What if academia isn’t a good fit?

This question has been on my mind for the past few months, even more so after attending an academic conference in January. As a first semester doc student I would have been confused at my internal debate over this question. When I began the PhD program, my thinking sounded something like this: “Of course academia is a good fit. It’s the ONLY fit and the ONLY reason to get a PhD is to become a tenure-track faculty member.” Still, I kept coming back to this question until two months ago when I realized that I don’t want to go tenured-track. Once I made this decision, I felt an immense sense of relief and, surprisingly, more confident and determined. I don’t HAVE to go down that path. And getting one of these positions appears to be more and more challenging.

I’ve spent a good chunk of this past year watching friends who are finishing up their dissertations apply for faculty positions. Just the thought of putting myself through that makes me queasy. How much rejection can I deal with while also managing the stress of dissertating? How many cover letters can I write, applications can I complete, jobs can I seek while still giving my dissertation the attention it needs? I’m also researching a sensitive issue (cyberbullying) with minors (teens), which I know will be emotionally, physically, and mentally challenging for me (expect a blog post about conducting sensitive research in the near future). Too much to deal with over the course of one year.

There’s also this cult of busyness that seems so pervasive in academia that frustrates me. This feelings of “I must be busy or I’m not a worthwhile person” is shared in other professions, but it seems endemic among academics. And it’s happening to me. I’ve begun to notice that I feel guilty when I’m not working and that I worry about my work almost non-stop thorough the day (and night). Of course, I also need to inform people of how busy and stressed I am via social media. None of this is healthy and not how I want to live my life. Not matter how much I love my work (very much!), there still must be a balance between my work and personal lives. I’m a person outside of my work but sometimes I forget.

Well, what do I want to do? I get asked this question frequently now that I’m dissertating (ABD!). I still want to do research. I love it, and I think I’m good at it. But I want to be more involved with libraries and serving young adults. Much more than is possible in the “theoretical librarian” role I’m playing now. Advocacy and outreach have always appealed to me, or maybe some type of administrative position. If I decide to return to library work, there’s the possibility of my developing research partnerships with LIS schools. There’s so many directions for me career-wise right now. It’s exciting and scary! I’m figuring out another direction for myself instead of focusing so intensely on faculty jobs. The one direction that is encouraged in LIS doctoral programs. It’s too much pressure.  Not every PhD is meant for academia. Thankfully, I’m no longer limiting myself to faculty work.

I also realize that, six months or so from now, I may decide that I do want a faculty position. There are a few schools who have amazing researchers where I believe my work and interests could be supported. Maybe a position will open up at one one of these schools, and maybe I’ll apply. We’ll see! But right now I have a solid plan of where I want to live, what jobs would be a good fit, and how to make this plan happen. I’ve only sure this plan with my family and a few close friends. Keep this plan private feels necessary right now for some reason.

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2 thoughts on “What if academia isn’t a good fit?

  1. seriously! I would love that! I’m also including myself as a research participant. I’m reading a lot of work by feminist researchers. Apparently, they have been very good historically at documenting their experiences conducting sensitive research.

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