Step 1: Apply to and get accepted to top program in the country (but with tuition only aid).
Step 2: Face: backstabbing, simple conversations that become a battle of wits proving who can outsmart whom, backstabbing (did I mention backstabbing?) ego-bruising toxic atmosphere for over a decade – where is the romantic life of the mind I dreamed of?
Step 3: Relatively quickly realize that my image of the professor life sharply differs from the reality of: scrambling for funding (I didn’t get into this to be a fundraiser); the crush of the clock to produce, produce, produce; spending so much time manipulating course material and lesson plans to “make it interesting” to students; the crushing loneliness of working alone most of the time; and the daily judgment of your work as a scholar and a teacher. The best part about the last one is that you are often judged by entitled 19 year olds who actually have the power to determine your future through course evaluations.
Step 4: Have some doubts but press forward because it feels too late to turn back. Teaching is interesting at this point still and I enjoy research just not in the way expected of me to succeed in this profession. I also don’t want to feel as though this has been a honkin’ waste of time and my youth. I still idealize the job of “professor” at this point.
Step 5: Spend 1.5 years creating my own data set based on hundreds of interviews and document research. Spend years coding and wrestling with the sheer amount of information to process it into a coherent document called a dissertation.
Step 6: Go on job market with a publication, ABD. Nothing.
Step 6: Go on job market with two publications, ABD. Nothing.
Step 7: Go on job market with two publications and a paper award for second publication, ABD. Hurray, a full-time Visiting Assistant Prof. position at a SLAC! At this point, I am scratching the walls trying to get out of the city I live in so I am super happy. I feel elated for the first time in years and am a bit delusional that this VAP might actually lead to something greater and is a good career choice. My hard work and complete sacrifice of my ego has finally paid off! (Or so I think.)
Step 8: Finish Ph.D. Yay!
Step 9: This should read…profit! But the reality is high five-figure debt accumulated from undergrad, an MA program, and the Ph.D.
Step 10: Start dream job. Love location, colleagues, and actually buy a house in an awesome neighborhood. Live “the dream” for 1.5 years. (It wasn’t really a dream, which I will write about in a future post, but it had its good moments.) Get caught up in administration changes, department politics, and economic fallout. My contract is very unceremoniously and unprofessionally (lawsuit territory) not renewed after two years when I initially was told I could realistically work up to seven years as TT positions opened up.
Steps 11-18 coming soon…