What was your vision of your life after graduate school? An enviable concoction of interesting seminar classes, writing, and participating in shaping the university and/or the discipline as a professor in your field?
That image of the tenure-track position, leading to a secure and tenured future, is a powerful one. It endures in the face of abundant information indicating that, in most fields, it is this very job that is the “alternative” career for PhD holders. Many PhD holders in the humanities and social sciences end up in jobs that do not require a PhD, and many others take research or policy positions where their PhD is an asset but are also not in the academy. We all know of the huge pool of adjunct, sessional, and contract faculty members whose academic lives look nothing like the image they held in their minds and hearts through graduate school. And, for those who do get a tenure-track position and achieve tenures, the majority of them are not at PhD-granting institutions and they may find–due to student population, university type, departmental needs, or other factors–that their professorial position doesn’t resemble the job they thought they wanted.
While I have a particular bias against adjunct teaching–because I find it exploitative of both the instructor and his/her students–I think that any of these career paths can be enriching and fulfilling for people with PhDs or ABD. This hinges not on the job itself, however, but on how well the job reflects the values and the goals of the individual’s life.
I am not suggesting here that if you “do what you love,” riches and fame will follow. Miya Tokumitsu’s Do What You Love: And Other Lies About Success and Happiness did an excellent job of refuting that mythology. Rather, if you’re holding onto a vision for your professional life that
- remains trapped in graduate school,
- you inherited from a professor, a parent, or a peer,
- offers only one possible definition of “success,”
- is filled with “shoulds,”
then I’d like to suggest that it’s unlikely you’ll find any of the career paths open to you fully satisfying. Remaining committed to an inherited, rather than an inherent, vision for your life empowers the Little Hater (h/t Jay Smooth), the monsters, gremlins, and saboteurs, aka The Shitty Committee (h/t Maja Jovanovic) to crowd your head with messages about your lack of progress or worth. By defining and claiming your OWN vision for your life, you can silence the Shitty Committee and feel confident moving toward your own goals.
As a coach, I work with clients to really tune into their own values and vision for their lives, leaving behind inherited notions of success and failure. When you are pursuing professional goals that align with your values, then your work can become an integral part of a fulfilling and balanced life.