I have been neglecting this dear blog. Over the next couple of months, I will be beginning a hard push to finish my dissertation, and I recently started a teacher training at my yoga studio, which I’m sure will make many appearances here. All this is to say, it is fall and therefore, since I am still somewhat tied to an academic calender, I am bound to be flakey. My apologies.
I cannot verify the validity of this advice (that we fleeing from academia just out of grad school should market ourselves as career changers) from personal experience, simply because I have yet to get a job post-grad school. I do think it sounds like excellent advice. And more importantly, I think it’s an incredibly accurate description of what we’re all doing. One of the most helpful things that a friend said to me during this process, after I spent a whole cup of coffee lamenting the fact that I am spending 8+ years on a degree that I will not use, was, “Dust Biter, you haven’t really been in grad school in the traditional sense. You’ve been in a crappy, low paying, exploitative, entry level position for 8 years and you are simply deciding that it’s no longer for you.” Light bulb moment, folks.
I spent most of the last week working on a master resume*. Writing up everything I’ve done in grad school that wasn’t connected to my research was illuminating. I have done an extraordinary amount of labor, a lot of it unpaid (unless you count a line on my CV as payment), for my university. Seriously. This has been a job. For me, it is freeing to embrace this concept. I had a job in higher ed administration during my time in grad school, and so when I first decided to not going back on professorial job market, I thought that following that track would make the most sense. Even though office culture is totally foreign and stressful for me, my administrative job was soul sucking, and I have serious political misgivings about the growth of administration over actual education in institutions of higher education, I still so desperately wanted to find a job that justified my decision to go to graduate school and to finish despite the fact that it has frequently made me miserable.
But, embracing the fact of a career change frees up so many options. I have felt a lot of shame about the fact that the career that sounds most enticing and rewarding to me so far has absolutely nothing to do with a Ph.D. in literature, at least on the surface. All of the reading, thinking, delving back into my long-term interests, personality tests, etc. that I’ve done keep leading me to the same conclusion: that I should consider being a therapist. I have some experience with counseling, and I expect I will get a lot more to explore whether this is the right option for me before I commit to it, especially since it will mean more graduate school (though, two years sounds like nothing now, let me tell you). But, it has taken me a long time to admit comfortably that I am even at the beginning stages of exploring this option.
But when I think about this through the lens of a career change, it lets me do two things. One, it lets me think that if I’m going to go through all the trouble of changing careers, I should really fucking go for it and change careers if that is what will make me a happy, productive person. And two, it frees me to think of the less-than-obvious ways that my time in a Ph.D. program could actually serve my new career. For example, if down the road I were to become a therapist, I would do so to particularly serve the needs of queer and transgender clients, with a social justice bent and awareness of the ways that sexuality and gender intersects with race, class and dis/ability. Graduate school has directly contributed to my ability to do that. It has also helped me build confidence, hone communication skills, build external support and self-care strategies, develop my research and analytic skills, and become comfortable presenting to groups and managing group dynamics. These are all things that I can see using routinely as a therapist.
I know that when people hear that I have been in graduate school, that they have certain ideas about what that means. But that doesn’t mean that I have to be limited to those expectations. It’s on me to explain why a Ph.D. program is nothing like most people probably imagine. But I am fully capable of explaining that. I’ve worked damn hard at it. And not just at research and writing. And in that work, I’ve gathered more than enough information to know that this career isn’t for me. The more that I recognize this, the more confident I feel in my decision to move on, and to allow myself to dream big about what could be next.
* I’m working with Julie at Escape the Ivory Tower, for full disclosure, which has done wonders for my mental health, and for having hope, and for feeling prepared to make this shift once I finally file.