Identities Old and New (or, why I could be a postdoctoral researcher)

Nebulous netherworld.  These two words sum up what it feels like to be a grad student.

Nebulously bounded, with vague beginnings and what sometimes feels like no end.

Maybe I’m just mad because today I didn’t get a job.  Not the dream job but a job at a teaching intensive university in the midwest with good interdepartmental projects, friendly and sincere faculty and good facilities.

Netherworld because, unemployed, you exist in a weird place where guilt accompanies the ability to have lots of free time, to conserve energy for the next burst of activity (trying to find a job, trying to finish grad school), to cook dinner slowly and with pleasure, to enjoy doing the shopping, to read books, and to take two walks a day.

The last three times I was seriously unemployed I went back to school to fill the void, to, in theory, come out of school employable, attractive to employers, a self-starter, an innovator, an initiative taker.  Now I have a trio of framed diplomas gracing my home-office wall, and another on the way to cap the stack.

And the possibility of being unemployed yet again.

PhDs have lower unemployment rates than than ‘other people.’  It’s that ‘other’ construction I feel the need to complicate.

I’ve bounced from extreme to extreme, from being an ‘other’ to being elite as well as white and middle class.    But everyone feels ‘othered’ at some point in their life, some more than others.  I’d be alarmed at myself if I hadn’t felt that because it means I can relate and empathize with a wide range of experiences.

Check out my list of hobbies: classical guitar, poetry (writing and reading), blogging, hiking, bicycling and psychogeography.  What steadily employed person with RRSPs can boast of such a happy list of pastimes?  Soon I hope to join those ranks, with the hobbies as a kind of investment in my retirement well-being and happiness.

As an uncertain 40 year old with a history of continuous, pragmatic adaptation to a disjunct, cobbled together patchwork of school and work in alternation over a 20 year time span should I expect my pattern to change?

My answer is yes, I am determined to change that pattern.  My choice career is tenure-track at a research institute with a good balance of teaching and service.  If it takes being a postdoc for a couple of years, I’m OK with that.  Good sources inform me that the postdoc experience can be one of freedom: to publish and establish a research program and to become independent of your doctoral supervisor.

Wallowing in negative self-identities represents a choice to stay in past negative states.  Percieved shortcomings can be re-jigged as strengths and put to good use.  I’ll throw hard won uninhibited creativity at every problem I’ve got, which right now is not a lot, because when you think about it, my life is hot.

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