Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Quiet Life (as a PhD student)

I completed (survived) my first week.
There were a couple of things that struck me this week, and as I think about it today, they all revolve around my quiet life.

In one of my classes, the professor discussed the job market, and how (though unfair) hiring committees looked at whether or not you were single/married, pregnant/had kids as pluses or minuses in hiring you. That even though they're not supposed to ask, visual cues often make it so they don't have to, and that fair or not, these things influence their decision on whether or not to hire you.
All I could think about was my profile description for this blog- "I don't have a husband or children, I have Nehi and students".
Furthermore, this week, I overheard a lot of conversations from other graduate students about having to work in their office, as there was no way to work at home, or people talking about working in diners, or coffee shops, or other places, because again, they couldn't work from home. I am lucky. I have an office AT home. It's perfectly conducive to working, has all my books, a nice, bright space, and has the added bonus that no one can bitch if I smoke.

Another comment made this week was the problem with juggling classes, work, class prep, and still have time for family. The tone was somewhere along the lines of "If you don't take time for family, and only work, there's something soulless about you". It instantly pissed me off. I am not somehow lesser because I've chosen to have THIS life, and not THAT one. In fact, I'm pretty sure that in the long run, it makes me a better candidate for the job market.
You see, I have a quiet life. I don't go out, I don't spend money on lots of things, I don't have multiple things crying for my attention. I have work, and I have Nehi. Nehi is perfectly happy so long as she gets her two walks a day, hanging out in the yard while I read, and I remember to feed her. And funny enough, I'm satisfied with the same. We don't need much.
But something else started to hit me this week- the divide between being a grad student at 22, and being one at 37. You see, I've had a "real" job. I've had people yell at me, and be rude, and make every day of going to work a living hell. In addition to that job, I've worked two others. I average that for the last several years, I've worked upwards of seventy hours a week. In addition to that I've still managed to present papers at conferences, write a book chapter, outline my thesis, and write for numerous online entities, including 8 Days a Geek as a reviewer, Infinite Earths for Billy Proctor, while also writing book reviews for academic journals, and this blog, in addition to the scholarly blog I write that chronicles my research. I still spent time with Nehi (and my Dad), still read lots of popular fiction, still went to movies. In other words, I still had a life. It just wasn't YOUR life. These were all things I cared about, so I made sure I did them. It helps that I'm disgustingly organized, but it's not a superpower- I have as many hours in the day to do things as anyone else, I just choose to focus my time on different things.
And the last couple of years, juggling all of these things, has prepped me for returning to grad school. In fact, THIS is all I've been working towards for the last three years. And in some ways, I think it gives me a leg up. Because I'm not being thrown into the deep end, I've been swimming there for a long time.
I admit, that there are several advantages that come with my background.
  • I'm not worried about teaching, I could do it in my sleep after 12 years. Because I know material and concepts, lesson planning if fairly effortless, as is making materials. And I'm certainly not worried about how to reach my students, or how to break down concepts.
  • So far, I'm not hampered by my TA fellowship and pay because I am continuing to teach online, and I cashed out my retirement, so there's a nest egg. I don't have to worry about paying bills, or buying books I want. I'm not going on a spending spree anytime soon (because I'm as anal about money as I am about everything else) but financial worries aren't keeping me up at night.
  • I've done more, with less, for years. When you live two hours from the nearest city, and have no access to academic libraries or research, your life as an academic is hard. Yet I still managed to do the things I did. All of a sudden, I have access to a library, and online journals. Easier can't help but be better.
So, people can keep their judgements to themselves about how not having a family somehow makes me lesser than others.
I for one, will enjoy my quiet life. And maybe, just maybe, my quiet life will prove to be a better, faster track to the tenure track job I want. If not, it's still the life that makes me happy. And in the end, that's what you want.

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