I like the internet. That might seem like a bit of a silly thing to say, but it’s true. I do. I like that I can find information, waste time, watch movies, keep in contact with friends and family. And, I like that I can find voices that resonate with me, voices that make me feel less alone and vulnerable – particularly in the big bad world of trying to land an academic job.
But, increasingly, I am frustrated by the fact that I cannot find a voice that reflects my situation. And, in many ways, I’m not surprised. Let me explain.
I have a PhD. It’s been examined, corrected, awarded, and I have walked across the stage. So, from that perspective, I am not seeking ‘what can you do in graduate school’ style blogs and articles. That ship has sailed, whether I did the right things or not. I’m also not interested, at present anyway, in finding a permanent non-academic job. That is to say, I want to stay in academia and I want to find an academic job. So, the voices of those negotiating the shift from academia to industry are – while interesting and helpful in many respects – not what I am looking for. And, I don’t have an academic job at present. So, while I do (sometimes) like reading about early career academics and negotiating fixed term contracts and heavy teaching loads (for instance), it’s also not exactly what I am after.
As for not being surprised that I can’t find a voice like mine, I think that’s obvious. It’s perilous, the job hunt. That’s true, I suspect, across the board and not just in academia. People probably don’t want to draw attention to the fact that they haven’t got a job straight out of graduate school, so perhaps it is best to stay quiet. We are trained, in so many ways, to be both insecure and over confident, and drawing attention to the fact that one has not been ‘selected’ already certainly brings out the insecurity.
And then, I think: I have been so very privileged in the position I am in currently. And by that I mean that as an un- or under-employed ‘academic’, I have had the opportunity to not have to work full time in a non-academic job. So, I have spent the time since my viva working on a monograph version of my thesis, which is now under review. I have been able to devote time to working on other publications, on some new research, on writing a(n extended) proposal for my ‘next big project’. (But, I am also acutely aware that I might never get the opportunity to do that project, but I obviously don’t like to think too much about that…). The flip side is that I don’t have the institutional support to, for example, go to conferences. I simply can’t afford to pay my own way.
I know that I'm not the only person in my position. Even if I didn’t personally know people who were then I would be able to hazard a pretty accurate guess about it. Right now, I don’t want to revolutionise higher education in this country, I just want to be able to teach and research the things that I am passionate about.
So, I would love to hear from others in the same position – and I want them to know that they’re not the only one.
I can’t really complain about this year. After all, my PhD was awarded, which was great, obviously. But it was also really strange and disappointing. It has been a long time since I actually stopped working for more than a brief holiday – both through circumstance and (also) design. And I certainly didn’t stop working after submitting (I started writing a book proposal), and I didn’t stop working after my viva (I started writing a book), and I didn’t really ever stop working. It’s like the thesis bled into the book. Once you throw in all the time it takes to get job applications and research proposals written and that’s basically the entire year. It was also disappointing because this was meant to be the big thing I’d spent the last ten years working towards and here I was, finished, with no job and no real plan beside ‘finish book’.
So, submitting the book manuscript felt like a much bigger achievement than the PhD. It’s currently out for review, and I’m sure there’s still a fair way to go before it’s finishing. But I completely overhauled my thesis and added some new sections, and I’m actually really proud of it. Much prouder than I am of the thesis itself.
Some not so great stuff happened as well – but it’s stuff that happens all over the place. I had an article rejected (although the feedback was very helpful, and the journal is open to looking at it again after revisions). I had some conference abstracts rejected. I didn’t get a full-time job, which is much harder after having interviews that I now replay over in my head to try and figure out what I should have done differently (but, I also got some good post-interview feedback too).
And, I’ve now finished teaching for the academic year, which actually is really sad. I enjoy teaching immensely, and I’ve had four particularly wonderful classes of students this semester. I have also tried out some interesting new activities, and generally been significantly more reflexive about my teaching than I’ve ever been. Related to that, I’m currently applying for Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, so I am writing more formally about my teaching, which is making me (pre-emptively) miss it even more!
I find it really difficult to think about goals and plans for the year ahead simply because I do not know what situation I’ll be in. My two big goals are obviously to get the monograph finalised and to get a full-time job for the 2016/17 academic year. I have a few things in the pipe-lines that I would like to get finished fairly soon in the year, including an article about the cult of Demeter Chthonia in Hermione that is almost done. And, of course, in March I am giving a paper at the Early Career Seminar series at the ICS on ‘classical monsters’ in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I have a few applications for postdoctoral fellowships out or in the works, so right now I am most focused on those.
Thinking about 2016 fills me with hope and anxiety. Being a newly-minted PhD without a job is a difficult place to be, but one that is certainly not unique to me, nor uncommon more generally. I would be lying if I wasn’t spending my holiday thinking about heading home to no job, and no more teaching. But, all I can do is put myself in the best possible position to be a strong candidate for the next job round, and that’s my goal.
What are your 2015 achievements and goals for the coming year?
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