What I didn’t know could fill a blog

When I started grad school five years ago, just back from a year of teaching English in Europe, I had no idea what I was doing. I hadn’t even visited my university before accepting the offer. I’d never been to the city where it’s located. I chose it because it’s in a major metropolitan area and  has an excellent reputation. And it offered me more money than any of the other schools that accepted me. I didn’t know anything about my department except what was on the website. I had no idea what I wanted to research, or even that I had to pick something more specific than my field of study. All I knew to expect were classes and, eventually, a dissertation. I had talked to the grad chair on the phone a couple of times, but since I didn’t know anything about what I was or wasn’t supposed to discuss, the conversations were pretty short.

My school automatically gave us five-year funding packages, but the summer before I started I found out that no one in my department actually finishes that fast. Six years was the absolute minimum, and taking seven or eight was perfectly respectable. We could just make up the difference with outside funding, or, as a last resort, teaching. This was billed as a strength of the department: outside funding looks great on a CV, so it’s actually for your own good that the department’s [unusually onerous] requirements all but guarantee your need for funding beyond the fifth year. I was told that everyone figures something out and I shouldn’t worry about it. So I didn’t.

Sometime early in my first semester I picked up on the fact that the reason I was there was to become a professor. And just in case any other career track started to appeal to me, I was warned never to tell any faculty member, since they would be less likely to help me finish my degree. At the time I wrote my application essays, I’d thought that I wanted to be the director of a study-abroad program, living in a charming European city and guiding college students in their life-changing intercultural experiences. (Lucky for me that I’d come up with that idea, since it accidentally satisfied the admissions committee.) But another year abroad had cured me of any desire to become a permanent expat, so I was back to not knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up. Now I found out that I had unwittingly already selected my career path. So I went along with it, thinking that it didn’t sound like such a bad gig, and this was what I was supposed to be doing anyway, so I might as well take the path of least resistance.

Fast-forward two years to one day when I’m sitting in class, learning the grammatical intricacies of one of the dead languages essential to my research. It suddenly occurred to me that I would never achieve enough fluency in it to be able to teach its cases and tenses to my own grad students. Not because I wouldn’t be capable of it, but because I wasn’t willing to devote that much time to it. In the days and weeks that followed, I was gradually able to admit to myself, with an unexpected sense of relief, that I am not cut out to be a professor. The things I like about academia aren’t nearly enough to outweigh the things I don’t like.

So now I’m back in a place similar to where  I was when I started grad school: I have no idea what to expect next. But I have grown up a lot, and learned some things along the way, and I hope to be able to share them here and maybe enter into a conversation with others asking the same questions and finding their own answers.


2 thoughts on “What I didn’t know could fill a blog

  1. JC says:

    Hey! Welcome to the postac blogosphere! Hopefully you find it to be as supportive and validating and therapeutic as I have! 🙂

    A lot of what you write rings very true to me. I, too, had little idea of what I wanted to research or what I was really getting myself into when I got into grad school. We also had five years of guaranteed funding and would then “figure it out” from there. And I, too, quickly got sucked into the mindset of “becoming a professor or bust,” even as little warning bells periodically went off in my head. And then I eventually decided that I didn’t like the work enough to make the sacrifices necessary to continue.

    And if you know my blog, you know that I have no regrets about leaving, even if the little nagging “what-ifs” do pop up from time to time.

    Anyway, welcome! I seem to have become the official Announcer of New Postac Blogs, so I will post an intro for you sometime in the next week or so, if you’d like. I usually wait until folks have a few posts up so that we can get a feel for your story and your outlook. Take your time on it, though – no rush. I’m excited we have another voice out here!!

    • Thanks, JC! I absolutely do read your blog and am honored to be joining the club. It would be great if you wanted to post an intro, and yes, please do wait until I get a few more posts up. Thanks for the welcome!

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