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My Degree is My Mistress
January 20, 2011 - 9:00pm

I think I’m having an identity crisis. I recently joined sites like LinkedIn and based on the suggestions of those around me, but the thing is, I don’t really know what I am. Am I a student? Am I staff at a University? Am I a writer?

I know that the easy answer is that we all juggle multiple roles in life – employee, child, girlfriend, puppy-owner etc. But when it comes to my professional life, I struggle. I’ve talked about the awkwardness factor already – that’s certainly something that defines my sense of self and belonging in the Academy – and I’m probably allowing it to rule my sensibilities too much. I’ve been invited out for post-class drinks, and to house-parties with my classmates, and I’ve yet to attend. True, I’ve had valid reasons for missing each event, but I confess, I also didn’t try too hard to re-arrange things to make it work.

Each day as I search for interesting and useful items to post on the Graduate Studies facebook and twitter accounts, I ask myself: what do they need to know? I occasionally remember that I am in fact one of them, but most of the time not. I struggle to identify with being a student, since I feel so detached from the experience. It’s something I’m working to fit into my life, but really? The vast majority of my University time is focused on work, and developing graduate programs, including the one I’m currently in. It’s a weird dichotomy that prevents me from fully trusting and immersing myself in the experience. I know too much about the background and inner workings.

When I was asked to become a regular contributor for the University of Venus I was both delighted and horrified. To be surrounded by such an amazingly talented and diverse group of women was such an unexpected joy that I still don’t have the words to express my gratitude to Mary and Meg for seeking me out. But at the same time, I occasionally feel like a fraud – how could what I have to contribute possibly compare to the experiences of the rest of the group? I am 3 courses into a Master’s program – I don’t teach, I haven’t published, I don’t present at conferences, I’m reluctant to apply for any grants due to perceived conflicts of interest – their experiences all seem so much more…glamourous than mine.

I occasionally feel as if I’m only half-way fulfilling any or all of my academic roles – even as an employee. I am aware that the further I carry on in my studies, the better I will be at my job, which will allow me to move up the institutional ladder – but that’s not really why I’m taking courses. Honestly? I’m doing it because it sounded interesting. Fortunately, such reasoning provides greater intrinsic motivation, which will hopefully get me through this next challenging semester.

So what am I exactly? How can I create and embrace an identity for myself when I feel conflicted and struggle with so many different titles? Being a sister and a puppy-owner don’t necessarily create a dilemma. But these roles – so intricately linked, often do result in some hard decisions and sacrifices. Do all Academics struggle with this as they juggle the multiple expectations of researcher, instructor, committee member, supervisor? Does it get easier?

Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada

Deanna England can be reached by email at She is a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.


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