good attitudes about crappy possibilities · ideas for change · saving my sanity

Plan B

& no, I’m not talking about the morning after pill (Pill?)

I’m talking about Plan B: What to do next. What to do in case. What to do if the job market doesn’t work out/plans change/you don’t want to move/don’t want to work in academe after all/can’t/shouldn’t/whatever. I’m talking about the barrel that I (& many of my friends, peers, and colleagues) am looking down again. And it is a harmful barrel, it is.

OK stop. I can feel you shuddering. And no, dear graduate student readers, this isn’t a(nother) person telling you you’ve made a terrible mistake pursuing your dreams. Moreover, despite the veracity of what seems to me a staggeringly problematic open secret–(PhDs from US schools are more likely to be hired on in Canadian institutions. Sshhh!)–I’m not so interested in going down that road. I love the school where I did my PhD, I received stellar training. Hiring committees may or may not take a second look at me based on where I did my schooling. But it is done, and I have very few regrets. Sure, I’ve felt the doom & gloom. And yes, maybe I’m feeling some of it now. I’m moody and mercurial that way. But I’m tired of feeling helpless, and I’m not prepared to give up on my career of choice.

Actually, despite the unpaid emotional work (or, heck, the two unpaid month a year that are part of my current contract) I love the job. I love teaching. I love Canadian literature. I love thinking about the Giller Prize winning novel (you ROCK, Johanna!) and the importance of small presses. I love thinking critically with my students about the small press just down the road from us that is receiving so much pressure (& during our unit on the forces of global capitalism, no less!) And I love writing because it keeps me engaged with the discipline. Heck, I even like committee work and collaboration despite the fact that apparently that’s harmful to my dossier)

But for the last year or so I’ve been toying with my Plan B.

Why? A few reasons (many of which I’ve already alluded to). But most of all I need to feel in control in a situation where quite frankly I don’t have very much control at all.

There have been many, many posts about PhD’s needing to diversify their work experience (with what extra time, I wonder?), several about PhD programs needing to diversify their training, and some about co-opts and placement officers (though–and correct me if I’m wrong–there seem to be less placement officers in Canada than there do in the States. Why?) I take what I can from these posts, but find myself more interested in cultivating a Plan B not as a sense of failure, but for empowerment. What else can I do with my training? What has my time in the classroom and behind a desk taught me about what I am good (and less good) at?

It seems to me that talking positively and frankly about multiple uses for the PhD is a healthy way of brainstorming and creating a healthy conversation that might just generate enough hype that it creates some waves of change. But then, I’m a sucker for collaborative thinking.

And speaking of thinking, lately just letting myself think about Plan B has been my plan b. I’ve dabbled with thoughts of law school, social work, and policy writing. I’ve thought about living in a yurt. I’ve thought about going to study yoga in Mysore. I’ve thought about looking into PR. These are all just thoughts right now, and let me tell you, it feels good to have them.

It feels good to have them because they remind me that my first choice, my vocation, is this profession.

But just in case I might take the LSAT…

5 thoughts on “Plan B

  1. Funny you should write this, I have the beginnings of a draft post on why I don't think it's helpful to call it a plan B. And I'm giving a talk on post-PhD career options on Wednesday.

    In a nutshell, you don't need a “plan B”, you need a plan. A plan that takes into account what you love and what you are good at — what you have to offer — and that recognizes opportunities where you could make that contribution.

    The fact is, that an academic job might not be your best contribution (or it might, but that's part of what you need to take control of) and that other options aren't necessarily giving up all those things you love.


  2. Hey JoVE, thank you! What a great point: drop the 'B' (code for second best, isn't it?) and consider one's plan multi-faceted and multi-phased. Lucky audience members that they get to hear you speak to this issue! I think it is so important to discuss planning as a proactive and strategic process.


  3. I like the idea of a Yurt…mostly because it's fun to say.

    However…kudos for having a plan at all. Seriously. I don't even have a plan A. Mostly it has something to do with just making it till January, then I don't know.

    Should I go take that masters program in the yukon with no global merit or reputation, and then spend my life teaching other hopeful wild eyed young people that they are in fact going to fail statistically. And then biting my lip when that one kid comes by who is better then I am and my ego gets destroyed in the process?

    Maybe thats just a worry in the visual arts department.

    But, Dr. Wunker, I think your plan should be what is going to give you the most happiness when you are 95 years old, and thinking back on your life. Do what is going to be worth it for you for your life experience, and what is going to make you beam from ear to ear with confidence and a kick ass attitude.

    And if all else fails…you can still probably go live in a yurt. (Plan Y)


  4. Ironically, I seem to be in a field (music composition) where the pursuit of an academic post IS the Plan B. Here an academic post becomes your goal when you realize that it is VERY difficult to survive on composing in the “outside” world without completely selling all your artistic and personal integrity to the world of commercials, film and video games. Well, I'd like to believe it's possible to survive on the outside, but many find the academic post an easier path because you don't actually have to develop your business skills.


  5. @Anna: Ironic indeed, though your observations bespeak (to me, anyhow) of some of the issues of training/preparing/various kinds of professionalization in graduate programmes we've been discussing here periodically. While I'm sympathetic (very!) to concerns both of over professionalizing and under-profesionallizing (or doing so in too narrow a fashion) I do think that considerations need to be made for graduate–and undergraduate–students. Whether one plans to go into the profession or not. Complicated (& corporate) as they may be, I still find myself thinking co-ops might be a good option.

    @Cheryl: Plan Y! I LOVE it! I'll have to move somewhere warmer though…


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