Adventures in (Post) Gradland

Thoughts on life after the PhD

One Foot

It’s been six months since I got my PhD, and I kind of feel a million miles away from it.

It’s remarkable how something that defined your life for eight years can just be…over. No more deadlines. No more conferences. No more grant applications / fellowship applications / TA applications to fill out. No more exams or presentations to agonize over. No classes or professors to bitch about in a bar late at night.

Everybody calls me “Doctor” these days. Sometimes it’s half-teasing, but often there’s genuine respect behind it. I never know how to react when people do this. My initial reaction is to say “No. No. Please don’t call me that, it’s weird,” and I mean it. I also don’t know what to do when people congratulate me on this great achievement (and mean it)–I tend to shake my head and minimize the whole thing. Part of that’s impostor syndrome.

In the immediate weeks after I came back from L.A. people asked me the inevitable “What now?” question. I told several versions of the same story: that I’d opted not to seek an academic job for a lot of reasons, one of them being that I had a job that I really liked, even if it wasn’t an academic one. “But you’ll stay involved in academia, right?” a lot of them would say. “Sure, I’m going to try and keep one foot in the academic world,” I’d say. “I’ll still read the current research, I’ll still write, I’ll still publish.”

Yeah. That hasn’t happened.

“Keeping one foot in the academic world” is a lot easier said than done, especially when you’re not affiliated with a university. It’s really, really hard to stay motivated when you have only limited access to online journals, when you’re not regularly within walking distance of an academic library, when most conferences and talks are held during working hours, when you’re not enrolled in or teaching any classes, and when you’re not hanging out with other academics.  I’m not saying it’s impossible–I’m sure some people are able to do it–but so far, at least, not me.

I can’t blame it all on logistics, though. The reality is that I was never quite as passionate about my subject as I needed to be. I’ve always loved writing and reading about film and literature, but after eight solid years of Japanese literature and film I’m kind of…done. At least for now.

So now all sorts of other questions linger. What was the point of the whole PhD if I’m not actively “using” it right now? How soon before my academic brain turns to mush and I can’t have a high-level conversation about literature and film anymore? Am I obligated to stay connected to academia, at least to a certain extent? Will people look at me funny if I *do* go to a conference and admit that I’m not an adjunct or even a postdoc–I just write curricula for an online ESL site?

There’s also a lot of relief. I like having money–not being rich, just having enough money that I can save some and take a trip if I want to and eat dinner out more than once a month. I like not feeling as though there’s a constant cloud of inadequacy looming over my head. I like reading what I want to read, when I want to read it. I like that my weekends and evenings are mine, that I can spend them doing things I love, like cooking, eating, theater, music, drawing, writing, reading, being with the person I love and not doing anything at all.

I’m still figuring it all out, I guess. Recently I’ve been reading Judith Butler’s Frames of War in the evening. It’s nice to read an academic text and just take as much time as I want to grasp it and experience it, and not worry about whether I “get” it sufficiently. And to be able to look at all the academic texts on my bookshelf and think that I could read them and think about them and experience them at my own pace, on my own time–not because I have to in order to keep up, but just because I want to.

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5 comments on “One Foot

  1. raphaelle
    November 14, 2012

    I needed to read this today. Thanks.

  2. gradland
    November 14, 2012

    You’re welcome–glad it was helpful. Hoping to post more regularly from now on.

  3. A Modern Girl
    November 15, 2012

    Yeah, I don’t really think there’s such a thing as “keeping one foot in the academic world”–unless perhaps you’re in a field where you can apply your expertise in a “regular job” and then occasionally give academic talks or write pieces (this happens more in Political Science, when people are actually in government and then occasionally choose to enlighten academics with some insights from real practitioners–not sure what the equivalent would be for you).

    That being said, there’s nothing wrong with not using your degree at the moment. You got it, and that’s a fantastic accomplishment. You might well end up using it one day, maybe in a way that you wouldn’t have predicted. But even if you don’t, I think that having finished the degree is something worthwhile in and of itself. If you weren’t super passionate about what you were doing, eight years is probably enough–you don’t need to devote any more time to related endeavors just because people think you “should” in some sort of vague way.

  4. Anthea
    November 17, 2012

    I think that is possible to keep on foot in the academic world..but it’s not really a foot, but really a hand. I write articles, give talks about what I want to talk about, and I write when I like but I don’t have to play the political games that are so often part and parcel fo academic life. I’ve a job where I am connected to an aspect of the academic world. I do find that not being enmeshed in the academic world that I have some distance from it and I can see who really is bssing, who’s really practising the discipline and who’s just interested in the politics of it all. I do write and publish stuff but on topics that I want to write about and not what’s ‘in and hip’. So, I think that it’s possible to have a proverbial foot in several worlds…one of which is academia. The degree to which you continue to be connected to it, is really up to you.

  5. gradland
    November 20, 2012

    Modern Girl, very true–I think I need to worry a lot less about “shoulds” and how other people perceive the PhD.

    Anthea, good point–I’ve definitely noticed over the last few months that some of the fog has cleared and I can now look at a manuscript / description of a job talk and immediately get a sense of whether it’s meaningful or a load of hooey. It’s frustrating to lose my deeper connections to academia, but it’s also been a breath of fresh air and a chance to look at things from a different perspective.

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This entry was posted on November 14, 2012 by in (post) Grad life and tagged , , .
Anne McKnight

writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)

A Modern Girl / モダンガール

tales of travel, research, and life

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