This story isn’t about me (at least not at first), it’s about my husband. He had the most wonderful time in graduate school. While he had to take out loans to do his MA, it was in his home town and he benefited from Canada’s public higher education system, so the loans, ultimately, for his MA weren’t unreasonable. He finished in two years, thanks to great faculty mentors and a really tight and supportive group of fellow MA students. During his MA, he also landed a summer position with the Federal government, and worked for the Faculty of Graduate Studies at his university, gaining his valuable job experience both inside and outside of academia.
He got into some very competitive PhD programs with full funding. He chose the university that provided the best environment to either become an academic or work outside of academia, as he was not yet sure if he wanted to be a professor. He won a prestigious national PhD award, which included more funding. He once again found excellent mentors, practical work opportunities, and a close group of friends who were also in the graduate program with him. He received his current tenure-track job offer when he was ABD, the first and only academic job he had applied for.
If this all sounds too good to be true, it isn’t. I know because I’ve been with him during his entire graduate school career (and his career on the tenure-track). Sure, it hasn’t all been easy (“full-funding” doesn’t go very far in Southern California), but for the most part, my husband is an academic success story, representing the dream we all have for ourselves and our students.
But one of the reasons he had such a successful run is that he watched me have the most miserable time in my PhD program. I was shunned by my program and thus struggled through every stage. He saw me suffer from poor guidance, get cut off from my peers, and then finish in isolation. When he moved to Southern California to do his PhD, my supervisor told me to cut and run, to get out, and just finish my dissertation on my own. Which I did. And now, well...You read my blog, you know.
So, who had the more representative graduate school experience?
I know there are people out there for whom graduate school and the subsequent academic job market have been relatively easy. I know, because I live with one of them. But, I think that increasingly, my graduate school and subsequent job market experience are more representative. I think this because I see it in the blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook, with my peers, everywhere. There is a vested interest in my husband’s situation to be the norm, because that way we can say the system still works. We get increasingly uncomfortable (which is a polite way of saying what really is happening) when my narrative, which disrupts and undermines the desired dominant narrative, is shown to be the norm rather than the exception.
The story has changed, and not for the better. There are few words, few stories, that allow us to put into the words the changes that are taking place because of the silences that exist, that are enforced. If the stories that are coming out are filled with anger and bitterness and resentment, it’s because this is the language that has been taught to us, the only words we have access to. We meet bitterness with bitterness, fear with more fear. But the words and finally being written, spoken, talked about.
My story is just one story, and I know that. But my hope is that if my story, imperfectly told, doesn’t help change things for the better, that it will inspire and empower someone who can tell their story expertly enough that change starts to happen. Or that enough of us start to write and to speak so we can find a better way to articulate our narrative into something that can no longer be ignored or dismissed