Why Move Out of the Ivory Tower?
I’m getting ready to head back to Champaign-Urbana after an all-too-short vacation at home. The friends and relatives I’ve visited here have, almost without exception, asked me how many more years of graduate school are in front of me, and I never quite know what to tell them.
I’ve been in school for a long time. I am, in a manner of speaking, in the 18th grade. Ever since I set foot on the bus on the first day at Urbana Elementary (in Urbana, MD, not Urbana, IL), I’ve been looking forward to the last day of school; as my career aspirations came into focus, that day has retreated further and further away. For years, the pursuit of a high GPA has been among my top priorities, but as my friends in other disciplines are settling into jobs, marriages, and parenthood, the idea of enrolling in “courses” and receiving “grades” feels increasingly trivial. On the other hand, the job market is an intimidating place, and I’d almost certainly be wiser to stay in school as long as possible, build a competitive resume, hone my craft, and live off the taxpayers of Illinois to as great an extent as possible. What’s the harm?
I wonder if my colleagues in other programs across the country feel the same way, but the inertia of graduate school is something for which I was not at all prepared. I don’t feel this inertia on a creative level—I think my music is probably developing at an acceptable rate—but on a personal one. The University of Illinois is becoming more and more comfortable, and I have to remind myself that it’s probably not going to get any easier to find a tenure-track position. Should I finish up as soon as I can or take as much time as my funding will allow? More importantly, is anyone else encountering this dilemma?