The World Outside

One of the wonderful things about my final year of graduate school is being on a fellowship provided by the American Association of University Women (AAUW). When I applied last year, it was just one among many grant applications. I vaguely knew of the AAUW, but couldn’t tell you much about it. I knew it was a good organization with a long history, and the grant looked pretty nice.

When I got the notification of the grant last spring, my first response was excited disbelief. I had not one, but two emails in my inbox from the organization. I read the one that arrived first and got all excited, but before announcing it to my friends in the grad student office, I had to quickly read the next one because I worried it would be one of those emails that says “Oh – we’re so sorry. We mistakenly sent you an award letter, but you didn’t actually get the award.”

Of course, both emails were simply letting me know I’d been granted an AAUW fellowship for the 2010-2011 school year. Having the fellowship pretty much means I didn’t have any teaching duties this year. I love teaching and I miss it, but honestly, having the opportunity to arrange my time around writing, revisions, and reading – as well as job applications – has been amazing.

But the other amazing part of the fellowship has been the people of AAUW. This summer when I got my award confirmation packet, the letter noted that my contact info would be given to local AAUW chapters, in case they wanted me to come speak to their groups. I thought nothing of it at the time, but in late September, I received an invite to come speak at the October meeting for one local chapter. A week or two later, I got an invite to speak briefly at another chapter meeting in November. And then in late November, a third invite arrived, asking me to speak at the December meeting for another local chapter.

In many ways, these opportunities to meet local AAUW members have been one of the highlights of my semester. It’s been a good semester – and a highly productive one – but it’s also a busy year filled with a lot of uncertainties. This is the nature, of course, of looking for a job while finishing a dissertation.

Being on the job market while finishing a dissertation means you spend a lot of time putting yourself out there and hoping someone will like you. It’s almost like being in the midst of grad school applications all over again: you’ve put all your hard work and effort into the materials and you hope, hope, hope, that you said something that someone will find appealing (someone also recently compared it to dating, which isn’t far off either). In the meantime, as you deal with dissertation edits and struggle to say things just right, it’s easy to find yourself doubting whether you’re good enough for any of it. At moments, it’s good old Imposter Syndrome all over again.

At the end of the day, of course, you have to remind yourself how far you’ve come and what you’ve accomplished. Having the opportunity to meet and speak with the local women of AAUW has been a good reality check. These women have been so welcoming, friendly, and kind. Moreover, they’re interested in me and in the work I’m doing. They like learning about my dissertation topic. They ask questions, and they invite me in as one of their own.

It’s been an awesome glimpse at the world outside, and a good reminder for myself that I really have come a long way. This year, there’s still plenty of distance to travel, but I suspect I’ll make it in the end.

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