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October 13, 2006

Moment of Truth

I have a confession to make. Many of you know this by now, but I wanted to refrain from blogging about it until I had discussed it with my advisor. I don't want to be a professor when I grow up.

I know, the horror! How could anyone not want to be a professor when she grows up? More to the point, what the heck am I doing in a history Ph.D. program if I don't want to be a professor one day? That is what I have started to ask myself (and my advisor), along with asking whether it makes sense to go through the hell of taking prelims and writing a dissertation if I don't want to be a professor anyway.

So now I am (publicly) embarking on the project of trying to figure out, first, what it is that I do want to do with my life and, second, whether having a Ph.D. in history will help me with that. I actually began this process a few weeks ago, when I attended a Career Center workshop on nonacademic careers for graduate students. This was less of a practical workshop on how to get a nonacademic job and more of a chance for us to explore why we have decided to leave academia and what that means for our career identity. One of the more useful exercises was listing the reasons why we entered academia, and then what has changed to make us want to leave. I'll share my answers with the world:

I came to grad school because I was frustrated and bored in the work world, and sure that I could not get more interesting or challenging work without an advanced degree. As I had enjoyed studying history in college, it seemed natural that, if I were going to pursue an advanced degree, it should be in history. Contributing to this perception was the fact that I had gone to a liberal-arts college, which treated everyone as a pre-Ph.D. student. I had also received relatively poor career counseling at said college, and came from an academic family, so I wasn't aware of the full range of opportunities out there. But there were also things about the academic lifestyle that attracted me. I have always loved learning and I enjoy being part of an intellectual environment. I longed for more flexibility in my work life and, when people warned me that, as an academic, I would have to work twenty-four hours a day, I retorted that at least they could be any twenty-four hours i wanted. I also simply wanted to work harder. I came home from my full-time job each day feeling as though I had much more in me to give, and nothing to give it to. Finally, I was curious about history and wanted to travel.

So what has changed? One major change is that I realized I am an extrovert. I had assumed I was an introvert because I hated the customer service jobs I had had in high school and college, and it never occurred to me that there is a difference between working with people and customer service. I entered history because I thought I would enjoy the solitude of research and writing, and instead found myself climbing the walls. I have also come to realize that academia requires more sacrifices than I am willing to make. I have already sacrificed family, friends, and health, and I have come to realize that I actually value these things more than I value prestige or income. Finally, I realized that academic historians speak to a very small audience -- each other -- and I want to do something that makes a difference in the real world.

There are, however, some things about academia that I love: learning, reading, writing, sharing ideas, having smart colleagues, flexibility, intellectual engagement, teaching/mentoring, campus life, and even public speaking. I hope to be able to integrate some of these things into whatever I do next.

I am blogging about this because I want to get it all out in the open. I'm tired of hemming and hawing every time someone asks me when I'm planning to take my prelims, and I was starting to feel like I was lying to my advisor through omission of this not-so-minor detail. I am also blogging in an attempt to solicit advice from anyone who might be reading. Today I raided the Career Center library, made an appointment with a career counselor, and checked out What Color is Your Parachute from the public library. I am in full-on job search mode and I am eager to use all the resources at my disposal!

Posted by eklanche at October 13, 2006 04:17 PM

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