15 April 2009

Some dreams die hard...very hard

After my ex tried to kill me for the second time, I figured it was time for a change. After my boss had fucked me over for the umpteenth time, I knew it was time. I decided I wanted to become a professor. Oh, how naive I was in thinking it was just a matter of a few years in school.

As I sit in a hotel room chasing research that I am funding with my own money, I realize that I am paying a greater price than just the money pit that is graduate school. I am being changed by this process and I don't think this is a good thing. Let me explain.

I wanted to become a professor. I wanted to teach botany. I love plants. I wanted to pass on that excitement to others. I wanted to inspire in the way nature inspired me. I wanted to do research, to make some small contribution to science. I chose to go into "basic science" because at the time I started, the scientific community was saying over and over and over again that it's greatest need was for "basic"science. For systematists and taxonomists. So off I went secure in the idea that there would be plenty of funding and plenty of job opportunities awaiting me when I got out. If you think about it, I was doing a sort of civic duty for the scientific community.

After visiting a number of universities and getting a feel for their programs and approach, I picked this one. My criteria for selection was based primarily on a reputation for good science and an atmosphere that seemed low key and low stress. I'm too old to give a shit about competiting with my fellow graduate students. Hell, I'm older than most of the faculty. Some programs seemed intent on having students live in fear. I don't know how to explain this except to say that I've survived two attempts on my life. Professors can't scare me.

And then, I got to graduate school. And basic science fell out of favor. Like overnight. Everything is all global warming. No one cares about basic science. Funding dried up faster than my sex life. Not even top researchers in our department are able to get funding in systematics. My advisor told me, point blank, that mine was the last project she was taking on involving systematics.

Excuse me while I feel left out to dry.

I have written more than 20 grants in support of my research. The only funding I have received was a merit-based fellowship that came at the end of my fourth year. From the sounds of it, my department chair doesn't want me to be able to take full advantage of the two years of the fellowship because that will make me a 6th year graduate student. He wants me to graduate at the end of the fifth year. Despite the fact that this is the first funding I've had to do my project. The stress of all of this is crushing me. So, for now, I'm paying for my own research. I'm out in the field driving around looking for my plants with my own money. And it's not going well. It's time consuming, frustrating, and expensive. And it's all borrowed money. Money borrowed on the promise of a Ph.D. that is feeling more and more improbable, and a job that may or may not exist for me when I get out.

And this on top of being made to feel as though I don't measure up because my project has failed to garner funding. Every single day I enter my building, I feel a weight settle in on me. A big boulder I carry through my day that reminds me I am failing. That I'm not doing enough. I'm not good enough. I'm not a real researcher. Half the time, I wonder if professors pass me in the hall and think to themselves, "well, she didn't turn out as promising as we thought." There are days I dread waking up in the morning.

Sometimes, I wonder if my lack of "fear" of faculty makes it worse on me. I think some professors confuse respect with deference. Failure to fear the all powerful Oz equals a lack of respect to some.

I now have crushing educational debt. If I don't get the Ph.D., I fear that I won't be able to find a job that will allow me to pay off that debt. So I can't walk away. But with each passing day, I have less faith that it will happen. When I think about my committee, I don't think about a group of people working to help me. I see a very large obstacle standing between me and my dream. I thought a committee was a group of people helping to train you to a profession. I'm afraid to say anything to anyone about my concerns for fear that, if I do, they will actively work against me. That a PhD won't come at any cost. Graduate school is the only place I have ever encountered where you have no friends, no allies, no help, no hope, and no promise that anything, ever, will get any better. There seems to be a promise that all things will, in fact, get worse. Things happen TO you. You have no recourse. You just have to take it. Perhaps, it is some combination of people and circumstances and my own mental health that has brought me to this point. This point of hopelessness. This point of having no idea what to do next.

I see now why so few single people survive this process. It takes a team to prop up the one running the gauntlet.

I can't believe that this is what it takes to be a college professor. I can't believe this is the process. All I wanted to do was inspire some kids. Make some small contribution to a field that I loved. The job requires a Ph.D. The people who hold those keys don't seem inclined to help me anymore. I'm not really sure what happened, but I don't think it's all me. I don't think I deserve, or any graduate student deserves, the life-sucking, spirit-crushing process that is graduate school. I don't think I'll ever get beyond this. I don't think I have the ability to take on a student and put them through this process as well.

I want the person I was back. I don't like this person I've become.

1 comment:

  1. Hang in there Liz. Nothing's dead yet. You got some new plants already this year and are having an unforgettable adventure. Isn't that the point? The adventure? The rest is details.