Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Different planets

I spoke on the phone last night to a friend in New Zealand who I lived with during undergrad. She's smart, educated, and we talk fairly often, so I was surprised by the total bizarreness of this bit of the conversation:

Me: "So I'm just doing some part time work at the moment, and hovering, hoping that a job might become available at [my university] sometime in the next year or so. We have a lot of people near retirement."

Her: "You know, you could probably get a real job. Okay, so a linguistics PhD isn't going to open any doors, but I'm sure you could convince people you are smart enough to work in a different area."

Me: "Well, sure, but I am hoping an academic job might come up. I'm willing to give it two years, maybe three, before I give up on the current plan."

Her: "But come on! You've now spent nine years at university! Surely you are sick of it by now! I wanted out by the end of third year. You can't hold onto your youth by refusing to leave, you know."

Me: "If I hadn't wanted an academic job, I wouldn't have done a PhD! And I'm not about to waste the past three years of work by giving up now."

Her: "You didn't HAVE to do a PhD. And like I said, you can probably get a job despite it."

StyleyGeek's end of the conversation here dissolves into incoherent spluttering.

I maybe should have seen this clash of perspectives coming, though, since about a year and a half after I started the PhD, I was talking to this friend and she asked if I was job-hunting. When I said I was too busy with the thesis to take on outside work, she exclaimed, "Still! You're STILL doing that PhD? Didn't you do that last year?"

Oh, and when we picked up the threads of last night's conversation after my incoherent spluttering attack, she suggested I could kill time while looking for a job by "having lots of babies".


liz said...

I think you have to amend your first sentence to say, "I spoke on the phone last night with a former friend from New Zealand..."

Tom said...

This is fascinating. I think your friend is wrong, though. A linguistics PhD probably would open doors in quite a few places, if you were interested in going through them. It all depends on whether you see a degree as vocational training or something a bit broader.

Also, you are in fact spending your time having babies. Although perhaps not in quite the way she envisaged...

It's funny, though, that people seem to think that grown ups don't work at universities (notwithstanding the empirical evidence for this proposition that I observe at every department meeting). While I've (finally) decided it's not for me, I do think that academia is probably one of the most competitive and challenging professions you could imagine. People have no idea.

Jana said...

Tom's right: a linguistics PhD would open lots of doors - but do you want to be a strategy consultant or a diplomat? Thought not.

Tom, on academia being challenging and competitive - someone asked me the other day whether I would be a surrogate mother for him and his wife. He was kind enough to say that he and his wife were looking at people from less demanding professions, "such as academia".

(I declined, in case you were wondering. But then he asked me whether I had any friends who would be interested. StyleyGeek, perhaps your friend in NZ would be keen?)

StyleyGeek said...

Wow, clearly they think we ALL should be spending our time having babies :)

And Jana, what a fascinating proposition! (I'd have turned it down too, though. The whole giving birth thing is a bit of a deal-breaker. :) )