I have to admit, aside from the genuine love I have for all things Plath, and all things Literature-related in general, the overhanging worry of unemployment is definitely one of my Top 5 most-thought-about topics. I'm just over half way through my Ph.D. program and while things are beginning to come together and become more coherent thesis-wise, worries about getting a good job in an area I love (but has few opportunities) weigh heavily on my mind. I regularly attend courses run by the excellent vitae.ac.uk organisation and they suggest ways of improving your employ-ability by not only having academic plus-points on the c.v. but also project management, money-management and other organisational skills that translate widely over a larger job range.
So really, I think it's a very difficult balancing act. With the job markets oversubscribed as it is, postgraduate students really have to push all buttons - not just certain academic or corporate ones. This means postgraduate students should be trying to have a presence in the academic world (publications, conference presentations, teaching, etc) as well as completing courses and perhaps taking on sidework that demonstrates we have transferable skills, like budget management, teamwork etc - all the while working on a dissertation with all the peaks and troughs that brings!
Balancing all of these components can be exhausting. And difficult also! So this blog post is perhaps dedicated to the art of prioritisation. Knowing when to put certain things on the back burner and focus on something else. This has been the case for me personally in the last few weeks. I've been in quite a critical point regarding my thesis recently. At the end of January, I had written up two draft chapters for my supervisor to read. While I felt that the arguments I made were definitely getting to the root of what I want to examine; there was something amiss. I just wasn't getting to the point quickly enough, I was losing focus. After a great meeting with my supervisor, we decided to change the framing of my argument. The points would remain the same, but the focus would be thematic, rather than chronological. As many of you can imagine, even for the most enthusiastic and forward-thinking Plath student, finding your place between biography and literature is difficult. And even though I know where I stand in regards to this (see my previous post on "How do we read Sylvia Plath?" for more on this), I found it difficult getting the flow of my argument to reflect my stance.
So, in realising that I needed to alter how I broached my argument - therefore creating additional work - other important parts of my postgraduate life were unfortunately, set by the wayside. I had aimed to write an article for the upcoming Plath Profiles publication, and I had hoped to submit an abstract to a PG Symposium of an organisation I belong to. But because I knew I needed time to think about my dissertation, I had to prioritise my aims. That famous Douglas Adams saying comes to mind: "I love deadlines. I love the sound they make as they fly whooshing by!" and, for me, that's precisely what the last six weeks have been!
I suppose the point of this blog really is to say that priorities are essential. While I hate to renege on aims that I set myself, I know that taking time to think about my actual work will stand in my favour and hopefully when I go to submit next year, the fact I recognised what was essential and inessential will reflect in my thesis. Publications and presentations are very important. So too are the courses that widen the scope of employment for postgraduates. But at this point in my career, the dissertation has to be #1. And hopefully, in the next few weeks when the pace is less frantic, I will have time to write up a paper, or propose a conference abstract. We can't do everything all at once. Sometimes, because of the solitary nature of postgraduate life, we expect so much of ourselves and pit ourselves against other students because we perceive them as doing more, having more experience. But the life of a postgraduate is very much an individual one. We each have our own paces.
I feel as long as the work is good and our c.v.'s demonstrate enthusiasm and a commitment to the academic and professional working world, then as bad as the economy is, hopefully a rewarding career should follow on after study. And it is by individually learning lessons like prioritising that perhaps make postgraduate students more adaptable and vital to the workforce than other sectors of the job-force. Well, we can hope!
I would be really interested to hear from other postgraduate students on this topic - what are your worries and hopes for life after University? How do you manage your own workload?