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, but 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…

9 thoughts on “A change in direction

  1. Great post, Molly. And I’m right there with you. But this feels like it’ll be groundbreaking in retrospect.

  2. Great post, Molly. I can’t wait to read all of your bright, shiny new ideas. As a stay at home Mom, I might just be a regular follower & commentator.

  3. I think your reason for going back sounds like a great one, even if, as you’ve noted, once you learn “a whole lot more about universities, systems, incentives, statistics, economics, research methods, sociology, psychology, and on and on,” you may very well decide to work on something totally different.

    However, one of the best and yet most-difficult-to-internalize things about grad school (in my experience at least) is that it doesn’t really matter if I or anyone else thinks it’s a great project. You don’t have to defend or justify it–and better if you don’t, actually, because you don’t want to become so wedded to it that you can’t let your interests evolve.

  4. That is a great topic/issue to be interested in and looking at how to change! A lot of people are talking about it and are aware of the problem but I don’t know if anyone is actually doing anything to fix it.

  5. Great to read your post. Looking forward to more.
    I ordered the turkey Tuesday so full speed ahead for Thanksgiving.
    See you then.

  6. Stumbled on your blog at a good time — transitions are great! I’m a former university press editor who went to library school when I decided that publishing and scholarly communication were broken, and am now in a hybrid job working for both the press and the library at NYU. (I know several folks at MPublishing, and found you via FB/Twitter.)

    I got my MLS 5 years ago, have been working here not quite 4 years, and am *just* starting to feel like I see a path through the thicket. Suffice it to say that while library school did not provide me with all the answers, it certainly acculturated me to a new way of thinking. Leaving a profession that felt very comfortable to become a full-time student was a great thing. Lots more head space, many assumptions questioned. And now, in a job that didn’t exist when I started on this path, I’m definitely in the soft-exoskeleton phase.

    All to say that I’ll be following along here, and welcome you to the messy in-between place. To fix what’s broken, there will need to be a lot of us!

  7. You sound like you’re right on track to me. I admit that sometimes, working toward a PhD, I’ve felt pretty dissociated from the get-your-hands-dirty aspects of working for actual change – maybe the grass is always greener? But what you’re hoping to study makes complete sense to me, and how you’re going about it does also. You’re no imposter. Not by a long shot. 🙂

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