Under Pressure

Since I typed that title I'm going to have the Queen song stuck in my head all day. Just what I need when I'm already stressed out. This morning I got two more emails from UC Davis. The first was inviting me down for a visit. Completely paid for by the department. They want to show me around, have me sit in on classes, and schmooze me. I've never been schmoozed before. Then I got an email from the same person who emailed me last week. I had sent her a short reply indicating that I was flattered by the offer but not yet ready to commit because I was waiting to hear from two more schools. She wanted to let me know that they only admit around six students per year and that they are prepared to support me through my studies with fellowships and teaching assistantships. Oh, and they have an excellent placement rate. I am officially freaking out right now.

I don't know if I should just give in and tell them "yes" to take the pressure off or if I should wait and see if I get a better offer. This is a great offer, it really is. I don't have a lot of reasons to say "no" at this point. I keep thinking "I don't how to do this"; "I don't know if I should do this"; "I don't know if I want to do this". I think it's partly the classic Imposter Syndrome. All I can think about is the fact that I haven't been in class for nearly two years, I rarely read anything scholarly, and I'm socially awkward. It's hard in academia to feel like you're doing enough, because the nature of research is to discover what you don't already know. The culture, however, is geared toward looking as smart as you possibly can. I've gotten pretty good about nodding politely when someone is discussing a book I've only vaguely heard of. I've also never gotten the hang of verbose academic writing. I tend to be short and succinct and I freak out when professors demand minimum word counts. Surprisingly, my thesis advisors all liked this trait and praised my readability. It's just that sometimes "readability" can be code for "watered-down and poorly thought out". I'm also still a little scarred by the horrible politics in my master's program. I loved my classes and generally had a great time, but I also had some yucky experiences as well. Hopefully if I'm at a school and department that are a little more used to having women with families as graduate students that might help. I don't know.

I also feel lost because I've never been involved in academia before. My dad didn't attend college; my mom did as a returning student while I was in junior high. My grandparents were farmers. I'm the first child in my family to finish a bachelor's degree and I often feel like I just don't know how to play the game. I'm learning, however, to be confident and also how to ask questions when I'm not sure what to do. One of my big weaknesses is an ability to admit weakness and to ask for help, but most people have been surprisingly gracious when I've admitted that I haven't the foggiest idea of how to proceed.

My third big sticking point is trying to decide if going back to school is the best thing for me and my family. Well, I think it would be fun for me. But I've really enjoyed not being in school for this last year. No homework pressure; no deadlines; no thesis writing. Little juggling of schedules so I can get to class. Little Dude still seems so small and I worry about getting a babysitter for him in the fall. I worry about shortchanging my children and having them grow up to resent my career. That being said, I know a number of professors who have successfully balanced teaching and kids so I think it's doable. I'm just not sure if it's doable for me. I also worry about being the freak in the program who can't show up to all the cool extra-curricular stuff or jet off to study abroad for the summer because I have kids and a husband. Or the freaky mom at church who would rather talk about her feminist literature class than shopping at Nordstroms.

So, there are all my internatl fears and pressures vomited all over this blog entry. I think I want to keep going forwards, but the way looks awfully dark and scary right now.


Zillah said…
If you can, I would go to the visiting weekend to see if you like the feel of the department. But I wouldn't commit to anything yet: any program you get into will give you some sort of funding package. You don't have to make a decision until April 15th; give yourself some time to think about it all.

My dad is a prof at the Y; I fret to him all the time about not being prepared to be in a phd program. He told me that everyone in phd programs feels unprepared, and that everyone is insecure and worried about things. Also, short and succinct is much, much better than verbose. Verbosity and jargon (like mine) is more often than not due to a lack of security in what one has to say.
I worry a lot about family and academic life and how it will all work out. But it will. More and more schools offer services to help with childcare and family life; maybe looking into those issues will help you decide what to do.
It will all work out, somehow!
Kailey said…
Sounds like an amazing honor! I would hate for you to pass up this opportunity and live to regret it. You mention your concern for your kids if you go... well living a life of regret can affect your children too. If you decide to do this, you can also decide to do it with as little negative affect on your kids as possible. In the end, they may think you were pretty cool for the amazing feat you accomplished while taking SUCH good care of them. Oh, and you're not the only one who would rather talk about something of substance rather than the latest shopping trip to Nordstroms. I don't see you really wanting to spend too much time around those types anyhoo. Pray on it! :-)
PowersThatBe said…
Go on the visiting weekend. It will help you feel better about your decision, whatever it is.

I've said it before and say it again. I don't think there is any career better for an LDS mother than a professorship. The hours are so much more flexible and especially once you have tenure, you never have to worry about a layoff. There is also usually a sweet retirement plan with it.

I know you, and I know you'll do wonderfully in a phd program despite your doubts. Actually, I'm reading Mansfield Park right now and the main character keeps reminding me of you -- "unaware of her many talents."

Good luck with your decisions. But don't let your doubts and insecurities rule your decisions. And congratulations on the honor of being one of the 6 who were admitted. That's quite an honor!
Miss Hass said…
I would definitely visit. When I was deciding, I heard early from the school I now attend and decided to just go and visit before I heard from any other universities. I got here and fell in love. I loved the people I met, I loved the area, I loved the campus, everything. And this was after being up all night because of a canceled flight. I signed a lease before I left and I haven't regretted it (well, beyond the normal regrets we all have whenever anything gets difficult). I tend to make all important decisions like this and it's always worked out. I'm not saying it's the best way, just that you really have to see it before you decide anything.

As for feeling like a poseur, I feel like that every day. I have moments where I totally get it, but a lot of the time I just feel like I'm faking it. Everyone else that I talk to feels the same way.

I too have a succinct academic writing style and my professors have all loved it. I was just talking about this the other day with a friend and we decided verbosity is often a cover-up for crappy research.

Obviously, I have no insight on balancing academic life with family life.

Finally, I just have to say that I am so impressed! Congratulations on being accepted to an excellent program. I'm really excited to see what you decide!
Jenny said…
I would much rather hear you talk about feminist literature at church than listen to the woman talk about her recent purchase and wonder if she should really be making the purchase in the first place.

I think you are very easy to talk to and never once thought of you as socially awkward.

You are smart and always make good choices for your family so I'm sure you'll continue to do so over the next few years.

Also, yay for being wooed. I say enjoy it while it lasts. :)
Desmama said…
Hey, yeah, go easy on yourself. There's a reason you've gotten this far and it has a lot to do with your strengths. So your writing style is different than most academics? Your personal situation is a little different than most students? Perhaps those are things that can and will work to your advantage. You give yourself far too little credit. Those of who haven't even met you can see your multitude of talents, as well as your compassionate and sensitive personality.

And yeah, it is probably really flattering (and pressure-ing) to get that response but give it time and then you won't have to wonder afterward about the others, the what-would-have-happened-ifs (some people above have mentioned that as well). And the weekend o' schmoozing sounds like it might be a nice break and a good opportunity to just make sure this is what you want to do.

I'm really so excited for you, and I wish I could reassure you more convincingly. Just know I'll be thinking of you, my smart Seattle friend.
Gina said…
This is a happy problem to have! Too many good options. Not that that makes coming to a decision easier. I still remember Rosalynde Welch's very interesting post at T&S a few years ago about doing a PhD as a woman and mother. Here's the link if you're interested:
Good luck!
skyeJ said…
yeah! Go let people fawn all over you. Especially if you aren't under any obligation either way. They KNOW that, and I bet you'll get some cheesecake out of it. Maybe even a free pen. As far as feeling like a fraud, I used to feel uncomfortable feeling like a good nurse on Labor & Delivery because I've never been pregnant. But I stopped feeling that way after I slowly realized that I'd gained enough book learning and experience that my lack of personal experience didn't matter. It wasn't what was important for my job. I'm a great labor nurse. I had to redefine what makes someone good at what I wanted to be good at. What makes someone a good academic? (I really have no idea. SO not my world.) Is it someone who actually knows everything about something and can pretend they have turned into an actual reference text? Or is it someone who is willing to admit there are still things to learn? I know what makes a good nurse, and it isn't knowing exactly what someone else is feeling. It is knowing that you can't possibly understand completely but you still care anyway.
AzĂșcar said…
As you know, I'm the child of two professors. It's a life that is completely compatible with family life. It never registered with me that my mom 'worked,' BOTH my parents worked, which seemed normal. One of them was usually home with us (because they could pick their classes.)

If I could walk into any profession at this point I could hardly pick a better one. I think you'll really enjoy it and really find a place for yourself.

Plus, I was raised by two feminists, and I didn't turn out so bad.
Em said…

It works out. I promise. And even if I dropped out tomorrow, I would still say "it works out. I promise."

For what that's worth....
I'm sure I have nothing useful to add here, but my mouth often runneth over, so I'll comment anyway.

My first great desire was to be a marine biologist. I am not saying that I've made the wrong choices, but I still wonder if I could have had that life. Also, I want to go back to school so bad I can taste it, but the farther out you get, the harder it is to commit to return. If this is what you want, maybe better sooner than later.

I learned a lot from a working mother. Your children have been sent to you because they were prepared for the kind of mother you would be.

In the movie, You've Got Mail, Meg Ryan's character says, "So much I see reminds me of something I've read in a book, when, shouldn't it be the other way around?" It is icky to live with regret, or resentment. If you hold back, just make sure you can do it without lecturing yourself in the mirror every morning about missed opportunities.

And I'm with Desmama, they want YOU with YOUR background; not somebody else.

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