Dissertation Persecution. Also, Terrorists

I trained this week for my new temp gig. When I walked off the elevator, I almost passed out from the view. People were scurrying around not even looking out the giant windows – and all the walls are actually windows. Why aren’t you looking at it? I was thinking all day. It’s a 360-degree view of Manhattan from one of the top floors of a skyscraper. It was a clear day. I could see well into New Jersey. I suppose that is a good thing. (Later, when I took the elevator back to the lobby, I swear to God my ears popped.)

I kept worrying an airplane might fly into the building while I was in there. Yep. That’s what happens when you’ve lived through 9-11. Tall buildings just seem like giant fireballs of human flesh waiting to happen.

I met the Butler. He is very nice. He does not wear one of those Butler uniforms. He wears a Butler-ish outfit though, so you can still tell that he is the Butler. I don’t know why I am so fascinated by the Butler because they also have a Chef and an entire household staff. Jonesing for an ice cream Sundae in the middle of the day? Just call the kitchen, and they’ll bring it to you!

Anyway, the job turned out to be a total nightmare – and not just because I kept thinking: I wonder if there were any unfortunate temps in the World Trade Center on 9-11? Surely there were. Can you imagine? You get incinerated in a building because you happen to be there as a temp? Jesus.

Anyway, more about the terrible job in The Skyscraper Office with the magnificent view later.

For now, I want to tell the sad tale about how, no matter how far I travel from academia and no matter how many years go by, my dissertation still haunts me. It has nothing to do with me anymore at the same time that it is inescapable.

My diss was partly about rags to riches stories. They are so very interesting! So I wrote a lot about them, plus some other stuff.

One of the rags to riches tales I told is about an actual living person. Let’s call him Bob. Bob is a very wealthy and important guy in America. I can’t say too much about what he does because then you might be able to figure out who I’m talking about.

Anyway, Bob, who has hobnobbed with Presidents (of the United States!), comes from a modest background. In fact, his grandmother was a member of the household staff for a Very Famous American. I cannot tell you who it was because then  . . . well, you know.

So, long story short, Bob’s grandmother was basically a servant, and now Bob is an Important Rich Guy in America. How this happened is a long story (you’ll have to read my dissertation! Ha, please don’t).

The point is, I lost track of Bob after grad school, even though I had been following his career in the news media due to my weird obsession with rags to riches narratives, an obsession I followed until I myself became increasingly poor due to student debt. (Logic!)

This week, when I walked into the office to start training for my new job, there was Bob! Bob is now a big shot at The Skyscraper Office doing Important People Things. It makes perfect sense. Bob doesn’t know me of course. He smiled and kept right on walking.

In my terrible job, I will be answering his phone and putting appointments on his calendar (along with a lot of other women).

That’s the story so far. I wrote a dissertation (partly) about a guy with a rags to riches story. And now, PhD in hand, I am answering that guy’s phone in an office building that terrorists might crash a plane into at any moment.

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11 Responses to Dissertation Persecution. Also, Terrorists

  1. Chris Llano says:

    Great post! I was just wondering… I don’t know? Feelings? I mean… Was it weird for u seeing Bob there after writing and analyzing part of his story into ur thesis?

  2. recent Ph.D. says:

    The ironies just get better and better, don’t they? You should leave a signed copy of your diss on Bob’s desk just to see what happens. Could be he’ll just toss it but you never know. Maybe his ego will be flattered and you’ll be invited for a chat. Ooooooooooo, exciting, right? But … my philosophy these past two post-academic years has been to get to know “the other side.” How else do “we” contend with and work to overcome their influence if we only know them from afar? For me “the other side” has been the political Right. Maybe for you it’s the .001% …

  3. that is some kind of freaky poetic shit. maybe bob will turn out to be a nice guy/humane boss for the temp future?

  4. Anthea says:

    Wow…how odd and indeed freaky! Yes, you should leave a copy of your thesis on his desk or even better email an article about him that you’ve written and published to his work email. Yes, Recent Phd is right…his ego would be flattered and you could be invited for a chat. You never know..I’d do it.

    • nyc says:

      Oh, good idea! I don’t think he would love they way I wrote about his rags to riches story, though. Maybe I will leave it on his desk on my last day here – as a parting gift.

      • recent Ph.D. says:

        Take a risk. You have nothing to lose. Unless you flat out said he was an asshole, you may strike a self-reflective chord, or at least one of curiosity. The gesture of introducing yourself that way may actually resonate as a sign of character more so than what you actually wrote — or somehow in conjunction with it.

        Also, in terms of career, who you know counts a lot. More than it should. More than what you know, too often. Why not turn a what-you-know (your diss) into a who-you-know (Bob)?

        I’d probably give it a shot out of sheer boredom, but then I’m weird that way …

  5. Fellow Traveler says:

    I’ve just discovered your blog today while researching various topics. Ended up reading it for an hour and a half straight. Really great stuff. Your sense of humor really strikes a poignant chord with me. I applaud your ability to persevere through spite and finish your diss. I was working on an M.A. in History, finished all the coursework, but after my major professor left for a juicier job, was sort of left hanging—anyhow, never finished thesis and went off to work instead. Sometimes, I regret not finishing the thesis, but after reading your blog and others in the post-academic arena, I’m starting to feel better about my decision. I am currently a writer/editor living outside Seattle in the Puget Sound. For me, my main goal was always my writing career. I considered academia—getting Phd and teaching, till our department had an opening for an assistant professor in German History. The job paid 35K to start (this is Portland State University), and we had candidates for the position from Columbia University, Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford. All the candidates had completed their doctorates and had stellar recommendations. Seriously. An assistant professor position for 35K! That convinced me right there and then to curtail further academic plans (and debt). Anyhow, I decided to go into publishing, become and editor, and in the process make all the connections in the business that would help me later in my writing career. So far things are working out as planned. Don’t know if you’re interested in the publishing world, but being in NYC (with most of the major publishers located there) it might be an option. While in grad school I earned an editorial fellowship to a regional historical review. I was able in an interview to parley this experience (along with my work in the retail book industry), into a contract editor position with Harcourt Brace. Eventually, I was brought on as a regular full-time employee and after 7 seven years ended up as Managing Editor in San Diego for Elsevier. What I discovered during my time in publishing was that many of the editors were once post-academics in the type of situation you describe. A lot of my editorial colleagues started as temps and ended up being retained as regular employees. Sure, at first you typically are an editorial assistant, doing grunt work for editors, but at least where I worked, almost every editorial assistant who persevered went on within 5 years or so become an editor. The point being that at least in the publishing world, you will 1) be surrounded my many people who’ve come through the same experience as yourself 2) Be working in an industry that is at least tangentially related to ideas, creativity etc. 3) Have the opportunity for a career where your degree will actually be valued. Anyhow, sorry for the long post. Just felt compelled to write about this. Feel free to contact me if you have any input, questions, etc. Love your blog.

    • nyc says:

      Hi Fellow Traveler and thanks for the comment and the suggestions. In addition to temping, I am exloring full-time options, which I do not always report on this blog because, “hey I didn’t get that job I applied for” is a pretty boring blog post most of the time. It seems that people are being let go, not hired, in the publishing industry too. But your comment has convinced me to give it a second look.

      You definitely did not make a mistake by leavng academia. Sounds like you are doing just fine.

      I think I speak for many of us post-acs when I say that I wish someone had told me what was in store for me after the PhD. I might not have believed them, but then again…maybe.

      Thanks again!

  6. In the movie version of your life, you corner Bob in the elevator and mention that you’ve been following his career and would love the opportunity to pick his brain about X or Y for 10 min. He then either a) gives you life changing advice or b) hires you on the spot for your pluck.

    But seriously, the universe is giving you an opportunity here–network with Bob directly.

  7. Pingback: Is Adjuncting Better Than Temping While Looking For A Real Job? | A Post-Academic in NYC

  8. Pingback: Is Adjuncting Better Than Temping While Looking For A Real Job? | A Post-Academic in NYC

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