I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed…

In a very encouraging email, my DGS (for the uninitiated, that’s “Director of Graduate Studies”) told me to “keep my eyes on the prize.” This is the right thing to say to an Alabaman who grew up with the Gospel hymn resonating in her mind like a battle cry of freedom. Yes! Keep my eyes on the prize! I can do that!

But unfortunately, after turning this little phrase over in my head for awhile, I began to note the flaw in its logic. Exactly what prize am I working for? Many of the smartest graduate students I have known have gone on to teach composition at schools in the middle of nowhere. When they’re lucky, perhaps they get a creative writing course or they get to live in a place somewhat convenient to them. When they’re very lucky the position is tenure-track. Some have hefty teaching loads and are wrangled into sitting on every committee the department mandates.

And what if you’re really, really very lucky, and get a tenure-track job at an ivy league school, and even get tenure there? (Unheard-of! But I am referring to someone specific, actually.) What if taking tenure there means teaching snotty rich kids while your academic S.O. languishes or moves far away? It seems like even if you get The Ideal Situation there are still so many real-life factors to take into account.

So I am deciding not to look too far ahead. Right now the prize is being able to pay rent another year and still work on 4SQ and the Anthology and other projects.


About Jessica Smith

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One Response to I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed…

  1. RW says:

    Oh… don’t let yourself get discouraged. The “keep your eyes on the prize” thing could be very encouraging if you just allow yourself to imagine it’s YOUR prize – like, instead of thinking of the “typical” comp-heavy job waiting for you, just imagine a really cool, diverse position somewhere in a really cool city. I’ve never heard as many discouraging comments about the job market as when I was in grad school. Everybody thinks that there are no cool jobs out there. I actually began to just ignore everybody, ignore the search, and just concentrate on what, for me, was fun: my writing. I was so busy finishing my novel that I didn’t even apply for a position until 3 weeks before I was hooded. Then, I applied for a 3-year position at U of A and got it within a month. And as long as you get along w/ the new department, they won’t stick you with all composition. This past semester I taught 4 classes, and only one was comp. The others were lit crit, American lit, and a very cool 300-level creative writing class. I just kept focused on what I enjoyed (writing) and put as little effort into the market or the politics of departments and ended up really happy. And now I have a major NY lit agent interested in my ms. Yay! And your publications and editorial work are so amazing that some cool department is going to be crazy to hire you… just keep enjoying the 4SQ projects and you’ll be so happy that other stuff will fall into place.

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