Embracing Career Diversity

Things Are Different Now

Hello, first-blog-post-since-I-defended-my-Ph.D! It’s wild to think that after five or so years (between starting the the MSc. and the final Ph.D. defense), I am finally done with graduate school. There are no more exams, no more term deadlines, and no more giant documents to write. The last few months felt like quite the pressure cooker between writing everything up, flying back to defend, then doing a bit of travel. And now after the sprint at the end of the marathon, it’s finally over. It kind of feels like a scene out of a movie where the soundtrack builds to a climax, but then it all just goes silent. I feel a bit caught in suspended animation and have a lot of thoughts swirling around and no structure to place them within.

And what’s a boy with a lot of feelings in 2019 to do? Start a podcast.

Just kidding, the last thing the world needs is another dude telling you his opinions about the world on a podcast. I am not starting a podcast. But I do want to blog more. It’s something I personally find very helpful to do myself and have found reading other’s blogs to be very helpful. In this post, I want to do a bit of self-justification and mindless rambling.


So as noted above, I’m finally done with the Ph.D. (Yippe!) It was a trudge to say the least. Not only was it a lot of work, but living in a work environment for a few years as an intellectual underling is not exactly great for your self esteem. The hours and pay were not great (if you think about the Ph.D. like a job), but more importantly, the grind of graduate school is not sustainable. The rate that I was working in the months leading up to my dissertation submission consumed every part of my life. Having spent so much time on my #bigsit and all the graduate school that lead up to that, I also was starting to feel a deeper dread that large portions of my life were passing me by and I was loosing time that I could not get back.1 The good news is that retrospectively I don’t regret any of it. As a result, I have a dissertation that I am very proud of on many levels. I’ll be blogging about that soon as well. But I also think that it is important to acknowledge all these thoughts and feelings and reflect on them. And one thing that really helped me while I was a graduate student was reading about others who seem to have similar feelings. So what I want to do here is explore those thoughts and feelings.

Thoughts and Feelings

What I am finding is there are a lot of those thoughts and feelings post-PhD. In drafting this post, I found that I wanted to talk about EVERYTHING. For this post alone, I thought about having sub-sections or digressions that talked about: finding personal validation through the structure of academia, feeling disconnected from academic peers as someone not going on to some fancy TT job this year, all the strange things people said at conferences last month, and this list goes on. And in starting to sketch out what each of those digressions might look like, I realized here I had mountains of thoughts and feelings I wanted to share. It was almost like that for every new fact I had learned in grad school, I was given two feelings to go along with it.

But given all these feelings, and no academic cohort anymore, who can I then share all these niche thoughts with? This question becomes even more important when you consider that you really only are who you think you are in relation to other people. I noticed this the most when I moved to London last year and didn’t have daily access to my cohort at Louisiana State Univeristy. You don’t realize that you’re the “that guy” of your group until you leave them. If you can’t define yourself as “the guy who really likes music theory and music cognition” in your new group, it’s like that part of you goes away as well. This is a pretty big deal, because for many aspiring academics like myself, this is a huge part of our identity.


And the grim truth about this is realization is that post-PhD, these feelings might only increase with more time away from academic settings. In a few weeks I am sure my dbake29@lsu.edu email address will be disconnected. I’ll move further away in many respects because I’m not taking that next logical career step of doing a post-doc, a VAP, or taking a “job”2. In taking another path for right now, I will drift a bit further away from the rhythm of the academic year. And in many ways, I have already started to experience this.

In the past few Theory conferences I attended, the invevitalble “What are you doing next year?” question conversation always got a bit awkward when I told them that I didn’t have a “job” for next year. Many times I felt compelled that I had to add some sort of caveat to my response saying that I was planning on applying for more “job”s next year, but next time with greater effort! Though what made it the most weird, is that many people seemed almost not interested in what I was planning on doing this next year or, even worse, actually told me that if I did not take other work that was as close as possible no matter what to being a Music Theory professor, I was just shooting myself in the foot for the rest of my academic career. This was off putting to say the least, but talking about this sad state of affairs is not a digression worth going on.

Though this whole situation brings up quite the conundrum. As people move through the Ph.D system, not everyone who gets a Ph.D in [Insert Your Subject Here] is going to move on right away to a “job”. If they don’t, the way things are currently set up they will start to spin a bit more out of the central orbit of the field. At some point they might swing back in or they could drift off. But it brings up what I think is an important question:

What does the space look like for academics who are interested in all things academic, but don’t neatly fit into a comprehensible box of the current infrastructure?

Throughout my PhD, conversations about this really didn’t come up as the part of any formalized curriculum. And saw it coming. Yet here I am. Or more appropriately– here we are. This group of people is only an ever growing population. And will continue to be since it’s numerically impossible to place every person in a “job” each year.

My Answer

Of course, this is a very large question and problem that exists far beyond that of Music Theory. It might even be happening in Musicology as well.

But regardless, there ought to exist some sort of space for people who are card carrying academics without a clubhouse to return to. And I guess what I want to start thinking out-loud about is thinking about what this kind of career diversity looks like that is not just academic purgatory or a career waiting room. I want to try to think about establishing myself (and others) in this space. And not just talk about it so it’s a bit more normal, but also write about what it might look like to enjoy being in this space.

I don’t really know what that will look like right now. But in addition to all those thoughts and feelings that I want to talk about, I also have a lot of practical work I want to share. And I think my twitter feed and website might be a good place to still stay in the loop and document experiences here or there.

Drafting up what I want to talk about post-Ph.D (even if it’s just for me to be therapeutic thoughts) I want to blog about career diversity, life as a graduate student, computational musicology, music science, how music theory relates to everything, and a whole host of other things.

So who knows. I wanted to blog throughout much of my Ph.D, but just did not have the time. Now on other side, I really want to explore all the topics I couldn’t justify while a grad student and use the whole process of a way as continuing to express my academic identity.

  1. Also add in a bit of fear that everyone that I talked to that left academia willingly said doing so was one of the best choices they’ve made in their life…↩︎

  2. For my non-academic readers, the “job” refers to a tenure track (TT) job in North America at a decent school near a city that you could imagine asking your partner to uproot their entire life so you can be a professor↩︎