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Grad Student H
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From the OP's description of their experience, it sounds much like mine. I have been having trouble working lately, but only on specific projects. On reflection, I realized that I have been having trouble working on projects which lack urgency, no matter how important they are. For me, it's not burnout or depression as much as it is struggling with long-term planning, which is highly unusual for me. I contracted a moderate case of COVID early this summer and was sick for more than two months. I still have some relapsing symptoms a few times a month, much like others who were sick for a long period. Even though I am no longer at medical risk from COVID, it was a distinct reminder of my mortality. Ever since, I have required significant effort to do anything apart from prepare lectures for my courses, because anything non-urgent is simply not psychologically forceful enough. Many other people I know (not all of whom have contracted COVID) have reported similar problems focusing on anything non-urgent. While I am not a psychologist, it seems fairly clear to me to be an effect of the fight-or-flight response, although in this case it has lasted for months. Attempting to plan long term is different for everyone right now, and I do not know how to overcome it. For the OP, in the absence of effects in any other part of your life, I would say that it is merely contextual and does not qualify as a significant sign that you should abandon the profession.
As half of a two-body problem, I can speak to my experience from several years ago, which is very similar. My partner and I went to the same MA program but different undergraduate universities, and we shared an AOS at the time of our PhD apps. Because our MA program was well-regarded in our mutual AOS but not well overall, we decided not to apply to any top-20 PGR programs in order to maximize our chances for the application fees we were paying. We applied to 12 programs, both of us sending an application to each. It was not obvious from our materials that we were a couple, and we did not mention it either. The one exception was a school that specifically asked for our reasons for applying there as part of the online application, so we both mentioned that we wanted to be in a program that would be compatible with each other. We eventually got accepted to that program. In all, we had two programs accept us both, and two other programs where one was accepted and the other was on the waitlist, but we withdrew from those before the end of the cycle because we preferred one of the joint offers we received. With the exception of the one school above, we mentioned the two-body problem once one of us received an offer of admission, and programs were very accommodating with our situation on the whole. The other (perhaps less desirable) option is to apply to programs together and feel out whether a department might be able to admit one of you the first year and the other the subsequent year. I know a few academic couples who have successfully done this. One even sat in on her partner's PhD seminars for an entire year to interact in the department as much as possible, proving that she was worth a spot there. This would likely only work if you could find out that one of you was on the threshold of being accepted but barely did not make it. Some departments are more open about this than others. I mention of all this to say that it is possible to navigate the two-body problem in PhD applications, and departments are usually very accommodating. Don't be afraid to apply to PGR-unranked programs if they are compatible with your interests, especially if you are wanting to end up at a teaching school.
I know at my university the postdocs are paid monthly, just like faculty and grad students. Even worse, our payday is the last weekday of the month and all salaried employees only get a partial check if they start after August 1, so it takes until the end of September to get a full paycheck.
I want to claim philosophy of law as an AOC, but I have never taken a course in the area (because one has never been offered in my MA or PhD programs) and all of my knowledge in this area is self-taught. I have taught a course on the legal applications of logic and plan to publish some on evidential standards with explicit applications to the law (among other relevant topics), but publishing in my AOSs is my priority right now. Would it look strange to claim this as an AOC if my CV doesn't change in this area in the few years before I go on the job market? Would one or two conferences in this area help? I plan to mostly apply to teaching schools, but I want to make sure I'm taken seriously in each AOC without overdoing it.
Regarding point 2: Doesn't this put some lower-ranked PhD students at a disadvantage for eventually getting a job? For example, my lower-ranked program only requires PhD students to teach about 6-8 courses during their PhD, but there are some (minimal) opportunities to teach more. These are a mix of intro-level classes and maybe two specialized classes in order to get teaching experience in one's AOSs. If lower-ranked grads need more teaching experience in order to land a teaching job, this might force some of us to adjunct at other universities simply for more experience. However, given the advice previously posted on the Cocoon that candidates need to prove their AOCs by teaching courses in those areas, this creates a tension. Most universities need adjuncts for intro-level classes, so grad students in the situation I described earlier might not be able to fill out their AOCs with teaching experience in all the areas they might actually be competent in. How can this tension be resolved? (a) Petitioning one's program for more teaching opportunities across the board. (b) Publishing articles in one's AOCs in lower-ranked journals to prove competence. (c) Claiming an AOC that you might not be able to prove competence in based on teaching or publications. (d) Hoping for the best in getting a temporary position after the PhD that will fill in the gaps. (e) Something else? I worry about (a) not being feasible in many cases. (b) might make the candidate look like they have too diverse of interests and are not really specializing in anything. (c) seems like it could backfire, so (d) might be the best option for this case. Is there anything I might be overlooking which can resolve the tension?
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Jul 27, 2019