Entangled in Public

When I worked for a presidential campaign, way back before social media even existed, we were keenly aware that, as staffers, we represented the candidate at all times. Period. Thus, we were advised to consider what our field director, Tom, called “The New York Times Test”:

Before you do or say anything, consider: would you want those words and/or actions splashed across the front page of The New York Times?

I’ve been thinking about Tom’s advice lately in light of a recent uptick in talk about grad students and social media. How we should use it. What we should say. What we shouldn’t mention. Its benefits and its dangers, huzzah. (See Karra’s recent take on it here, for example).

But perhaps it’s less an uptick and more a renewed sensitivity, because it’s been an issue very much on my mind of late.

Continue reading “Entangled in Public”

The Way Opens

About a month ago, I wrote a barbaric yawp of a post about how disillusioned I was with the academic job search thing. And don’t get me wrong: I still am.

But yesterday, I read “So What Are You Going to Do With That?”: Finding Jobs Outside of Academia by Debelius and Basalla, and, to my surprise, I found it empowering instead of depressing. Hell, I was so jazzed that I wrote a resume! Heh.

The book’s also inspired some self-reflection about the way I went at the job search last fall. Here are my big takeaways:

  1. I applied for too many jobs. Period. I should have picked a few (less than 10) and really focused my energy and attention on each in turn. Doing so would have afforded me the chance to write really targeted cover letters for each one and to shape my CV to meet the needs/requirements/desires of each gig.
  2. My job letters were not tailored enough. People who suggested that I tailor less were totally wrong, and the notion that you can create one letter and just tweak it a bit for each gig is utterly outdated. I did not respond to the job ads as carefully and specifically as I might have, and that was a mistake.
  3.  I have a lot to offer employers outside of academia–the trick is putting it in a way that said employer can recognize. What I really like about So What is that it’s helped me to understand how I might translate stuff I do as a graduate student and as a teacher into terms that people in the business and non-profit worlds can see as potentially valuable to their organization. For example, fighting with goddamn dissertation points towards my skills in project management. Working with students on a daily basis underscores my experience in customer relations. Plus, I worked for a decade between graduating from undergrad and starting my PhD, and that
    experience—as wide and weird as it is—is also quite valuable.
  4. I’m not going to get a job in academia this year. And I’m ok with that. Am I happy about it? No. I still feel like a failure, at some level. And I hate that my advisor is waking up in the middle of the night worried about why I haven’t, and spending time blaming herself (?!?) for my inability to get a gig.

    That said, in keeping with item #1, I am going to be selective in the real-world jobs that I apply to. I’m going to apply these lessons to my new search, and look for organizations I’d really like to work for, rather than gigs I know that I could do, if that distinction makes sense. Then, I’ll work to make the best case I can to them that I’m the right person for the job.

Here’s my current to-do list:

I’m going to keep working on my resume.

I’m going to make an appointment with Career Services here on campus.

I’m going to reach out to my informal network.

In general, I’m going to do what it takes to find gainful employment and stop wasting my time pummeling myself for what happened this fall.

As one of the interviewees in So What put it, there’s a Quaker proverb that says: “The ways opens.” That resonates with me, for some reason. The trick is, now, I’ve got to have my eyes peeled for that open door.

Here’s Our Darling Scarlet

There was an interesting discussion on Twitter this AM about how we as academics talk about and share our research process, rather than just the final result.

Often, the messiness of the process that we go through—ok, that we totally make up as we go along, even though we’re not supposed to admit that—is where the good stuff happens.

The weird shit that happens in the trenches, between lines of analysis and unexpected data sources, that’s the stuff that inspires us to keep writing abstracts, keep going to conferences, keep writing essays about subjects we love.

Publication is great, and final products are awesome by virtue of being fucking done. But the process is the cool part.

Ok, let me stop. I have this tendency to talk around whatever’s bothering me, whatever it is I really want to say—a bit ironic, given what I do for a living, but there it is. Let me take a deep breath and try again.

I am very, very tired of my dissertation. Of the research that it’s entailed. Of the writing up that it demands. Of what it represents in terms of my work as a scholar and yet, what it doesn’t.

People have told me: The dissertation doesn’t matter. It just has to be done. The dissertation matters, because its subject may help you get hired. Or not. The dissertation is the culmination of–what, exactly?

I’m writing about a subject that I’m intellectually interested in: how and why Christian women use what I call “rhetorical bleed” as a persuasive tactic in their discourse about female sexuality.

See? There’s even a theoretical component to it, a contribution I’m ostensibly making to the field of rhetoric and writing.

Oh, joy.

I admire some of the women whose writing I’m examining. They’re doing good work, work that needs to be done, they believe, in the face of the way that the evangelical church tries its damnedest not to discuss female desire, and women’s use of pornography, and the idea that some Christian women feel overwhelmed by those desires. The only advice the evangelical church offers to women generally about sex—as one of the subjects of my research rightly noted—is shame.

In the context of the purity movement, that push within contemporary evangelicalism for young people (esp. women) to remain physically and mentally “pure” about sex until marriage, the shame thing is particularly unhelpful. So you feel bad about experiencing sexual desire, about exploring that desire through masturbation and porn–where are you supposed to go to talk about those feelings, exactly, when the church’s response tends to be: well, you shouldn’t have done that in the first place. End of discussion.

So some of these women have started talking about these issues amongst themselves. In my diss, I’m examining how this organization talks about these ideas in public spaces, including their website, monthly podcast, and book. At the same time, I’m steering clear of the members’ only online message boards where the organization’s members talk with one another about their personal struggles; that’s their business, and not fodder for academic research, to my mind.

I like these women. I care about this project. And yet I am having a devil of a time caring enough to write my dissertation.

Maybe it’s that the reality of the job situation has slowly started to sink in: the chances of me getting a FT teaching gig, already slim, are fading fast. On the one hand, this makes me quite sad. I’ve spent the past four years figuring out what I’m really fucking good at—teaching people how to effectively express their ideas on paper—and now I have to accept that I probably will not be able to apply that skill in the academic realm.

I haven’t gotten any callbacks, as it were, on 31 applications, with 6 rejections already in hand and more no doubt to come. Maybe it’s because my diss is about women, desire, Christianity (gasp!), and porn. Maybe it’s because most of my publications deal in fan studies—rhetoric, performance studies, and fan stuff, but still, it’s not Rhetoric.

Maybe it’s because all of my cover letters have been riddled with errors, or because my font choices are offensive, or because I’ve applied for the wrong kind of gigs. Or none of the bloody above.

I don’t know.

Regardless, I will soon have to fend for myself in the world, and I need to find employment. Full stop. So I’ve begun looking outside of academia, back to the business and non-profit world I thought I’d wanted to leave behind.

I’m a good writer, damn it. And an even better writing teacher, or tutor. I love research, most of the time, and I’m pretty good at that, too. These are marketable skills, surely. I just need to figure out how to do that, exactly.

There’s part of me, too, that feels a bit like a failure for not landing an aca-gig. I know there are some people in my life—in my goddamn department—who cannot freaking wait to say I told you soIf only you’d listened to me and not written about fan studies or sex or Christianity, you’d have done so much better.

On the one hand, I want to say: fuck them. Because they WERE wrong on that front. The best part of grad school has been the research, believe it or not, and all the conferences and amazing colleagues and pub opportunities that have resulted from it.

On the other, though, part of me wants to slink away like Scarlet tries to in Gone With The Wind after she’s caught in Ashley’s arms. It’s the day of Ashley’s birthday party, to which everyone in their circle has been invited, and Scarlet’s mortified to be the talk of the town in the worst possible way. Her instinct is to hide at home and not go to the damn party.

But Rhett won’t let her! No, he insists that she wear her most stunning gown and freaking march down there to Melanie’s and show her face to the woman she betrayed and to the community that think she’s trash.

And she does, dear Scarlet. And she kills it. Even though Rhett makes her walk in by herself and even though the looks she gets from those assembled—from everyone but Melanie, of course—are beyond venomous.

So, like Scarlet, I’d much rather hide at home for the next two months. To bang out this crappy diss in misery and shuffle out of here in May with my head hung low. I’ve failed, people, by the predominate measure in PhD land and I hate it and it fucking sucks.

Blargh.

But I won’t.

I don’t have a Rhett in my life to goad me into it, or a killer ruby-red gown to wear, but I’m going to put myself out there in our department. I’m not going to dig a hole, as awesome as that sounds right now, and camp out until May. I’m going to show my face and talk to people and show my fellow students that, no matter what the faculty tells you, life goes on even if you don’t get a single academic job interview.

I hope.

Protect and Survive


It’s annual review time again in my PhD program, which means a set of new goals for the coming year. And my, has my list gotten short:

1) Finish the dissertation
2) Send a chapter of the diss out for review to a top journal in my field (that is, rhetoric) in August or September of this year.
3) Find a fucking job.

It’s this last one that has me, oh, not worried, exactly, but on the edge of unease. Todd Platts’ recent post at Inside HigherEd, I think, suggests why:

Like many recently minted Ph.D.s I am witnessing the shattering of my dreams of becoming a full-time college professor by the vagaries of an academic job market destroyed by a fledgling economic system.

And that’s the second sentence! Way to drop the bomb in paragraph 1.

For two years, Platts, a new PhD in sociology, has been searching far and afield for some sort of gainful academic employment. And, despite “put[ing] a little piece of myself into every job packet,” he has “come up empty-handed every time.”

As he notes, this is not a new story in his discipline of the social sciences, or in mine, in the humanities; indeed, of late, there has been an ongoing conversation on Inside HigherEd and in similar online spaces about the “heartbreak,” as Platts puts it, faced by many PhDs fresh out of the mill: there are no jobs–or not the right ones–to be had.

But what struck me about Platts’ piece, above all, was this: Platts cannot understand why he can’t get a job because: he’s done everything “right.” Continue reading “Protect and Survive”

Les Deux, C’est Moi

“So do you remember–” my mom said over Christmas; a sentence that usually doesn’t end well. “Do you remember when you applied to Carnegie Mellon [where I did my undergrad], you had to write some kind of essay about why you wanted to go there?”

I shifted around on the couch, my dad’s cat grumbling in my lap. “A personal statement, it’s called,” I said, impatient. “Yeah. I remember.”

My mom shook her head, leaning out of her recliner. “No, remember? You asked us to read it, what you wrote.” She waved her hand at my dad, burrowed into the couch next to me. “And we made some suggestions about some changes you could make. And you said–do you remember what you said?”

Dad tapped my wrist, squeezed, his eyes focused the iPad in his lap. Mom didn’t wait for an answer.

“You said,” she chirped, “that that’s who you were, what you wrote, and if they didn’t want you, the real you, then you didn’t want to go there.”

“Oh,” I said, nodding at the past wisdom of a younger me. “No. I didn’t remember. But that sounds right.”

My mom bobbed her head, pleased. “That’s how you still work, huh?”

I watched my dad scroll for a minute, the glow of my online CV reflected in his glasses as he read the details of my academic life for the first time. “Yeah,” I said. “I guess so.”

Now what’s funny about this is that my attitude on that front hasn’t changed; when it comes to my academic life, at least, I still operate on the “take it or leave it” principle, in part because hey, I write about porn, Christian women, and fanfic. I can’t hide that on my CV; hell, that stuff IS my CV. Nor would I want to. But it does mean that anybody that considers hiring me is going have to get past (or be entranced by?) my unconventional research interests.

As a kind friend once put it, if anyone hires me, it will be because of what I do, not in spite of it.

And then there’s the whole “I write porn/romance/erotica about beautiful, fictional men” thing, too.

Continue reading “Les Deux, C’est Moi”