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graduate school

IMG_0128In 2014, one of my goals is to update this blog on a semi-regular basis (every week? Every two weeks? We’ll see how it goes). I’m starting here by outlining some topics that I hope to cover with the help of guest bloggers in the next few months.

Part of this effort will involve expanding our guest bloggers to include anonymous writers, so that we can try to cover some of these issues with greater honesty. Many people have approached me to say that they want to write something, but have said they are afraid to speak their truths online. I hope that this blog will provide these important voices with some writing space soon. (If you haven’t contacted me yet with an idea because you have been hesitating to put your name on something, I hope that you will take this as an open invitation!).

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IMG_1371By Sarah Hudson
Ph.D. candidate, Department of Biology, University of New Brunswick

“Have kids while you’re in grad school…I did it, it was great!” The advice came from a well-respected, friendly professor in my department. I was 23, single, and in the second year of a master’s degree in science.

In many ways, the advice was good. There are jolly reasons to have your kids while still in grad school. It can be tricky to envision jumping into parenthood at the beginning of a degree, when you likely have commitments to taking classes, teaching, delving into your own research, and possibly doing fieldwork. However, in many graduate programs you can at some point be flexible with your work schedule, and parenting-friendly arrangements can be made. I have fellow-grad student friends who found time to get their theses written between their kids’ naps, after they had gone to bed at night or with the help of a sitter to entertain their kids while they wrote from home. Others travelled as a family doing fieldwork in remote locations. These friends managed to juggle the responsibility of graduate school and parenting, in order to get both jobs done.

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baxterBy Andrea Terry
Department of Visual Arts, Lakehead
University

I’ve spent the last four years doing contract and sessional teaching gigs. When colleagues, friends or family ask me where I’m based, I self-identify as an itinerant academic and then explain that I’m currently at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Eyes light up at this response, and they lean forward intrigued, looking to hear more, and so I go on to explain where my teaching has taken me. I won’t lie – it’s not an easy career path, particularly at this stage. But then I look back and consider all the benefits I’ve reaped in the past four years, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing.

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“Happiness is consistently described as the object of human desire, as being what we aim for, as being what gives purpose, meaning and order to human life. … Do we consent to happiness? And what are we consenting to, if or when we consent to happiness?”

—Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, p. 1

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In her book The Promise of Happiness, Sara Ahmed writes about happiness from a position of what she calls “skeptical disbelief in happiness as a technique for living well” (3). Her premise is to critically consider how happiness is imagined as “what follows a certain kind of being” and becomes associated with “some life choices and not others” (The Promise of Happiness, 3). She questions, in other words, how the wish for happiness is based on value-laden ideas and actually functions in a state of continual crisis as one experiences the constant disappointment of not accumulating enough of it. She helps us to question how we might uncouple happiness from such values as wealth, marriage, and social status. What if one chooses to pursue work that does not pay well, for example, because of the intellectual stimulation that it promises? If this choice produces financial difficulty, is one choosing not to be happy, as a result? The notion of choosing happiness is a problem, Ahmed argues, because “the demand for happiness is increasingly articulated as a demand for a return to social ideals, as if what explains the crisis of happiness is not the failure of the ideals but our failure to follow them” (The Promise of Happiness, 7).

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IMG_0027Editor’s note: This first guest post comes to us courtesy of my partner, a fantastic social worker who has accompanied me to two university towns as I pursued graduate school and my first job. I am interested in his perspective here because I often wonder what it’s like for him to be plunked into a new environment that is at first dependent on my professional life (we do talk about this privately, but having these conversations in public are also important). I think it’s crucial that I acknowledge here that his constant support is a large part of the reason I successfully finished my doctorate, found employment, and have been able to have a child pre-tenure. I know that this is an enormous privilege and one that is not awarded to everyone, and I would like to be able to tackle that as a separate post – it is not my story to tell, but it might be yours, and I would like to hear from you!

I was sitting around my living room this week chatting with my partner of 12 years and her mother about work, careers, and life in general. We were on the topic of the adjunct/sessional professor system in academia, and began discussing how many people find themselves in part-time employment because they are in a relationship with another academic and trying to live within the same vicinity of one another. My partner stated that she started writing her blog to help her think about issues such as these. I chimed in, as I so often do, with a sarcastic quip about every professor needing a social worker as a partner and how she should write a post about this for her blog. She then suggested that I stop the “oh so important task of editing my fantasy football team” and write the post myself. Since I am still waiting for a trade for my quarter back and running back I thought I would give it a shot.

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I’ve commented already on the goals I have for this blog, but I’d also like to reflect a little on my inspiration for it. I was very lucky to work with three fantastic women as graduate students during my first few years of teaching. All have since finished their MAs with me and have gone on to either doctoral programs or law school. They were all a joy to work with and I learned so much from each one of them. I know they are already doing amazing things with their lives and I look forward to seeing where they end up in a few years.

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IMG_0160I spent some considerable time today trying to craft the perfect post about all the exciting topics I’m hoping to cover over the next few months. However, making that list of ideas readable is more difficult than I thought it would be. I’ve also bugged some people to guest post for me, and am exciting to receive them (you know who you are!). Who will win the guest post race and be the first to orient us? Stay tuned…

In the meantime, I thought I would offer some thoughts on my own experience of transitioning the great divide from graduate school to the tenure-track treadmill four years ago. These are probably tainted reflections at this point, because I’m remembering them from my current position of increased confidence and security. But nevertheless, I think they hit on a theme that I’d like to raise on this blog in a couple of different ways.

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