"What do you want another advanced degree for?" asked a friend, shaking his head and looking suspiciously at me as if I'd suddenly gone insane.
"I can't find a real job with my PhD, so I thought that maybe I should go back to school so I could do something. Else." I said flatly, hoping I didn't sound as disappointed as I felt. The truth was, I was trying to be positive about this, but my alternative plan to return to school did not appeal to me at all. I was convinced this was merely the hopeful (but expensive) prelude to yet more misery and failure. I paused for a minute, trying to think of something to add.
"You know, cut my losses so I could do something useful and financially rewarding with my life. For a change. Before I die." I finally gave up trying to think of something optimistic to say and stared glumly into my pint of beer, watching the bubbles expand as they rose quickly to the surface from the bottom of the glass.
I had been sporatically working on applications for both veterinary school and for a science writing master's program during the past three months. The problem with this alternative plan is that both veterinary medicine and science writing are jobs that lack financial security and the wages are at least as terrible as what I earn now as an Adjunct Professor. In short, I would not be changing my life at all; I would instead rack up a respectable debt load while redirecting my frustrations onto a different career path, a path that I would enjoy less than a career as a scientist. I felt trapped by the realization that by pursuing this route, I would be committing yet another life mistake: I should consider applying to law school instead. At least I had no illusions about actually liking the law, and I could put all my years of frustration, anger and poverty to good use by making CEOs miserable and poor.
Some days, I am convinced that I harbor a professional death wish that will prevent me from ever getting a real job in my field. For example, my latest bout of melancholy was triggered this past Friday after a well-respected college in the area called me and requested an interview for a full-time position that will become tenure-track at the beginning of autumn semester 2006. That position would start at the beginning of February 2006. I was one of three candidates whom they wished to interview for this position.
This was exactly the opportunity I had been struggling and hoping for all these years! While I listened to the caller, my heart began to beat faster and a warm grin spread across my face, feeling like the return of a long-lost friend. But my excitement lasted for only one heartbeat because the caller informed me that the interview was set up for Monday morning (this very morning, in fact) -- when I am teaching a class. I tried in vain to reschedule the interview but the caller refused because the search committee members were only available to meet candidates on this one day. Nothing I suggested was acceptable. Finally, I was so frustrated with this impossible situation that I found myself babbling idiotically about the verbal agreement to teach full-time for one year at my little school on the hill. I wanted to sound valuable to them, as if I was worth rescheduling this interview for.
Big mistake. As soon as I said that, the caller said she would withdraw my name from the interview process because, as she said, "what goes around comes around." I resisted the urge to tell her that this was the stupidest piece of mindless drivel that I'd ever heard, and that, if this anecdote was actually true, my life would be vastly different than it is today, that my life would never have sunk to the professional and personal depths it is now firmly mired in. I held my breath while I took a moment to think the worst about the caller.
The caller attempted to soften the letdown by saying that there will be plenty of chances to interview for a tenure-track position in the future, but this only served to make me angry. She was either lying or woefully deluded regarding the reality of the current situation in academics. I barely resisted the urge to correct her by pointing out that this would have been my first opportunity to simply interview for a tenure-track position after my two years, one month, one week, and three days of searching for a job and that, with my current success rate, I was more likely to be pushed in front of an onrushing subway train by a homeless man than I was to be hired for a real job.
Thankfully, the phone call ended without any embarassment to me. But I was so discouraged that I called my dissertation advisor who is three thousand miles away, hoping for some words of comfort or advice. But instead of talking with him, I found myself babbling once again, but this time I was stupidly trying to explain what had just happened in a one-sided conversation with his voicemail.
The moral of this story: Never count your chickens before they've hatched, and don't waste your energy by counting them after they've hatched either, especially when they turn out to be dragons.
© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist