Audience, Purpose, Angst

So the final, painful push of grad school is on and, to be honest, it kind of sucks.

On the one hand, there’s great promise: I’m almost done!

On the other, there’s great pain: Yeah, but, you’re not done yet and oh hey, how’s that job search going?

derek hale wth


I’ve written before about how so much of academic life is consumed with waiting. We put something out into the world as academics–conference proposals, job applications, published works–and then we have to sit and wait for someone else’s response. If there’s any lesson that grad school has taught me, again and bloody again, it’s how little control I actually have over the outcome of life, the universe, and everything.

With the job search, that inevitable yaw of time between when I send apps out and when, if ever, I will hear something back seems that much blacker. At some level, I like write job letters. It’s an interesting puzzle, having first to decipher a job ad and then to investigate the gig, to figure out when and how and if my work and I might contribute to a given department. The job letter, at least, is a document with a purpose–or purposes, depending on the ad to which I’m responding, but still. At the outset, the job search is finite: you prepare these docs, you fill out this online application, you click submit.

And then you wait.

That’s where I’ve found things getting less tenable, because I have no idea how long that waiting might go on.

One of the profs in my department suggested that the best way to deal with this freeform, floating anxiety was to binge watch a new TV series or two. I’ve added “and drink” to that outline, and have started rewatching seasons 1-4 of Babylon 5. It’s helping. At least a little.

I’m also publicly keeping track of deadlines and the number of job apps submitted via post-it notes/goofy pictures of Misha Collins on my office door at school:

photo (16)

It’s a little weird, maybe, but my first instinct always is to be secretive about anything that’s important. This way, with these numbers out there for anyone who passes to see, I’m sort of forcing myself to be accountable in some small way.

An unexpected bonus has been the support I’ve received from my officemates. They huzzah whenever the job apps number ticks up and ask questions about the latest school in a way that doesn’t feel threatening. They’re fantastic, and those little pep talks mean a lot to me.

In addition to the job search angst, I’m still freaking out about my dissertation. This is in part, I think, because my sense of audience for the thing has become more and more confused.

Point A: Several profs (not my diss chair) have told me that no one will read my dissertation once it’s done. No one will care what it does, or what it says. In a way, this is tremendously reassuring.

Point B: If that’s true, then does the diss as a document serve any purpose beyond the walls of this program? That is, if the diss is really just my ticket out of here—which is a beautiful thing, don’t get me wrong—then how do I tune the piece for a reader? Or should I worry only about the committee-as-audience?

Oh lord, please. Not that.

I guess what I’m saying is that the diss feels pointless and a bit aimless right now. I can see how it should be done. I can see how the pieces will fit together. But–so what? For me, conference papers, book chapters, journal articles–those are bounded in space, time, and audience in a way that the dissertation is not. Sure, there are generic constraints on the diss–problematic, in some cases, because I’m writing about online spaces–but it still feels like I’m loading my work in a photon torpedo and firing it into a black hole.

I’m struggling with writing it, obviously. And that blows, because I’d really, really like for it to be done. But I’m wondering if the question of audience and purpose–especially for me as a rhetorician–is part of the reason why it’s proving so hard.

3 thoughts on “Audience, Purpose, Angst

  1. I’m still in undergrad, but I’ve found blogging about my research area to be really helpful in terms of “audience.” My blog stuff is much chattier, certainly, but it helps me keep in mind that there are plenty of other people interested in the same topics, whether they’re experts or interested amateurs. 🙂

    1. This is excellent advice! Thank you. And “chattier” is a good thing, in my book; can be easier to figure what you actually think about something when you’re not aiming for academic arch.

      1. Hope it helps! I think since you’re in fandom studies and areas like that, you’ll be able to find a lot of interested people online. I think of it as writing scholarly stuff and then talking ABOUT it online, both the experience and the actual research, rather than just using a blog to collect my snooty articles. So, (as you mentioned), it helps me figure out what I think, and then I get to share information too. I figure it’s like any other discipline — you do the research, and then you report back to people who are interested or affected.

        I’m studying the history of literature as it relates to human rights and empathy, and WordPress in particular is full of writers and book reviewers who find that kind of thing interesting, but it’s even better if you’re not studying things from the 1700s that no living people have ever read. 😉

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