Friday, June 08, 2007

And the days go by...

I think it's just now starting to hit me that I'm about to go through a pretty major shift in my professional identity. The move is on my mind, as is our accute need to PACK. Last night my body said "night night" at about 10:38 PM, which is extremely early for me. I literally fell asleep at my desk, hands on the keyboard. Kinda funny. This morning I woke up bright and early at just before 5:00 AM. I let Chester out, fed him and myself, read the paper, and here I am starting a blog post at just before 6:00 AM. Guess I'm getting the body and brain ready for full-time work.

One week from today is my last day as a graduate assistant, or GA. The GA term is really quite broad, and fortunately I've had a variety of experiences in this role, true to its definition. I started out in the fall of 2002 as one of two researchers on a large qualitative program evaluation. It was my first time working on a formal qualitative project, though I had been involved in running focus groups and the like while working full-time as an administrator in higher education. I learned a great deal and still use many of the skills I developed there each day in my current job.

The following year I joined the large research center where I'm fortunate to work now. I've had a variety of roles there, starting off with participating in a research project alongside a group of scholars I thought I would NEVER meet anytime soon. Later I learned all about the world of survey administration, and last year I became a supervisor for some of the other GAs on the project while still maintaining my own GA status, thus giving me some time (though not a ton) to work on the dissertation. Was that a runon sentence? Oh well, it's 6AM. Anyhow, I feel like I've had good experiences on both the qualitative and quantitative side of the research house, and it's likely they contributed toward landing the job I'll start July 2.

I really have very few, if any, complaints about the course of my graduate school career, except for the fact that I'm not yet done with the dissertation at the end of year five. The thing is, I wouldn't trade these experiences for the world [Well okay, I WOULD trade the >60% pay cut I took when I started here in 2002, but I realize no one forced me into this full-time student life five years ago]. And it's very likely I'll finish up the dissertation around year five-and-a-half, assuming I can hold it all together, with "it" defined as the balance between family, full-time work, the dissertation, and anything else I cannot predict.

When I first came here, I'd dream about what it would be like on the back end of the Ph.D. What will I have learned? Will I feel like I've established an area of expertise? How will it manifest itself in a new job? Will I find a new job, and where will that be? Now, here I am on that tail end, and I'm ending my GA career in one week. I have a job in hand. Hell, I've even bought and sold a house. Quoting Talking Heads like I did in this post's title: "How did I get here?"

I went through a pretty major identity shift during my first year, and many of us did. I had worked as an administrator for six years and served as an advisor to numerous students, was a director of a small department, and was comfortable meeting with students, their parents, professors, other administrators, the board of trustees, etc., as a pretty regular part of my job. I came back to school, and suddenly I had professors wondering if I understood university administrative structures and student development because I had not taken their courses in those areas. Hello, I've worked with ACTUAL students, ACTUAL budgets, ACTUAL administrators...I think I know what I'm doing. And I did, though the coursework and research have more than certainly enhanced my professional experiences. I've come to respect the graduate student process because I see how important research is to developing new knowledge in the field. I also respect it for how it informs practical work, as well.

So now I need to make yet another identity shift back into full-time administrative work. In some ways, I can't wait. In others, I'm scared as hell. Grad student life is pretty comfortable. Academic discourse involves many things including the discussion of ideas, having them critiqued, and then moving onward with the feedback to make improvement. I suppose administrative work is similar in many ways, but I'm feeling pressure to be An Expert in My Field now that I'm just about finished with the Ph.D. and have obtained full-time Work in My Area. That's a little intimidating. However, I already know my future work place is one that values critical thinking toward improvement (hell, I'll be working in institutional assessment!), so I'm probably very lucky in that regard.

I think my transitional angst is pretty normal. With the hectic nature of finding a new home and making arrangements to move, I think I've forgotten to consider my own personal/professional identity shift that's coming up. So, it's time to take that into consideration when working on packing boxes, setting up utilities, cancelling utilities, scheduling a mover, arranging for repairs in the new house, finding Moose's new school, etc. etc. etc. etc.

Glad we took a vacation last month. Woosh!!!

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