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.