He’s a Smarty


My advisor is pretty crafty, I’ve come to think. Having me apply for this fellowship was a very clever move on his part. Because here I am, pretty much ready to say, “OK. That was a good six years. I’m ready for something else” except I’ve still got 8 months of funding and so there’s just no reason to say that yet.

Today marks one year since I finished a chapter. It was my second chapter but really it’s the first one of real substance. In the year since I sent that chapter off to said advisor, I’ve only officially taken six weeks off, right after Evan was born, but really I stopped working on it last April and have only made minimal progress, in these pathetic little fits and starts, since then.

Even now, with Evan in daycare, I’m barely getting anywhere. My heart is not in it. I often spend my two work days contemplating whether and how I will finish rather than making any actual progress. I fantasize about returning all of my library books.

Although I don’t talk about it very often, when I do talk about not finishing my dissertation and, thus, my degree, I think the thing lots of people don’t understand is this: I haven’t paid a penny for my education these last five-and-a-half years. (Well, I do pay $102 a quarter for miscellaneous fees like the mandatory $78 a quarter for the recreation center on campus.) No, actually, for almost six years the university has been paying me. Nearly $100,000 all told. Enough to help us buy this condo. Enough to get by when we were both in school and enough to cover daycare and loan payments now.

It’s a job, if a low-paying one, and that’s always how I’ve thought of it since day one.

When I applied I made it clear to everyone: I won’t go unless they are going to pay me. My undergraduate degree was in communication, my first “career” in computer programming and web design. I went to school for two years in secondary education to discover that the fit was all wrong and when Brian decided to go to law school I thought, “Sure. Yeah. I’ll apply for Ph.D. programs.” I think it was important to me not simply to follow him someplace but to be a factor in the decision making and to have a purpose other than love (insert my younger self rolling her eyes here) to motivate the move.

Choosing English over communication was one part coin flip and one part romance. “I love books,” I thought. “Teaching English would be so much more fun than teaching oral comm.” So English it was.

My very first quarter, doubt set in: between the pretentious spouting off of theorists’ names and the piteously little amount of time we had to actually enjoy what we were reading, I suddenly found myself wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. My studies lacked pleasure; I found reading a chore; I developed lower back problems that still haunt me as a result of so much sitting still.

But, I was on fellowship my first year, being paid (as I am now) to do nothing but study. I didn’t have to teach, didn’t have to set foot on campus if I didn’t want to except to go to class, and I could take anything I wanted. So why stop?

It’s the same now. I know my advisor couldn’t have known I would actually get this second fellowship (especially because I didn’t get it the first time I applied), but I’m sure now that this — this limbo — is the reason he hoped I would.

Damn him.


One Response to “He’s a Smarty”

  1. Wow, Julie, that’s a lot to think about and process. I’m not sure there’s a “right” answer in this situation. I imagine your advisor knew about your ambivalence?

    What comes to mind as I read what you’ve written is the question about what you want to be doing in a few years. Is academia your thing? Or do you envision yourself doing something else? Perhaps that only complicates matters further.

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