Wednesday, November 30, 2005

However, furthermore, and Yet now I'm sick and tired of my little segway words. Hell, I can't even remember the right name for them now. Words like:

even if
as a result
in fact
in the same vein
even though
at any rate

And I also need more of this sort of thing:
for instance
for example

I think after I finish this thing I'm going to only be able to say "aagaafhuh" for about a year. All my words will have been used up.

The Nonacademic Job Search

If you're like me, you want to get as far away from academia as possible after finishing Hell. If so, you might find this an entertaining read.

(From The Chronicle for Higher Education, 11/1/05)

The Truth About the Nonacademic Job Search
by Elle Madison

After an unsuccessful year on the academic job market, I decided to test the proverbial nonacademic waters for a year. I have watched colleagues struggle through years of uncertainty, low self-esteem, and pennilessness while adjuncting, and I imagined (rightly or not) that the nonacademic world had to be much better.
Upon receiving my Ph.D. in comparative literature last June, I spent the summer applying for writing and editing jobs, consulting career counselors and job-search books, and generally trying to determine which path to take. The nonacademic job, however, has not been as easy to obtain as I had fantasized in my post-dissertation stupor.
Furthermore, I found that the transition into the real world bears little resemblance to the success stories and promises of those job-search books. So I decided it was time for someone to tell the truth about the nonacademic path.
Truth No. 1: You will lose your friends. That unfortunate process may have started much earlier, of course, once you began to express doubts about the academic job market. I can assure you from experience that there's nothing that will scare off your fellow graduate students more than talk of leaving academe.
The idea that a different career, a different life, is possible in the nonacademic world seems to threaten those delicately balanced ivory towers. If you begin to test the strength of the towers, you will alienate others inside the university. In short, you lose your friends because you are daring to imagine life on the outside.
The irony of losing your friends is that the very means of finding a job outside of academe is by networking. Books on the nonacademic job search insist that the only way to find a job is by networking: while pursuing your favorite hobbies!; by meeting people at cocktail parties!; while doing volunteer work! You may have heard that advice before, back when it was in a guidebook to dating.
In neither case is it helpful, since you long ago had to give up your hobbies when you started graduate school, you've become increasingly anti-social while writing your dissertation and, as I already mentioned, you've lost all of your friends. Networking may be the best way to find a job, but you will have to be realistic about the success of that method as a recent Ph.D.
Truth No. 2: You will lose your mentors. My committee members, who read patiently through the drafts of my dissertation, have certainly been exceptionally helpful in the academic job search. I have been greatly indebted to them for their letters of support and words of encouragement throughout the process.
In the nonacademic job search, however, you're out at sea on your own, since the crew members you've come to need and trust can't venture that far from shore. That is perhaps the most startling part of the transition, especially after spending several years relying on a circle of trusted advisers and mentors. As you explore uncharted waters, you will have to learn how to navigate on your own.
Truth No. 3: You will be told you know nothing about "writing." In an informational interview with a technical writer, I was told that I knew nothing about real writing because I had never published an article in a magazine or newspaper. In that case, I'm not sure why I was unleashed on hundreds of undergraduates as a teaching assistant in essay-writing classes.
The writer I was interviewing had worked her way up as a journalist over many years and suggested that I build my portfolio of "clips" (published articles) by writing about something I know. For example, she thought I could write an article on my two fighting cats for a cat magazine. After spending years researching and writing a 300-page dissertation, I can't believe that an uninformed commentary on domestic cats would actually be more impressive.
I've concluded that jobs in "writing" in the nonacademic world must simply encompass different kinds of writing, from news reporting to technical writing. Academic writing, it seems, is not understood in the outside world. You will have to reinvent yourself as a writer, but not, I hope, by writing on topics like feline foibles.
Truth No. 4: Your Ph.D., awards, and accolades mean nothing. One of the curious elements of books on the Ph.D.'s nonacademic job search is that the authors, who have made the transition into the "real world," always begin their discussions by presenting their academic qualifications. Interestingly, they all published extensively, received glowing reviews from students, and piled up awards and fellowships. Their reasons for leaving academe vary, but they all insist they were extremely successful as graduate students and professors.
Similarly, I have tried to squeeze in "Dr." in front of my name at every opportunity, and my Ph.D. is proudly perched atop my résumé. A career counselor, however, advised me against that. The Ph.D., apparently, should be buried on the ésumé underneath lists of skills and abilities, for fear of frightening off potential employers.
The problem with that strategy, of course, is that you wouldn't want an employer who is afraid of a Ph.D., anyway. For now, I'm boldly displaying my academic credentials on my ésumé, with the hope that I will find a job that actually makes use of my qualifications.
Truth No. 5: You will have to throw things away. By that, I mean your papers, your jargon, and your definition of self-worth. A good house-cleaning after graduate school never hurt anyone, but your definition of yourself is perhaps the hardest part of your past to discard. New assistant professors, I've heard, suffer from a similar difficulty, since they have to negotiate the shift from graduate student to "professor."
I had built my sense of self-worth in graduate school on the number of pages of my dissertation that I had written in a week, or the research I had finished, or the papers I had graded. My academic work came to define who I was.
Without the security blanket that was your dissertation, you will have to allow your self-definition to shift. On the nonacademic job market, that means an indefinite period of time not knowing who or what you will become.
Truth No. 6: Rejection letters from last year's academic search will seem hilarious. Let's not forget the upside of taking a break from the academic world. In late July, I received a letter of rejection for a teaching position advertised last fall. I had applied and never heard back from the university, but in the letter the department announced it had received my application materials and, "after much consideration," had decided to offer the position to another candidate. It had, according to the letter, been deliberating for an entire year. The stressful, painstaking process of the academic job machine can, for a moment, look ridiculous. But that leads us to the final and unfortunate truth:
Truth No. 7: Finding a job outside academe is just as difficult. You may believe, as I once did, that the nonacademic job search is much less painful. The process of networking can be liberating, since friends and contacts can actually have a positive influence on prospective employers. The ability to choose to live in metropolitan areas rather than small towns can save your social life. And the fact that you are not constrained by the yearly academic job market and limited job openings means that you can, at the very least, apply for jobs year-round.
However, the real world functions in a manner as mysterious as the academic market. Most employers, I have found, specify "no telephone calls," which means you are left helpless and uninformed. I have, in some cases, eventually received automated rejections by e-mail, but I seem to be waiting by the phone just as dolefully as in December of last year.
Perhaps some will read this as a cautionary tale, but that is certainly not how I have meant it. The opportunity to redefine yourself and explore other, perhaps more rewarding career paths should not be undervalued.
In order to do that, however, you will have to venture out on your own, without the support of your colleagues, your dissertation, or your portfolio of awards. You will lose the security of the ivory towers, but also the fears instilled within. And you will learn not to be afraid.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Ooo...not such a good idea.

I was having real trouble concentrating today...the reading the same sentence over and over and over thing. Sometimes Adderall has helped me with that. Today I took some Ritalin I've had sitting around for years. I feel slightly sick to my stomach now. And the fuzziness isn't gone.
In the past I've had it happen that I can really concentrate on the stuff, but I have to watch out what I concentrate on. So it was uh...easier to concentrate on blogs and now here I am. Must force mind back to task!

I'm spending Thanksgiving writing because it's a day with NO INTERRUPTIONS...I have to get back on track!

Saturday, November 12, 2005


OK...obviously my self-confidence is still a bit fragile. There's this new Prof. at the university who works on a lot that completely overlaps with what I do--he's perfect for my committee! I asked him about 6 months ago to be on my committee, and he said yes. Then I didn't get in touch with him until September, when I sent him one of my chapters. He said he was excited to read it just from the title. But then I never heard back from him. No big deal, OK.

BUT: Right before she defended, my friend who just finished had a committee member drop out on her (she said she no longer had anything to say about her work because it had drifted from what they had in common), and I recommended the new professor. He had seemed completely sweet and unassuming when I met him, really excited about ideas and not competitive about them, and I told her that. Her committee head (same as mine) also recommended him (she had recommended him to me), so she asked and he said yes. She sent him her 500 page dissertation and he read it right away aned was really positive about it. The day after her defense I went to a lecture he gave, and he was so completely enamored of her work he mentioned it a couple of times during his talk. I went up to talk to him afterwards and re-introduce myself. He didn't remember me or the chapter I had sent, and told me to resend them. He couldn't take his eyes off my friend though, and just told her again and again how wonderful her work was, how very precise she was with her terms, which was uncommon in our field (the humanities--he does computer and science stuff), and as he said that he looked at me. OK, it means nothing, but the paranoid person in me is going uh-oh. But hey, he didn't remember my chapter. Actually, he hadn't even read it. TOTAL paranoia...obviously the comment is not directed at me. But I did feel bad that he hadn't taken the time to read the chapter, especially in contrast to the enthusiasm he showed toward my friend's work.

I put it out of my mind, and re-sent him my chapter, and asked if he was available on such and such dates for my defense. He answered saying thanks for resending the chapter, that he apologized but he wasn't going to have time to read it for a while, and that he wasn't available on the dates I gave fact, he wouldn't be back until January! AAAAAAUUGGH!! So it's looking like I have to find a new committee member on top of all my other stresses. But that little paranoid voice is also going "hmm...why am I so completely uninteresting to him?" My work would seem to be right up his alley. Although it has a different focus than my friend's, in some ways it's MORE up his alley than her work. I deal directly with some of the same topics. I would chalk this all up to my last-minuteness...I can't expect much when I'm doing things in such a rushed manner. But since he was completely willing and thrilled to be on my friend's committee las minute, I'm feeling pretty down about the whole thing.

And he was so perfect for the committee! If only he'd at least read my stuff...maybe he'd like it.... I was hoping he'd get excited about the topics in it (if not the ideas themselves) and we'd have tons of cool stuff to discuss.

I'm probably just being ultra-paranoid, but then I think I felt these little indications the last few interactions we've had...I'm ultra-sensitive to these sorts of things, and am hardly ever wrong in the end. I already have one member of my committee who doesn't really like me...I'm keeping him on because I know he's going to be happy to see me go, so he's anxious for me to graduate! Heh heh.... But I was excited about this one professor. *sigh*

Hopefully something will work out and this will all just be my paranoia and lack of self-confidence.

Temptation Blocker

Whoa! If only they had a Mac version! This free software lets you block your access to any programs you want. So, if you have a habit of procrastinating by surfing the internet or playing a video game, you can reign yourself in. What a cool idea! The problem for me would be the 32 character string you can input to stop the block.

Back on Track

OK...I survived that crisis. I've plunged back in. I'm still trying to make it to my goal. I have to finish writing by the end of the month if I don't want to pay another semester of fees. If I can do 5 pages a day, I can make it. So far, I've been going too slow, on average 3 or 4 pages. I'm hoping that with continued practice, I can start writing faster. When I was an undergraduate, my average was a page an hour. Then again, that was for much shorter arguments. Maintaining a line of reasoning and a direction in a 5 to 15 page paper, even a 25 page paper, is not too hard. 50 pages is another matter! And I have one chapter that got so bloated that I'm splitting it in two. It's really funny to think about what I thought my dissertation would include before I started it! I'm maybe covering 1/20 of what I thought I would.

OK...can't lose steam now. Have to step up the pace. My biggest fear is that my two TAships are about to go into end-of-semester frenzy.

So many years of suffering of evading this task...needless suffering, if I had just gotten to it!

If I succeed in doing this...if I succeed in doing this--anyone could.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Self Doubt

Just two days ago I was completely immersed in my work, and also celebrating my friend's completion of her dissertation. We came in the same year, and I have done everything a little after her, so at first I felt inspired by her finishing. She was very nervous, said she felt the typical imposter syndrome, right before her defense. I knew she had nothing to worry about. She did spectacularly! And I can taste her freedom....
But two days later I am in the horrible grips of self-doubt. I do fine when I'm writing in my little world, reading a bit, but not too much as it can make me anxious about my own ideas. But I was just exposed (though of course only from the outside), to the actual process of turning in a dissertation and defending it. It's been helpful in some ways to make things concrete, but today I cannot stop FREAKING OUT about it!!! I feel the judgment of my committee, the thousand voices of everyone who has ever written anything in my field before. I feel (though I know that it's bullshit) that I have to compete with all of that, that I have to produce something as good as anything that has ever been produced. In order to get through this thing, to feel compelled to write, I have to feel inspired. I have to feel that what I'm doing is important in some way. That I'm right about what I'm writing. But now I only feel a horrible, vertiginous lack of self-confidence. And I just don't have time to feel this. I'm sitting here before the page, wanting to cry because my ideas seem so pathetic, so obvious. It doesn't matter that someone reassures me they are not. I'm stuck in an emotion that I can't think away or ignore.
I'm writing in here, this confession, though I have come to think of this blog as well as a place of judgment, to see if I can exorcise the feeling. I no longer feel anonymous here. I feel compelled to seem cheery, to prevent those "anonymous" comments that express concern at my swings from overconfidence to underconfidence, as if I wasn't aware of them. As if this blog hadn't been started, and started anonymously, for the very purpose of giving voice to my doubts, fears, angers, hopes in all their complexity and all their inaneness.
Ah, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. One more person finished, guys. A person I know. And I will finish too. It may not be brilliant, but it will be done. I'm just suffering a bit of withdrawal from having thought, in my state of optimistic overexertion, that it would be GREAT. I'm going to go back to thinking it doesn't have to be great, just done.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Take away my degree, now

Many of you will learn that the most humiliating and frustrating part of getting an advanced degree is when some official from your school looks over your dissertation or thesis to make sure the document conforms to the university's guidelines. It seems ludicrous that after you have worked on this document for years (at least in my case), there is a little lady wearing taupe shoes in a windowless office, measuring your margins and page numbers with a well-worn wooden ruler. If the document doesn't pass muster with her, you don't get your degree. Naturally, this woman has no idea how humiliating and excruciating this process is for you. She also doesn't understand that none of us are professional word processors, armed with all the arcane secrets that our writing software holds.

So getting to my point: I am going through this process right now, having prepared the final final final draft of my dissertation, all 569 pages of it. After screaming at my footnotes to make them move into the correct spot on the page, they finally complied. I tore my hair out to get all of my images to fit within the Bizarro World margins required by my uni. Satisfied that my document was in perfect shape, I sent off a PDF of it for approval.

And the little Taupe Shoe Lady writes me back today to say that all looks good, except for the fact that I misspelled "university" on my title pages.