Friday, August 17, 2007

What I Want, What I Tell Myself

Today I had an unexpected, brief talk with a member of my committee, who's recently taken on the role of Placement Coordinator for our department. She asked if I planned on hitting the market next year and gave me some general tips, many of which I knew or had already heard about (i.e. don't be surprised if I don't get anything the first year, don't take it personally, etc.). I was explaining a few of the factors that would play into my particular job search that I think might make it a teeny tiny bit easier, one of which being that I didn't want to end up at a Research I school. This seemed to surprise her, as she said, as if to confirm that she heard me correctly, "You don't want to work at an RI?" I wiggled a bit, simply saying that right now, I'm not sure that an RI school is definitely where I'd like to be.

This got me thinking. Why not?

She didn't ask for any reasons (thank goodness), but I nonetheless came away wondering why it was I seem to have already decided this. I think there are some possible reasons:

- my presumption that RI equals stuffy, crazy department full of over-inflated egos?

- maybe I'm not smart enough to work under the pressure of a publish, publish, publish environment?

- maybe I'm not smart enough to publish, publish, publish to begin with?

- my presumption that there's no way I could work at an RI and be successful as both an academic and a parent?

- maybe saying I don't want to work at a RI is a way of not having to deal with being rejected from RIs, which would subsequently make me feel insecure?

- maybe I haven't yet decided what's "harder" for me: research or teaching?

- myabe I like to tell myself that teaching makes a difference to those students in my classes?

- maybe I'm afraid there's not a single RI school in which I'd "fit in;" that is, there seems to be a concept of Research I Material and I'm not it

- or maybe it's simply of way of convincing myself that not wanting an RI job will make it easier for me to get a job at all?

I don't know if the answer lies in any of these possibilities. Or perhaps in all of them combined. I do know, however, that I seem to be telling myself something that may not be quite right. I know I want to teach at a school with a graduate program. And I know I'm not cut out to teach at a community college (I tried...I just won't do it again), which leads me to think I don't want to be at a "teaching school." But there's a lot of area in between, right?

I also wonder if this is part of the process of becoming an academic: the finding where you belong aspect. And then there's the idea that one can't really "know" where one belongs at this stage (the dissertation writing stage). Does everyone go through this? Most people? Surely I'm not the only one? It's times like this when I wish I had more readers.


Jennie said...

I think every grad student goes through this...and I even take it further by wondering if the academe is the right place for me. Crazy, most especially for somebody entering their final (let's hope) year in grad school. I also wanted to say that I think all grad students feel pangs of doubt and inadequacy from time to time--sad, but true, and probably not at all a reflection of your abilities or professional potential.

Amy Reads said...

Hi AcadeMama,
For the longest time, I thought I wanted the small Liberal Arts job. Over the past four years, I realized that I *do* want the Research I job. I want to work with graduate students, Ph.D. students in particular. This makes the next, say, ten years of my life rather maddening, but then, who ever expected that they wouldn't be?
But it's not a graduate student thing, or a resignation thing. Get the job *you* want, because only you can know what job will make you happiest.

wwwmama said...

Yeah, I think it's a trial and error thing. How can we really know if it's right for us until we try it? We can have gut feelings but we still have to find a fit, even if it's between different types of R1s or different CCs or whatever. Some of your reasons are familiar to me. I've thought about the middle ground too; I think it's where I want to head if highschool isn't a good fit for me. But it's key to remain open to it all, I think.

Lisa Dunick said...

I've been going through "this" for the last 6 years. And the farther I get into the mires of "this" particular topic, the more I think maybe a RI is where I want to be. My 6 years ago self would be so disappointed.

mgm said...


I am so with you on this one. I look at the careers of some of those around who both have children and don't have children. There's a part of me that wishes I would have just done what my father wanted me to do: get my bachelor's in English Education and teach in a high school. Steady paycheck, family friendly, only teaching commitments with a committee here and there, a student organization or two. I really admire wwwmama's decision to take that high school job. I don't think I could turn my back on it at this point. That takes a level of courage and self-assurance I don't have right now.

I love the teaching and worry that research, research, research would get in my way of being the best teacher that I could be. I fear that I just can't come up with enough ideas to warrant producing anything more than a dissertation that I just know is awful no matter how many times my director and another committee member assure me of its worth.

But I think Jennie's right. We all feel this way. It's just nice to hear others admit it in a field where everyone seems to be so damn sure of themselves.

Em said...

I am a new mom and in the dissertation phase as well and let me say first that it has meant so much to me to find that there are other women out there who are willing to voice their struggles online. I'm a returning student in my program and am pretty isolated in this process, so I have found a lot of encouragement from reading the blogs of people who are trying to persevere like I am.

In response to this post, I have a background in teaching middle school, so I tend to just tell myself "Oh, you can just go back to teaching middle school when (if) you finish." But, as much as I loved teaching secondary ed and as wonderful as it is to have something to fall back on, that's not what I really want. I just often think (among the other reasons that you listed as well) that I don't have what it takes to go through the interviewing process and to land a serious job in the kind of department that I'd really like to end up in. My partner is already a prof and is very confident in my ability to finish *this thing* and in the idea that I will be teaching just like him someday, somewhere.

But it's tough, you know? It seems that such a large part of this process is psychological and emotional, just basic believing in yourself and banishing anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. I can get overwhelmed so easily and lose that fragile sense of clarity or security about my topic and project.

And frankly, it's hard to be thinking about jobs when I haven't even proven to myself that I can finish this dissertation. I tend to think that there is a trial and error aspect to finding the kind of job that is best, which is of course more complicated with a family in tow. I am more teaching-oriented as well and have taken off this year from teaching (a big decision for the whole family) in order to finish writing. It's hard to be divided, to feel as if teaching is suffering because of research and vice versa.

I'm going on and on, I guess because these things are very close to the surface for me as well. Thanks for asking.

mom said...

I ended up in a research I institution by accident - don't ask - and all I can say is that is is REALLY hard, really really really hard. I always tell people that I can swing R1 and parenting, but can't even begin to imagine swinging those two things plus anything approaching a personal life -- like reading a leisure book, going to a party, baking some cookies - it's sick. I work or parent 24/7. Obviously, post-tenure things will be different - but it is a hard road with a big question mark at the end.

My closest friend at another R1 just went up - like this week had to turn all her stuff in and she is on the brink of divorce b/c of the toll this has taken on her family.

So, I just wanted to throw that out there. It's the stuff no one says.

AcadeMama said...

Jennie: I think (and hope) you're right :) I've been lucky in that I've always felt like I was in the right profession, but it's the insecurity about my professional potential that persists. I suffer from the ultimate "imposter syndrome."

Hi Amy: I was hoping you'd chime in on this :) I guess my question is what specifically helped you realize the RI job is what you want? How do you really "know" it's the job that will make you happy?

wwwmama: I'm definitely thinking the being open to options is going to be key once I hit the market. As you can imagine, though, with kids as part of the picture, one wants to keep the "error" part to a minimum.

ld: Why "disappointed"?

MGM: Yes, much love for wwwmama for going with the flow of what came her way and trusting her instincts! And if this blog can in any way open the door of doubt confessionals, let'em roll because I've got all kinds of uncertainty (especially in terms of knowing what I'm capable of vs. what makes me professionally happy).

em: Good to hear from you! These are complicated issues in particular because they're at once personal and professional (at least for me). My role as a parent is extremely personal and brings me a great deal of fulfillment. I consider it my number two (next to God) and second highest priority. But, right after family comes my career because it also brings me such joy. Teaching used to be the thing that really made my day, but the more I work on my dissertation, the more satisfaction I get from it.

mom: Thank you so much for your contribution! This is exactly what I needed to hear in the sense that I *want* to know about the stuff that's "not in the brochure." Do you think your experience is unique? Typical of the RI experience for a parent? Affected because you're a mother rather than a father? Might the institution have a specific dynamic that may not be present at other RIs? That is, in all honesty, I'm hoping your case isn't the norm :) I'd like to think there's hope for me should I choose to go for an RI position.

Jennie said...

AdadeMama-- Just to clarify, I also feel like I am in the right profession. Ironically I feel pretty confident about my professional potential, but question whether or not I'll be able to juggle my professional aspirations with what makes sense for the rest of my life. When my husband and I moved so I could attend grad school, the plan was for the move to be temporary (as in, until I graduated and went on the job market). However, now that we love where we live and my husband's career is more established in this community I find it hard to imagine a situation that will make re-locating the right decision for my life and my family vs. just what is right for my career. I used to believe I needed professional fulfillment to be happy and content with my life, but after I had my son I realized it wasn't as much a priority for me. I find it scary that most professors in my department are working 70+ hrs a week and are all divorced, with the rare exception of a few men with grown children who had/have a stay-at-home wife. And that most of my grad school friends who are married had to accept a long-distance marriage along with their tenure-track positions. It indicates to me that it takes a lot more than I ever imagined to balance everything, and I am not confident that I am one of the people who can do it all. A combination of all these factors makes me wonder if all the sacrifices for me to pursue an academic career will be worth the rewards. Perhaps adjuncting is what makes more sense for me, or another profession that I can pursue locally, or staying home with my son??? I just don't know. Sorry this is so long, can you tell I obsess about this all the time?

mom said...

Hi Again-
I don't know -- my institution has amazing junior faculty support -- but it's just still so hard. I only know 2 other female junior faculty member with children. I would be happy to talk more one on one if you want - it's a lot to type.

my blog:

日月神教-向左使 said...