Adventures in (Post) Gradland

Thoughts on life after the PhD

One Down: Thoughts on the End of the First Semester

1. Fuck nice shoes. Seriously, fuck them. I made a point of getting nice black work-appropriate shoes with slightly pointy toes and low, thick heels (no way am I ever wearing anything spiky). I put said shoes in my office thinking that I would come to work in my more comfortable boot-sneakers and then change shoes to look more, you know, professional. Nope, not gonna happen. With all the running around I do from place to place and back and forth there is no way I’m doing it in heely shoes, even if they are low, thick heels. I am officially over caring too much about my appearance—if my clothes and my body are clean, my hair is brushed, and my outfits aren’t crazy enough to distract my students, it’s all good.

2. Hello, impostor syndrome, my old friend. Time away from academia has reduced the number of fucks I give about certain things, but I still want to seem like I know what the hell I’m talking about. And whoa, I am way, way behind. Of course teaching eight courses hasn’t exactly given me much time to catch up on all the research and unread literature and unwatched films of the past two and a half years. Sometimes it seems like there’s a little mini-exam every week. I’ll get into a random conversation with a colleague and it’ll turn out they know way more about recent developments in lit theory and Japanese film than I do, and I’ll try to recall the names of important authors and directors and will draw a complete blank and will then want to curl up under my desk and not come out anymore because oh God, they’re onto me, I’m a fake.

3. What the hell is wrong with my memory? I seriously thought I was having a stroke at least a dozen times during this semester. I couldn’t remember people’s names, I couldn’t remember my classroom locations, I couldn’t remember if I had met someone before (I usually had), I couldn’t remember who was in which department, I couldn’t remember my course schedule, I couldn’t remember if I’d brushed my teeth that morning. It was like a brief glimpse of what it must be like to gradually start losing your memory, and it was enough to make me head over to the Luminosity website or do some Sudoku or some shit that would create more synapses and keep the wheels running at a regular speed.

4. Not giving a fuck (when you can manage it) is really nice. It’s shocking how being immersed in academia can really convince you that your entire identity and sense of self-worth is tied to how much and where you publish, whether you get tenure, where you rank in your departmental hierarchy, etc. Maybe it’s just because I got a bit of distance from it for a couple of years, but I just don’t freak out as much about climbing the academic ladder or impressing people anymore. I’m happy in the position I’m in, and I can see myself being happy there pretty much indefinitely. I have no designs on prestige. I love to teach, and I love to write about literature, and I get to do both of those things. The money’s fine (it helps that I don’t have kids), the benefits are great, I have my own goddamn office, all’s good.

5. Oh, just WRITE. I can only help you so much. Yeah, I know it’s my job to teach college students how to write effectively. But on some days I just want to throw up my hands at them and admit my limitations. If you’re a shit writer at the age of 19 or 20, there’s really very little I can do to help you, especially if you don’t really have much desire (or incentive) to get better. See, I can write decently—it’s one of the few things that I feel pretty confident about—but some days I have NO FUCKING CLUE how to TEACH people to write. I can’t recall ever being TAUGHT to write, though I know there were some teachers and professors in my life who guided me in the right direction. It’s a bit like being born a beaver and then having to teach kangaroos how to build dams. I can’t TEACH you to build a fucking damn, I’m a beaver, it’s just what we do. But of course there are SOME things I can teach people, like how to distinguish shit writing from good and how to polish a so-so paper and how to make awkward sentences less awkward, so I do that. And occasionally students turn in really good work that is at least slightly better because of my guidance, and that feels great.

6. Trust is nice. As in it’s really nice to not have to clock in and clock out and just sit in an office building even if I don’t really have any pressing work to do, just because I’m required to be there 8.5 hours per day. And the irony is that I am actually working LONGER hours now than I was in my corporate job, but they don’t feel longer because I have a ton of autonomy and I’m doing the work that I need to do on my own schedule. Most days I come in around nine and stay till after six, but some days I have a dental appointment or I need to go to the bank and I come in at ten and stay till seven. And no one, to my knowledge, is peering at me through a surveillance camera and counting my hours. They just trust that I’ll teach my classes and get my work done, and I do. And it actually motivates me to work MORE.

7. Head, please talk to the hands. Oh, the joys of that special form of bureaucracy that is state institutions. At times it can feel like I’m living in the midst of a collection of feudal states, none of whom communicate with each other. One course that I’m teaching might be cross-listed in three other departments under three different names, so I’m getting emails from three different people about what I think are three different courses but in fact it’s the SAME COURSE, though naturally there’s no way for me to know that since the course names bear no resemblance to one another. The good news is that everyone is really, really sweet and really, really patient. They all seem to understand that things are a little bit insane, they’re just more used to it than I am. One of my colleagues called it “friendly chaos,” which I guess is better than unfriendly order.

8. Guilt. Oh, guilt. I have a job and health insurance and LOTS of people who deserve jobs much more than me don’t have them, and it sucks. On a day to day basis I just pray that I’m not part of the problem and that I will never become that horrible person who rolls their eyes at other people’s struggles and adopts that head-in-the-sand philosophy of “Well, I have a job, so everything must be fine, quit your whining!”

9. Fuck it, I will never read and watch all the things. But until I do, I will feel like a dilettante. That seemingly endless list of books and films that every PhD in my field is supposed to have read and watched just keeps getting longer, and I will continue to try to chip away at it, but it will keep growing.

10. Day to day, it’s awesome. Sure, there are days when I spill tea all over my desk and can’t get the audio equipment to work and want to strangle that arrogant kid who always shows up late and glares at everyone. But most of the time I’m just really happy, tired in a good way, and feel really lucky.

Friendly chaos suits me, I think.

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3 comments on “One Down: Thoughts on the End of the First Semester

  1. Kathryn
    January 28, 2015

    Fuck it, I will never read and watch all the things.

    PREACH IT.

    At this point in my career, when I am putting in about the same hours you are (although you are way more hardcore than I am, in that you actually show up to the office wearing shoes), I am happy if I read one chapter of every third or fourth book that I absolutely need to read in order to stay current in the field. I always wondered what the point of 2000-word academic book reviews is supposed to be, but now I know. In terms of films, television series, and video games, each title has about twenty to thirty minutes to impress me, because my time and attention are severely limited. And even with serious time-cutting and efficiency-boosting measures, I’ve still got enough backlog in the shopping carts of my American and Japanese Amazon accounts to bankrupt a small country.

    As a fellow imposter, though, I think I can safely say that we’re doing okay, and all we can do about the guilt at this point is to encourage and aid other people on the same path instead of barring their way – which is totally what you’re doing with this essay!

    Thanks for posting, and thanks for keeping things real.

  2. gradland
    January 28, 2015

    Haha, it’s too damn cold to go shoe-less, otherwise I probably would! (Or at least wear flip-flops.) Yes, thank heaven for book reviews. And film reviews.

  3. A Modern Girl
    February 1, 2015

    Sounds like things are going well. 🙂

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This entry was posted on January 28, 2015 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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