Jun 5, 2017

PhD blog 6/17: Half-year review 2: Electric Boogaloo

My first year as a PhD candidate is now behind me. Back before I was accepted into postgraduate studies, I'd hoped that working on a dissertation would provide some clarity for my life, as it were: it would be something to focus on. Of course, I have focused on it, even exceeding my goals for the first half-year. However, in order to be able to work on a dissertation and have some prospects of a professional future, one needs funding. So I've also had to apply for grants and jobs, which, being intimately tied to both the everyday realities of life and my professional future, is very stressful. So far, all my applications have been unsuccesful. In order to increase my chances, I have to work on my CV. None of the instances handing out grants or hiring PhD candidates ever sees as much as a single word of your dissertation, so they make their choices based on your references and CV. So in addition to writing my dissertation and my grant and job applications, I'm also busy writing article proposals, and my first book review is forthcoming.

While a better CV and funding would certainly icrease my chances of getting a job at some point, the current assault on science and higher education is such that this might be an entirely unrealistic notion. Therefore, I've also been pursuing my teaching studies, aiming to become a certified adult educator. Because adult educators in Finland are also competent to teach in middle and high school, in addition to my teacher studies, I've been completing additional studies to become qualified in some additional subjects. I majored in English ages ago, for instance, and this spring I took several English classes so that I could qualify to teach English as a second subject. Since my degree is in history, I'd be a history teacher, and in the Finnish system history teachers are also expected to teach civics, so I'm also taking political science classes to that end. Teacher studies complement postgraduate studies quite well, at least in my mind, because if I ever managed to secure any kind of university employment, it would almost certainly involve teaching. So in addition to writing my dissertation, applying for grants and jobs and writing article proposals and a book review, I've also been taking teacher studies, political science and English classes.

However, while this teacher thing is all very well and good, the fact of the matter is that the right-wing assault on education has by no means been confined to the universities. Vocational training has been especially hard hit, and teacher unemployment is also on the rise. Therefore, becoming a teacher might also just end up being a one-way ticket to the unemployment line, which means that a backup plan to the backup plan is needed. With that in mind, I've been dusting off my long-dormant programming skills. So in addition to writing my dissertation, applying for grants and jobs, submitting article proposals and writing a book review, and taking teacher studies, English and political science classes, I've also been doing some Java programming.

So, clarity and focus? Ha. On the contrary, I'm constantly juggling a million things at once and having to figure everything out on my own, which has been massively stressful and exhausting. I've barely touched my dissertation this spring, and to be honest, my motivation is almost gone.


So from the point of view of my PhD project, it's been a pretty miserable spring. However, even that hasn't actually been totally hopeless. I have a book review coming out, I'm submitting one article proposal, and another one was actually accepted! Sometime next year, then, I should have my first peer-reviewed academic publication. So heading into the next semester, at least my academic resumé won't be quite as blank as it was last fall.

More importantly, though, I'm halfway through my teacher studies, and they've been a great experience. This spring, I completed my first internship teaching a free university entrance exam prep course to our faculty of theology. A Finnish university education is free, but over the years, paid prep courses have started to dominate entry to certain faculties and subjects. At one point, something like 90% of new law students at Helsinki had paid money for a prep course, effectively making a mockery of free education. An organization called Varjovalmennus was set up to offer free prep courses to fight this trend, and I volunteered for their theology course, which I arranged and taught with some fellow theologians. It's been a fun and rewarding experience.

We got to teach at a grand location, namely the former main building of the Helsinki University of Technology (below). Because this year's entrance book is on the subject of biblical theology, I'm not lying all that much when I say that I started my education career teaching the Bible at an engineering college.


My so-called academic career has taken some steps forward, then. However, from the point of view of my PhD studies, this past year has been tremendously disheartening and discouraging. Many of us doing PhDs in the humanities or social sciences are barely supervised at all, and there's practically no teaching, which means that we're left to work everything out on our own. I've had the great benefit of some very helpful friends and acquaintances, without whom I'd never have gotten even this far, but having said that, the sheer loneliness and total lack of institutional support makes for an immensely frustrating time. This has led to me developing a profound distaste for performing academicness, which more or less means that even if I persisted with my dissertation, my career prospects would be nil. I also don't have the funding to dedicate myself to it full-time anyway, but even if I did, I don't know that it would make any sense.

My plan for next year is to focus on finishing my teacher studies and getting my various subject accreditations in order, so that I'll be a qualified history, social studies and English teacher a year from now. I'm also going to finish my article and write up at least one other article proposal, but other than that, I don't really see myself putting in much work on my PhD. The everyday grind of working away on something no-one cares about, while simultaneously trying to sell yourself to various instances that don't give two shits about any actual work you do, is so mindlessly depressing that, well, simply put, I'm pretty sure I don't want to do this for a living. Especially since there's no actual living in it.


Leon said...

Hang in there dude.

Michael Halila said...

Thanks. At this point, though, it's less a question of me hanging on and more a question of finding something else to do with my life.