Thursday, June 17, 2010

doctoral advice

Another friend of mind just (successfully) defended his dissertation today. This is a version of the advice I gave him (and to many of my friends when they become new Ph.D.s):

Congratulations, and welcome to the club! Now, there's something you absolutely have to do:

As soon as you possibly can, write some scholarship that's not dissertation-related. Do that fun article you've had to push to the bottom of the "to-do" pile. At the very least, do a book review. But get something else, something new, something non-dissertationy under your teeth, and do it quickly. Also, do some personal writing. A blog is a good idea, but a diary works as well.

The big thing that happens to a lot of Ph.D.s is that, after their defense, they want to take a break from writing. They want to just sit and not think for a while. And while I understand these impulses, they are not in your best interest. It is very easy for your "a few weeks off" from writing to turn into a few months...or (as in my case) years away from writing. And when that happens, it is very damn hard to start writing again.

My personal experience bears this out. When I finished my Ph.D. process, I was already an adjunct...meaning I worked a hell of a lot, teaching things that were not my specialty. Adjunct work is really hard, and it's nigh-impossible to do it full-time and still write. However, you still gotta try.

I had the summer off, and this also became a long break from being an academic. What I really needed, I naively figured, was to recharge my batteries. Once tanned, rested, and ready, I believed it would be easy, during adjunct year two, to bust out an article. So I did nothing over the summer. However, the second adjunct year was even more nightmarish than the first (see the earliest of my blog posts), and all I ended up writing, in those two years of adjuncting, was a single 7 page mini-article. This lack of scholarship, I feel, undoubtedly contributed to my poor performance on the job market.

But this is more than just career advice. Trust me, I understand your current position. You are undoubtedly burnt out from the dissertation process. Everyone at your stage of the process is burned out. One friend, a week away from his defense, told me, "Mike, there's no one in the world who cares about my dissertation less than I." And this is understandable. Personally, all I really cared about was plotting revenge on a few "professional academics" who seemed intent on sabotaging my career before it started.

However, you have to remember that you got into this lifestyle for a reason. There were good reasons why, way back when filling out your grad school applications, you thought of yourself as a potential academic. Reminding yourself of this is now your next task...because I have seen bad things happen to those who forgot why they became Ph.D.s. Don't be one of those people who, upon thinking of the last half-decade of your life, forgets why you did it in the first place.

Trust me, you have passed a momentous milestone, the highest academic degree in the world. You need to feel good about yourself, about your work. You deserve to realize just how excellent you are, and how awesome is your accomplishment. You also deserve to think of yourself as an academic, as a professional.

So, by all means, celebrate. Have one hell of a time. Take a few days to relax...something I know you probably haven't done in quite some time. But then, jump back into the work...because it's the only way to remind yourself that both writing and thinking are fun...are good...and, most importantly, are what you do.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

I've already got 2 non-diss articles germinating :) I'll begin writing them this summer and try to get one chapter published in a journal. I'd say that's a good post-PhD goal.