I have braved the Dickens Universe, taught the elderly about Hard Times, enjoyed the balmy Santa Cruz weather, and returned to hot-n-humid Houston, where Tropical Storm Eduoard was horribly disappointing and my summer job is… well, what it was before I left.  I had a good time at the Universe and met some fantastic grad students and faculty, but after explaining my trip to many many people over the past few days, I’m all Universed out.

So instead I will bore you with a stressed-out rant about my uncertain academic future, inspired by a conversation with one of my dissertation advisors on the airplane back to Texas.*  Feel free to stop reading at any point.

In the next few weeks, I have to decide whether or not to go on the job market this year.  (FYI, for those not in graduate school, the majority of academic jobs for English grad students follow a strict schedule of applications, interviews, and campus visits scheduled throughout the year, and therefore a student must decide whether or not to interview for jobs a year before he/she plans to begin working.)  During the Universe, I had become a little complacent in a decision to hold off for a year, to go on the market in Fall 09, but my advisor assumed, perhaps rightly, that I would be beginning my job search this fall.  So I am, once again, undecided.

If I go on the market this cycle, the fall semester will be lost to the job search — scouring the MLA Job Information List, composing carefully worded job letters and teaching statements, editing writing samples and job talks, dreaming up interesting ways to present my limited teaching experience to classroom-focused institutions, and generally obsessively checking my cell phone, email inbox, and mailbox for any news that I am, potentially, hireable.

Due to all of the above, most graduate students simply don’t write during the job search, and therefore all dissertation progress will stall as I manage the practical and mental stresses of finding a professorship.  And if, by the grace of the academic gods, I secure a position this year, I will most likely need to complete at least three chapters, edit, and defend before the end of August.  This is a daunting task, as it’s taken me a little over a year to write two relatively unpolished chapters.**  The panic of such a deadline would, of course, be mitigated by the fact that I have a job, but that deadline would also mean a hurried dissertation, a project not as close to a book manuscript as I’d like, and therefore more work toward my project’s revisionand publication during my first years as an assistant professor, when I will be dealing with teaching, putting in the necessary hard time on departmental committees, and adjusting to a new professional environment.

All of these worries are compounded by the fact that I’m just not sure I’m professor material at this point — the nagging sense that I’m not ready — or what is commonly called “imposter syndrome.”  I’m convinced that when I stand at a podium somewhere during the Q and A portion of my job talk, someone will ask me that question that will reveal the depths of my ignorance, and everyone will wonder how I got through graduate school in the first place.  Really, how do I even tie my shoes in the morning?  Does someone else who knows enough about nineteenth-century literature have to pour my corn flakes for me?

Of course, I’m starting to realize that I may never feel completely ready and confident and that I should latch onto the small twinge of hope and excitement I feel when I think about moving on from Rice to the next stage of my career.  And for every reason I shouldn’t go on the market, there is a reason I should.  The strongest argument my advisor has made for starting the job search this year is a time issue.  If I go on the market this fall and do not get a job — a definite possibility — then I have another year at the end of my graduate program to secure something.  If I wait, I will find myself at loose ends after the job search of fall 2009, looking for a temporary position, postdoctoral fellowship, or visiting professorship and waiting around another year to try again.  Not to mention that, on paper, many would consider me ready.  By the end of the summer, I’ll have two (rough) dissertation chapters and a forthcoming publication.

Hopefully my indecision will be resolved by early September, and I can either postpone my panic for a year or steel myself for the upcoming anxieties.


* Really, academic advisors should not begin serious conversations with their advisees on airplanes.  There is no where to go.  The student cannot escape.
** Of course, I’m not underestimating the progress I have indeed made.  I’m a little surprised I’ve been able to get this much done — two substantial chapters is really no small feat, especially since I’ve been working at the Career Center and HCC all summer.


10 thoughts on “

    • I have an article about doll stories and Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens coming out in Dickens Studies Annual, but not until Summer 2009. Still – it counts!

      Danny would probably be ready to move on from Houston whenever we can, so he would be happy if I went on the market. But he’s been very good about letting me do whatever I need to do in the time I need to do it in.

      How’s the zoo treating you?

      • Oh wow! That article sounds bitchin’. That’s really exciting, Vicki. Was that the article you worked on in your third-year writing workshop? I wish I could have you as an English teacher; you’re going to be such a cool professor.

        I don’t blame Danny for willingness to move on from Houston…whatever time you decide to go on the market I think you need to get a job at the University of Puget Sound so that when J and I finally get around to relocating to the proper part of the country you’ll be in close proximity for fun times. Also UPS has a really purty campus, and my mom went there.

        The zoo treats me well! With tolerable weather right around the corner you should plan to let me drag you over here on one of my days off. We have a baby giant eland, you know. And TWO NEW ELEPHANTS!

      • Yeah — it was my third-year writing workshop article Victorian Literature and Culture said no, but Dickens Studies Annual said yes right away, so I’m glad I resubmitted it somewhere else.

        Yay two secret elephants!

  1. I know you’ll make the right decisions when the time comes, and things will be fine as Cassandra says. Really though, what you’ve accomplished so far is really something to be proud of.

  2. Gosh–advisors+transportation settings do seem to be a no-win, don’t they?

    Honestly, I’d say you’re more on track than nearly anybody that I know, and if it’s a question of feeling/being ready, then you are, truly. You’re smart and well-read and critical and on top of things. And, more importantly, I don’t think there’s going to be any big seismic shift in the next year that’s suddenly going to make you feel readier after that. On the other hand, I’m very sympathetic to the question of lost time in terms of application.

    But whatever you decide to do, I believe in you completely and whole-heartedly. I’ve seen you in classroom environments, collegial environments, and professional-social environments and I’ve never seen you come across as anything less then intelligent and graceful in all of them. So put that in your imposter syndrome and smoke it, missy.

    • I love my Sophie! Your vote of confidence really helps.

      I’m meeting with Helena on Monday to discuss my concerns, but at this point I’ve essentially decided to give it a go. Maybe I’ll luck out like Noah from the Universe?

      Oh and I hope you’re feeling okay after your root canal. I had one last year. They are no fun.

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