So, I’m having a bit of an existential crisis. I was inspired to write this post after reading Liana Silva‘s “How Do You Define an Academic?” on the Inside Higher Ed University of Venus blog. For me, the big question is: what am I now that I’m not teaching and no longer have a campus to go to? Technically, I’m still a Purdue PhD student since I haven’t completed my dissertation and am registering for research hours, but I’m now living in South Carolina. I’m working on my dissertation and various journal articles that I hope to publish. I write and read daily. I’m still conducting research. But I don’t have any F2F interaction with other academics in my field, and I earn my living by doing various freelance work. For the first time in almost a decade, I don’t have students to teach, classes to attend, or an office on a college campus. I’m adrift. My sense of identity has been linked to academia for so long that I feel unmoored in my new non-role. At least I feel like it’s a non-role. As an instructor and then professor, I always knew the answer to the inevitable question: what do you do? Since I make my money as a freelance writer/editor/consultant, I suppose that’s the socially acceptable answer. But it doesn’t feel like me. If I identify myself as a teacher, I have no answer to the inevitable: where do you teach. Identifying myself as a writer leads to the “so what have you published” question.
Can I be an academic if I’m no longer firmly rooted in academia?
You are still a scholar. Perhaps an independent scholar but I’m not sure you need to signal your employment status so clearly. You do research. You write.
This may also help you transition your identity from PhD student to qualified scholar in your interaction with other academics. Even before you secure your first tenure-track job (should you even want to do so), once you have finished your PhD you should stop acting like a student. You aren’t. And you need to interact with other scholars as a peer.
Talk about your research (not your dissertation research). When you move on, your dissertation research becomes your previous research.
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