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Seven years ago today

2006-02-15 @ 12:52 » Français

Seven years ago today, I received my Ph.D. (well, I got the piece of paper in May, but that’s another story). A lot has happened since. Actually, I had handed in my thesis 9 months before, but when you do that at the beginning of summer, it’s bound to take some time: no one was there, so it took months just to get an outside examinator, etc., and then there’s the whole bureaucracy…

By the time I defended my these, I had been at university for nigh on 9 years, and I had had my fill, been wanting out even before I finished writing the thing. Which can be a bit of a problem (the wanting out) when you never actually gave much thought to where you want to go after – other than university, of course. Thing is, when you’re studying linguistics, people always ask you, “what’s it for?” (after having asked, “you want to become a translator?” to which I would reply “No, I’d’ve studied translation.” – yeah, I know, the irony..). After a while I devised the plan of actually showing people what linguists do (beyond the cryptic “well, just as biologists study life, we study language”) by creating an exhibition on the subject of language.

So I was working on that project, with someone that had become a very dear friend, when I got my Ph.D. It’s a hell of a thing, building up an exhibition outside of any institutional structure (especially if you’ve never actually done that before), but we believed. We actually had two exhibitions planned: a trial run at the university Exhibition Centre, and the real thing some months later.

Well, two weeks prior, my friend and colleague had gotten some bad news about her health; she needed a change of scenery, so she went to see her brother in B.C. and ended up meeting someone and moving there before the end of the year, some four months before the trial exhibition opened. That didn’t help the project, although my meeting someone around the same time did (that didn’t work out, for obvious reasons for who knows the story).

The trial run went relatively well, thanks in great part to help from the Exhibition Centre staff. Now it was time to work on the real thing. But first, I took some time off to turn 30 (my friends threw me this great “this is your life” party in Quebec city – which was a welcome relief from the crappy month I had been having). A big part of working on an exhibition project like that is getting the money to do it (and to live). You can have wonderful (or silly) ideas but if you can’t get the resources needed, they won’t be much help. Getting money is a two-stage affaire: (1) write up a kick-ass business case and/or deliver a kick-ass presentation and/or write up a grant application; and (2) wait and wait. Since at the time I didn’t know about the Sponsorship thingy (and wasn’t a member of the Liberal party), and wasn’t that good of a salesman, it took some time before I could (barely) muster up the necessary funds to put the damn thing on.

Funny thing is that, shortly after I got the confirmation that a check was coming my way, I got my first “real” (i.e. out of university, 9-to-5) job. As a writer-editor for the web team of the CSA. Great subject matter, lousy work environment (at least at the time). But it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, so I took it. That was three weeks before the opening at the Bonsecours Market.

From there, things got from bad to worse; I was working full-time, so I loss control of the project. Costs went up and I had to contend with people who couldn’t do the job (when even I can do a job better than someone who’s supposedly trained for it, that’s a bad sign). Luckily, it’s around that time that I met Isabelle. She saved me from drowning. The exhibition was a near-disaster (I could write a book on that subject) and I was glad when it was over. I could now concentrate on how crappy my job was and bitch about it with my roommate (well, it wasn’t that bad for about a year and a half, although the commute was awful).

I ended up working two and a half years there, punctuated by a car crash and a bad knee injury (my kneecap got knocked to the side of the leg – sounds painful, feels even worse). I was happy to get out (so were they). I started working on a few projects I had put on the back burner, but ended up getting a job… as a translator. Readers of my French language blog know the rest (well almost) of the story.

So, seven years after my Ph.D. (“with all honours and privileges associated” it says), do I regret the university milieu? Yes and no. I miss the discussions (especially, when I was at Laval, with people from different backgrounds and school of thoughts, but I must admit that graduate school at Montréal wasn’t that lively). I still have friends in academia and I try and keep abreast of what’s going on (then again, my research was in historical guillaumian linguistics and there’s not that much happening there). But there is too much other stuff I want to explore. One of the big differences I notice in me is that as a student, I wasn’t too interested in the application, the usefulness of my research, whereas now I want too see it do something (even if it’s not too useful).

Part of me likes being in what some call “the real world”, part misses the academic environment, being surrounded by people asking questions. I’m still a linguist at heart (and still glad for my Ph.D.), it is a part of me that I like to nurture (see the Language section of the blog). But I don’t think I would be ready to go back. Courses I took since have all been concrete, hands on. I’m at a point where I want to do things with my hand – hence the jewellery class, glass blowing plans, and I’m thinking about woodworking and flamework…

3 comments to “Seven years ago today”

  1. hmmm. Neat story about how you came to get your PhD and how you feel about it all after the fact. My story is completely opposite to yours: I went to university for a year affter high school, hated it, then went to school to do something practical with my hands - esthetics. after ten years of back-breaking, fine-detail, thankless, vapid work, I couldn’t stand it anymore and decided I needed to use my brain, not my body. So back to university I went, and I couldn’t be happier. Sure, sometimes I get informaiton overload, and sometimes I feel cloistered from the “real world”, but all in all, I can’t wait for such time as I get to earn money for using my mind more so than my hands. Now I’m planning more school after I’m finished my first degree next year, and I’m not quite sure if I want to do a master’s degree first or go straight into law school… who knows what will happen? I need to figure it all out, as I’m not getting any younger, and since I have had a taste of what it’s like to earn a living - meagre as it may have been - the one thing I hate about being a student is the poverty!

  2. I was lucky to have known student poverty before going into the job market (in that first real job, the income tax I paid in a year was actually roughly what I was making my best years…).

    It’s rewarding to use your mind for a living (although I would prefere if there would be more of it, more problems to solve, in my current job). For now, I prefer the manual work to be hobbies.

    As for doing a masters first, what I would usually tell undergrads who asked me whether they should do a masters (or a Ph.D.) is Do you really want to do it, or do you feel you should? If the latter, don’t do it. There are two advices I would give someone going into grad studies: the first is to start writing now — even if you’re gonna discart it (actually the best advice anyone gave me), the second is to want it. This research is going to be with you 24/7 for a couple of years, so you best like it…

  3. Thanks for that tidbit of advice, Marc Andre. I am still thinking about it, whether or not I really want to do a MA or not. I kind of feel that since I am so late coming into academia, I am not quite finished with this type of learning. Not that law isn’t academic, but it’s different in my mind somehow. I know I wouldn’t be able ot do the type of research and study I would be able to do with a MA. I’m still pondering about it.

    It’s funny you should mention - I have been doing some writing lately. Not research per se, but writing in general about issues that I find interesting and might want to research in the future. I guess we’ll see how I feel when my BA thesis is done - whether or not research still lights my fire!

What do you think?