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The In-Between Academic
March 1, 2012 - 8:10pm

 

I was mistaken (again) for a grad student on Twitter. I’m not offended; many of the people I interact with regularly on Twitter are PhD students, largely through #FYCchat, and because I am learning about DH along with other graduate students. I am also the right age to still be a graduate student; I started my PhD when I was barely 24 and defended before I turned 30. And, let’s face it, I approach my research like a graduate student because I’m off the tenure-track, not to mention place-bound. I can afford to play, experiment, and explore like I was still in the early stages of my PhD.

Most days, I’m ok with being an in-between academic. I have a good job, considering, and watching my husband navigate the tenure-track and his administrative responsibilities makes me glad most days that I don’t have to. And because he is, I still feel connected and knowledgeable about what’s going on at our university. I am treated with respect by my colleagues and my institution, rarely made to feel like a second-class citizen. I never, EVER miss graduate school or the long slog of writing my dissertation.

But it starts getting dicey when I go to conferences. Last fall in Toronto, I was torn: who to go for dinner with, the grad students or the professors? My first instinct was to hang with the grad students, but I found myself drawn instead to going with the professors. I didn’t have the same worries about paying for dinner and it seemed I was closer in terms of life-status to the professors. Even off the tenure-track, we shared many more interests and concerns in regards to our lives and careers (and, really, who could pass up a chance to eat with #alt-acad guru Bethany Nowviskie?). I might still feel like a graduate student but coming up on five years since I defended, I’m at a point in my life and career that I relate more readily to faculty.

I’m taking the best of both worlds. I did have an extended lunch with the graduate students’ but my role was more as a mentor rather than co-conspirator. I really was taken aback by that shift. I did enjoy hearing about their research, their views on how we communicate scholarship, and their twin frustrations and optimism towards their future in higher education. From their perspective, I seem to have it all: a full-time job, a family, a successful blog, and academic freedom. To them, I had made it. To me, I had still so much further to go, but maybe it was only in my own mind.

This in-between phase that so many of us in academia are stuck in make it hard to transition from graduate student to full-fledged faculty member, at least in our head. Now, the system as it’s set up doesn’t mentally allow us to make the transition; low wages, second-class citizenship within the institution, and sometimes outright contempt and hostility makes it hard to make the mental leap from seeing yourself as a graduate student to a faculty member. Couple that with the fact that the life of the adjunct often means neglecting and sometimes even abandoning research, the divide widens. At conferences, especially, but even in the faculty lounges and socially, we remain divided.

 

 

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