Recovering from the PhD: Part 3: What You Want is not What You Think You Want or Pursuing Respect that Already Exists

While there were a number of options during doctoral work, there were also a lot of fences. As faculty, the ranges are very open and few fences exist. We are free to rapidly take on far too much work. This piece offers no clear solutions or ideas; instead, it contemplates academic opportunities in a wandering way. 


I am a sucker for titles. I admit that. I am also a sucker for collegial respect. If I think some task, committee, or project will produce or drive respect in my direction, then I'm much more likely to take it on--even if it is not directly related to my own work, understanding, research, or materials. This is not new for me. Like many of us pursuing or with PhDs, we are opportunity hunters, chasers, and consumers.

Chasing Opportunities

Hunting opportunities is much more fun than actually capturing or eating it. Opportunities not captured are the sexy partner teasing you, the appetizing 1,200 calorie dessert tempting you, the overpriced airport store accessory calling to your credit card and cool sense because you are bored out of your skull and want a new sparkly of your very own. 

Opportunities are there. Thousands of them. Millions of them. And, sadly, I never learned how to say no very well. Seeing an opportunity almost always meant that I should pursue it--after all, you never know if there will be another one, right? Wrong. There will always be more.

Feeding this desire is, of course, the insecurity of, "They've got to be confused. They must have mistaken me for someone else, but I should take it before they realize their mistake." And so we take it, snatch it, before they realize the "mistake" they made. But they weren't making a mistake. They knew you, your skills, and that's why you got the opportunity. While I think they don't realize how much of a doofus I am, what is actually occurring is that I am undervaluing my work, my achievements at such a level and assume that peers could not possible be right in offering the gig, opening, whatever to me.

Hopping the Opportunity Train

This goes round and round. Not valuing my own skill set or work, I'm happy to hop onto the first train that goes by because it appears to offer meaning, affirmation, and value to me. Instead of waiting patiently for topics that interest me or are directly connected to my work.

What appears to be delightful or interesting, while intriguing, may actually have little use or relevance in the long term. It's akin to skimming an abstract, thinking the article may be related to your paper, and then--eight pages in--you realize "No, no. This is kinda interesting, but no. I don't have time for this." Sorry, friend, but when you volunteer or engage in things in academic structures it's a wee bit difficult to unvolunteer. You're there.

Impacts of Accepting Opportunities

The legacy of your volunteering will not be ignored, either. Others may likely raise your name to serve in other, similar positions when bodies and workers are needed. I have witnessed this occur to several colleagues. While most of us are interested in serving our community, in giving back to our departments or divisions, there is a point where sacrificing time for the division or department encroaches on our own individual work.

When you think you are stepping up to a task to garner collegial gratitude or respect, it's important to understand that while that respect or gratitude may be there--hopefully so because that would indicate civil colleagues--that respect or gratitude may well dissipate. Getting props or thanks every so often is cool, but it does not feed the mind or soul like working on something that you actually care about.

Determining where the line is, where there's balance between researching and working on content you care about versus giving time to perform for people whose opinions you care about, is a vital one to flesh out. Learning how to articulate the differences between those has been a major component of my work the past two years.

Drawing the line between what I want to do for ego versus what I want to do and enjoy doing. I am still working on that.

Image Credits:

Door image:

Train image:

Editing Note:
For some reason, this post was listed as being published in May, 2015. No idea how that happened. It took a couple tries, but now it is listed around the time when I wrote it: late May 2014. Apologies if the date is not correct.

Recovering from the PhD

A year or two ago, a colleague I adore and respect were chatting. At one point she expressed interest in how I have adapted to life post-PhD. I've been thinking about that question for a while. Over a year, actually. I don't know how well I have adapted. I used to think I was fully adapted. Wrong. Then I think I have not assimilated at all. Wrong. This is probably something that you can never tell until you are years out from the process. Right now, if I was an egg, I'd be soft boiled. 

In January, 2009, I started my online PhD process. Eight months later I was in Lubbock taking classes full time. December, 2011, I received my PhD. Fast, intense. As I prepared to graduate, I thought it would be easy to stay at 80% of that work pace when I went into Academia.

Wrong. Totally wrong. Oh so frigging wrong. The pace that I created has stuck with me. That is a metric by which I judge my success. And, frankly, that stinks.

Even though it's been nearly three years since I received my degree, I am still not working at that pace, that rate, that insane mind grind I once had. I used to feel like an idiot because I was not at that pace. Three years of that pace set it as a standard, a norm, in my emotional sense of self. When I am not consciously alert to a sense of timing, I find that my TTU-work rate settles in as my default expectation. I did it for three years, so why not now? Obviously I am lazy, slacking, if I can't do that now. If that was not enough, then in my delusional moments I would generate self-disparaging dialogue and inserting my self-doubt-shit-talk into the voices of my former faculty. While it was relatively easy to silence myself, putting doubts into the images of people I respected was harder to fight. I still fight it, but not as often.

What is professional identity? I hate to think it is material-based: publications, positions, grants. But that does seem to be the core. That's akin to judging our friends on the stuff that they own: what type of house, car, shoes they have. While I respect and understand the importance of evidence-driven evaluation, it seems pretty harmful to us if we evaluate or base our sense of professional identity upon material goals alone. <This is so sadly similar to K-12 high stakes testing...>

I can still make a long bullet-point list of all the things that I have not done. I am more than aware of most of my errors--and that includes my hubris and self-centeredness. That list gets longer every day, every week. If I have moments of weakness and want to pull at emotional scabs because--just because that's what we with self-doubt often do--I can center my highly trained skills of obsession, analysis, and reflection on just how sucky things could or might be. Doubt. Questioning. Core parts of identity building or self-bullying.

These are just some of the costs I have paid in shifting from a doctoral program to faculty. On the PhD range, there are some fences and some dogs and herders to keep you on the range and, in most cases, away from the wolves. On the faculty range, there are far fewer of these--in fact, the freedom from them is what makes tenure track so incredible. However, it is incredibly easy to wander off, to fall into a niche of distraction, to stray away from your initial goals, or to invest time in things that don't require it. However, the worst thing seems to be just wondering about it.

I used to think that I could intelligently discuss recovery from the PhD process. Two years out I know that I don't have much of a clue.

Egg image credit/source: