23 April 2008

How to End a Career in One Easy Step

I see myself standing in a lecture hall and giving a lecture to 75 eager freshmen. Fast forward 1 hour and I am at my desk giving advice to a Graduate Student. Fast forward 12 years and I'm a stay at home dad homeschooling my children, sitting on a chair and helping my 11 year old with geometry. Quite a lifestyle change, isn't it? What happened? How did this picture change? Well, I'll tell you in one word: Politics.
When I began graduate school in the History Department, I was seen as a rising star. The Chairman of the Department became my advisor, and he assured me that he would help me on the way to becoming a college professor. He helped me pick my courses, advised me on which languages to take (in order to get a PhD, you must be able to perform research in at least 3 different languages), and he even helped me get an internship at the State Museum. Yes, things were going great. I was working 30 hours a week, going to my internship for 20 hours, all the while attending night classes.
My typical day began at 6:30 am when I got ready and went to work. In the afternoon, I would walk over to the museum and work there for 4-5 hours. I would then go to my class from 7:00-10:00. I usually didn't get back to my dorm room until 10:30 each night. I was very busy, but very happy. My advisor was even discussing the best Universities for obtaining my PhD. Then one day, it all went away.
While in his office one afternoon, we were talking and I let slip out that I was thinking of taking my degrees and going into business. I explained that many of the large corporations have a Staff Historian who also acts as a Personnel Officer. I was excited because I would still be able to perform research and teach. My advisor turned to me and told me that he would not allow me to throw away my degrees on a career in business.
Needless to say, all talk and assistance with regards to my future ceased. My advisor began to throw roadblocks in my way and since he was also the Chairman of the Department, my other professors would not help me. I was alone. I still took my courses and continued to get good grades, but I knew that he would live up to his word and stop me. In the end, he did.
In order to get a Masters, you need to write a thesis. This thesis needs to be original research on a subject to be approved by my advisor AND the Department Chair. Well, he approved my topic, but wouldn't let me write the thesis.
I was stopped dead in my tracks. Two years were essentially thrown away. Why? Because I wanted to go in a career path my advisor did not agree with. I had never come across anything like this during my undergraduate career and was totally blindsided by the consequences of my statement. In one unguarded moment, speaking to someone I thought I trusted, I threw my entire career away.
Please, no violins, this was my own fault. I was a naive 22 year old who took everyone at face value. There are many times, such as now, when I look back and wonder what my life would have been like. Being able to take my kids to work and let them watch as I gave my lectures. Being able to teach and advise my students. Being able to to make my kids proud of what their dad does for a living. Oh well, such is life.
I'd better go, my daughter needs help in geometry.

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