Recently, I had coffee with a former supervisor from my academic days. It was very nice of her to want to meet up now that I am adjuncting again – temporarily. We used to work together rather closely on some projects back when I was an idiot graduate student who thought that working on “some projects” with full time faculty would help me get a job of some sort.
We had a nice chat about what I’ve been up to and local politics and the various stresses that she experiences as the Chair of some committee or other. It was just two girls talking.
Until…the questioning that I suspected would come (but still hadn’t prepared for) began.
“Have you been trying to publish your dissertation?”
Hmmm. Let’s think about this for a moment, have I been trying to publish my dissertation?
“Uh, well,” the words were all jumbled in my mouth. “I, uh, sent off a couple of proposals two years ago. I got some interest, but, you know, it’s a long story and I, uh, not sure now, uhhhhh.”
It was something like that. I can’t speak well in conversations in which I know that the other person thinks that if I just did something more, that if I just did the right things in the right order, I would be where she is in a few years: pulling in a full-time salary and benefits and chairing some worthless committee.
She was perplexed at my non-answer. She furrowed her brow. “What’s your diss about again?”
I was stumped. I said some words in response, but I could not remember in that moment what my dissertation is actually about. I’ve pondered the question in the days since and, honestly, I only have a vague idea even now. Her question reminded me, yet again, of the dominant mode of thinking about academia among academics: that if you don’t have a job you obviously want one and must still be hoping to get one, no matter how long you’ve been out of the game.
The conversation also reminded me of that time I was in junior high and my mom was getting on my case because I did so badly in Math. She was afraid I wouldn’t get into a good college or whatever, and she said sternly, “you could do better in Math if you wanted, but you just don’t care about it!”
Now, back then, my mother was making an accusation. But in the years since I have seen her statement less as an accusation and more as a description that is quite accurate. I am invested and committed to things that I care about. Other stuff? I can’t even remember it exists. My SO always tells me that I know what’s happening on all the really good TV shows, but I can’t keep the main plotlines straight on the bad ones: “wait, who is that teenage vampire sleeping with again?”
Anyway, my coffee companion continued to question me about my attempts at publication and what had happened and where I left things. She said, “I know someone at [such and such] publishing house, so why don’t you send me your proposal and I will send it to my friend?”
Why didn’t I just say no? I don’t want to publish that book. I have no interest. I do not care about it. I’d have to revise it to include all the literature from the last 2-3 years. Good grief. The thought of having to do scholarly work in my (former) field while adjuncting, making coffee for corporate executives, and hoping that it all eventually comes to something is about as appealing as sticking a fork in my eye.
But I was flummoxed, once again, at the disconnect between the views of full-time faculty and the real world. My former colleague was earnestly trying to help me. I wanted her to believe that the end of my career was just a glitch that would soon be corrected, even if I don’t believe it myself.
I still haven’t sent my dusty old book proposal to her. I probably won’t. It’s passive aggressive, I know. It strikes me that she, like many others, doesn’t connect the dots. She teaches at a university where there are hundreds of adjuncts. She supervises many of them. And, yet, she seemed kind of confused about the reason I don’t have a job. Frankly, it’s bizarre.
I have to memorize a speech for the next time (and there will always be a next time). I could say that I want to do other kinds of work now and engage different audiences. My dissertation was not a waste of time because I didn’t publish it. It sent me down a new path, one that, in the end, I’m grateful to have found.
Or, I could go the pithy route. It could go like this:
“I am no longer interested in pursuing an academic career or in conducting scholarly research because there are no jobs available, and I don’t believe that fact will ever change no matter what I do.”
Simple as that.
*On a related note, the most popular post on this blog by far, is “How To Finish Your Dissertation When You Really Hate That Shit.” …. In case you too want to finish your dissertation and then find yourself, in a couple of years, unable to remember what it’s about.