I would like explain my recent absence, for those who have been following my posts.
After the last post, I had decided to focus all of my attention on finishing the dissertation. This site has been an essential tool for exploring the ideas I had been contemplating throughout the time I had been writing it, but nearing it’s completion, I needed to put contemplation to the side and focus on the less inspirational task of editing.
I buckled down and wrote all five chapters through roughly four drafts each, overseen by my two supervisors. This was a long few months revisions, but I am happy to say that I have now sent out a final draft to a committee of five experts who will read it before I defend it in front of them orally on August 17th, at which point I hope to successfully conclude my doctoral program.
For everyone who is interested in reading my dissertation, I have made sure that it will be published online, open access for unrestricted viewing, and I will share a link on here within the next month when it is officially submitted.
Like many of the posts on this site, my dissertation explores the experiences of thirty five Canadian Veterans of Afghanistan and proposes a concept of transitional trauma to explain the risk of suicide from a social perspective.
Although the transition out of my doctoral program should proceed smoothly, this did not seem to be the case a few months back when I stopped writing. Throughout the editing process, I saw that the end was near and needed to line up employment. Throughout the past year I had been applying to faculty positions at universities throughout Canada and the U.S without any success. I had applied to a Social Sciences and Humanities Research grant to continue my research on Veterans and received a high degree of negative feedback stating that my project was not relevant.
Time was running out and income was necessary, so I started applying to every job I could find in order to bridge the gap while I looked for academic positions. After nine years of university, several invited presentations, a couple publications, a feature on national radio, and meeting several dignitaries, I found myself applying to become a waiter, bartender, security guard, and sales representative. Unfortunately, this is a common reality for many academics.
I rewrote my resume, taking out everything I had been doing the past five years of grad school so that it made sense to an employer in these areas. I went to three different job agencies whose representatives all gave me strange confused looks, not knowing how to categorize my experience. One woman who had previously managed a clothing retail store bluntly stated that she would have passed off my resume and taken a high school student with some experience working at a coffee shop, instead. My confidence was at an all-time low.
I then turned to online resources, firing off resumes to almost every job in the city, from door-to-door window sales, to janitorial and maid services. I thought I got a lucky break when I found an opportunity selling coupons for donations to a charity, but couldn’t morally bring myself to do the job when I found out that the donations were primarily divided amongst the sales chain of command, leaving the charity with a small cut of the money.
Finally, I landed an interview at a local property management company. The interviewer sat down and proceeded to inquire about my academic background, curious about the employment prospects for someone with a PhD in sociology. He then told me he had looked me up online, and was very impressed by the articles he found, particularly the one on what Veterans know about leadership. I was flattered and happy to know my hard work had paid off, but wished that it was for a position in my area instead.
The interview at the property management company went very well and the employer had an extremely high level of confidence in my abilities stating, “…you’ll be able to do this job in your sleep.” This was followed by “…we are a fast-paced environment that requires a lot of multi-tasking.” Right then, I knew this was going to be an interesting challenge. I had been learning, contemplating, researching, theorizing, and writing for the past five years. At this rate, simply driving a car down a busy street has become difficult for me. My quick thinking and multi-tasking muscles had grown extremely weak since all of my attention had been focused on developing my ability to think deeply and carefully.
After a few weeks on the job, administering property services via a constant barrage of emails, I felt like a fish out of water. My trainer repeatedly told me, “stop analyzing everything.” The work was easy, but for some reason I couldn’t get the hang of the immense juggling act required to stay afloat. Most people are not suited to working in this type of environment, but for me the transition from the deeply reflective and careful process of writing and editing a dissertation made it even more difficult.
The employer quickly realized he had made a mistake, recognizing that my research and writing skills are not directly transferable to fast-paced administrative office work. He decided to let me go. This was a bitter-sweet moment for me, given that I hated the soul-crushing work. But I felt like I had failed at just about everything employment-related.
Although I was starting to question viability of attaining employment in my area, I persisted. I can now happily state that I recently acquired a government contract doing research on Veterans in transition to civilian life, and was hired as a part-time lecturer at Eastern Michigan University. Although these positions are temporary, it is an honor to be given the opportunity to contribute within my area of expertise.
If you are struggling to find work in your field, don’t give up. Be willing to take entry-level positions, or positions outside of your expertise, but don’t settle for mediocre. As, Tony Gaskin’s said, “If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help build theirs.” And as Aristotle said, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.”
If it wasn’t for all of the positive feedback from my supervisors, my fiancé, and many of the commenters on this site, I would have questioned my ability to continue in academia. THANK YOU to everyone who has taken the time to comment on my posts and to those of you who have shared your experiences with me. I look forward to continuing the dialogue.
Feel free to share any experiences you have had regarding career transitions. One thing I have learned is that the more personal the problem, the more universally it is shared by others.
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