From Academia to Actual Life; or, The Downward Spiral

From Academia to Actual Life; or, The Downward Spiral

I waited for five years to start serious work on my dissertation. During that time, I became chums with the dean, since I was constantly writing him requests for the extension of my studies. My department was well pleased with the extensions because a student proofreading and editing workforce can be more easily underpaid and overworked than a regular employer. Fair enough. As my fifth year of studies drew to its close, I inquired when the date was set for submitting one’s dissertation. There was no date set, but the committee board was kind enough to contrive a random date for me. This happened to be about a month or two earlier than I reasonably expected. Serve me well for asking.

While I optimistically assumed that there would come the time when I’d be ready to write my 120-page manuscript, it turned out that one was never ready. With the deadline looming in two months, I gathered my research so far and discovered that only my reading notes would provide material enough for several full-length books. Even if boring ones. The idea of a dissertation is to have a main idea called the thesis. It’s rather hard to find a solid main idea in literature, unless the idea is that the writers write. Not much of an original thesis. Equally difficult was to determine the purpose of the dissertation. Besides getting a doctorate, a dissertation in literature obviously has no practical purpose.


To cheer myself up, I paid a social visit to the head of the department to inquire if she’s keeping me as a department member after I graduate. She isn’t, because to get a position in literature, someone has to die to vacate the place, and as to proofreading, the department does not wish to go this way. The latter argument comes across as hilarious: obviously, a proofreader is least wanted at a department dealing with languages and literatures. Perhaps I should try a department of nuclear science. I could proofread their formulas. The news from the department head was slightly in odds with the informal communications I had been receiving from other department members, who expressed their hope that I would like to stay with them in future.

Thus reassured of the pointlessness of my undertaking, I proceeded to painstakingly craft my dissertation. I did not deceive myself in thinking that the examination committee would actually read the piece, but they are sure enough to open it at a random page and tear it into pieces. Not literally, but literary. Curiously, I reached the target page count a week before the deadline. That shocked me out of my senses. I expected to be finishing the morning of the deadline day and having the work bound in hardcover, as required, by using an extra special extra super extra hot extra fast binding service and paying a week’s wages for it. Instead, I casually strolled to the shop and had my order ready three days before the deadline.


Meanwhile, my job hunt wasn’t going well. I applied for several academic positions, all of which required a PhD or a soon completion thereof but for some reason wouldn’t take my promise of graduating soon too seriously. I don’t blame them. Some potential employers abroad were bluntly racist in demanding a previous knowledge of the language of the country, presumably because they wish to teach English literature in a language other than English, so abiding by the laws of logic. It’s not really racist, but it’s languageist for sure. At an interview for an English teaching position in a commutable distance from my home, my academic me was confronted with the actual world. I incurred a few bumps and a lapse back to my smoking habit when I realised that no job in public education would earn me enough to cover the elementary living expenses. This particular job would pay the rent and the commute. But I’m not sure that I can stop eating.

I was chuckling when leaving the interview room because, apart from its being admittedly inconvenient, it’s quite funny how things fail to work. So far, I’m failing to work as well, and I’m looking forward to visiting the labour exchange the first thing in their office hours. Of course, I don’t suspect that they would get me a job, but I expect to have a lot of fun face in face with the clerk. I enjoy not working for a while, but it’s a lot of work to look for work, it’s even more work than an actual work. Besides working on finding a work, I’m working on my own work, which is the implementation of a free-lancing plan. I figure I might just as well be a starving free-lancer in the comfort of my home rather than a starving employee in the friendly and dynamic working environment of a supermarket chain. I’ll keep you posted!

20 thoughts on “From Academia to Actual Life; or, The Downward Spiral

  1. Your post is really interesting as it mirrors exactly the experiences of my friends with PhDs. It must be part of the process. Best of luck with finding gainful employment, freelance or otherwise.

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  2. Ahh … that’s tiresome! You’re so right about it being more work looking for work than to be in the actual workforce. This post made me feel even more good about being out of all that LOL

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  3. After I left corporate in 1984, I worked as a freelance academic style editor/proofreader dealing with individuals rather than academic departments. (Also did job search work for people until 2013 and quit my photo art business this summer.) Of the most help to me, once the Internet came around and I started doing work nationwide and internationally, was the Copyediting-L mailing list for FAQ, interactive mutual support, and their free, members only Freelancers Directory.

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    1. Thank you very much for your insights and advice. I’m still considering different options; but it didn’t occur to me to try to e-work worldwide. It sounds like worth a shot. I’m adding this to my research list…

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  4. Sounds like it’s the same situation around here: the only thing you can do with a dissertation in literature/a degree in literature, is to become a literature teacher at the university. The universities already have those jobs covered and the literature teachers will keep their jobs until they die. So you have to wait for them to die, or take matters into your own hands and start killing them Pablo Escobar style…
    Anyway, soon you’ll have a degree in literature and you can call yourself a professional book reader.

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    1. Now that’s curious, I somehow assumed that the situation in academia is more civilised in the civilised world. That’s a shame. The elders should focus on mentoring their younger colleagues instead of just blocking them… If I had business cards, I’d put the title Professional Reader in them.

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  5. I hope all your hard work pays off Mara. I too will be out of a job at the end of this month and would have been beside myself having to take on any work but for the luck that I now have a partner who has swooped in, in the nick of time to look after me while I search for the right position. I will keep my fingers crossed for you and your cat in the hopes you are not out on the street but fully employed if only to keep your cat fed and hopefully a few scraps for yourself. Thanks for a lovely and fun read in the midst of your crisis!! 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and for leaving such a warm comment! It’s a great to have a supportive partner to rely on. It surely helps to boost one’s morale if nothing else! Luckily, I still have savings enough to feed the cat – and as to feeding me, whatever, I need to lose some weight anyway 😉

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  6. Best of luck Mara. I remember leaving after handing my thesis in and having no idea what was coming next. But it all worked out in the end. Enjoy some time away from the desk and refresh yourself for the next step.

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    1. It looks like it worked out excellent for you, and I’m happy for that 🙂 I’m sure that I’ll settle too, it’s simply a tricky period for me now, but it will pass, as things do. It’s great to be back to blogging and share the fun 🙂

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  7. I wish I could say it was better here. It’s not. The job market is the pits and seriously educated people are driving taxis. Good luck Mara. I hope your persistence pays off.

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