Professionalization: How Much is Too Much?

I’ve been following a lot of different academic blogs lately. It started with some digital humanities related ones for my independent study research this semester (winedarksea.org, ullyot.ucalgaryblogs.ca, matthewjockers.net, mediacommons.futureofthebook.org). But then I heard about some other ones from fellow grad students and started following those (Tenured Radical, Madwoman with a Laptop, ProfHacker, The Professor Is In). And now I’m having trouble. Now all I want to do is read these blogs. Partly because these people are doing what I want to do. They are teaching and researching and working on exciting projects. And they have time to sit and blog a few times a week. But I’m also reading them because they all provide pathways into the most justifiable means of procrastination for a graduate student: professionalization.

Today I made a 5-year plan. I did this because The Professor Is In posted that it’s an extremely useful method for graduate students who want to stay on track and finish doctoral programs in a reasonable amount of time. My plan is extremely ambitious. It gets me on the job market in a little under five years. And, considering I’m in my first year and the average time to Ph.D. is seven years, that seems ambitious. But I don’t know whether or not something like this should be ambitious. If this is an ideal goal I’m striving toward, shouldn’t it be a dynamic one that will force me to push myself every day/week/month for the next five years? I don’t know. But I do know that I should probably use the comment feature on The Professor Is In’s blog to ask her.

The problem is, I will never finish my Ph.D. in five years if I continue to spend an hour a day reading academic blogs. It’s not really that hour that’s the problem. It’s what that hour leads to…which is searching for more academic blogs to read. And then I figure, well, might as well look at the Chronicle while I’m at it because ProfHacker suggested I read this article on teaching advice. Then I should check some journals that came out this month to see what people in my field are writing about because Wine Dark Sea already linked me to Digital Humanities Quarterly. Then I need to go attend this workshop on Teaching Philosophy Statements even though I’m five years (!) from the job market. Because it’s all part of my professionalization.

So, really, the problem is 5-year plans. The problem is talking to a professor about a paper you’re hoping to write for his class and voicing anxiety about it not being “marketable” down the line. Because I did that today. And he balked a little bit. As in, why the hell is she thinking about that right now? Because I read academic blogs and have Graduate Study for the 21st Century open next to me and feel like every piece of time I spend “professionalizing” myself must be productive. Right?

But what I’m not doing is reading for class. And researching sources for a paper I’m revising. And learning how to code XML for the digital humanities project team I’ve just joined. I’m starting to become very resentful of professionalization. I know that all of the things I’m reading and events I’m attending right now are not a waste of time. In fact, I learn a ton from most everything. But the focus on the future and the need to professionalize is making me lose sight of the day-to-day. I’m losing track of the research I’m passionate about and the books I want to read, because I’m reading about how to use The Chronicle’s job search database to start keeping an eye on trends in position openings.

I know there’s a balance to all of this. But, today, I can’t find it.

And I’m hoping that other graduate students out there are struggling to find it, too.

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