antiseptic

It’s been so long since I’ve written that WordPress has another update available. One of the main reasons for my absence has been paralysis. I have had a lot on my mind, and something that has been coming up to the forefront has been my persistent uncertainty that the life of an academic is the life for me. Expressing this doubt is very taboo while still desiring to be counted among the ranks of academe, but maybe this blog would benefit from some honesty.

 

This kind of straightforward consideration of what exactly I will gain from completing my degree will most likely be looked upon by my superiors and even my peers as an unwise admission of my instability at this point in my career, but this is such a large issue in my life right now, and one of the underpinning principles of my field is that writing promotes thinking and understanding. Hopefully I can help this come to fruition. Another guiding principle, though, is that a writer should know her audience. Since anyone can access this blog and I don’t really know who may be reading, I feel like sometimes the writing here takes an antiseptic quality, sanitized of all real worry or doubt and concerned mostly with putting my best foot forward for when I go on the market, an endeavor made so formidable by everyone who has gone before that anything which may put my reputation in jeopardy is regarded with suspicious paranoia and is generally quickly cleaned up or hidden.

 

I have been trying to read for my exams now for about 8 months. I have read so little that I almost can’t believe it. I feel so overwhelmed by the process that any intellectual progress (or any progress at all) has ground to a complete halt. Putting that down into words is difficult and embarrassing. The monster of doubt is asking me if I really want to publish these sentences or if I should discard this draft and make an appointment with a therapist instead. But I know I am not the only one. I know that these feelings are pervasive and that they have the power to cripple bright, promising people under the weight of prohibitive tradition, and perhaps one of those reasons is because so few of us feel at liberty to disclose just how trapped and confused we feel.

 

The schedule and pace of academia doesn’t work for me. I feel so absurd saying that, since what we have are big, open spaces to design and accomplish big, complicated tasks. Saying it doesn’t work for me feels like an admission that I am poor at managing my own time. But yet, this seems to be the truth. I do well with a busy, structured schedule. I’ve never been very good at creating such a structure on my own. I feel like a failure, a product of a hegemonic system which can’t function well outside the parameters that I have been brought up to value. But I can’t deny what has been happening to me: as I move further along in higher education, I have become worse, not better, at managing and meeting deadlines. I have experienced disappointments that I would have never allowed to happen in my younger years, when I seemed to be able to successfully juggle many more tasks and work a full time job to boot.

 

I’ve been talking about quitting since the second year of my master’s program. I have put this decision aside countless times as I struggle with what it is I really want out of this pursuit. I’ve created deadlines by which I said I’d assess the situation more, and those deadlines have passed (like so many others). The inertia is killing me. I want to take my exams, but mostly because I am supposed to take them, because it is the next step in the process. I’ve been elected the Secretary of the GSO for the next academic year, so I feel compelled to stay for that experience, but I need to ask myself whether I can do this for another 12 months of my life. The answer is always, “You Have To.” All of the constraints I’ve set up mandate that it must be so. But is this what I really want?

 

I have enrolled in a six week Conscious Career Course to help me explore my options and to talk with other people who find themselves in a similar situation. I am hoping that this will have a positive impact on my outlook and will empower me develop a plan should I ever go through with pulling the plug on grad school and turn my attentions elsewhere. The first meeting is June 12th. It’s possible that the course, which also claims to help put academic pursuits into perspective, might even inspire me to get my ass moving on my exam reading. I do think completing the PhD would be a success. I am just not sure whether it will be essential to the career I ultimately choose, which makes me question whether all of the suffering is worth it.

 

Even admitting that this experience contains a healthy dose of suffering is another one of those sentiments that seems to beg for a swab of antiseptic, to be doused with a solution that will stop the growth of the negative bacteria that threatens to devour what I’ve worked so hard to achieve so far. But I’m going to let it fester here on the page, going to admit that big parts of me are suffering because of the path I have chosen. Eventually I’ll have to move out of this position; let’s see if I can maybe write my way out. I plan to use this space to document my progress through the course. Might as well, since it hasn’t been being used for much else lately. Ergo, tally ho. Let’s see if I can get to healing these wounds.

 

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5 thoughts on “antiseptic

  1. Krista

    I think it’s really smart for you to tackle this head-on now, and that there’s a lot of value in having this sort of conversation. It’s the kind of thing academics should frankly discuss far more often than we do, and we (and the academy) would probably be a lot happier if we did. After having watched/helped a few people leave, I’m convinced more than ever that this gig is really far more dependent on fit than some other careers, and that there’s no shame whatsoever in leaving.

    If you’d find it helpful to get some lunch and chat, just drop me an email. But if you need to voyage on alone with this for awhile, I completely understand. Good luck with the course!

    Reply
    1. kizmak Post author

      Krista, your support has always been strong and unwavering, and I can’t express how much I appreciate it. Thanks for coming over to read this and for taking the time to respond.

      It’s funny, but today I feel brighter and more hopeful than I have in a long time. Maybe just writing this and getting it out in the open has helped a little. It feels better admitting that everything isn’t peaches and cream with me than plastering on a big fake smile and telling everyone that everything is great, even though I know that the former is not what people want to hear from me.

      Anyway, thanks again for your kind and sensible words and your awesomeness.

      Reply
  2. Julie Stella

    In my opinion, it’s *always* a good idea to examine our motives and goals when evaluating our path. I think it’s really important to be purposeful in life and take our choices and challenges seriously.

    That said, it is also true that huge, amorphous, open-ended projects like studying for exams and writing a thesis or dissertation are troublesome simply because they are so huge, amorphous, and open-ended. I say this as a recently graduated MA student who wrote a huge honking thesis that nearly killed me. One thing I realized while doing this project was, I really stink at managing big projects. But, this doesn’t mean I’m particularly bad at time management or a bad student or anything like that. I’d never managed a project of that length before. Of course I struggled!

    So, I guess what I’m saying is, don’t forget to give yourself credit for charting unknown territory. You’ve never taken this path before, so it’s no wonder that it’s puzzling. I think doubt and self-examination are part of the process.

    Reply
  3. Geoff

    What you describe is something endemic to academia, I think, the more so because of a growing disjunction between “traditional” models of intellectual valuation and the prevailing fiscal model of valuation. Part of the issue may well derive from the Western academy’s origin in the monastery; it began as part of a life of religious service, so that work took on a moral imperative. As with regalia, that imperative is something that the academy has yet to slough off.

    Whatever you decide to do in this, I will remain your friend. As will Sonya.

    Reply
  4. Former Student

    So I will admit upfront that I was a former student of yours. First of all I think your quite intelligent and if I thought otherwise I wouldn’t be commenting. Here’s what I think you should do and I’ll be as concise and straightforward as possible:

    Be as blunt and candid as possible with yourself. And identify exactly what you want out of this life and be extremely specific. Write them down and then come up with a plan to achieve these goals. You may want to be a professor, a school teacher, publisher, or you may just want a large salary. Goals like being happy are vague and goals dealing with money or loans should be large salary.

    If getting this PhD does not fit into your life goals then make moves and drop it. If SU is paying you to get this degree and you are not borrowing then you may want to finish and plan afterwards. If you dont have clear reasons as to why you are getting this phd and how it fits into some large scheme then you need to do something because your just lollygagging around.

    Always be planning. Always. Never just do things. Most phd candidates get their phd because they had no real plan for their lives and wind up staying in school forever to be used by universities to teach courses and ultimately do nothing with their lives.

    If the basis of getting a PhD is writing some large paper. Then write the large paper, by next summer, be done with it, and make moves. Your too smart to not positively contribute to society. Figure out how your going to do it and then do it.

    (there may be errors in this i did not proof read it.)

    Reply

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