I submitted my thesis one year ago today. It was the loveliest of days with some of my favourite postgrad crew, which sort of made up for the extremely anti-climatic printing day before. A few months later, I declared I was dead set on wanting to be an academic.
What has changed since?
1) I am no longer working seven jobs to pay for grad school. I am no longer shelving books at three in the morning, working photocopiers and printers, tutoring high-schoolers and grade-schoolers, teaching piano and music theory, changing diapers and prepping meals, speed-transcribing audio overnight. I am still lecturing and tutoring undergrads, which I love.
2) I am learning my “market value” in academia. I know the range I ought to be paid for work that ought to be paid for. I do not shy away from politely asking why I am being underpaid. I no longer use emoji and emoticons as softeners when I turn down email requests for free academic labour in exchange for “experience and exposure”, especially from senior academics who can afford to pay me for my work.
3) I do not connect my master status to my institution(s). I now write my academic biographies beginning with the fact that I am an anthropologist and ethnographer. I end such blurbs with a “by the way” that I am presently in X position at X institution. I recognise precarity in academia and am more prepared to be perpetually mobile and transient at institutions. I brand myself by my work and not my institution.
4) I have more courage to speak out against systemic inequalities. I have done my time as a PhD candidate and scraped the bottom of the barrel for a while. I feel I have a little bit more legitimacy and a little bit more authority to call out bad things. I empathise with postgrads stuck in bad situations and make space for them to speak whenever I can.
5) I no longer qualify for a lot of financial assistance and aid. I am no longer “unwaged” or a “student”. I still do not have any institutional funding for conferences, fieldwork, or research in general in my present job. I am frustrated some times. I feel excluded from access to subsidies and grants, but I make do, learn to be resourceful, and make things happen.
What has remained the same?
1) I still feel an undercurrent of precarity and insecurity in this industry. I know my time in my present job is transient and short. I have been socialised into the expectation that choosing academia today is choosing a lifetime of job uncertainty. I still feel the need to keep a backup plan in place, to anticipate failure, to figure out what’s next.
2) I still experience some anxiety whenever rent is due. I know my paycheques in this line of work will always fluctuate. I have been conditioned to be thrifty and to justify my spending. I still shop mostly for home brands. I have experienced rainy days and save up for more of such days to come. I make the exception when I occasionally spend on self-care, because jeopardising physical/mental/emotional health is a downward spiral.
3) I still manage identity politics every day. I am asked if I legitimately completed my PhD because some folks have never heard of my postgrad university. I am asked if the publications I wrote throughout my PhD were genuinely authored by yours truly. I am asked if my race, nationality, and gender played a part in me securing my first postdoc. I am asked if my work is serious enough, relevant enough, good enough, visible enough. I am asked by people and paper to demonstrate that I am enough.
4) I still find self-worth and validation from inside of myself. I am not my career, nor my job, nor my work, nor my writing, nor my students, nor their grades, nor my institution, nor my port folio. I am me and I am happy being me. I value how my writing makes me feel over how many Facebook likes or Twitter RTs or Academia downloads or Google citations I accumulate. I acknowledge and recognise that these are visible matrices and valid measures of the impact of my work, but I also acknowledge and appreciate that I write because of the way writing makes me feel. I write because it generates joy and affect and sorrow and catharsis and freedom inside of me.
5) I still love my PhD research and my chosen career. I have not lost interest in my first major piece of work and want to make something permanent and public of it in a monograph. I am reinventing, reframing, rethinking how I approach my PhD research and constantly find new areas to pursue, develop, and theorise. I still love my first academic love.
What do I hope to be like one year from now?
1) I hope to be less anxious about everyday necessities. I hope to live a little more in the moment and to worry a little less about rainy days. I hope to condition myself out of an undercurrent of worries while continuing to be pragmatic, and more crucially, while protecting my optimism and inspiration to dream big and to do all the things I want to do.
2) I hope I continue to seek validation and affirmation from inside of myself. I hope I remind myself every day that my self-worth is not determined by academic achievement, nor metrics, nor visibility, nor appraisals, nor promotions, nor contracts, or grants, nor all the things academe uses to define us as good, moral academics.
3) I hope to be more recognised for my work and effort. I hope I continue to query journalists when they write about me as “the girl with many blogs” while a male counterpart who has achieved equal to/less than I have is written up to be a young, rising academic hero. I hope I continue to call out bullshit when I see it while staying humble, keeping grounded, and working hard.
4) I hope to have begun postdoc #02 and completed book #01. This is just the beginning, really.
5) I hope I continue to grow old doing, living, and loving my job. I hope I continue to love my life as wishcrys, pingu, and Crystal Abidin.