Sometimes I ask myself why I’m doing a PhD and what I’m getting out of it. This is actually a long set of many smaller questions. Why did I apply to a PhD program in the first place? Why did I enroll once I was accepted? Why have I not quit after any of my many, many PhD freakouts? That’s most of the Why questions. Then there’s the What questions. What was I hoping to get out of it when I applied/enrolled? What have I actually gotten out of it? What do I hope will come of it?
I don’t necessarily have answers for all of those questions, but I can kind of get at some of them.
I had been thinking about doing a PhD eventually just because I like going to school, honestly. And because I loved listening to people talk about their research when they visited for job talks or whatever (I was working at the university where I’m currently a student). But I never quite understood the discussion of their methods, and I wanted to. And I also wanted to capture good work people were doing in the world and find ways to share it. So the reasons I thought I wanted to do a PhD were those: understanding research methods better, documenting good work in education and libraries, communicating that work. And the reasons I applied WHEN I did were because all the other people in my department at work had been fired, laid off, or transferred. It was me and several graduate assistants closing out the department’s contractual and grant obligations, and I was fairly certain that once those obligations were handled, I would be laid off, too. So I moved up what was a someday thing to a today thing, and enrolled because I don’t much apply for things I don’t actually want.
Why haven’t I quit? Stubbornness. Attachment to the flexible schedule. Because I don’t think I will feel like what I’ve gotten what I came for until I complete the large-scale research project that is my dissertation. And a little bit because my mom has coursework credit toward two Master’s degrees she never finished, and I have seen her regret.
I have gotten a lot of what I came for. In particular, I have a deep understanding of qualitative and participatory research methods that I definitely didn’t have when I came in. I understand ethnography and grounded theory in a way there was no time for me to understand during my MSLS research methods course. And I’ve gotten some other stuff: an immensely flexible schedule that allows me to be there for my kid almost any time he needs me, the opportunity to work on a federally-funded grant project, an understanding of antiracist work thanks to that project, time to work with people I am always excited to work with, and time to actually do research.
Since I’m ABABD (if all goes well, I’ll only have my dissertation left to do after I defend my proposal on February 3), alongside actually collecting data and writing my dissertation, I’ll be exploring my next steps for after graduation. There are a few theoretical tenure track jobs for which I might apply, but given the fact that I want to keep my family geographically co-located (in the same house, even), it’s unlikely one of those will come up and be an option for me. So what are some other things I’m hoping this PhD will have prepared me for? Working at a research-focused organization. Working in research communication. Working as an academic librarian in a discipline familiar to me: education, library and information science, Classics, theater. Working as an editor for academic presses, academic publications, or scholars. Working as an independent information consultant and researcher. Combining independent research with web development somehow.
So, I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I’m sticking with what Karen Kelsky calls the “flexible opportunity model.” I could do a LOT of different things. My current plan is to build up my options for consulting/freelancing while also keeping an eye out for institutional work that looks good.
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