Sunday, December 14, 2008


I had a full mailbox yesterday: a couple of the standard job rejection letters, a rejection letter for my Other Article, and my diploma. It seems significant, a sign, but I don't know how to interpret it. I'm just too tired.

I’ve actually been looking at what I posted here last year to find a baseline for comparing how I’m feeling this year. It’s interesting; I noticed that I posted a lot then and hardly at all (at least not extended stuff on the state of the profession) this time around.

I haven’t been writing much of anything at all, really. And I feel so exhausted and burnt out on what I do have to do that I’m actually not even opening the folders or looking at the drafts --- and I’ve never fallen into that trap before. (My friends who only look at their dissertations at the end of each quarter end up never finishing.) Now last year I posted many many times about how sick I was of the dissertation and how hard it was to work on it ---- but I was inching along and making progress. This year I’ve made it through sending out applications and teaching my class regularly and that’s it. Not even any attempt to revise my long-overdue shit. I feel more tired and am doing so much less this end of year compared to the last one. (everything from work to writing funny parodies of the job market.) I think I’m burnt out.

But what do I mean by that anyway? I know I really needed a vacation --- going straight from a hard push to file the diss to a hard push on the job stuff is kind of brutal --- but on the other hand, I’ve sorta been having a vacation all quarter: lots of starting late and giving up early and sitting around reading blogs or newspapers and not doing much of anything. So you’d think I should be recovered and capable of doing stuff by now. Someone asked me the other day what my dissertation was about and I drew a total blank, I’ve so thoroughly expunged the topic from my brain.

So when I feel burnt out, am I saying I don’t like the research side of things any more? I do really like my teaching --- this class has been a blast when I’ve been able to ignore the bizarre structures it labors under --- and I do really like talking about various cool ideas and making a stab at them and learning new things. But there is definitely something about sticking to an idea (or a draft, or a revision) after I have worn the newness off of it that is very difficult for me, and this could be a big problem for staying in academia, if it means I’m just not capable of seeing projects through to publication.

I’m thinking about that again, you know, as it gets closer and closer to the MLA convention and my third year without a single job interview. I need to start assessing where I am going and what my post-PhD plan will be; will it involve teaching or something else? Would I rather go into teaching comp at a CC or general English at a high school? The complete lack of interest search committees have in my application seems to say that, in addition to the tough job market, there is something lacking in my materials. I have a hunch it’s the lack of publications but it could be something central to my very topic and approach too. I won’t be able to change something as fundamental as all that.

I’ve felt quite detached from the job search so far this year; spending relatively little time on the wiki or kvetching with grads or even with polishing my job materials for individual jobs, and definitely no hunting for my dream place to live on Craigslist, which certainly consumed quite a bit of my life the first time around. You'd think, what with being so much more experienced and efficient on the application front I'd have gotten lots of other stuff written or completed, but that's not the case. I've just been floating along by, doing the bare minimum on my teaching, not thinking about anything at all, because having a break from thinking has been kinda nice. Maybe it's a sign that I'm really not all that driven and ambitious, that I need some sort of steady crap office job where I don't have to plan and somebody tells me what to do. Certainly the sheer effort of switching my cv into a resume and of learning how to apply for outside jobs has stopped me from making the effort to pick up a second job.

And maybe this weird job search detachment is a sign that I shouldn't go into academia, or that I am already mourning it and moving on. If I were moving on toward something I'd feel a little better about that, but currently I'm acting as if sitting around feeling relaxed were a viable career. My energy level implies that I need a job that takes about 15 hours a week, no effort, and pays something livable for a middle class lifestyle, and I doubt that I will be able to score that. Last year I was frantic and upset about my dissertation and finishing; this year I feel calm and like I have achieved something, but, compared to dissertating, I feel oddly purposeless. Less shitty, but ... kinda drifting. There's no clear goal here. Sure I could land a tenure-track job (part of me wanted to add "and monkeys will fly out of my butt!"), or I might not, and I could go off and do any one of a whole lot of things and that won't change the fact that I did get my PhD, that on one level I won, that I did what I came here to do.

Eh. I'm boring myself even thinking about it. I think I'll go back to bed for a while and deal with it all later.


Belle said...

don't know if this'll help, but lots of us had burnout/shock when we finally finished. i'd been teaching 4/4 forever, writing and attending grad seminars just for the social contact. and when the diss was done, and i had degree in hand and a job? i stumbled around, uncertain of anything because The Thing wasn't looming over my every thought any longer.

Be good to yourself. This is transition time, and it's supposed to feel a bit weird. I think.

Fretful Porpentine said...

This is just a hunch, and I almost hate to bring it up because it will surely add to your total stress level, but have you gotten someone you trust to vet your rec letters? I know your field is more competitive than mine, but three years without an interview is unusual, particularly for a candidate who writes as well as you obviously do, and it's possible that the problem may lie with one of your references rather than you.

Dr. Crazy said...

My post-dissertation experience was different from yours in that I defended in the first week of august and started my t-t gig at the end of that month. BUT I "produced" nothing but conference papers for a full year and a half after that. I only looked at the diss again after a year, and while I did some cosmetic revising and stuff, I accomplished nothing substantive with it in that summer following. I think it's normal to feel a bit rudderless after finishing, and I think it's normal to need down time after completing such a monumental project. You know, I'm kind of in the same position right now with the book out.

What FP said about getting your LoRs vetted if you haven't done already.

As for whether academia is for you.... well, maybe you need some down time to figure out what you're moving toward, or what seems like the next step? I know your work is interesting, and I think academia would be lucky to have you, but also I think that there's no virtue in sticking with it if you'd be happier more quickly doing something else. And I think it's completely legitimate for you to feel burnt out right now, and there's no reason that you should feel like you don't "deserve" to feel burnt out or something.

Take care of yourself, Sis. And be *nicer* to yourself.

medieval woman said...

I think you have post-(dissertation)partum depression. I felt the same way - it's like a long-term relationship in academia - you have to fall in and out of love with your work a bit. People who are always ga-ga over their work are usually working on several different projects. I.e., working on a book-length project (diss or book project) means that your relationship to that material - and, thus, to research in general - will change at certain times. I do think you belong in academia! What does your committee say about your job market experiences?

Hang in there...

Feminist Avatar said...

This may just be normal. For nine months following submission, I was exhausted, depressed, couldn't write anything of substance (lots of blogging though). I constantly felt like I needed a holiday, yet I was barely working, outside of teaching. When I started to write again, it was out of necessity in the publish or die sense and, while I love writing (favourite bit of the job), I still find it hard to motivate myself 18 months later. I have other friends who feel the same way and I think you expect to be exhausted for about a month after finishing and then move on, but I actually think it takes some of us much longer to get back on track- plus I think when you are thrown straight into the job market that is extremely energy sapping (even when it isn't time-consuming although it is this as well) and prohibits real post-diss recovery.

Susan said...

What everyone else said. When you finish a big project (which a diss is!) it's very hard to start up again. This is normal -- it happened to me when I finished my diss., when I submited my book mss, etc.
And ABSOLUTELY have someone vet your letters. Not your advisor.

As for where you might be going, if not to a T-T job, given what you've said I hope it involves teaching and writing in some way -- but I see lots of things as teaching, including management/administration!

Baby said...

I read your blog, but never leave comments. Today's an exception. The market is really rough this year (and will be next year, too). I don't think you should take the lack of interviews personally. In my field, there's a ton of people without interviews this year--in fact, it seems mostly like a TT shuffle.

Don't throw in the towel yet. While I agree that you can think about other possibilities, I don't think the battle is lost for getting a TT job.

Besides, this year a number of interviews are getting postponed until mid-year budgets are set.

Chin up.

Flavia said...

Yep. What everyone else said. It's shitty, shitty thing to have to go through when you're on the market and trying to send stuff out for publication and contemplate alternate careers--but the burn-out itself is totally normal.

Get some more sleep. Play with your cats. Flip through pretty magazines. It'll help, I promise.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Okay -- random thought. Have you read the book "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl? I was feeling EXACTLY the same way you are until I had to teach this book about a month ago. I had read it two years ago (and taught it then too), but I hadn't picked it up since then. When I read it last month, I got a new surge of purpose and drive. Then guess what? I landed two interviews. I honestly think my change of attitude will help me with those interviews, and if I hadn't gotten a dose of perspective, then I might have failed miserably. The book is only 160 pages or so and can be found in bookstores everywhere. Give it a read and see if it helps.

Yeah, the market is BS. But it's always BS. Have you had someone you trust read YOUR letter of application? My letter last year was horrible because I didn't let anyone else read it, and I didn't have any good examples to go by. This year, I asked for help (in multiple ways), and I'm doing pretty good. I almost lost my mind when I got called for an interview -- made me feel legitimate in this field for the first time. And I don't have major publications, but I have irons in the fire.

I honestly think that a lot of this job market comes down to arbitrary tastes of the search committee. Everyone with a PhD is equally qualified -- publications or not. We all are doing research of some kind; we all have teaching experience, and we're all smart enough. So what are they looking for? Something unusual! So if there's something unusual (in a good way) about you that will make you stand out somehow, then maybe you should play it up a little more.

Don't give up hope. You're a great writer, and I enjoy reading your blog. Hey, you could always write a memoir about your job market experiences. I bet it would sell like hot cakes. But seriously, GO READ FRANKL.

Earnest English said...

Sis, I agree with everyone above that post-dissertation depression or floatiness is totally normal -- or at least what I had. One of the ways I explain the weird turns my life has made to myself is that once grad school/dissertating was over, I needed to concentrate on wholly other parts of my life, letting the whole academic thing float a bit. One thing that is weird is that we all sort of take for granted that if we're not absolutely engaged with academia then maybe there's something wrong. But as much as academia does determine where we live and the course of our year (and hence how and where we spend our lives), it is still only ONE aspect of our lives. It's work. It's an important thing. But we're also more than that. After so much time spent on dissertating and worry and fret and all that, well hell girl, don't you need to do something else? You'll end up all unbalanced and wonky if you kept on going and were all gung ho about job market nonsense, for example.

(Speaking of such nonsense, if you are planning at being at MLA, I would love to see you. And I bet Maude would too.)

Bionic-Woman said...

I'm not finished with The Big One as yet but getting close. And I seem to have doubts myself about sticking around in academia every now and then. For now, I'm refusing to process that because I suspect Dissertation Burnout might lead to me thinking in ways I normally wouldn't. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I deplore it, other times I tolerate it.

My $0.02: think about what truly makes you happy and makes your life feel in balance. If that involves academia I'm positive it'll fall into place that way. This process has taught you not just persistence but also unique ways to think things through. I'm sure you'll find your way to where you're meant to be...just think about what makes you happy and put it out in the universe so it can find its way to you. I intend to do just that once I'm done.

And yes remember to celebrate that you have accomplished so much....I'll start that myself - yay Sisyphus!

Lauren said...

Enjoying your blog immensely. I stumbled upon it in a moment of maybe-the-internet-can-help desperation and yes, a total feeling of burnout. After the holidays, I got my fire back. Am trying very, very, very hard to finish my dissertation - deadline, April 8. Just trying to stay positive. I'm a musician and I hardly know anyone in music performance who is taking the PhD path like myself, so it's actually really interesting & illuminating relating to anyone - musician or not - who is going through or has gone through the process. I say this with a total absence of sarcasm - best wishes with everything. Love the cat pic, btw.

vincent'smom said...

I am so glad I found your blog. I just finished my dissertation and was pronounced "Dr. Slawsky." I am so drained..........I feel like that mugshot of Nick Nolte... I am also a music performance (piano pedagogy) person who took the Ph.D. route. It was like putting my head in a meat grinder.... Oftentimes, my life felt like a Salvador Dali painting. I can't tell now if I feel as I'm being let out of jail......or went back home to jail. Ha ha. Anyway, your blog has helped me immensely.