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