Musial interlude aside, this 'should I stay or should I go' mentality is something I've been stuck in for a while now relating to academia, and where I go next.
Putting aside the continual questions of 'What are you doing next' and 'So does this mean you have to get a real job now?' (and just, FYI the next person to ask me, particularly the latter will get punched in the nose. The nose. Hard) Putting aside the 100 plus job applications I've sent in the past year (yes, 100 plus and no I am not exaggerating, I wish I was) which includes a wide and varied amount of jobs, from academic jobs (ranging from teaching to research and ranging from full time to 1 day a week, permanent to hourly paid work. I've applied for theatre based jobs of many kinds, and other 'heck it's nothing like I want to do but it's money' jobs. I've had several jobs (often at once) and still have one. But not one that I want to do in it's current form long term, nor would it sustain me financially. But that actually less relevant. Because now that the PhD is finished I'm now thinking about real steps forward. And I'm not entirely sure what direction they should take.
Firstly, to consider the option of continuing in academia. It's no secret I've had a terrible PhD experience. But I know that not everywhere would bring similar experiences, nor would there be the same experiences once working elsewhere within academia. That said, it's left me riddled with insecurity and paranoia around my place at the academic table, something that is difficult to shake off.
On the plus side, I did love teaching courses, I loved working with students and I enjoyed the challenge of working with them. I enjoy research, and the chance to research would be a key motivator to stay. However, I cannot help but doubt myself in both of these areas. And in academia in general. But I constantly fear my inadequacy. I feel like nothing I've done to date is enough, so I'll constantly be playing catch up and possibly never excelling at anything. Is that frustration, that insecurity worth it? I don't feel quite the same doubts in my teaching ability, I've always been confident in the classroom, in short I survived the PGCE Secondary, I can survive University teaching. But things are changing, students are increasingly powerful customers rather than participants in education. And I question my place as a teacher in that.
Linked to that is the cold hard fact that there simply aren't the jobs in academia. I know people, far more talented, more advanced in their careers, with publications and experience far beyond mine who can't get a job. And after four years of struggle, working multiple jobs and barely scarping by, I can't and won't carry on that way indefinitely. The trouble is to stand a chance at an academic career I'd probably have to. Currently, there isn't a single suitable job to even apply for in the UK, though these things come in waves the ratio of jobs to applicants is maths I don't even want to think about too hard.
Which leaves me questioning is it worth it? is it worth another year, 2 years, 5 years before getting a "secure" job (that turns out not to be secure because then the department's funding gets cut...) And perhaps more importantly I'm asking myself is that the life I want? After back to back PGCE and PhD, I'm frankly exhausted. It's hard to explain the kind of cumulative tiredness that comes as a result. I'm mentally and emotionally drained from the hardest work I'll ever have to do, and the juggling of jobs and life to get there. And that's the other thing, I'd kind of like my life back. Even when finishing I was straight back to (paid) work and unpaid work. There's always a book chapter, conference paper, journal article to write. Right now I've a list of calls for papers to hash together abstracts for that I just don' have the energy to think about. I have things I should be researching, writing, doing all the time. And even in a full time job, that's always there and 90% on top of your working hours. And that is the job, and the life. And part of me loves the research the chance to do that kind of work, but also I want a life. I want a weekend that doesn't involve frantically trying to catch up on work, or a guilt free one that doesn't. And lets not forget all that academic publishing is for free, particularly for those destined to spend years as independent scholars while waiting for an elusive job to appear. Spending 100s on conferences, hours of precious free time between jobs on writing articles that may or may not make it publication and earn you nothing.
And so I'm asking myself, do I want that? do I really want to stay. And it's hard because in some ways I love it more than anything I've ever done, Lord knows I couldn't have stuck it out this far if I didn't . But perhaps I don't love it enough, perhaps I don't have that fight in me anymore.
So what instead? That's the other question. Last week I had some interesting and thought provoking meetings with someone who said to me 'I wish you knew what you wanted to do' so do I. And to feel like it could work out.
But what could work out? what are my options? Well, I could stay teaching or academia adjacent. I could go back to teaching in schools (ok not even I believe that one, with love and respect to my teacher friends because I couldn't do it) I could teach in some other capacity. I could carry on with my Student Services related work, I genuinely love it and for someone with zero maternal instinct I genuinely care about the little monsters. But somehow I'd feel like I'd failed, given up somehow not to 'use' my PhD in the 'right way. Which is where all the anxiety about making the call to step away from Universities entirely comes from. But maybe I'm not supposed to, maybe I just need to use my experience in a different way? or maybe after 5 long years in various roles I need to run, far, far away.
There's theatre, the obvious choice and possibly (no possibly, defiantly) as hard to get a start in as academia. I could take my theatre knowledge, my various skills and do something...useful somehow, feel productive and creative and that would be amazing. It would actually be a dream come true to do something anything theatre related. It probably involves moving to London, and at the grand old age of 30 maybe that's not something that is practical anymore, student style living again isn't something that appeals to me anymore, I've done that far too much. But I'm also mindful of not throwing away the best opportunities to develop a career. Again it's how much of a trade off between a life (such as it may be) and career (such as it may be)
I could also take my writing skills, another dream come true, and do something useful with the extra four years of writing work that academia has given me. Some day even I could actually get paid for a piece of writing (nobody is holding their breath on this one)
Or maybe, maybe it's something else entirely that I haven't even thought of yet? Maybe I'll fall into something (I am very good at falling both metaphorically and literally). But I doubt it. It's decision time.
So universe, or at least a particular corner of the internet, send me a sign, send me advice, hit me over the head. Or offer advice. Offer wild suggestions. I'm open to ideas.
And academic friends in the same situation, it's hard to know, hard to make that call between sanity and security, and pursuing the thing you love. But I think it's really about knowing whether you still love it enough. No job is perfect but sometimes I wonder if any job should be this hard. Which actually sounds more like a Coldplay song....