Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Actually I do want your job...

I've been mulling over a couple of posts that showed up over the weekend, which began at B*'s, and then continued over at Bella's (she's password-protected, and so I won't link), about PhD candidates who don't want research positions after they graduate. These posts have had me trying to figure out what I actually want out of my degree.

I am a PhD candidate who spends a lot of time maintaining that "I just want to teach" after I finish. In fact, a big incentive for me to get my PhD and not just stop at the MA was the fact that it is really difficult to get regularly hired as an instructor in my field, in this country, with just an MA. Everywhere I look, I'm seeing advertisements that ask for at least an ABD (all but dissertation), but preferably a PhD.

And so my initial incentive to pursue a PhD was teaching-focused. As are my immediate post-graduation plans. Honestly, for the first several years after I finish, I just want to settle down somewhere where I can get regular sessional work, where Chris can get a decent teaching job, and where we can buy a house. It would also be nice to be nearer to our family. And that's when we'd like to have kids.

I talk about that part of our life plan a lot, partially because I've been having to come to terms with how non-ambitious that plan sounds. I feel like I ought to be looking for faculty positions right away or something.

But the thing is that, when I say such things as "When I'm done, I just want to teach," I'm not speaking about the long term. Actually, down the road I really do want to get on to the tenure track. I absolutely love research. In fact, I am so attached to my own research that, when I get really focused on teaching and on the basics, I begin to feel discouraged and a sense of detachment, and the main way out of that is to focus on my research. Actually, a large factor that drew me to graduate school in the first place was the prospect that I could spend my life researching and writing. Also, even though I am still a graduate student myself, I love advising graduate students and helping them figure out their life plans and their research. I love other people's research plans almost as much as I love my own.

And for those reasons I know that I could only handle being an instructor for a decade at the most. And hey, maybe some more Baby Boomers will have retired by that time, and so there will be some job openings in my field.


Bella Sultane said...

I talk about that part of our life plan a lot, partially because I've been having to come to terms with how non-ambitious that plan sounds.

I can *definitely* relate to that. It took me about 4 full years to come to terms with the fact that I probably do not want the same future for myself as many of the faculty in my department want for me, and to be okay with that.

BrightStar said...

Thanks for responding to this. I have found it incredibly helpful to hear how others are thinking about this.

For what it's worth, I know someone who did exactly what you mentioned -- taught for a while and then aspired to a research job later -- she took time off in between teaching and research jobs to have kids.

For what it's worth, I find having a job that allows me to teach and do research helps me have a balance -- some weeks I'm really into my research, some weeks I'm really into my teaching, and being able to go back and forth between the two is really intellectually stimulating for me.

Anyhow, best wishes to you on your journey. I don't think your plans are non-ambitious, by the way. (Plus, there is way more to life than ambition! Personally, I think pursuing a graduate degree is ambitious in itself!)

Queen of West Procrastination said...

You know, B*, I love the idea of being able to go back and forth between teaching and research. The more I think about it, the more I realise that I'm not really like those students who claim that they don't want to work in research institutions. It's more that I don't want to enter the tenure track at all, for the first several years after I get my degree. But after that, I really do want a job just like yours.

And thank you for the affirmation that I am ambitious after all.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

As someone who is teaching full-time while writing her dissertation -- getting done before the teaching is a great idea, trust me!

I like the idea behind your plan to teach for a while and then go for TT jobs -- the problem is that I'm finding that being in a teaching job has put me into the invisible category of "teacher" which doesn't let me break into the category of "researcher" very easily. Perhaps things will change with a new PhD behind my name.

From what I've seen of the job market, if you want to go for research/tenure track jobs, keep publishing even when you are teaching.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Ditto to what inside the philosophy factory said (that's what my grad advisor has just said to me, in fact). I no longer think that there is one clear academic career path that people have to follow to succeed (I used to think this much more), but conventional wisdom holds that the longer you're done and not in a TT position, the harder it is to get one. Of course, conventional wisdom is often wrong! And things may be different in Canada - I don't know. But it's worth keeping in mind. Good luck!

(I should add that I don't think your plans make you un-ambitious at all - I just hope that they'll work out.)

wen said...

i went into my phd intending to be a university professor and to do that very satisfying 'flip flop' between teaching and research.

alas, i eventually decided to choose quality of life, which for me meant staying in the sf bay area rather than doing a job search nationwide. (my partner at the time was here on a h1b visa and needed to stay at her current position in order to remain in the country. i couldn't i thought long and hard about all this--including potential feelings of 'failure' if i didn't go on the market. i decided, ultimately, that i felt like i'd 'done' my academic career already and it was fine to move on.

i ran my own business for a while; doing a dissertation and ta'ing is great experience for being self-motivated and dealing with the public.

i'm currently in a job that is from 7 am to 3 pm M-F. i work with lots of other smart folks, we do research and put together continuing ed conferences. it's a great job. there are other phds, and folks who came out of ivy league schools (such as harvard law school).

turns out i can still teach (i teach ballroom dance and train folks at work), still research etc. and best of all, i didn't end up in a town/community that wasn't a good fit. (being liberal and gay means there are definitely some not-so-good fits for me out there!)

when i graduated (2003) there seemed to be a big stigma asssociated with choosing alternate paths. sounds like this is changing for the better.