With my dissertation all done but the
crying defence, thoughts inevitably turn to answer the question, “What’s next?” I know that the sooner I have plans in place, the happier Gavan I am. I have, in fact, been thinking about this since early in the year, anticipating that I would be done and need something lined up. I’ve been mum on discussing these developments here because, in part, I either turned down opportunities or was not selected. In another parallel universe, however, I am a faculty member on a three year contract or a post-doctoral researcher in Ontario or Florida. It would appear that I’m much more accomplished in parallel universes.
The truth about part of my decision pursuing a PhD was the idea that yeah, it would be nice to have an academic position at the end of the process. That’s the glossy veneer of doctoral studies and once you wear that sheen off, you quickly realize there are all sorts of forces outside your control (increasing PhD enrolments, global financial crises, decreasing full-time faculty positions, general doom and gloom) that means that realizing this dream will require more work than simply finishing a PhD.
What will getting a tenure-track job mean? In real-world terms, not having any reliable income for the foreseeable future. Heather and I have known this since the spring, and we’ve had to make accommodations to meet our financial obligations. I’m certainly lucky to be “partnering” with Heath—if I was single, I would be needing to find work right away. With no academic prospects, that’s the academic dream pretty much done. With Heather also being a student, we’ve lived with very little discretionary income (in fact, our worst-case projections this year show us going slightly into debt). But I’m hoping to find some contract work (or depending on how dire our circumstances are, any part-time work) to supplement Heather’s income and keep me in the academic job holding pattern. Heather has also stepped up by taking on extra work, such as TAing, to meet our shortfall. In short, money matters at the end of a PhD and it can direct just what you’re going to be able to do.
So, with our day-to-day living being paid for, I’m trying to see the next 8-12 months as an unpaid post-doc. I’m concentrating on getting done and successfully defending my dissertation, then I need to get work out into peer-reviewed journals and apply for academic positions that come up.
Of jobs posted thus far, environmental education faculty positions appear to be slim to none (right now firmly at none). Environmental studies positions are faring a bit better, with one position currently advertised that I could apply for. I’m on the lookout for post-doc in environmental education or related field. There are opportunities in the UK, which is promising. The confounding factor about a post-doc elsewhere is having to fund two households: Heather needs to be in Toronto while she finishes the data collection on her own dissertation. Part of the decision to turn down the post-doc I was offered earlier this year was the perceived inability to make ends meet by needing to pay for things twice.
A challenge to this unpaid post-doc plan is the fear that in 12 months, while I might have a few peer-reviewed publications in the pipeline, I won’t be any closer to an academic position because there are no jobs. Entirely outside my control. Ever heard of sunk costs? I feel like the most difficult decision to make in this entire process is to know when to call achieving the dream off and invest my time and effort in something else. I know that dreams are inherently irrational and this is colouring my decision-making. Cold, calculating Gavan suggests that the chance of getting on the tenure track is slim and the cost could be high to achieve the goal.
But I have a fear of living with regrets: that if I don’t try to get the academic position, I’ll regret it at some point in the future (like when a colleague gets a tenure-track job, rather than being happy for their achievement, I’ll just sit there and wonder why not me).
This is strangely more psychological that I ever anticipated.