A change in direction

Two weeks ago, I quit my job at the University of Michigan Library after five great years. This week, I started a new life as a doctoral student at the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education. This site was pretty dormant during my last two years working in library administration, so I’m not sure who reads it anymore besides the people who come for Creative Commons attribution guidance,┬ábut I figured it was worth documenting this life change here anyway. Especially since I expect to have all kinds of new and exciting reasons to post in the future. In my last position in library administration there wasn’t nearly so much that I could write about publicly, or that I thought would be interesting to the wider world. I hope that won’t be the case now that I’m a shiny new student full of wonder and excitement and ideas I’ll one day be embarrassed to have published on the internet.

All week in classes and at orientations people have been asking us to explain why we are in this program, and what our research interests are. I expect lots of people who know me already may be wondering the same thing. The answer I keep giving is that I’m in this program because I saw something that was broken in higher education – the system of scholarly and educational publishing – and I felt like I couldn’t fix it from my position as a librarian, approaching the problem one interaction at a time. I wanted to be able to approach it from a place where I might be able to make a bigger impact, at the level of organizational, institutional, and governmental policy, and to do that I was going to need to learn a whole lot more about universities, systems, incentives, statistics, economics, research methods, sociology, psychology, and on and on. I needed to go back to school.

So here I am. At the moment, I feel like an insect between shells. I was in Washington D.C. during the great cicada bloom of 2004, and I remember hearing on NPR that the cicadas are very vulnerable and tender (and delicious) right after they have emerged from their nymph skins, before their new exoskeletons have a chance to develop. That’s how I feel right now (minus the delicious). I’ve shed the safety of a profession I still identify with quite strongly, but I haven’t formed the comforting exoskeleton of the new one yet. The shared culture and language and practice of this new field is foreign to me. I have a pat one-paragraph explanation for why I’m here, but I’m hyper conscious of the fact that my interests are likely to change several times throughout the course of the program, and also, I’m not always convinced that my reason is not terrible (I appear to have mastered imposter syndrome right out of the gate). Being a full-time student again feels a bit like being demoted, especially in a college town where I’m still sometimes mistaken for an undergrad.

But I’m really excited anyway. My professors are excellent, my cohort is excellent, and I’m getting paid to read and learn all day. Speaking of which, I have a couple more chapters to get through for tomorrow…