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From PhD to Life

Certainty and time


I never went on the academic job market. I thought about it, looked at job listings, read the wikis, and pondered what I might write about my teaching and research. But I was never moved to action. There were many reasons for this, ones that are familiar to any PhD or ABD on the road to finishing. Ultimately, all the reasons come down to this: I didn’t want to. That’s all that mattered because it’s the only thing I knew for certain.

My decision – rather, my academic indecision turned post-academic reality – was hard to rationalize. Sure, the job market was abysmal . . . but I knew people who succeeded in it. I had no publications or instructor experience, but then neither did a friend who got herself a tenure-track job in a place she wanted to be. No, I didn’t want to move far away, but two other friends were on their way to tenure here in Toronto and in Montreal. And, maybe if I did move, I’d meet a great guy, like another friend who took a short-term teaching job and moved in with her new professor partner a few months later. For all the stories of failure and frustration, there are enough of the opposite among my grad school colleagues to give hope to any academic dream.

But what was my dream? I didn’t know. Not being practiced in dreaming, never having spent much time thinking about what comes next made it nearly impossible to imagine what I might otherwise do. Academia offers a ready-made future plan: Do a PhD, publish your research, become a professor. It’s uncomplicated, theoretically attainable, and everyone around you thinks it’s what you should do. After all, you wouldn’t want to waste your PhD, disappoint your supervisors, and slum it with your intellectual inferiors in the corporate world. Ugh. No wonder even the most level-headed among us end up anxious and down on ourselves and our prospects.

There are only two cures to this post-PhD depression: the tenure track and time. I chose time, which has the added benefit of curing any academic snobbery borne of ignorance and inexperience. And now I’m well, and post-academic dreaming comes easily.

Jennifer Polk
Jennifer Polk is a career coach and entrepreneur. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Toronto in 2012. For more information and resources, check out her website:
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  1. deb / November 18, 2013 at 11:14

    glad you are doing so well! academe is so insular. it’s hard to think outside their box when you’re living in it, and it’s amazing how different things can look once you get out!

    • Jennifer Polk / November 19, 2013 at 12:22

      It is! Totally amazing.