I did what I wanted during my PhD and I regret nothing.

Six months ago today, Inger Mewburn published the post, Where I call bullshit on the way we do the PhD. From where I sit, things are not better or different six months later. In the post, Mewburn encourages PhD researchers to shift their focus from traditional markers of academic success such as publishing in peer-reviewed journals to other activities that might be more helpful in a career beyond academia. I thought I’d write about how I’ve done this over the course of my PhD and the kinds of things I learned.

Performance Production

In my first year and a half of the PhD program, I produced improv comedy. I produced an independent improv team as well as a monthly show that invited other independent teams to play. I got no publications out of this (though I did build relationships that supported four class assignments during that time). I did, however, learn about managing groups of people’s schedules, keeping in contact with performers, and keeping people motivated when stuff was not going well. These are skills that I could use in any event management capacity, especially one that involves speakers or performers.

Podcasting

I started a podcast about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This podcast is not at all about my research or my data. It does, however, require the technical skills of recording and editing, the social skills of recruiting and managing guests, and the analytical skills of viewing the episode and determining topics of conversation. I created what is essentially a theoretical framework of BtVS that rests on three pillars:

  • the literalization of the saying “high school is hell”
  • the deliberate disruption of horror film tropes
  • the manifestation of what I call “Spiderman moments,” when Buffy faces and must resolve a conflict between her responsibilities and desires as a teenager and her responsibilities and desires as a Vampire Slayer

This will work for Seasons 1 - 3. If I keep the podcast going, the framework will probably need revision from Season 4 on.

Blogging and Web Development

In the spring of my second year, I first learned about the IndieWeb and have since then been working to build my website as a true home for me on the web and expand my blogging practice. It led to my first keynote invitation and allowed me to share my experiences with dissertating and PhD work. My blog post, “A Start-to-Finish Literature Review Workflow,” is by far my most viewed post. I don’t know where I would publish something like this but it’s definitely not my disciplinary journals. It helped so many more people than I would have helped publishing an article about school library leadership or something in a journal that school librarians don’t even have access to.

Developing Self-Employment Ideas

I’ve been engaging with resources like Katie Linder and Sara Langworthy’s podcast, Make Your Way, and Jen Polk’s Self-Employed PhD strategy sessions. These have helped me learn so much and make connections that have led to potential freelance gigs.

Going to Conferences that Sound Interesting

If I were looking to be really tenure-track ready in my field, I would be going to ALISE or ASIS&T, and I may go to those someday. But left to my own devices, I recently chose to present at the Fan Studies Network North America conference. Not only did I have an awesome time and meet great people, I also connected with an editor at an academic press who expressed interest in receiving a book proposal from me based on my dissertation research. If I focused on disciplinary expertise, I wouldn’t have attended this conference.

Identifying Models of the Kind of Scholarship I’d Like to Do

Dr. Mewburn discusses the importance of current scholars modeling behavior for future scholars. I’ve been following the work of Casey Fiesler since encountering her via the Fansplaining podcast. Dr. Fiesler does a great job modeling a variety of ways to engage as a scholar, including public writing and experimenting with TikTok.

The Moral of the Story

Get to PhDone, but as much as possible, spend time doing the things you want to do, because they will give you marketable skills, build your network, and lead you to more of what you want to be doing. If you focus on what people steeped in the old ways of academia tell you, not only will you still have a hard time finding a job, you also won’t have any fun.

Kimberly Hirsh @kimberlyhirsh