how do you decide a good thing has come to an end?
I’ve been through a couple serious breakups in the past few years, and I remember there was a period of time before the actual break where I knew I was unhappy, but was trying to figure out if there was a way to fix it. Then there was this moment of clarity where I realized that I’d been denying that a good thing had come to an end.
This year’s rejections worked like that. I’m nearly eight years post-phd, and very familiar with that feeling of checking the rumor mill and finding myself unsucessful in getting a faculty slot. This time, my postdoc contract also ends in the fall, leaving me in academic limbo. There are worse things, and many a scientist in this situation has gotten some grant or moved for a third postdoc and eventually found the right position. But I am unwilling to fight to stay.
Astronomy used to excite me. Not just at specific moments, but overall. I felt a fascination and absorption in the great task of figuring out what is going on in our universe. I relished the whole process of research and kept getting carried away by some new idea that I didn’t mean to spend the afternoon exploring. I loved the process of writing, looked forward to giving talks, and felt so at home in the research community.
Because one highlight has been the people I’ve met. Such strong, fascinating, brilliant people in our field. When I went to my first conferences 14 years ago, I had no idea how many friends and collaborators and role models I could find within astronomy. And the marvelous things you all would be accomplishing.
But there’s been a dark side too. I used too much alcohol to cope while in grad school. In the last months of my PhD, I acquired a chronic back injury due to stress and anxiety; it flares up when my mental or physical self care wanes. At times I have felt very isolated, demoralized, and marginalized. I’ve witnessed more sexism, racism, and ablism than I would have imagined and some of it from people who have disappointed me greatly.
I’m currently making my best efforts to deal with depression, anxiety, and insomnia. None of these were created by academia, but they weren’t improved by it. My approach to treatment has included some medication, but more important are using therapy to learn to deal with my feelings and re-structuring my life for better mental health.
To make the structural changes that are right for me, I’m tuning in to what makes me happy and excited, when I feel productive and strong. That used to be my work, but lately I’ve been carried away with my balcony garden, with re-organizing my appartment, with learning to bake really good bread. Intellectually, I’m most fascinaed by the links between capitalism, the patriarchy, and mental health and trying to learn more about both difference feminism and intersectionality. In my non-work time, I’ve been working with a group of women to understand methods for collective non-heirarchical leadership.
And I’m burned out. I’ve found academia generally to be a high pressure, low support (not zero support, but not structurally supportive) environment. I’ve done my best to make it less so for myself, my collaborators, and my students, but I think it’s a structural inevitability and I’m exhausted by it. I’m not sure what’s coming after my end of contract in September (beyond staying in Berlin, learning more German, and taking some time to think) but I know a little bit more about what I don’t want.
I’m going to do my best to document my next moves a bit, through some combo of twitter and this blog. Stay tuned for more soul searching, job searching, and probably some anti-capitalist rants.