Sunday, November 04, 2007

Swimming with SSHRCs

This week was a total blur, but a blur that had a soundtrack: "Secret agent man, secret agent man..." Change the pronouns (and see The Daily Brant for an interesting rant on the topic of pronouns), and that was me. I'm a total double agent at work right now, and it's a bit stressful, but necessary.

See, here's my dilemma. I came home from Halifax 99% certain that I'm going back to school in September (it has varied between 99%, 20%, 70%, 4%, and 99.9% in the intervening three plus months). However, I also needed a job so that I can wipe out my debt and start fresh, buy a place to live, and not have the hubby feel like he's my sugar daddy. This necessitated many lies by omission (daily, really) about what I'm planning for the coming September, because no none wants to hire someone who is going to leave in a year. Mean on my part, yes, but it seems to be something that women have to do quite frequently, especially around going on maternity leave, etc. So this week, I diligently performed my busy, interesting, and not particularly challenging job during the day, and went home and busted out a killer SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council; pronounced "shirk") application at night. This entailed not getting much sleep and lying about why I was tired at work, and having to make surreptitious phone-calls to assorted places that I needed information from on my breaks without making anyone suspicious.

SSHRCs are key. With tax breaks, my take-home income without a government grant next year will be close to what my take-home pay this year is, but SSHRCs make life so much easier. For one, you get a ton of money, which comes in very handy for travelling to do research, which I will have to do, or for buying a vehicle, which you're not supposed to do, a la my Canadianist friend, or just for living like a normal human being who isn't still in school at 26. For another, it helps you get into grad programs, because schools love to take people who have their own sources of funding so that they can give their internal money to other people, and because it helps with getting a job down the line. Academic work as a prof in the social sciences and humanities is largely funded by SSHRC grants, and so schools want to hire people who they know can successfully get and keep grants from an early stage in their career.

My goal ultimately is to get what is fondly called a Super-SSHRC, but is officially called a CGS Doctoral Fellowship. My fingers (and toes, and eyes, and any other appendage that can potentially be manipulated in such a fashion) are crossed, because Super-SSHRCs are the holy grail for doctoral students. My Canadianist friend has got one starting this year (he's in his second year of the doctorate) because he's amazing, and as he was of immense assistance in preparing my own, hopefully his luck will rub off on me.

Going back to my varying percentages of certainty about whether or not I'm going to do my PhD, it's a hard decision to make, and it's made even more difficult by the fact that I have a long-term partner and plans for children. Doing the doctorate itself doesn't really have too many drawbacks, other than not being particularly lucrative. It's what comes after that's tough. As a potential professor, I have to be available to work awful contracts until I get a tenure-track position (which are hard to come by), I have to be available to move wherever the work is, I have to accept the fact that I might not get ANY university job (my first year history TA, who finished his PhD last year, is teaching Grade 9 Latin) and I have to be willing to work my ass off to earn tenure, even if I do get a tenure-track position. This means that the hubby and I might have to settle somewhere other than Toronto, which we don't particularly want to do because of his career and our families being here, and I'm going to have to choose either to have a child/children during the course of my doctorate (which a number of women I know have done), or I'm going to have to choose to wait until I'm in a settled position, which could take a decade or more from now, and I'll be nearing 40. It's tough to place myself in a position where I'm going to have to make some serious, and potentially detrimental, choices about our family life for the sake of my career, but it's something that I have to do. But I think it's understandable that it's something that I agonized over for a long time.

However, I've made up my mind, and unless I don't get into the three universities that I'm applying to (and I hate to sound cocky, but I don't think that's going to happen), I'll be going back to school in September. And as much as I like my job right now, I'm thrilled at the prospect. I'm made for grad school, and as much as working is easier, more lucrative, and more stable, it's just not for me. Now I just have to survive swimming with SSHRCs and keeping my secret identity secret...