Monday, October 7, 2013

An Alternate Universe: On Administration and #Alt-Ac

It's one thing to know that you don't intend to go on the tenure-track, to spend months (nay, years) mourning that imagined life and reimagining a new one. It's quite another to step onto that other track and begin to take the first steps along it that will lead to somewhere just out of sight. It's proving to be quite the interesting walk, in ways that I only half expected.

I'm in the fourth week of my administrative #alt-ac position, which I can scarcely believe. Time is flying, which has a lot to do with the wholly different pace of life beyond the PhD. I used to have long stretches of time during the day in which I could sit and think and write. I had a few priorities to juggle--dissertation writing, editing projects, teaching, other academic writing--but not over many. I'm lucky now if I have ten minutes at my desk at a time, and to my still-overwhelmed brain, my priorities seem to number in the thousands. There are endless meetings--so many meetings--and score upon score of emails. And there are people. That's less of a challenge than I thought it might be, even for this confirmed introvert. I missed working with other people during the writing phase of my PhD, sometimes desperately, and I'm making up for it now. To my pleasure and surprise, it's largely women who fill the chairs--the Dean, one of two Associate Deans, both senior administrators, most of the mid-level administrators, and nearly all of the student services staff are women.

There's quite a lot about being in university administration that I prize, and didn't realize that I would. Instead of being one of many PhD students, frustrated and feeling impotent in the face of the seeming unwillingness of the academy to recognize that we have legitimate and far-reaching concerns, I'm one of many fewer who provide resources to those PhDs. I'm lucky that the people I can voice my concerns to, the lovely folks I work with, are people who have the power to do something about it. They're people who want to do something about it, and to help me develop into someone who can advocate for grad students at the highest levels. I'm far from the top of the ladder now, but I have enough autonomy and power of my own that I can effect some change where I see the need for it. I still have to watch the oncoming tide of change and cuts--I'm not deluding myself that Ontario isn't looking to Alberta as a model--but it feels less dire from here, somehow.

I'm still a bit bewildered and overwhelmed, naturally. Working 9-5 still feels both blessedly structured and terribly restraining. There are SO MANY acronyms to learn. I miss working in my pajamas, having my only interruption be the cat, and having lunch with office-bound friends. I feel guilty for not prioritizing my academic research even as I'm thrilled to get to put my policy-related research into action. The house is rather a little dustier than it was, the kitchen less well-used, and the cat a little needier. Students still come to argue grades, except now it's their whole GPA instead of one assignment.

Whatever the challenges of moving on from the tenure-track dream of academe, I can't complain.  I get to live where I want, do work I think is valuable, enjoy my co-workers, use my PhD constantly, effect real change, and learn the university from the inside. I wish I could have shown this post--this life--to Melissa-that-was, the Melissa that fretted and panicked about what to do if not be a professor. If you're a Melissa-that-was: it gets better. Indeed, it gets pretty great.

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