Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Alternate pathways: thinking beyond tenure-track (or its equivalent)

Events of the past two weeks have culminated in a lot of deep-thinking as to what I intend to do out of grad school. Well, the larger question is why am I in a Phd Program after having spent time out in the world making money.

Answer (or an attempt at one):

Background and Rationale:
The reason is because I wanted to come back to a world of hard-thinking, books, research and trying out new ideas as well as answering big questions that the 'real' world I was inhabiting did not enable me to do. At least not the world where i was in Malaysia. Sure, I got research work and writing jobs, but most were not particularly fulfilling. I've taught as an adjunct before and I know that I am not interested in that kind of life either. I like teaching in a different form (probably experimental form); I have been thinking that alternative forms of teaching may suit me better, rather than high-school or the college classroom).

As a newly minted physics graduate, I never got to put it to practice my training in this area, even though the analytical and quantitative skills proved rather useful in all the non-related fields I've worked in since. I could not get a job as a science-writer, since such opportunities were non-existent in Malaysia (nor were there anything worth reporting to the international journal I was trying to convinced to let me string for them) and I was too ignorant to know how to start my own initiative to do that. Then I did an MA in English, which had been a good stepping stone in obtaining some good-paying jobs that had provided me with a multitude of experiences, some good (others less so).

After some years in second-language teaching to media to publishing to advertising/marketing design to political research to market research to adjuncting, I knew I wanted to do a PhD outside of Malaysia so as to build better opportunities for myself to to do what I really want to while equipping myself with the knowledge and skills to do so (which had been ample from the time I stepped in, even with the restrictions of being a foreigner).  Whatever the outcome, I'll still consider myself blessed in this regard. Moreover, I get to write about science, more deeply than I ever imagined and as a humanist thinking critically about science and the affordances of my past training. In fact, there was a time in my early twenties when I wanted to run a series of seminars that will bring in the language of arts and science together to think creatively and innovatively. I had a sort of a syllabus and curriculum but no real idea how to make it work, so it never happened. Now, I am more prepared to attempt such a project with greater maturity and resources.
When it comes to thinking about what I want to do post-graduation and how that decision affects my dissertation: I am going to shape the inquiries of my dissertation not to pander to the hypotheses on the trends of the current academic job-market situation (furthermore, the topic of my dissertation does not necessarily lend itself to identifying me with a coherent representation of a field in 'literature'). Instead, I want to use my dissertation as a tool to start the ball rolling in asking questions that have been bugging me even when I was out making money in the other world: how to make disciplines talk to each other better. Even in a university that markets itself as cross and inter-disciplinary, in practice, this is often not the case.  Can I use the language of science to help me think about the humanities and vice-versa. How can I theorize a good frame for thinking about incomplete/non-total/missing information and then build tools that will be useful to future researchers and scholars (across all fields).

There is no real epistemic dialectic between fields: people in English or Romance Studies, i.e., might want to talk about what the scientists do and try to form working groups to do so (even if the discussions often tends towards gestures than necessarily rigorous interrogations), the scientists have no interest in what the humanists do, for the most parts, if they are even aware.  Finding that language, or even that point of intersection for making that discussion happen, is the purpose and endgame of my dissertation. I am also deciding not to let the job-market bug me.

If I can't get a job in American academia (or any other academia), well, there are other projects to work on. Having spent some years accommodating to the needs and requirements of organizations (and industry) and compromising my own sense of self, I think it is time to stop doing this, no matter what anyone or everyone may think. After all that I've been through in graduate school thus far and all that I've done by this 'early middle-age' of my life, I owe it to myself to shape my destiny in the direction that best befits my interest, skills and talents, even if it means having to carve out my own path. Probably this may mean not desperately hustling for teaching jobs at all cost while trying to complete my dissertation. If I get one without too much effort, it's all sunshine and blue skies. If I don't get any, so be it. I will begin my search for  options that will still allow me the room to continue and pursue my interest in dealing with what are perceived as esoteric but will be potentially useful inquiries. Maybe what I am dealing with are knowledges of the future shaped out of half-forgotten knowledges of the past. It is not the same as selling a commodity that has immediate recognizable value. But graduate school training is good preparation ground for helping me deal with such 'objects.'

1 comment:

  1. I think you are expressing a positive humility waiting to take on a bigger challenge. I can't help but empathize with your position. Yet, I wonder what internal structure you utilize to make such an impactful decision about your own capabilities in both the humanities and the sciences. Since there is such a vast linguistic gap between the two fields, I am curious as to how your own internal voice continues to develop so fruitfully in such complex dialogue. Do you ever find yourself missing the forest for the trees? How do you refocus and what grounds you back to your goal? Its amazing the flexibility of how some minds are good at coping with such vast and deep knowledge spaces, especially yours. :-)