Now I can write about whatever I want: there are no assignments from other professors, no assigned books to read. I can read whatever I want to. That freedom is overwhelming and scary. With the exception of three years off while my wife attended graduate school, and the one semester I took off while working on my master’s degree, I had been in school continually from age 5 through 34. That’s crazy.
Of course, I still measure my life by the semester, by the yearly academic calendar, but gone are the assignments that I have to complete for any kind of grade. As a professor, I have my share of paperwork to fill out, I have reports to write, I have assigned tasks to complete, but nothing like having to read Lacan and to be expected to discuss his ideas in a coherent manner.
In some ways, it’s a little sad being finished, partly because I’ve always enjoyed school, partly because I miss the conversations with my professors, both in and out of class. There’s also the camaraderie one experiences in grad school, as the workload creates an environment of mutual suffering. Just kidding. Perhaps that’s true for some people, but I didn’t often complain about the work I did in grad school, even at the doctoral level.
See, I took my current job after having finished three years in my program. I saw the ad, wavered for weeks on whether to apply, finally did, and then was offered the job. However, I still had to take one more class, take three written exams, orally defend my exams, and construct and defend a dissertation. Because I had been ahead of the game, I already had a solid idea of what would be in my dissertation, a collection of short-fiction. So when people asked how my first full year was, I said I didn’t have an accurate picture; I said I’d know better once I was no longer both a student and a full-time professor.
I survived the first year, mostly through God’s grace, and also from the grace, patience, and encouragement my wife exhibited. Through the toughest stretches, I was determined not to be one of the people who land the job but never complete the degree. I’d come too far not to see it through, no matter how strenuous it might be.
So come this fall, I’ll start to experience what it’s like to be a professor, without trying to finish up a Ph.D. I can’t wait.