Academic Life, Alt-ac

Where are we now?

Since the last blog *cringes* posted in April, a whirlwind of things, life events, career changes, and all of the other things happened in the second half of 2019. Why did this blog go quiet? Because a lot happened and any breathing room I had was dedicated to sleep mostly. Let’s start start what happened academically and then move on to the other big things:

Academically, after RCADE I attended ACH. There, I co-organized with Aimée Morrison a panel on doing ethical social media research, and it was awesome. The papers from our panelists, Arun Jacob and Stormy Sweitzer, presented fantastic approaches to ethically engaging with social media subjects and digital tools to perform social media research. I loved ACH overall, and I look forward to attending the next conference! And in September, Biography published my essay, “Playing a Life in Nina Freeman’s Cibele.” The paper focuses on the semi-autobiographical game by Freeman to establish a framework for studying automedia games. This essay marks my first foray into games studies and is the first of many papers/projects I have in mind for automedia games. Additionally, in the fall, I received an R&R for another games-related publication and attended two other conferences, one of which was MSA in Toronto to show Everybody’s Everybody’s Autobiography.

Okay, but here’s the big life event:


Our son was born in June! I love this Little Wonder so damn much. For the first two months of his life, I was unemployed (and had been since May) because I decided that I no longer wanted to do sessional teaching and started looking for non- and alt-ac work. It was a hard period because of financial stress and depression related to that, but I don’t regret the amount of time I had to spend with him in those full 2 months. And we’re lucky because he’s been a good sleeper, so all those conferences and revisions and other academic stuff that happened in the fall was only done in half-hour to an hour chunks in the early morning (because he woke up usually between 7-8am…I KNOW!) or I would do work at my new job during my lunch hour. Which brings me to my next update:

As of August of this year, I have started a one year contract as a Graduate Career Advisor at the Centre for Career Action at the University of Waterloo. In this role, I am advising students on academic, non-academic, alt-ac, and government jobs through one-on-one appointments, workshops, conferences we organize, and programs. The short answer is that I love it. As much as I miss teaching, the advising here recalls some of my favourite aspects of teaching: the one-on-one meetings, seeing students grow in their profession, engaging in interactive workshop presentation. Bonus: I don’t have to grade. And I also get to do research: I am given a budget to buy new books related to graduate-focused careers; I have adapted and integrated my social media research for workshops and appointments; and I am recently finding my research on digital ethics to be useful for discussions around AI used in hiring practices and how best to prepare students for overcoming the barriers that these practices create. One way of looking at it is that I have not abandoned my research, but rather my research has informed my practices and engagements and the materials I create in this new job; it has both served as practical applications to specific situations and theoretical approaches to larger problems.

And here’s a shocker: I’ve been enjoying the role so much that I turned down an interview for a post-doc position that had too early of a start date. (Aside: the hiring committee on the other end was super understanding and supportive – more of that, please). While the post-doc was not a for sure thing, it was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in a while and eventually led to my decision to not apply to any academic positions this Fall term. I felt (and still feel) foolish, dumb, that I was making an ill-advised career decision (me, a career advisor! not taking my own advice!), that I had betrayed my PhD and my dissertation committee despite having received their enthusiastic support. Every now and then a well-meaning colleague or friend would send a job ad, and I’d just get anxious and re-think my decision, wonder if I really should apply. My parents would say to me, “Oh, but this career advisor thing is only temporary right? Like you’ll become a professor eventually, soon right?” Other people have said “Oh, I thought you’d be great for an academic position!” All of this made me feel like crap because the PhD is still seen externally and internally (both in terms of self and of institution) as only producing academic jobs, and that anything not academic is a failure or a disservice to the work of the PhD. So, every now and then, the feeling of being a failure emerges, but then I quickly bat it away…with a lot of tears in between.

I didn’t apply to any academic jobs in the fall. I’m glad for it. Deep breath.

And I’m not going to apply at least for the next little while, if at all. But this does not mean I’m out of academia. Being in an alt-ac position, I’m still in it. I still have access to the library and the databases. I’m still doing research and attending conferences and publishing. I like doing these things. And, surprisingly (but also not?) I feel more supported doing these things as a career advisor than I did as a sessional. I feel like part of a department, now. I have colleagues that I regularly see. Sessional work seemed too isolating for me. It works for others, but it wasn’t working for me.

I’m doing my best everyday to feel confident in my decisions. I am lucky to have supportive friends, colleagues, and immediate family that have said, “no you’re not an idiot for saying no to academic jobs.” Without them, I would be self-sabotaging my decisions or be upset with myself. Thank you, friends.

So what’s next? All of the above life events have provided me with a clearer focus of what I can do and how I can best continue doing what I enjoy in an environment that best supports those values and goals. At this point in time, while I have had near-opportunities with industry, I feel I have one foot in alt-ac and one foot in academic work when it comes to what’s next for my career. Rather than being unsure or focusing on one career goal, I’m currently planning for both. I haven’t ruled out academic work but I have also been planning for extending my opportunities in Career Advising. All the while continue researching and doing my best to publish (sidenote: being less concerned with academic positions has put less strain on “publish or perish” and makes slow scholarship much more doable…).

Until whatever comes next, I’m using this year to spend with my son as much as I can. I want to be able to come home and not have to worry about work. I want to be able to spend time with my partner when the little wonder is asleep, while also carving out time for extracurriculars and creative writing. A lot of changes has happened in the last six months, and I need time to figure out how to move through life now.

And I feel like I have that time. So I don’t want it to go to waste.

Blog post tune: “Where are we now?” by David Bowie

Academic Life

TFW you question all of the time you spend on writing

January has been a lot of things. I applied to a couple more academic jobs, I got into the swing of teaching a class that is going well, and I’ve been having an excellent time writing. But I’ve also stressed out over if my time spent writing was really worth anything, that maybe time could be spent better elsewhere, and questioning if I should just go and apply to non-academic jobs right away.  Here I am working away on an article, spending hours of my day writing and researching, and it’s all on my free time.

It’s weird and disconcerting that my job as a sessional instructor is really like a part time job while my other unpaid job is researching and writing. For most of my PhD, teaching felt like a part of my degree. And for four years, it was part of the funding package. Because of this, I always thought of researching and teaching as one, as part of the same job (and I still do).

But being out of the program and being a sessional sends me through disconcerting mindsets. I get upset if I spend too much time on putting some special touches on my teaching. I feel bad when I don’t dedicate a full day to teaching. If I had a hard day writing, I get mad at myself. If I have a good day writing and write all day, I intimidate myself that that writing better end up somewhere, that it’s not all wasted. And then I start questioning myself: what if all those hours are for nothing? What if my article doesn’t get published? shouldn’t you be more actively looking for non-academic jobs? And so on.

It’s hard to stay out of those spiralling thoughts of doom and gloom. It’s something new, and not something I’ve ever dealt with. I’m not sure if I’m handling these thoughts and days well. But I’m handling them. I’m continuing to write. I’m sharing my writing with peers to get feedback.  And that feedback has been great. I have an upcoming article in Biography, so I should feel like my research and writing is valued and worth committing to future work. I feel good about what I’m writing, and I don’t want to just give up on it. At least not so soon after finishing the degree.

But it’s really tough. And it can be quite disorienting, confusing, and discouraging post-PhD. It’s not something that too many people talk to you about when you’re in the PhD. This limbo. In the PhD, I had deadlines, a committee to look over my writing and hold me accountable, and a thing called the dissertation that was part of completing the dissertation. Now I don’t have deadlines, I don’t always have someone to look over my writing (and if I do, they are not necessarily within my field), and the projects that I am working on are tied to my CV. Book projects, right now, are intimidating because I have articles that can be written in less time (ah the speed of academia). So, I’m writing article to article, hoping for the best.

So, January has been a great time for writing. But has that “great time” been well spent? I’m going to say yes. At times, it can feel directionless but I’m trying to apply a direction to what I do day-to-day. And I might as well make the best of the time to do the work I’m doing while I can, before I am in a position where I can’t do the research or am not able to do as much as I can right now.


Academic Life

2019, the year of reorientation

For the first time in a while, the new year has got me thinking a lot about changes. Not so much resolutions. Coming into this year, I wasn’t thinking too much about what I need to change for myself. I mean, as always I have to remind myself to take time off and to find comfort and relaxation when I can. I also made a more conscious effort to see friends and family during the holiday season. But no solid 2019 resolutions.

Rather, I think 2019 has a whole lot of reorientation. Not change to improve myself, but change to reorient myself towards new beginnings.

Two major things occurred in the tail end of 2018: 1) I finished the PhD, and 2) my wife and I are expecting (we call the baby “little bean”).

I am beyond excited to be a parent. Although we are the first of our friend group that are expecting, I have been finding support and love from my fellow colleagues (and from my friends!) who pass down advice and reassure us that everything is and will be fine. These conversations feel like they can be a blog post on their own, so I will leave it here for now. But with little bean expected in June, I’ve been really thinking hard about career-related choices and the personal things that matter to me the most.

Finishing the PhD has kickstarted a lot of emotions. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating: I go through being absolutely relieved with the PhD being done to being absolutely terrified about what comes next. And I think I really realized that I’m DONE done when everything slowed down in December.

The anxiety didn’t truly kick in until I realized I had to worry about what I was doing for work in the Winter term. Between finishing the PhD, defending, and teaching two courses, I was caught off guard when some sessional colleagues asked me what I was teaching in the Winter and I didn’t know. Luckily, I did receive another section of Digital Lives, and through some word of mouth I secured a TA position for a Pharmacy Communications course (which I am really looking forward to, as it will offer some change of pace and some additional experience working with STEM students).

Despite these teaching positions, the whole scenario has me worried about Spring. Or, with a slightly more positive spin, it’s kickstarted me to start looking elsewhere.

That being said, I am applying for academic jobs. But some I won’t be hearing from until February-ish or end of January. So even though I have applied to multiple academic positions, I still need to think about what I will be doing in the Spring (constantly, family and friend discussions of “what’s next” in December were met with “I’ve applied and am waiting, who knows!”) .

The winter term seems like the best time to really start thinking and applying for alt-ac jobs. In the past, I have considered applying to alt-ac jobs (and I did, but only a very select few). But during that time, I really just wanted to finish the PhD and focus on my academics. Defending in September was perfect timing for academic jobs because I could apply with confidence, and post-defence gave me the positivity and encouragement to pursue academia. While I am still receiving that support and encouragement, the new year has got me thinking about alternatives.

And these alternative don’t necessarily mean that I have to stop all research that I am doing. I really enjoy doing research and writing, so I know I will also keep that up in whatever form I can. For now, while another teaching position would’ve made feel more financially secure, I am going to take this opportunity to continue research and writing, to look out for jobs I am interested in, and to pursue creative and non-academic work.

So, there’s a lot of reorienting my life around the changes that are coming in 2019. And despite the anxiety behind these changes, I feel happier for what’s to come.