The answer to that question is, of course, yes. But as someone who’s spent the last eleven years of her life in non-compulsory higher education, I’m not exactly sure what that life is going to look like.
I’ve got a few ideas. Guilt-free Netflix binge sessions after work! Reading novels, writing novels, hanging out with friends, napping, shopping, singing, adventuring… ALL THE THINGS, only without the dread of a humongous dissertation hanging over my head.
But beyond the fun stuff, beyond the fact that my evenings and weekends will finally be my own, and that I’ll no longer have to do this crazy juggling act between a fairly intense 9-to-5 and an equally intense behemoth, is the very scary, very real thought of having to decide What To Do With My Life.
This used to be very simple. I made the decision to go to graduate school because I wanted to be a professor. I wanted to be like my favorite mentors in college, who were so fired up and passionate about their work that they gave me purpose. They taught me to think critically, and they gave me tools to make the world a better place.
And so I signed up for a PhD program, partly because of them and partly because I’ve fancied the sound of “Dr. Corazon” since I was about 10. And I’ve worked hard, and ticked most of the boxes off of my Academic Pre-Career to-do list: TAships, check. Yearly conference presentations, check. Academic article published, check. And even though I haven’t had the chance to teach as instructor-on-record yet, my advisors assure me that I would be a viable candidate for a tenure-track position on the strength of my research and teaching assistantships.
I… don’t really know if that’s what I want to do anymore.
There’s so much bound up in that decision, of course. There’s the fact that the number of tenure-track positions are swiftly shrinking, with universities depending more and more on part-time adjunct labor–something I’m not willing to put up with. And then there’s the fact that teaching is intense, and depending on the courseload, leads to a lot of burnout, and work on the weekends, and on and on.
And, of course, there’s the fact that I’ve somehow fallen into grant-writing and resource development… and I kinda like it. The pay is decent, with a lot of room for growth, and it feels good to write things that are going to help people, proposals that will have an immediate impact and pay off in multiple ways.
On the flipside, academia–research in particular–is thrilling. And as much as I hate the process of writing this dissertation, I am so passionate about my topic. Historical studies of Catholic nuns in San Francisco might not seem super interesting to everyone, but I’m in love with it, and I feel like it’s, in many ways, really important, both in terms of illuminating forgotten history and in making connections with current events. There’s so much that I haven’t done with it, and so much that I want to do (my advisor is already listing potential journal articles and book proposals)… what I’ve done so far is just the tip of the iceberg.
So I’m in the middle of a gray zone, like I took the wrong fork in the road but have been so busy staring at the map that I’m just now seeing this strange, new place, filled with flora and fauna that I never anticipated, pitfalls that I can’t predict, but a savage beauty that comes from being a place that is new and uncharted.
This level of possibility makes my palms sweaty with fear and excitement and anticipation of new adventures. Because it can lead to so many things. Take, for example, the chance to unify my fiction writing and professional worlds. Three years ago, I took a pseudonym, more than a little terrified at the thought of my creative hobbies being “discovered” by hiring committees and somehow branding me as unprofessional and unscholarly. Having this separate space has been a joy in so many ways, but there are days when I feel like I’ve muzzled myself, like dividing myself up has resulted in an inability to express all the things that I’m passionate about and love.
I don’t know where the next few years where lead. There are so many stories I want to share, so many darn things I want to accomplish, and my roadmap… well, it’s a little nonexistent at this point. But I have that stirring feeling that I’m poised to make all my dreams come true, if I can only let go of the fear, embrace the unknown, and accept uncertainty. Easier said than done for a plotting, planning, detail-oriented stickler for rules, but crazier things have happened, right?