#post-ac · administration · change · dissertation · flexible academic · grad school · PhD · possibility · research · research planning · September · writing

Firsts and Lasts

This post marks a big last and a significant first for me. While I’ve been Hook & Eye’s de-facto alt-ac voice for the last few years, I’ve also continued, along with Boyda and Jana, to write about the trials and tribulations of grad school. My last trial–the big one, the defense–is happening tomorrow, and so this is my last post as a graduate student.

It’s been a long road since my “I quit” post back in the fall of 2013, when I took my first full-time academic administrative job. I’m in a different job now, one that has given me the time and mental space I needed to finish my dissertation. After a long period of uncertainty about the value of finishing my PhD, I’m still having a hard time believing that I’ve done it. I’m nervous about tomorrow, despite the many reassurances of friends and committee members. I spend most of my time developing professional skills curriculum, administering research funding, and writing policy, not reading theory or publishing articles. In doing my job, I’ve learned how to explain my research to people far outside my field. I’ve learned to feel confident walking into a room and sharing what I know regardless of who is in it. I’ve learned to identify what my research can tell us about the persistent gendered inequalities of Canadian academic and literary communities and how we might address them. But I’m nervous about being questioned by a room full of people who are full-time academics, who swim in those intellectual currents in a way that I no longer do. I’m also looking forward to spending time talking about a project that I care deeply about with smart people who care about my work, and about me. Now that the day is almost here, that alone seems like a pretty great reason to have committed to finishing my dissertation. The added credibility I’ll have at work is a nice bonus.

My defense tomorrow also means that this fall is a first for me.  It’s the first fall since I was four years old that I’m not going back to school. If I wasn’t already three years down a career path that I anticipate staying on, I might find facing this new beginning scary. But I went through the difficult transition that many PhDs who move into alt-ac and post-ac careers face back when I took my first administrative job. I’m instead looking forward to this first fall, and the year that follows, as a time to experiment with what life as a scholar-administrator could look like now that I can shape my research trajectory however I please.

I’m not really a new breed of researcher, although it sometimes feels like I am. Ever since the academy began producing more PhDs than it could employ–since always, basically–there have been those of us who have moved outside of the professoriate and yet continued to pursue research. The increasing casualization of the professoriate means that there are fewer and fewer people whose job it is to research, and more and more people like me who pursue research but make our money in other ways. We have the desire, the expertise, and the time to remain active researchers while we work in other careers. There’s great freedom in that, for the quest for tenure and grant funding as often blights research creativity and experimentation as it enhances it. I’m going to be using the blog this year to write through the process of crafting a research practice outside of the professoriate. At the same time, I’ll be writing through the process of crafting a life that makes space for multiple identities as administrator, researcher, creative writer, consultant, editor, cook, partner, and more.

Later this month I’ll be starting a new series of posts on transforming my dissertation into a book and live-blogging the process of getting it published. I’ll be continuing the alt-ac 101 series for people who are looking to move into non-professorial jobs or who advise people who are. I’ll also be writing about equity issues in and out of the academy, especially those relating to graduate studies and postdoctoral work. I’m also going to practice what I preach to my students about working to share our research beyond the bounds of the academy by blogging about my dissertation, especially the parts that look at gender bias and rape culture in Canadian literary and academic communities in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.

If you’ve just found us, welcome! And if you’re an old friend, welcome back. It’s good to be back here with you.

change · day in the life · September

Slow Academe

September is here. While there are many times of the year that are significant for people working in the academy–fall, winter holidays, midterms, and if you’re fully and equitably employed, summer research time–none has quite the caché of September. September is fresh. It is full of possibility. It is a time for thinking back nostalgically on past milestones, of first-day-of-school-outfits gone by, and of planning a trip or two to get every academic’s fetish: school supplies.

For me, September has also been marked with anxiety and frustration. As a member of the precariate who has been doing the work of full time faculty since 2008, but only had one year (bless you, 2012-2013) of a full twelve months of income, returning to the classroom is not as fraught as returning to the system that will never love me back. I love the teaching. I hate the system that pays me and others a pittance for the same work my colleagues do. That’s a clunky version of what the brilliant Roy Miki has said: don’t hang your heart on the university. The university will never love you back. 

Right. Hard to hear, these necessary truths, and harder to remember on a cellular level. 

September has also meant the beginning of Hook & Eye’s new season. In fact, this is our fifth September! Five years is a long time for a blog to survive, much less thrive. Much has changed in the last five years, as I’ve noted before. Namely, our weekly blogging demographic has shifted to include more precarious laborers than tenured faculty. Let that sink in. We are an archive of the changing face of this profession.

In fact, we are an affective archive. One of the refrains I hear is how reading this blog makes people feel less isolated in their gendered and labour experiences. We are a feminist blog, we write mostly about experiences as women, and yet I’ve heard over and again from all kinds of readers how important our personal narratives are for them. Its hard, this public presentation of self, this navigating of the profession from one’s own gendered body. Sometimes, I think, it has been damaging, at least for me personally. But that’s how I teach in my classroom, too. That’s how my co-bloggers teach and work: present, human, gendered, and filled with emotion. That’s a way of being that is often in direct opposition to the university despite what the branding might say.

I have spent a good number of days thinking about what to write to launch us into this, our fifth year of thinking and speaking together. I thought of the anger I feel at inequities in the academy. I thought of feminist wins I want to talk about–to close read academically. I thought of vulnerability, of sassiness, and of head-down, get-it-done advice I could give (or need to receive). And then I looked again to our name, to the words after the colon: fast feminism, slow academe.

Slow academe struck me. I’m typing this post on my phone while my three and a half month old daughter nurses. It’s 9:06am and I haven’t posted yet because I chose to spend yesterday with my partner and our girl, going to the lake, going to a toasted tomato sandwich garden party, going for a walk with the dog, and watching the baseball game. I chose to do the very things hiring committees must have seen when they interviewed me last year when I was pregnant. I chose to go slow, to put the humans in my life in front of the university and it’s systems. And you know what? Even though I know my new identity as a mother will affect how I am productive–indeed, how I understand productivity–I am going to try to take slow academe to heart. I’ll do this as an individual who is precariously employed. I’ll do it as a new mom who is taking on two classes. I’ll do it in a partnership of two new parents working to keep it all going and have intellectual fulfillment as well as a home we love coming home to. And for you I’ll try to be honest and share some of that here.

So here’s to a new year full of contradictions, both beautiful and challenging. Here’s to a new September of setting intentions and finding the slowness that builds a kind of sustainable rhythm neoliberalism detests. Here’s to the fifth year of this space. Here’s to you, dear readers, and here’s to us.