At the age of 30, I am set to graduate from the 23rd grade. I never meant to get into Academia – it was never a part of the plan.
The plan? I’ve really never had a plan. Yet here I am with a PhD in, literally, planning.
I suppose that story starts with a perpetually rebellious boy in the suburbs of Ohio, riding his bike further and further afield, taking the rare bus just to revel perversely in the very impracticality of it. I was exposed early to the ugly side of “car culture”, something which left some tangible marks on my mind and body.
After high school I moved to the big city: Cincinnati! and began a half-decade of studies in planning. I would take my revenge on the suburbs, one day.
Graduation came and, as it turns out, there are no planning jobs in Cincinnati – we were never meant to stay there once we finished even if it hadn’t been for the recession. I spent another year there hawking my various skills to anyone who would listen, making maps and analyzing data, but also sewing and making clothes and doing alterations for people. I’d taken up sewing a few years before to better manage the gap between my taste in clothing, my budget, and my awkwardly tall body.
Around this time I started a blog about transit, which I can now see was also just as much about my own anxieties and frustrations, projected onto the struggles of an underfunded and misguided transit agency. I was slamming their mismanagement with data and design, doing something I would shortly learn could be called Transport Geography by certain academics.
The week I bumped into my future advisor and learned I could get paid to do this stuff as a grad student was the same week I applied and got in. All too soon though the two years was up and I had to walk away with my new piece of paper.
I’d been having fun though! Was that all? Would I have to return to that hopeless unemployment? I asked my advisor if I could keep going with a PhD; he said no – not here. He recommended me to two universities; one in the suburbs, one in a booming metropolis. Though the suburban department was a better fit, my frustration with Ohio made the choice for me.
And so I was off to Toronto! I packed up my things, converted a boyfriend into a husband (they travel better that way), and hit the road.
The first two years sucked. Giant cities, though thrilling, I learned, can be deeply alienating and lonely places. I lived in a basement apartment and worked alone in a basement office with people who didn’t share my interests. I rarely saw the sun. I did work that was disconnected from the place I was living.
The next two years were a bit better. I got a view of the lake, and some real colleagues, and a few friends even. But I was starting to grow tired of academia, starting to chafe against the limits of “research” and publishing. It had been a while since I’d published something I was proud of, having always to get everything past a gauntlet of distant and semi-anonymous reviewers, people seemingly immune to the pleasures of art.
But I finished! I’m getting another piece of paper!
Though I find myself wondering where to go next, and who will look at my pieces of paper, and see through them that rebellious boy from the suburbs, trying to build now a city that is thrilling and open yet humane and comforting.
“Career” is an interesting word – people often forget the different meaning of the verb form, as in “the car careered off the road.” The word is actually cognate with “car” indicating, as if one needed more evidence, the dangers of both.
To move rapidly straight ahead, especially in an uncontrolled wayWiktionary
In this way is run the curriculum vitae.