Dear Abby, Love Confused

I’m confused about my career. (Welcome to academia, please join every other graduate student on the bench.)

I have two areas of specialization right now: Who the Hell Cares is my primary field and Change the World is my secondary field. This is how they end up being caricatured in my brain. The answer to Who the Hell Cares is easy enough, I do. I’m sure it’s something every medievalist faces at some point. Change the World is seeing the most action right now. I’m presenting, researching, writing about Change the World. I’m not sure what’s happening with Change the World, it’s a crazy ride that I can’t quite control yet. I keep trying to set it aside so that I can focus on Who the Hell Cares, but like I said, I am currently being swept along on the current of Change the World, and I’m digging around in the boat for the oars. This topic is happening to me. It is not a topic that “I’m pursuing.” I’m starting to wonder what I’m supposed to do with it. Should I throw in all my energy and focus on Change the World?

The problem is, I actually really do love Who the Hell Cares. It’s been the focus of my work, interests, and energies for almost fifteen years. Unfortunately, my hiatus tripped up my momentum, and I’ve been trying to stand back up in this field ever since. I had hoped to regain my footing over this past year, but Change the World kept getting in the way. And now what I had hoped to be my dissertation topic probably won’t be a possibility, leaving me even more afloat. Who the Hell Cares has been my dream, has been what got me back into grad school. The faculty/advising situation in my department is a dream team for Who the Hell Cares; nonexistent for Change the World.

On the one hand, I shouldn’t have to panic about what to specialize in so early in my graduate career. On the other, I do. I need to get funding for things. I need to write a dissertation, get a job. It’s different for grad students these days–there’s not a lot of time for letting things simmer. I think of my dissertation as the opportunity to gain skills and begin networking my academic community. I’m more interested in making that investment into Who the Hell Cares.

Change the World is taking me so far outside of my comfort zone that i don’t even know what’s going on. And, to be honest, I think I’m more employable if Who the Hell Cares is my primary field, because I’ll be able to teach the canon, with Change the World providing some nice side show electives. If I were to specialize in Change the World, the kinds of places I could get a job may be places with hyper-specialized study centers.

So what do I write my dissertation on? And how do I tame the wild ride that is Change the World?

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5 thoughts on “Dear Abby, Love Confused

  1. If you’d like advice, and to be taken with grain of salt:

    Write the diss on Who the Hell Cares; continue your ride with Change the World. Your first book will be Who the Hell Cares; your second will be Change the World. Keep your mind open to resonances between the two, because there well may be, and those would be extra interesting to discuss with a hiring committee. Continue researching/writing (ideally even publish an article) on Change the World while you focus the diss on Who the Hell Cares, among other things as an antidote to the doldrums that inevitably appear in diss work (having another project will help you return to the diss refreshed/renewed). As you go into the job market it’s likely that your experience and concern with Change the World will set you apart from other medievalists, and may well make you all the more appealing to the kind of colleagues whom you would want to have in the first place.

    You go! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. thanks for your thoughts, Andrew.
    That trajectory you outline is kind of where my hunch is taking me.
    My plan, at this point, is to submit an article on Change the World before I’m deep into dissertation phase. I’ve never had such an intense topic before. Ha.

  3. Yeah. What he said. ๐Ÿ™‚ That’s a lot. But those were the thoughts I was having the other night. There’s no real waste in your thought-filled pursuits, and, generally, these things that sweep us along are things we should be doing and not fighting. My journey’s been different, you know: I wasn’t as far along on my specialized path as you were before The Hiatus. But my focus shifted in the meantime, too. So, I’ve had a mini-crisis over whether to run with where my passion lay before the hiatus, or run with the new thing. I’m choosing the latter. With hopes of integrating the former. Ironically, I’ve shifted from Change the World to Who the Hell Cares.

  4. I went through something similar. I started out my academic life in a totally different musical discipline than I’m in now — if you think about it in terms of the three major societies of our field, I moved from one to another. I really liked my first topic. It was a good one and it would have been a more traditional kind of project. I worked really hard on it. But while I was doing that, I fell into this other project — my Change the World project. I was doing it on the side, at first assisting someone else with a project and then doing my own thing. One day, when I was in my advisor’s office, he said, “I think you’ve got a really solid project and you’re making progress here. But I think you really love this other project. I’m not sending you away, but I think that’s really what you want to do. You have a passion behind that that you don’t have here. And while you’re perfectly capable of this, why not do what you really love? He was right — right for me, at least. You spend a lot of time with your dissertation project. Passion helps. I worried that the less traditional project would be a harder sell, but that’s proved to be completely untrue. As long as you can relate it in some way to the work of music departments, it will be fine.

  5. Pingback: Year 2 « Measured in Coffee Spoons

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