-written by Keeley, a current graduate wife
Any time my husband, Jason, begins a sentence with the words, “Well if this whole professor thing doesn’t work out, I can always…” I know that what follows is going to be a real gem. He’s come up with widely varying ideas of how he can make a living, most of which involve chocolate-chip cookies, or kittens, or a combination of the two. I think my favorite idea involved being a farmer who grows his own peanuts, strawberries, and mangoes (the geographic location of this farm is obviously yet to be determined) and raises baby goats, kittens, golden retrievers, and donkeys (because in his words, their ears are “sweet.”)
In all seriousness, the job market does look pretty grim for professors of just about anything these days, and Jason shares the concerns of any liberal arts PhD candidate, as he is currently pursuing a degree in Modern Christian History. At the end of this endeavor, he will know more about the East African Revival of the 20th century, including all the sociopolitical dynamics of colonialism that helped shape this movement, than maybe two or three other people who are alive. However, this doesn’t ensure that he will find a job teaching or researching anything related to these issues. He is, of course, attempting to get as much practice as possible through conferences, publishing articles, and teaching, and you can bet that he’ll be applying for every job opening far and wide once the time comes, but at the end of the day, his chances depend greatly on the job market and on who’s hiring and exactly what they’re looking for. I only give this background to explain why my husband may have fantasies of being a kitten farmer.
All things considered though, I think it’s a healthy exercise, right? What’s the harm in coming to terms with the fact that yes, while our lives are largely centered around this particular undertaking, we are still human beings with other identities and interests? This is easier for me to do because I’m not the one staring at a computer screen every day, scanning through microfilm databases, accessing and decoding handwritten documents, or attempting to write a book which in all likelihood, only a handful of people will probably ever read. But for Jason, I can understand why some days he might consider a “backup backup” plan, (or “Plan F” as one of my best friends calls it, whose PhD husband’s own Plan F happens to be to work at McDonald’s). I can understand the appeal of being a day laborer, or having another type of job that involves getting up, going in to work, doing the required tasks, then coming home and forgetting about it, versus a career like the one he is currently embarking on, which requires all of him–body, mind, and soul, so to speak.
I think we can all identify with this struggle, and with the pessimism that may come from considering seven to eight years of our life spent in pursuit of a degree which may or may not result in a desirable appointment. This is partly why I am grateful for this very blog, where we can share our concerns as well as ideas on how to make these days, months, and years count as much as possible. This is also why I am grateful for Jason’s hobbies, which include baking (some mind-numbingly delicious cappuccino-cream cheese brownies emerged from the oven last night thanks to him), because you never know when the little cupcake bakery downtown might be hiring! And in between sessions of researching and writing, he gets a fair bit of cat-snuggling in, which has enabled him to communicate effectively through expressions and meows with our two cats (at least he seems convinced of the fact). Yes, we have actually given some thought to which professor he would ask for a recommendation, were he to apply for a job at PetSmart.
In all honesty, I have a lot of faith in Jason and the hard work he does, and the respect I have for him to get up early every morning to develop this incredibly fascinating project can’t be overstated. But being at this stage in life requires a lot of flexibility, quite a bit of humility, and maybe a pinch or two of levity. So once all this PhD business is done and we get settled on our cat ranch in Wyoming, we’ll be glad to have you up to visit. You can stay in our bed and breakfast, where we’ll show you around and introduce you to our baby fainting goats, and we’ll save some cappuccino-cream cheese brownies for you in the kitchen.
In this graduate season of life, do you discuss what may happen if the ‘plan’ doesn’t work out the way you had intended? What does that look like?