Sunday, January 22, 2006

Valued & useful

I think of Thomas the Steam Engine. Sir Topham Hat: "You're a very useful engine." Boy wouldn't that make my day?

Valued & Useful. I said to my wife this evening, as she stressed over the pressures of work, that yes there are stresses, and it would seem that "upper management" would have been better off to listen to their charges a bit earlier, like last August when they said they needed 6 more people on the job to get things done according to contract schedule. Instead, they dragged their feet, and now are threatening the possibility of mandatory 50-hour weeks. She did work 50 hours this past week. So, yes, she is working hard, and has a great deal of responsibility, and is being asked to sign off on things that she isn't really given enough time with to honestly do that task.

But she is valued and useful. Which, sadly, is not something I can say about myself these days. I'm more like a skin tag that hangs from the neck or nose, which every now and again gets picked at until the host remembers I'm a permanent fixture of their physique. It's not pretty to feel that way.

The more I think about the career, the more depressed I get. There is only one thing for me to do, however, at the moment, and that is to forge ahead. I'm actually doing a bit more though. I've got a lunch meeting with a young professor in my department, just to talk about the academic job search and career path. And I've got a half hour appointment with a career counselor on campus this week as well.

I just need to break the silence. If there are things I can do, I want to hear it. If it's typical and expected that I'll be searching for a couple years, I want to hear it. I'm slowed down in sending out this article, since I feel a need to review these foreign language materials... but I'm going to do that, as efficiently as possible, and get this dissertation condensation article out as soon as possible.


Prof. Me said...

Articulate Dad,

I am sorry that you are feeling so low lately. I know that I would have felt the same way in your position; it is the same way many of my colleagues are feeling now, too. My best friend said that the job search was the worst year of his life, as he struggled to finish his dissertation and wrestled with the idea that he might not find a place in academia. After going through the job search, I can say that I agree. On the one hand, it's exciting because there are so many possibilities. On the other, it's terrifying because the "right" opportunity might not be out there.

I think that's the real kicker in academia -- you go through so much for so little reward. You position yourself as an "expert" in something and then find out that no one needs your expertise this year. One of my friends has been on the job market for two years without even so much as a nibble. Sure, he's discouraged, but at the same time he KNOWS that this is what he wants to do and is willing to wait for the opportunity to do it. (Like you -- and like me, I suppose -- he has a spouse who can support him while he waits.)

I was incredibly lucky this year. [i]Incredibly[/i]. In an earlier post you lamented about the people who weren't even fininshed with their dissertations and who were getting jobs right out of ABD-hood. That's me. That's most people in my field; our hiring process begins early in the year and so a large number of candidates haven't finished their dissertations. I was lucky in that I work on a relatively mainstream area of my major field and my advisor is THE top (legendary) scholar in that field. There were 17 jobs open for my specialty this year and over 200 candidates. I got one of those jobs, but trust me, so much of this process is totally random and about who you know. Do NOT let the vagaries of the job market influence your self-worth.

What you do is "Really Useful." And you need to have confidence and faith that someone will have a need for it soon, and that it will be at a place where you can shine. My Mom always says, "Instead of lamenting about the things you want that you don't get, be thankful for the things you DON'T want that you DON'T get." You want to wait for a position that allows you to do what you do best, in an area where your wife and children can be happy and build lives. Wait for that opportunity. Don't be like my friend who, although he had misgivings about his job offer from the beginning, took the job and now HATES it because he knows he should have waited for something better. That something better is coming for you, but it just might take some time to arrive. Wait.

And in the meantime, keep doing what you're doing. Read. Write. Think. Be happy about your life and your family, be thankful that you have the opportunities you have in front of you. And look forward to the time when you will be standing in front of your own class, advising your own graduate students, thinking back on how all of this waiting was really worth it.

ArticulateDad said...

Thanks, ProfessorMe,

A lot of good thoughts there. I have a friend who took a t-t job right out of grad school. In her second year she was told she would not be renewed. I have another friend, who failed to get tenure at her first job. It could be worse. I suppose a job I hate is far worse than none at all.

And, I do have the chance to keep plugging away on my work. My first friend, above (now out of academia and enjoying her job and life more) had suggested I push as hard as I can for post-docs, since they will allow me more opportunities to direct my own research, etc.

I am a post-doc now (albeit one with the title and little more). I realize that our perceptions are as much about what we see as what is out there. I was just reading about ABDMom's dillemma about cancelling her FIFTH campus visit, and just focusing on the first four, so she has time to work on the dissertation and other parts of her life.

God love her! When not wallowing in my own self-pity, I wish her all the best. I'd like a little of that action for myself. But, as you astutely point out, what I really want is to land a job I will love, not just one in which I can pass the time. Hell, I'm passing time now. Might as well set the sails to catch the most wind.

ArticulateDad said...

A little uplift. Lunch meeting went well. She gave me some good ideas on rearranging and honing my CV, and perhaps more importantly, urged me to expand my cover letters quite a bit, and spend more effort articulating my research and its impact and worth. It may be too late for this season (though it's not over yet). But she was confident that there is a place for me and my research out there eventually. It's nice to hear it.

BrightStar said...

good for you for finding ways to break the silence such as the meeting with this young professor!