Category Archives: Post-grad life

Posts about being something akin to an academic

It’s been a long time…

Well, first off, it’s been quite a while since I’ve even looked at this blog, let alone thought about posting anything.  On the off-chance you are even remotely interested as to why, I’ll elucidate about that a bit more below.  But first, I’d just like to say, well, sorry about that.  Part of my PhD process was a promise to self and others that results from the study would get back to not only the participants, but also the public at large – needless to say, something of a fail on that one.  The reasons are complex, tied in with why there have been no blogs in general, and may come as something of a surprise to some of you. So, let’s start at the beginning. What on earth have I been doing?  Since finishing my PhD, I’ve been working as a research associate/assistant/project officer/tutor/whateverthehellyouwanttocallitforthepurposesofmyworkcontract at an Australian university.  With, I must add, some pretty amazing academics, in the diversities field – mainly sexualities and race, with some gender in there too.  It’s been pretty great, and I am very very lucky to be employed in my field when most graduates end up in admin if they work at a uni, or as tutors working across institutions, trying to keep afloat on multiple casual contracts.  Which is actually what I am doing, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have those contracts be in research and at one uni – a real novelty in Australia, apparently. You’d think this would have put me in the perfect position to be writing and posting about my research, and the stuff I’m involved with.  Not so much.  Partially because in order to stay afloat financially, casual contracts come in multiples – last year I held 12 contracts, at least half of those simultaneously.  Doesn’t leave a lot of time for concentrated thinking, and certainly not on my own work.  The upside on this, a tremendous learning curve.  Steep, dense, but good. The downside, the constant realisation that, to quote my favourite wildling, ‘you know nothing, Jon Snow’… wait… I’m not Jon … I think…?   This is a common problem for academics, feelings of inadequacy and fakery, that any moment you’re going to get found out as someone who has faked their way into their position, and yes, actually has no clue what they are talking about.  (Yes, you could say that many have internalised the public’s opinion of academics in general…).  Apparently narcissism is an excellent trait to have as an academic, comes with thick skin and feelings of awesomeness… missed out on that one. After three months in the job, I pretty much realised I had no clue, and really should just be quiet, not make too much of a show of it, and keep at it, least I be discovered, outed, and banished from the tower.  You’re probably thinking, banishment probably doesn’t sound too bad if that’s the environment.  And seriously, you’re probably right.  But the problem with eroded confidence, and what we now get to name as impostor syndrome – yes, it is an actual thing whoopee! – is that wherever you go, it goes too.   So yay for me.  Now where did I put that bottle of narcissism and/or expert fakery? As a result, I haven’t written anything since the completion of the thesis.  Principally because writing stresses me out to the point where I literally cannot even sit at my computer.  Ridic-u-lous! Really.  And I know that.  We all have our dragons, apparently this is mine. Bear in mind that there are only two kinds of discursive positions for those in the academy – tenured academics who have the merit to have their position, and everyone else, who is either too green or too crap to have tenure.  (Evidenced by my institution classifying researchers like me as general staff (along with cleaners, baristas and the like) – not a classest statement, just a reflection on the institution’s conceptualisation of us – service providers), rather than as academic staff who do work with books and research and such.) Bear in mind too that neither of these discursive positions is accurate, but it does present a bit of a challenge about how to conceptualise yourself when there is no right-fitting space for you to locate yourself in.   It has taken a while to get my head out of framing myself as a student let alone anything else – so where I go from here is, well, a bit of a mystery. So, there we have it,  a complicated intersection of working with tenured giants, no discursive space to occupy, a need to make an income in a crazy work culture, and feelings of fakery that are fed by this intersection.  Yeah, no blogging, no brainer.  As for publications… really?  Whoa there young-un. So, sorry about that.   Doing my best to get over myself. Hence, a post. And an endeavour to start talking more. But with some caveats.  Some stuff may be on topic, off topic, no topic, huh? topic.  And I may talk out my ear.  Part of the academic fiction is expertise.  As much as some people may know more on some things than others, expertise… yeah, that’s problematic – I am not going to try and occupy that space.  I am going to talk through ideas, be wrong, get close to an insight, share some others thoughts, ask some questions, share some experiences, some theory, some research (mine and others) in an endeavour to engage in some knowledge transfer.  But expertise… yeah no.  I may be at the bottom of the academic ladder, but I know enough to recognise that expertise is contingent and context-specific, transitory.  But I also know that that shouldn’t stop any of us from talking. So, some blogs, and as part of the updates will be on where I’m at with getting results published in academic journals, and where you can find that material (open access where possible, drafts where not), in case you’re interested.  Be patient, this stuff takes time. Here’s hoping this actually results in something worth reading.  I make no promises!  But maybe we can get a conversation started.

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Published

Well, finally, a return to the net.  You could be excused for thinking I’d run off somewhere to never return, but have no fear, I have only been suffering from a reasonably common academic malaise that I like to call ‘thesis aversion’.  Apparently many PhD writers go through this, where the idea of even looking at our research makes us run faster than a certain Mr Bolt in the other direction.  This is for no other reason than that we have been ‘eating’ intellectual cereal without milk for 4 or more years.  No matter how interesting it is to someone else, to us it is like reading Fifty Shades of Grey over, and over, and over ..

Never fear however, although many of us run, it is often  only in circles.  Thus we find ourselves back where we began …

Like all humble returns, this will be short and sweet, because I know I have to write something, but I just don’t know what that is.   So the easiest way to get out of doing anything substantive is just to go: Taadaaaaah! Here’s the link to the thesis if you want to take a look:  http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz//handle/10063/2366

Look at that! I’ve put up 100,000 words in the blink of an eye!  Now why couldn’t the writing process have been this easy?

For those of you sensible enough not to click through to my swipe at academic credibility a.k.a. thesis, stay tuned, results discussions are coming  Thanks for your patience.

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Something odd happened on the way to the tax office …

One of the things about doing post-graduate education is the moment when you come up against the reality of related future employment.  Education means a variety of things for us, from being a means to an end to a passion project.  If you’re a means-person the likelihood of you getting a job in your field is reasonably good – though not guaranteed – because the means is usually towards the end of employment so you’re crafting yourself to the market.   But if you’re a passsion-person like me, the prospect of finding work in your field when you have a set of acronyms after your name can prove to be down-right daunting.  Let’s face it, how many employers are looking for someone with extensive experience talking to people about sex … (excluding the sex industry)?

This isn’t to say that we should curb our passions in the face of narrow employment prospects.  Just that we have to be realistic about the intersection between the education and employment sectors as they move away from education for education’s sake (which illustrates intellectual capacity, capacity to stick with delineated tasks for prolonged periods, independent work ethic, and so on) towards a more pure profit model – what did you do that we as employers can actually capitalise on beyond your having learned to be a good worker.   You can see why passion-projects, despite their often adding greatly to the body of knowledge, can therefore be tricky with respect to future employment, because these things are not always (often!) transparent to employers.  This is exacerbated in todays quantifiable world when your passion is qualitative and social-science or humanities-based.  Try finding a job when you not only talked to people but listened to what they had to say, and didn’t count it.   Unless you’re in marketing, there are very few spaces available.

So, what do we do? Do we NOT do what we are passionate about? Of course, this is the tension. Within the academy one of the first things we are told, particularly at Masters or PhD level, is to ensure that we chose topics of research that we are passionate about.  The logic is that we are about to spend the next one to two to three to five to seven years smacking our heads up against said topic, and if we are going to do it we ought to at least enjoy the pain.  And the logic is sound.  Really, the P in PhD should stand for passion, because doing it for other reasons can really be a killer.  So here we have the tension: between passion projects that keep us alive and up the chances of our completing, versus a job market that is focused on your product-potential – how much useable knowledge and skill can you bring to a profit-making environment?   Hence why so many SS/H PhDs end up flipping burgers at Maccers.

One of the ways around this conundrum is to be aware of the international job market.  In good old NZ there is very little opportunity to work in my field, whether by discipline (Gender) or by thesis (sexuality).  The majority of universities there have cut their gender departments to save dollars and up profits (despite often high student uptake and overall popularity), favouring disciplines that get government and private sector funding, or have high international student demand – disciplines like the hard sciences, economics, marketing and so on.  As NZ unis move this way, the death of small knowledge-for-knowledge-sake disciplines like Latin, and social impact disciplines like mine, get disenfranchised.  Some of you may say, so what? Why keep a dept that researches Latin? Why keep Gender when NZ’s OECD rating for gender equality is so high?   Well, these topics have changed history and society, and their potential to keep doing so is still alive.  It does matter how accurate translations are, and understanding the etymology of language is extremely valuable.  And as for gender, NZ has some of the highest rates of sexual violence in the OECD right along our high equality rating, and one that is highly gendered.  Beyond their utility, closing down departments that broaden the knowledge pool regardless of their economics impoverishes society, and goes against the ethos of universities in general – ie to increase the body of knowledge.

OK, now that I’ve harped on, back on track.  So clearly employment prospects in my native country are not going to be great.  For many of us, this is the case.  And why so many academics don’t work in their country of origin. With a shrinking academic job market, one that is being narrowed by economic pressures, it’s becoming something of a scrap out there.  So we have to be prepared to chase the work.  By plane, train or automobile. Because here’s where the irony kicks in.  That passion project that can’t get you a job in so many places may be exactly the thing that gets you a job somewhere.  The great thing about passion is that it is usually shared, and someone, somewhere might actually want to pay you for it.  You just have to keep looking, and be prepared to move.

Of course, finding these jobs is really a bit of a rarity.  Honestly, getting a PhD in language etymology and then being employed by Websters Dictionary doesn’t happen to everyone – though I know someone it happened to, so there you go.   I’ve seen it, and  it just happened to me.  After 5 months of trawling through the job market (depressing) I got a job in my field.   Make no bones about it, I know how extremely lucky I am, that I was in the right place (Sydney) at the right time.  And that jobs like this only come around once in a galactic cycle.   But then,  my new boss was pretty pleased to have found me as apparently we gender grads are rare gems these days.   So everybody won.  Which just goes to show that that obscure thing you toiled over for years can actually prove to be productive, despite what economists and skeptics and nay-sayers may say.  Obscure jobs may be rare things, but so are the academics that study them – eventually every old sock will find its old shoe.

It’s like a little ray of sunshine on a crappy day, isn’t it?  To know that passion can still get you a job in today’s cynical market.

So next time someone rolls their eyes at you and asks you why they heck you would study that in todays’ world, have a wee smile.  You know exactly what you are doing, and eventually you’ll be paying taxes because of it.

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Off topic … kind of.

One thing I have been hesitant to write and post about during my research has been the PhD process itself.  But what the hell, its a new year, and I’m feeling cathartic lol.  Which probably has to do with the unending nature of PhDs themselves.

I think that, among some of my friends/family/acquaintances/connections there has been the expectation that once I submitted my thesis and got through the oral examination, it was all done and dusted.  They could mockingly call me Dr (rightly so btw), and then mock me once more when I get a job flipping burgers at MacDonalds (quite likely), whilst talking crap that no one understands or is that interested in (PhD side-effect, rampant, long-lasting, thankfully not contagious).  But no, horror of horrors, like every step in the PhD process, although the oral examine was the end, it was only the end of the beginning (0r the beginning of another end … I’m not sure which way your that goes …).

Thesis submitted: check!  Oral examination: check (and slaughtered btw).  Graduation …. hmmmm ok.  So, when they tell you you’ve passed your PhD, there’s a catch.  This is to be expected, PhDs are full of catches.  There’s the catch that once you’re enrolled, you then have to been accepted to keep that enrolment, then you have to get through the ethics stuff, then you have to get through the regular reporting to the uni so you can keep doing what you are trying to do.  And beyond the official stuff, there’s dealing with all the internal stuff that tells you that there is no good reason for you to be getting through the official stuff: haven’t they worked out that you’re clueless and a faker and that your research is going to be crap, yet??   Yes, PhDs are full of catches – some official, and a lot that are self-made.  If you’ve never experienced self-doubt before, just do a PhD – it will reshape the most hardened of us.

With all that in mind you can imagine the horror of the ongoing PhD process – the catch being IT IS NEVER OVER.  Lol.  Of course, this is not all bad.  Well, its bad on the days when you’ve had a guts-full of it.  But on other days there’s the knowledge that you get to indulge your brain in stuff that’s (hopefully) still very interesting.  But here’s the big catch for those of us at this particular stage of the PhD process (oral passed, thesis conferred with X changes): if we are not careful, we can spend another 3.5 or however many years fixing the small changes suggested by your thesis examiners.  The battle then reduces to pragmatism v idealism/perfectionism.  What do to, what to do.

This is where I’m at.  I have a list of required changes, and a list of recommended changes.  The requireds are kind of interesting, but the recommended are REALLY interesting, but require more analysis, more reading, more writing, more drafting, more thinking … more time.  The question, where to draw the line.  How to say stop to a process that can be horrifyingly addictive.  PhDs are like sugar addictions – we know that they can do to us, but we do them anyway.

Of course, once the changes are done, there’s the NEXT phase: publication.  If you’re like me then the nature of your research means that part of the examiners’ recommendations included book publication and mainstream press publication.  So, along with journal articles, a book publication, and mainstream press articles and release notices you have to ask, when the hell do I find time to do anything other than PhD stuff?  Ah yes, PhDs, the gift that just keeps on giving.

So with all this in mind, you can understand why I have been reticent about blogging the PhD process – because once the lamentation/celebration begins, it, like the PhD process, never ends.

But that’s OK.  Life is life that.  The best most worthwhile things drive us nuts, and are always reaching forward into our lives, but we are always glad we’ve done them in the end (omg, PhD has made me into a life coach).

So, expect gluts and droughts in the writing process, as I cycle through the love-hate relationship most of us have with our research.  At least I can relax in the knowledge that I am not alone – most of my PhD friends are equally as angst-ridden.  So next time you see anyone who is doing or has one, remember to give the poor buggers a moment of sympathy lol.

 

 

 

 

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