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.

balance · graduation · job market

Home and Away

Hi everyone! I’m Melissa Dalgleish, and I’m so happy to be writing for Hook & Eye. 

I recently returned from a short trip to upstate New York and New York City, partly for the wedding of two friends also in my PhD program, partly to visit a former PhD student who decided that teaching high school in the big city was more his style. The pastoral setting of the wedding was absolutely gorgeous, NYC was its usual dynamic self, and I enjoyed myself immensely in both places. But as soon as I walked in the door of my house in downtown Toronto, shut it behind me, and kicked off my shoes, I felt an immediate sense of relief. I was home.

I’ve been really lucky in the past to have academia and the place I wanted to call home line up. I grew up around the corner from one of the best universities in the country, and so I got to save a bunch of money living with my parents and still getting a great education. When it came time to do my MA, it just so happened that the school where my then-partner was doing his law degree and the school where one of the experts in my field taught were the same place. And I was lucky enough to get into a PhD program that suits me down to the ground in the region where all of my friends and family live. But I know that this luck isn’t going to last. It’s five years later, and what I’ll do when that luck runs out is something I feel as though I have to start thinking about. Going on the market forces some pretty big decisions about our priorities.

Take the friends who got married in New York. One is Canadian, the other American. They are both aspiring academics, both in the same field. And they have had to decide, long before going on the market, that they will be living in the States. There are more jobs, and thus more chances at both of them getting a job in roughly the same place. Luckily, my Canadian friend is an Americanist and so moving to the States is an option for them. But what if he doesn’t want to leave Canada and everything he’s built here? For the sake of an academic job—or the chance at one—for both himself and his wife, he’s made the choice to move anyway.

Or take the friend who is a high school teacher in New York, formerly a PhD student. He was studying at a small coastal university, and the location just wasn’t for him. He wanted, he told me, to live in a city he could be proud of, to live somewhere that suited his need for noise and people and things to do. That was more important to him than remaining an academic, and I sense that some people have been shocked and disappointed by his decision. We’re told, so often, that these desires aren’t valid—that academe is a vocation, that the tenure-track academic job is the Holy Grail, more important than being near our friends or our families, far more important than our hard-won knowledge about what kinds of places suit us and our lives. The comments on Amanda Lord’s recent article in the Chronicle repeated this refrain again and again. In her response to Lord’s article, Karen Kelsky quotes Bill Pannapaker’s summary of the comments: “If you want to be an academic, you must accept misery. It’s your duty not to be happy.” But why?

I don’t have to make any decisions yet. I’m over a year from going on the market, and things might look better by then. I’m also lucky that it’s still just the two of us–as Liza noted in her recent post, location is an especially fraught decision for academic parents, since “University careers are, more than most, uprooting. You are fortunate if you have an academic job and extended family in the same town.” If you don’t, you can’t rely on a network of extended family to assist with childcare, or just to be there for support. So what do I choose? I could pick the city where I have a house, a family, friends I’ve known since childhood. Toronto is still, despite having lived lots of other places, the spot that suits me best—but it is also a place that is incredibly unlikely to hold an academic job for me. Or do I choose academe over Toronto, and try my luck somewhere else, somewhere that I might hate, somewhere that is far from my long-established support network? Neither of these choices is an easy one, and I’m not looking forward to having to pick.  

All of this is to say that academics have to make hard choices about where they will end up. With the job market as it is, the choice between my city and an academic job might not exist for me—Toronto might win by default—but it may. I can’t imagine a solution to the problems of academia that would let more of us have both—the job we want in the place that works for us. But I can imagine a version of academe that doesn’t judge people who prioritize location—shorthand for homes, families, spouses, friends, all of the connections we make with the places we love—over remaining an academic. What about you? Have you had to make any hard choices about where you’ll live for the sake of a job? Or given up a job that wasn’t somewhere you wanted to live? 

graduation · learning · voice · writing

Binding the Bits: Developing your Voice in Academia

Hello everyone! My name is Jessica Kuepfer and I am both thrilled and honoured to join Hook & Eye as a contributor. 
As I was preparing for this post, I was not only thinking about those I was writing for, but also the voice in which I would frame my message. When Hook & Eye began asking for different voices to join their regular blogging team, I felt I qualified as different, but was unsure of how I would bind all the bits together.
I was born and raised Conservative Mennonite so a foray into the academic world wasn’t the first thing that many in my traditional community saw for me.  As a child, being from a tradition that values simplicity and manual labour, I saw the academic woman as a foreign and interesting being. This weekend, I walked across the university stage for my two minutes of fame to accept my degree with my proud parents snapping photos and video taping my every movement.  It was a celebration of having successfully pieced together the traditional voices of my childhood with a fresh, strong academic voice. 
Contributing to Hook & Eye is much like holding a mirror to the sum total of my academic career thus far – an equal mix of uncertainty and optimism. My undergrad has been chocked full of strong female professors whom I have held up as role models, tentatively imitating their voices until I found a way to incorporate them into my own.  I am now speaking from that in-between place where I have four years down of academia and who knows how many to go, still gripped with the same uncertainty and optimism. 
I am also here to listen to your voices and to learn from your experiences that are bound to be just as varied and pieced together as mine. 
So let’s begin, shall we? 
What steps did you take to develop your voice as a writer and female leader in the academic world?