It’s that time of year again… the time when PhD applicants sit on their hands and nervously check GradCafe in hopes that their dream program hasn’t yet sent out applications decisions because their inbox is hopelessly empty. Isn’t it joyous?
I sent out eight PhD applications this year and I’m waiting ever so patiently to hear back from my programs this time, a stark contrast from the way I was feeling this same time two years ago. January of 2014 featured an insanely anxious, near-panic attack for the first time in months (no, years) me, refreshing GradCafe like my life depended on it. I was working a job that I enjoyed (but was a complete dead-end) and I felt like grad school would be the answer to all my non-religious prayers.
I was lucky enough to find myself in a master’s program that fall and, while I was initially upset that I wasn’t going straight into a PhD, I actually couldn’t be happier with the way that things turned out. I’ve grown as a scholar and a person – I have a more complete sense of who I am, what questions I’m after, and what my unique point of view is. So when I sent my applications off to programs this year, I already felt more confident than I had two years ago.
This confidence has, luckily, carried over into the waiting aspect of application season as well. Instead of frantically checking the internet and touching base with people who I knew applied to the same programs I had, I’m reading brilliant books, writing my second thesis chapter (the final one before my conclusion!!), and sketching out research/editing plans for other projects that I’ve placed on the back burner.
I also have a back-up plan now, one that I’m immensely happy with. I am interested in academia because I love the research that I’m doing, I want to pursue the questions I’ve been thinking about and share my answers with the academic (and general, if possible) public. But I also want to spend my time teaching, to impact the lives of undergraduates in the way that my undergraduate professors impacted mine. I want to show students the literature that I’ve come to love, to explore interesting questions, and to stimulate thinking.If I can’t do that at the college level, I have come to realize that I would be happy doing this on the secondary level. Sure, it would take some adjusting (I couldn’t, for instance, ask my high schoolers to read a bunch of Dickens novels and I might actually have to *gasp* teach American literature depending on where I start teaching) but I would still have the chance to share beautiful literature with students. The current dream is to teach abroad and I’ve applied to a few international teaching jobs: I won’t get them, but it felt nice to send the applications off. I have, though, promised my son that we would live in England, so I’m going to start trolling those job boards and see if I can make his (our) dream come true. He thinks we’re going to live at Hogwarts, but, as I reminded him, one dream at a time.
Having a plan has changed my entire outlook on this process. Would it still be embarrassing to explain to my cohort/professors that I was rejected across the board? Yes. But if I follow that up with, “But I’ve applied to several teaching jobs and I’m confident that I’ll be happy wherever I end up,” then I think the awkwardness will eventually pass. Besides – given the current state of things, escaping academia might not be the worst life decision. But I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for those PhD applications.
So if you happen to be reading this and you’ve applied this year – best of luck. Instead of checking (and re-checking GradCafe) why don’t you do a little soul searching? Find your perfect back up plan, work on some long-neglected research, or just read something that has absolutely nothing to do with your research (if that last one is up your alley, might I recommend The Cuckoo’s Calling? I just finished it and I thought it was brilliant.)