enter the confessional · grad school · graduation · stockpiling letterhead

Notes from beyond the university

I have a confession to make: I am not exactly, at this precise moment, engaged with “the university.” I raise this point because many of my recent posts have had nothing to do with working as a woman in the academy. This is in large part because I found other, more pressing things to talk about, but also because I don’t necessarily feel much like a woman in the academy these days.

You see, as the very clever Aimée Morrison once put it, I am “between academic positions” at the moment. I am still doing research and writing like crazy, but I’m not teaching, not employed by an academic institution, not part of a research centre – I’m mostly just writing from home and quilting (seriously, there has been SO MUCH quilting…).

my latest hand sewn quilt top (48″ x 60″)

While I respect the mandate of Hook and Eye immensely (that is, to “write about the realities of being women working in the Canadian university system”), I’ve been struggling to come up with interesting things about academic life to discuss. I simply feel very disconnected from it right now. I’m not, strictly speaking, a woman “working in the Canadian university system.”

I’m not complaining. Come month’s end, I will have 0 essays to grade, and in mid-April I will actually celebrate my birthday rather than frantically read final exams. I’m lucky to have this time away. Its like a sabbatical, only it is a consequence of the precarious labour environment for sessional instructors, rather than a deserved research leave from a great job.

I’m struggling because my life has been defined by the university for a very long time. I went straight into university from high school, straight into a MA from undergrad, straight into a PhD from my MA, and now here I am – out. I haven’t actually celebrated my birthday on (or near) my actual birthday for years! I mean, who has time for a birthday in mid-April!?!?

The issue is that grad students are socialized – by institutions, supervisors, and each other – to define themselves by their academic affiliations. There is no world outside of your academic world. If we don’t have an institutional prospect in the form of a postdoc or a tenure track position waiting for us post-defense, we panic. I mean, seriously, what am I supposed to write under my name right now?
                                          Danielle J. Deveau, PhD
                                          Amateur Lady Scholar and Quilt-Maker

Really and truly, I’m not complaining. My quilt is looking pretty awesome and I cook all the time. I have sent two articles off for review this term and have a couple more that I am diligently working on and hope to finish by the summer.

I’m getting some good work done.

I’m enjoying myself.

BUT… I do think that as fewer and fewer PhDs leave school and move directly into academic track jobs, we need to have a better strategy in place to bestow some kind of identity that is not grounded in our ability to acquire university letterhead.

One thought on “Notes from beyond the university

  1. I am so glad you wrote this post, Danielle, although I have not yet had a chance to comment. I felt so isolated during my time off between my MA and PhD. I was still doing academic work, but I was not in an academic community per se. It can be lonely and isolating; I think it is really valuable to maintain connections with an academic community of your own choosing, if that is possible. I have time in the summer between this programme and the next, but I will fill that with work on articles that I need to revise, articles I need to rework for submission, and other projects I am sure to have on the go. But even in those few months in between it may be a rough go–I miss the intellectually stimulating conversations and the sense of security and belongingness.

    Where do we find that outside of the institution proper identity? What about joining research groups or doing volunteer work in your spare time? I did that when I was working and hated my job; volunteering with an organization I felt strongly about (positively) gave me something to feel good about, people with whom I could interact, and a sense of value that compensated for any isolation or dissatisfaction at work.

    I must also note that I love your quilt! I wish I could do that type of work, but I have no patience for such tasks (and also, no skill)!


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