Scholared and Kept


As I was finishing up my master’s degree in 2006, I had almost no interest in pursuing a doctorate. I’d enjoyed getting my BA in Creative Writing at the University of Toledo, and I’d definitely had a lot of good classes in graduate school there, but I’d only really stayed on because of the assistantship they’d offered me (I’d been accepted to an MFA programme in California, but they couldn’t offer me any financial assistance), and as soon as I got the opportunity to be a TA in composition courses there, the teaching bug bit me big-time. The material I was reading back then about the job market for teaching English at the college level suggested that the value of a doctorate in English would be negligible for what I wanted to do in the future, and I was starting to feel burnt out on the student side of things. Add in the complications of having to find another university to attend for my doctorate (UT had stopped offering the Ph.D. in English years earlier), and it felt like a good time for me to move full-time to the other side of the classroom, at least for the time being.

That was over fourteen years ago, and I’ve still never felt any significant desire to pursue a doctorate in English Literature; I think I’ve done everything I want to do in that field, and I have no interest in getting another degree there just for the sake of having that degree. I did start an application for the Ph.D. in Creative Writing programme at Western Michigan University in 2011, but I never finished it because of the chaos that was forced on me around that time. Over the past few years, when I’ve thought about getting a Ph.D., I’ve almost always been focused on something related to education policy, with the intent of moving into an administrative position where I might be able to help even more students than I can right now as an instructor. I’m still not sure if that would be the best move for me, personally or professionally, but I’m definitely open to the idea, and the research I’ve been doing for my next book (please join my Patreon for exclusive updates on that) would likely give me a good head-start towards that degree.

I just submitted another scholarly article to an academic journal earlier today, and even though the article drew directly from the research I’ve been doing for my next book these past few months, writing it has taken more out of me than I thought possible; I’ve felt like a zombie this past week as I’ve struggled to fine-tune the article while still teaching all my classes this semester, and I’m surprised I didn’t melt into a puddle as soon as I sent my submission out. It’s not like I haven’t written scholarship since I left grad school — check out the Nonfiction tab above for links to some of my published pieces — but it makes me deeply uncomfortable, and thinking right now about writing a doctoral dissertation fills me with dread, even after all the work I’ve already done.

Part of this may have to do with the fact that I’ve always been more of a storyteller than a scholar. As much as the label “booksmart” may apply to me, there is a definite limit to my intelligence there (and I feel no shame in admitting that I might not be smart enough to get a Ph.D. in any field), and the fuzzier art of telling a story comes much more naturally to me. As much as it’s possible to tell a story in scholarship, the expectations of audiences there not only drift away from the kind of rhetorical techniques I’m used to using in all my other writing, but there’s still a sizable contingent of academics who hold to the belief that inaccessibility in academic writing is a good thing, that you’ve done something wrong if a “person of ordinary intelligence” can understand what you’re trying to say. Even among some of the scholars whose work has profoundly influenced my teaching practice and philosophy, there’s a lot of griping about the need for people in their field to write more accessible, but no one really does anything about it, which is just one of the reasons why I’ve focused on accessibility in both my writing and teaching careers.

As I was writing this last scholarly article, it struck me that I’ll probably have a much easier time writing that book I keep talking about, even though it will be several times as long as the article. The book will be written for a “mainstream” audience, and beyond the conventions of writing for that kind of audience versus writing for an audience of fellow scholars, I’ll probably feel much more in my element telling people the story of the things I’ve been researching here. Writing that article didn’t feel like telling a story at all, and while I’m capable of scholarly writing, it takes a lot out of me.

I worry that maybe I’m just afraid, though. One of my central tenets throughout my teaching career has been that I never ask my students to do any work that I’m not willing to do myself, and if I want my students to push themselves to become better writers, then it’s incumbent on me to lead by example and do the same. In that regard, writing this last article provided me with a way to push myself, and I got the article completed on time and submitted, but now that I’ve done all that and I’m feeling like my brain just got run through a pasta machine, I’m having doubts about my ability to keep meeting those challenges here, whether I decide to try for a doctorate or just keep on my current publishing plans. That’s not a good feeling to have when I’ve got more classes to teach tomorrow morning.

Maybe I’ll feel better after my brain has a chance to recover from the past week’s challenges, but I’m feeling more and more like I need to worry about my heart as well as my brain. The writing work I have to do will only get more difficult from here, and if I don’t have the motivation to meet the trials I have coming up, then I’m likely to fail. Whatever I do next, I need to be sure that my heart and my brain are fully in it, and I don’t know if I can do that when I’m having such a hard time just typing up a simple blog like this one. If I’m going to keep being an effective writer and teacher, though, then I have to get myself sorted out here, and recovered from what I just put myself through to write that article, as quickly as I can.

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