Educated Woman, The Grad-School Adventures of Micella Phoenix DeWhyse Chapter 44--Out of the Night That Covers Me … Into the Big Wide World

Out of the night that covers me, black as a pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever Gods may be for my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance: I have not winced or cried aloud. Under the bludgeoning of chance, my head is bloodied but unbowed.

--From Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Hello folks, back again for another installment of this trip called graduate school. For those of us fortunate enough to have seen the light at the end of the tunnel--graduation--it is time to figure out which direction to head when I emerge months from now, blinking, into the bright light of post-Ph.D. life.

Wherever I end up, it will be somewhere that I can live a life conducive to my enjoyment. I've done enough self-exploration to know that I'm not interested in living in the middle of nowhere. I'm single, so I don't have a two-body problem, and that (in theory) makes things a little easier. Here are a few of my requirements aside from stimulating work: an international airport (I should go home every now and then), nightlife (fun outside of work is mandatory), culture (I love all kinds of ethnic food), and intellectually stimulating people to talk to (hopefully more than the people I work with).

I also know that I want a faster pace in the next phase of my life. Some of what has been so excruciating for me with graduate school is the slow pace of change. You may work hard for a year or more before you start to see results. And then there's that whole justify-the-last- x-years-of-your-life-in-45-minutes thing called a thesis defense. Yeah, I could have accelerated the pace of change by changing thesis topics, but that would have meant extending my penance, making real change come more slowly. Pick your poison.

I'm still in that dark tunnel and will be for a while longer--another year or so probably--but I'm thinking ahead. There is a small drop of dread around participating in job interviews, so I decided to confront that fear, to take the fear of the unknown out of the equation. When industrial recruiters came calling on my campus, I signed up for the first round of interviews, just for the practice. Starting my job search a year in advance means that I don't really need, or expect, a job offer. If I get offers now, great--more motivation to graduate. If not, it's not the end of the world.

Starting the interview process earlier rather than later has allowed me to do a number of things:

1. Relax during the interviews--which to me is absolutely essential. I get to work on my interview style--honing my phrases and answers to the "tell me about yourself and your work" and "tell me three of your weakness/strengths" questions.

2. Get comfortable with the interview process--the more you know, the easier it is to see where the interviewer is going, so you're not completely surprised when they ask you "tell me about a situation when you …"

3. Network--many of the industrial recruiters are current employees in the division you're interested in. This is a perfect opportunity to make new friends and see what the companies have to offer. In addition, I can exhibit my people and technical skills; potential employers (at least industrial ones) want to know if you can play well with others.

I've already said that I don't intend to take a job in the middle of Farmland U.S.A., and that's just where some of these companies are located. But an industrial job is very tempting, no matter where it is located. What can I say, money talks.

One of my frustrations with academe is that the reward system isn't aligned with my values. Academic freedom is great in principle, but worrying about money and tenure is stressful; I'm not sure that, for me, that stress is fully offset by the satisfaction of research. I haven't found a problem that I love ENOUGH to sacrifice major pieces of my life for: family, kids, a cultural life. I am a complete human being and, while I've been willing to make some sacrifices while in graduate school, I deserve--and fully intend--to find a life beyond graduate school that allows me to be whole without feeling guilty. That means a decent salary and a decent location. So I don't think I'll be signing on the dotted line at Podunk Inc., no matter how tempting the offer.

I should explain what I mean by "without feeling guilty." Even though I don't talk about race or gender a lot in this column, I happen to be a black woman ( shock! awe!). And everyone knows that there is a need for a variety of role models in science--especially academic science--from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, in other words, for people like me. And then there are the scientific rationales, a diverse workforce bringing a diversity of perspectives--new sets of eyes--to a scientific problem, increasing the probability of finding the best possible solution, and all that.

For a while now, the notion has been floating around that I should become Professor DeWhyse, role model, academic, purveyor of knowledge, teacher, scholar, virtue personified. Maybe some day I will. But right now, the thought of becoming a professor is suffocating. While that decision may disappoint some people in my life, I must remember the last lines of William Ernest Henley's Invictus: "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."

There is no shortage of people out there who will make fabulously happy traditional academics. Better them than me; I know I'm not one of them. It has taken me a very long time to be comfortable with not wanting to follow the academic path. The guilt is receding, slowly but surely; I won't be confined by other people's notions of who I am and what I should do. I'm starting to feel free.

So what's on my short-term agenda? In addition to my next pit-stop on the career train, I'd like to have time to do adjunct teaching or lecturing; I might do some community college teaching; shoot, I'd like to try my hand at public speaking, public radio, writing, or acting, if someone wants to give me a chance. I have multiple interests that I feel are worthy of my time. I am not consumed by only one or two things that I need change on a regular basis. I'm a woman ready to explore.

On a final note, how can we start to collectively voice our concerns as future knowledge workers? We're researchers, we're capable of solving problems, we like thinking about things, WE KNOW HOW TO WORK HARD, and some of us can even play well with others. We want to be in a stimulating and challenging environment, and while we all won't work for the hottest companies or labs, we will still contribute a great deal to any organization. Have brain, ready and willing to learn, will travel …(to the right location).

You can send e-mail to Micella at

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