It’s a cliche, but it’s a New Year and a New Start. But seriously – for me, it is. On the 22nd of December, 2014, I submitted my PhD thesis. It’s now 2015 and I have to Do Other Things.
I started it almost five years ago, and the thesis represented nearly four years of full time work. In those five years I had one year “off”, where I did little work on my thesis but never stopped thinking and worrying about it.
It has been a huge part of my life for a long time – longer than five years. It entered my life when I was a third year undergrad and started tutoring work; it was then that it first occurred to me that I might want to be an academic. It was with me when I did my Honours project, when I was testing the academic waters, so to speak. And now, it’s almost gone – I still have feedback to receive, and revisions (probably substantial ones) to make, but for now, there is nothing more I can do to it, about it, on it. The feeling of being without it after so long – it’s almost loneliness.
When I was a teenager, I did a lot of theatre. Mostly musicals, some straight plays. I was never the star, but then, I never thought I would be.
I loved it. I didn’t have many friends in high school, though I had my share of the opposite. But in theatre, I had friends. I loved the spirit of camaraderie in undertaking something difficult and dangerous (dangerous, at least, to one’s self-image, self-confidence). I loved the buzz that we shared when we succeeded – when we had the audience’s attention, when they laughed at the right time (or at unexpected, but appropriate times), when everything seemed to work. And I loved how we looked after each other when things didn’t work – when someone slipped, or forgot a line, or had a costume problem.
I didn’t have many happy times when I was that age, but of the ones that I had, almost all of them happened in theatre.
But despite my love of theatre, I never aspired to a professional performance career. I had no illusions – I knew that very few people can make a career in the performing arts, and I knew that I simply wasn’t good enough to make it a risk worth taking. I had a little talent, and responded well to practice and training, but that came too late to do much good, and I wasn’t amazing, or even great. And I thought that if you’re going to try for something that so few manage to achieve, it’s only worth the risk if you’re fantastic at it, and if nothing else could make you happy. Neither of those things were true for me.
Now, however, I find myself pursuing an almost equally competitive career. I want an academic position – a full time one, and eventually a permanent one. Turns out, success in academia relies on much the same things as success in performing arts – you need to work hard, be highly trained, but you also need a measure of talent, and to be memorable. You also need to be able to perform for a critical audience, and submit yourself and your work for judgement throughout your career. And you need to be lucky – it helps if you know people.
And, as in theatre, for every full time position advertised there are dozens, even hundreds, of qualified applicants. Whilst I’m a much better fit for academia than theatre, I don’t have a lot of confidence.
I find myself two weeks on from submitting my thesis, feeling lonely and a wee bit lost without my constant companion for the last five years to occupy myself with. I’ve started job hunting in earnest. I applied for two academic jobs in December last year, and have applied for three other positions this week (one academic, one local government, one state government).
And now I wait. Wait for the judgements on my thesis. Wait for the outcomes of job applications. Wait for more posts to be advertised. And try to find the energy and creativity needed to start writing new things – I’ve got R & Rs to do, a book chapter due in a couple of months, and heaps of new papers that are in the abstract + rough outline stage. My academic applications will be stronger as I start getting those finished, submitted, published.
I never thought I’d say this, but as much as I’m glad it’s finished (at least, for now), I miss my thesis. I have lots of little things to do, but I miss the obsessive, anxious simplicity of having that one task – FINISH THE THESIS – dominating my days and nights.
Anyhow, in this blog I intend to document the post-PhD-submission period (I wanted to say ‘malaise’ there, but I hope it will be something other than that). Writing papers, job hunting, waiting for examiners’ reports. I can’t imagine it will be much to read, but I’m hoping that establishing a writing habit will help my academic writing – I’ve found blogging helpful for writer’s block before. That’s the plan.