So, I have a presentation coming up. Not the usual dry academic kind where one often begins with a good story and ends up trailing off into an abyss of monotony, but monotony about really important things like, you know, social justice, and the creativity and strength of those who came before us in the face of imperialism. This time I have to talk about my academic “journey” to a group of aspiring academics at my small-midwestern-college alma mater–undergraduate seniors who have been placed on the Ph.D. track, like I was. The administrators of the program said they chose me because I’m “real” and “NOT boring.” Ha! I guess I should take that as a compliment.
I know they want me to be an example of someone who “made it,” to demonstrate that it is possible to get all the way through a doctoral program and come out a model of academic achievement and still be “real.” On paper, I have been one of the lucky privileged ones. I did finish the program at an elite institution. I got a fancy postdoc in a location where I want to live, during an incredibly tight market. But the costs were extremely high. (And I’m not just referring to my student loans!) During the last year of my dissertation-writing, I experienced one of the worst soul-crushing emotional traumas ever in my life. To be honest, I’m not sure it was all worth it.
The only way I got through the last bit, was to remind myself that I decided to go to graduate school for good reasons–reasons that I believed in, reasons that people who had greatest power over my future and, at that moment my livelihood, did not share. And fortunately I had incredibly supportive friends and family who believed in me and checked in on me. I am still healing, but I am stronger.
I know I’m not alone in struggling with the contradictions of being part of, and resisting, the academic industrial complex. For this presentation and in most other instances, my story, my work, and my knowledge are commodities that are supposed to make advisers and institutions look good. And so, I don’t think I can give the kind of celebratory pro-grad school presentation that they expect of me. I can’t say “hooray academia!” when I’m really thinking, “fuck that crazy shit and go do something else that will make you happy!” But, there are many lessons learned. And that seems a good place to start.