Academia and arrested development.

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Hello. My name is Crystal, and it has been ten days since I submitted my PhD thesis for grading.

I finished my thesis on a Monday, printed it on a Thursday, submitted it on a Friday (poetic because it was *exactly* 4 years since I started!), celebrated with sushi and a circus on Saturday, and flew to Singapore on a Sunday.

– insert breath mark here –

On Monday, I began my four-week stint as a Visiting Scholar at Tembusu College under the mentorship of the fantabulous Dr Connor Graham, where I’m currently co-lecturing the module Living and Dying on the Internet Age, co-supervising an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) student, giving a seminar, and working on a couple of research papers.

My first week with the staff and students at Tembusu has been nothing short of amazing, but I’ll save those stories for a later time, I pinky promise.

I’ve been asked why I haven’t decided to “go for a holiday” (lol poor grad student lol), “crash” (when you find your work exciting you run on adrenaline), or “take a break” (when you love your work it doesn’t feel like a chore).

In other words, I feel like I’m in my element in academia.

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This week, I’ve been catching up with all my favourite people in a Singapore that feels somewhat familiar but somehow different (also stories for another time), and coming to terms with what approximates arrested development.

Until this week, I’ve literally not stopped schooling since I began kindergarten at age 4 (save for the monthlong break I took between my Bachelor’s and grad school).

I’m presently waiting out the long months for my thesis to be graded and revised (Australian system), while roving through Universities to pick up ad hoc casual work wherever I can. But apart from the many casual jobs in which I’ve engaged to put myself through school, I’ve never held a “proper”, “real”, “actual”, “full-time” job a day in my life. 

I’ve spent the past few days meeting with old friends doing very amazing work: saving lives, shaping minds, assisting state ministries, and building creative industry careers. But here I am navigating job applications for the first time in my life.

With serial catch-ups come serial updates about life, and I genuinely share in the joy of my friends who achieve job promotions and pay raises, and acquire first properties and first babies. But these typical life markers and commodities feel so foreign to me.

In other words, I feel like a pretend grown-up in my social groups outside of academia.

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In this week’s episode of wishcrys FAQs:

“When are you going to get a job?”

“When are you going to buy a house?”

“When are you getting married?” 

“When are you going to have children?”

What I want to say: “MY UTERUS, MY BUSINESS.”

What I always say: “Tomorrow, at 5pm.”

In other words, I feel like the decisions/sacrifices I have made to pursue my dream career are being policed or questioned, probably because these friends/family are worried that I’m falling behind and because responsibilities attached to some of my roles (granddaughter, daughter, sister, partner) are overdue.

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On Friday morning, I was two hours early for a conference in a beautiful part of Singapore. On my stroll from the MRT station to this place, I stopped every few minutes to photograph the city I’m attempting to refamiliarize myself with.

I stood among adults clad in corporate wear speed-walking to the MRT, among shopkeepers glacially opening stall for the day, and among children prancing to the market with their grandparents on this school holiday.

Every one at their own pace, how beautiful.

I know what I want in life, I enjoy it, I think I am good at it, and I think I know how to get there.

And I feel very blessed because I feel this pitch-pleasure-performance-process congruence is a very rare and special thing, and it is very precious to me.

In other words, I think I’m doing okay. Even if I’m not having children tomorrow at 5pm.