people must talk about the differences between Shakespeare and Murasaki Shikibu, or something like that.
Spring 2006: I’m checking my email in the office of a voice recording studio when I find out that I’ve gotten a five-year scholarship to attend the comp lit PhD program that I applied to. I start to cry, and all the men in the office look really worried.
Fall 2006-Spring 2007: The Year of Being Humbled.
I’m overwhelmed. I know nothing, and everyone else seems to know everything. I have no background in theory, and my first theory classes make no sense to me. To make matters worse, I live in L.A. without a car, which sucks and makes me feel like a hermit.
In early 2007 there are several weeks when I just seem to sleep all the time and can’t get out of bed. I go to a shrink. She tells me that I’m grieving for what I left behind in Japan, and that it’ll probably pass. It does. I get a driver’s license and a car, which makes a huge difference. By the end of the second semester I still feel overwhelmed and theoretically challenged, but I’m starting to swim instead of treading water.
Fall 2007: I present at my first academic conference. It’s fun, I meet cool people, and it gives me a confidence boost.The food’s also really good.
Summer 2008: I spend the summer studying for my major field exam, the first of several major steps to PhD completion. It essentially involves reading everything I possibly can related to modern Japanese literature and stuff other people have written about modern Japanese literature.
I get cabin fever very fast and learn that isolating oneself with lots of books (many of which depict suicide and depression) is not healthy. I try to take walks and study in cafes.
Fall 2008: Pass the major field exam despite spending an hour in a panic because I could NOT remember who wrote Black Rain and The Crazy Iris (Ibuse Masuji). Now what?
At this point I’m teaching freshman composition, which I really like. It leaves me with less free time, but I’m beginning to learn that that’s a good thing and it actually makes me more productive.
Fall 2009: Still have very little clue what I’m going to write my dissertation on, though I want it to be a mix of horror films and immediate postwar literature. While watching Akira one day something clicks and I realize that all the texts I want to write about contain some form of monstrous kid. The Dissertation is Born!
Fall 2009-Spring 2010: The Year of Grant Applications. Exhausting and mind-numbingly dull at times, but it forces me to get my dissertation prospectus together very quickly and learn how to summarize my research in a paragraph.
Spring 2010: Studying for qualifying exams. I learn that there is no way to read all the books on your list and end up reading a lot of introductions and conclusions.
Miracle of miracles, I get a Japan Foundation grant! Someone wants to pay me to do research! Fuck yes, I could feel high off this for years!
Summer 2010: Quals passed and defended. Go to Mexico for a week and do nothing but sit by the pool and read Moby Dick.
Fall 2010: Back in Japan with that grant. Diss writing is slow going and hard. I’m reminded again that having copious amounts of free time is not a recipe for productivity.
I meet a man and fall in love. ^_^
Early 2011: Crossroads. I should be thinking about moving back to L.A. and preparing to enter the job market, but employment prospects are so bleak. I don’t want to have to move to a completely new city where I don’t know anyone. I don’t want to leave my partner. I’m not even sure I want an academic career at all.
March 2011: Tsunami. Oddly, it strengthens my resolve to stay in Japan. I start looking for a job, and amazingly, I find one.
Summer 2011: Adjustment to working life. Some of it I really enjoy. Some of it sucks. Not so different from academia, I guess.
Writing diss while working proves to be a challenge, but after a few months of getting used to the new routine I manage to do it.
Fall 2011-Spring 2012: Write-work-write. My social life dies a slow death, but it feels good to be getting things done.
March 2012: Conclusion and intro written! Holy shit, am I really done?
May 2012: Defense. Holy shit, am I really done?
Graduation: Holy shit, am I really done?
All that’s left now is to submit the actual manuscript (just a few lingering typos and formatting issues to clear up). What a long, strange trip it’s been.
Thoughts on life after the PhD
tales of travel, research, and life
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