Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Am I crazy?

Let's take this one step at a time:

* I had a master's degree.
* I attained a degree of success in my former place of residence, where among other things, I taught for two years at the local community college.
* I enjoyed teaching.
* I wanted more, however. I wanted to achieve some success in research, and writing. I hoped someday to publish books on my area of research, and to continue teaching.
* It seemed that applying for the full-time teaching post at the community college (that just happened to have opened up) would have been a dead-end. So, I took the plunge and went back to school for the PhD.
* Why? I wanted to be better at research, writing, and be in a position where I would be expected to do these things, and teach.

So much so clear?

That was about 5.5 years ago. Now, let's jump ahead to today. I'm done. I'm PhD. I'm Dr. [me]. I did what I wanted to do. I got through all my course work in two years, which in my program was at least a year ahead of expectations. I took several graduate courses in other departments, and convinced my department to accept some of them as replacements for courses in my department that I thought less useful to my area of research. Again, this was quite a feat, since so far as I know no one else has ever done that, before or since. No one stood in my way, as I boldly forged ahead with my research, asking my questions, finding my answers.

In my first term, I was required to take a bibliography and research techniques class for my discipline. It was a lot of what seemed like make work, but I think it was quite useful. We were assigned to prepare an exhaustive annotated bibliography on a topic of our choice. When I announced my proposal to the professor, she was a bit skeptical that I'd find enough to write about. I guess I took that as a challenge. To this day, my pulling off a 55-page document (which included at least five pages of additional references without annotation, because I simply ran out of time) in the approximately 5 weeks we had to write it is still talked about. The point was, there was a lot in my field even if it wasn't mainstream, even if the articles and books were ostensibly written for audiences in perhaps four or five different disciplines.

Isn't that what a PhD is all about? Doing something new, something different?

But here I am today, with rejection letters trickling in. But, you know what, I still love my chosen area of research. It's still what drives me. And I still want to write those books. And I still want to teach. These are the things I want.

I won't go hungry, I know that. I'm resourceful. There are many things that I could do, and do well. But, if I can live off the largess of my wife, at least for now, why not pursue those things I want, by any means necessary? Now, I don't mean hiring a hit team to knock off my competition. But, I'm a bit more motivated at the moment to publish publish publish.

And, I want to develop some classes all my own. See, I can teach the mainstream courses in my discipline. I've studied it long enough. And, frankly, I enjoyed teaching even the introduction to... for non-majors that I taught at the community college. But I want to teach other things as well. I want to be one those professors who writes a book in a few years that thanks my seminar students for all their input in the developing and refining of my ideas.

So, why not draft up some syllabi... then shop them around. Write to places where I'm friendly with a member of the faculty. Offer to give a lecture there, or teach a course. "Hey, don't pay me if you like, but put my course on the books and give me students." Is that worse than trying to take an "assistant dean for what-noone-wants-to-do" post somewhere, and trying to negotiate in one class a year, and some time for research? I don't know if it'd fly, but it's worth a shot.

I mean, right now, other than my fatherly duties, I've got all the time in the world for research. Because of our childcare situation, that leaves me with 4-6 hours a day to work, which is plenty. I just need the motivation to do it. Where I want to be in 5-10 years is directing a center on my domain of research, with a tenure-track post in one of two fields, but straddling the various disciplines that are relevant to it. It's the type of research that should always be interdisciplinary, rather than eventually emerging as its own field. The problem I run into now is the perception that what I do is peripheral to several departments, rather than core for any of them. So, I've got to show how it can be relevant, significant, useful. I've got to change the perception, and it seems the only way to do that is to emerge as a known quantity, someone you want to invite to your campus to teach.

Good night!

1 comment:

trillwing said...

I can so sympathize with much of what you've written here, and I admire your redoubled effort to follow your academic heart. I, too, am getting lots of rejection letters, and I'm not sure what I'm going to do with myself once I finish my program in June. Right now I feel like I'm frittering away my time, procrastinating even on things that are important to me. That said, your blog is proving an inspiration to me--it's encouraging me to focus a bit more on my work. Thanks for that, and keep up the good work!