Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Twas the night before Christmas...and this PhD student is alone and finishing round 2 revisions

Christmas was always magical in my house. It was my Mom's defining holiday. It started as soon as you saw Santa at the end of the Macy's Day Parade and continued for the twelve days of Christmas. Our house was defined by the rituals and traditions we had. This included making the house look like Santa threw up all over it and putting the tree up the day after Thanksgiving. It included singing carols, listening to Christmas music on an endless Purgatory loop. It meant Christmas movies in the background every second you were awake.
When Mom died in 2011 I clung to all these traditions and made sure I did them all.
My first year of my PhD program I was able to drive the 1951 miles home over three days with Nehi to celebrate Christmas, where I continued to try and keep up the traditions. But I seemed to be the only one clinging to these traditions.

Last year I could not afford to go home. With having to drive because of Nehi, and the three days out and back, it adds up to about $1000 and I just didn't have it.

My godparents and extended family sent presents, but it was still lonely. The only upside was that last year I was prepping for comps in February, so I made good use of the time off.
This year, though is harder. I'm working steadily, but I've had to force myself to watch Christmas movies and am not feeling it. I desperately miss my mom. Family not sending cards, or telling me "whoops, I forgot to mail your present in time" are not helping. I feel alone.

Dissertating is a solitary experience. More so during the holidays I think.

On top of all of this, looming in the background is the academic job market. While I've only heard from about six of the 50+ jobs I applied to, according to the briefly checked, then tab closed, academic wiki, over half of those jobs are already at the interview stage, either the MLA interview, campus interview or in one case, the job is already filled.
Me checking my inbox and spam folders to see if I've missed a job interview request
Now I've tried to be very zen about this. I know some people are going nuts, and I get it. I got an email this week that said:
"I'm sorry to let you know that we have decided not to interview you at MLA next month.  We received 260 applications for this position; it was tremendously difficult to make a short list when there were so many excellent applicants.  Because we are such a small department we needed to focus all the more on the existing gaps in our curriculum."
  • First, you mean MLA, that thing in two weeks?
  • The mention of number of jobs seems odd.
  • As does the last line.
  • And the fact that according to the wiki, this comes weeks after they made interview decisions.
But while I recognize why people get upset by this I also understand this is just how it is, so while I smirked at this, it didn't make me upset. 
Do I think a lot of things about the job market should change? Yeah. Am I going to make myself crazy because it's not fair? Nope. Big cup of nope.
There's still 20+ jobs that seem up for grabs, and I applied to two new ones this week. So it continues.

And I am still eyeing my back up plans.
But whether or not I'm conscious of it, there is stress running in the background- how will I pay rent, or eat, in June? July? August? I've talked a lot about my white trash background. I know what it's like not to have a place to live. Or have regular access to food. So these are real fears for me.

My Dad keeps saying "next year..." as though that's a miracle fix. I don't know how to explain to him that there's no guarantee. I've tried to explain to him, and others (who ask where I want to live next year, like there's a smorgasbord of job choices just waiting for me to choose THEM) that IF I'm lucky to get a job I'll GO anywhere there is a paycheck. I just get blank looks back. They just don't understand how higher ed works.
...I'll have a job
Don't get me wrong- I know I did this to myself. I gave up a $50,000+ a year job with benefits teaching high school. I gave up my house. I did this. I get it. I did it because I wanted more options. Because I wanted to teach at the college level.
I've worked hard. I've done everything you're supposed to do.
I've published.
I've taught.
I've volunteered for things that look good on the CV.
I've busted my ass to finish in three years.
The delusion we all have about the job market
I did everything I possibly could to make myself a good candidate. But as the email response above shows, there are hundreds of people applying for jobs. Many are already PhDs who graduated last year or the year before. Whose publications are more, or more focused.
Why wasn't I a good fit? They dislike the toys on my Twitter background? I wear ties? Am I too old?
I will never know why I did not make the cut for those jobs. They won't ever tell me what it was that put me on the slush pile. It's a weakness of the market that you're supposed to learn from a cycle on the job market but you're not given any feedback or input on HOW to learn or even WHAT you're supposed to learn.

I don't know if I can do another round on the job market if there's nothing this year. I'm switching my high school teaching certification to New Mexico. I'm thinking about going back to Teach for America. I'll be 40 in February and I kind of just want my life back. I want to not live on $16,600 a year. I want benefits so I can have the gum surgery I need. I want to not worry about something bad happening and not having the money to fix it. I'd like to not worry about food. Or paying rent.
It's not about YOU (okay, maybe it's a little about you...)
One of the reasons though that the job market stress has not completely eaten my brain is that I have been finishing revisions. While I'm a little behind my ideal schedule (there's no way I'm finishing CH 6 by tomorrow), you can see I've been trucking along.
The #DevilDiss2 is right now at 424 pages. I feel really good about where I am. I haven't yet written my intro or conclusion, but my director doesn't want me to write those until the chapters are solid, which I get. And I can see how that'll be easy.
I am also really grateful to my director and their notes because I can see that this dissertation will be in a really good place to then move onto a book.
I've almost finished the second round of revisions, can I have a defense date now?
But dissertating with two members of your committee, including your director, on sabbatical is hard.
I have no experience with this process but I hear from others that they get a lot more institutional support.
Despite the speed of me turning around my revisions, and notes that I'm doing everything I'm supposed to be doing, I still wish I could move my defense date from summer to April. For one, I don't know where the $600+ for summer tuition will come from. Or actually, how I'm going to pay any of my June, July, August bills. And I'd like to be DONE when I walk at May's graduation.

I continue to wonder- how BAD is the dissertation where I can't defend by 15 April?
But I'm trying to focus on the fact that no matter what I'm graduating this year. I still wish I had a defense date though. I wish even more that it was before 15 April.

So this is where I am in the wee hours of Christmas Eve:
I've spent this past semester revising the dissertation, and had originally hoped to have this second round of revision finished by Christmas. But I had to do a lot of extra reading for chapters 2, 3, and 4 so between getting books in from the library and then reading them before I could start revisions slowed down my timeline. I was able to make up some time, sending my chapter 5 revisions yesterday and sending them off, leaving only chapter 6, my Milton chapter. This chapter has devilled me.
I started the Milton chapter in a class this past spring. So it's gotten a lot of feedback, and it has been through a dozen drafts. And I hate it. I feel like every draft addresses comments and then the next set of comments says something else.  It's the one chapter that I can't get a handle on, and I feel very stressed about it because this is the culminating chapter- where the entire history of the English folkloric devil has to come together in my analysis of Paradise Lost or the work of the rest of the dissertation doesn't amount to anything.
But no pressure.
How I feel about revisions: back and forth, got it, don't...
I can't see the forest for the trees. The latest comment, and completely accurate, is that the chapter lacks a solid infrastructure. So that's my mission today on, to sit down and make my handwritten notes about how to fix this. This will be how I spend my holidays.

I feel like everyone is spending the holiday with family and friends...

 Feeling like this...


And I'm over here, in my office, at my desk. My inner Scrooge telling me to finish my dissertation.
But I am sad that my Christmas spirit has deserted me this year. I wish I had it. I miss my Mom. I miss spending Christmas with my Dad.

This last week it seems like everyone sees the end of grading, semester responsibilities as leading up to something, racing to finish because they have things to look forward to.
For me, the holidays will just be more days to work uninterupted. I'll read through my Milton chapter. I'll make my handwritten notes. I'll type them up. I'll send the chapter off to my director.
Because finishing this round of revisions falls over the holidays, I think it will probably be a few weeks before I get notes back and can start round 3. Part of me is looking forward to a couple of weeks off. Because it was a rough semester, and I'm tired. And because I know that I'm bad about taking time off for myself if there is work to be done. So this is the only break I'll get. But part of me wants the notes quickly because the quicker I get them the quicker I can revise, the quicker I can turn them around, and maybe get a defense date, or even better, move that graduation up.

So this holiday is hard. Maybe my Dad is right. Maybe next year will be better. For now I'll just keep doing what I always do- put one foot in front of the other, do what's in front of me, keep doing what's in front of me, until there's nothing else in front of me.
I hope no matter how you're spending the holidays you find some time for yourself. To recharge, and be good to yourself before the new year and the new semester.

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