…and their reactions were mixed. Before I describe them in detail, though, I want to reflect on why “telling people” is such a big deal for me. Before this summer, I had only mentioned it once, during First Year. Another First Year asked: “Have you thought about where you want to teach?” I answered “Well, I’m not really sure that I want to be a professor yet.” Another First Year’s response was: “Oh. Then you should start looking at other departments[verbatim ends here] , because TNRU doesn’t train non-academics.” We had a ton of work, so I decided to focus on getting things done: learn things, survive each semester, meet requirements, go home.
The question of where you want to teach can only be asked at the beginning of a PhD, because we all quickly realize that it isn’t about where we want to teach, but rather where a few lucky members of our cohorts will get a chance to teach. We celebrate the older grads’ new jobs in state schools in remote towns, small liberal arts colleges, and post docs nobody had heard of. We become convinced that salaries, locations, and the quality of students don’t matter, because we only care about pursuing our intellectual curiosities and making a mark in the world with our research. We rise above these petty, materialistic concerns: as we come closer to obtaining a PhD, we realize that academia is so much more than a career, it is an honorable calling.
So of course, for a few seconds (ok, months), I felt like the shallowest academic ever because I cannot imagine living in a small college town, and because I believe that our job as scientists is to use our cutting edge tools and apply the scientific method to answer questions of the social sciences. It is a technical, methodical exercise; divine inspiration and artistry are not involved.
I decided to “come out” to my closest friends in the program because I wanted their support and shoulders to cry on when I told my committee. One of them shared their own qualms about academe and we’ve talked more about our searches. One of them told me I was making a mistake, and throwing away everything I had worked for in the past five years. A third person listened to my story and told me they understood where I was coming from, but once I got an academic offer I would probably change my mind. Finally, one butthead scared the shit out of me by telling me my adviser is not a good person and would react very negatively to this news, so I should tell them in “a public space”.
I am glad they were sincere. True friends should always tell you what they are thinking, not what you want to hear. It is OK to have differences of opinion, and I attribute this one to the fact that we just don’t share the same dream.