The Panic Devil and the Optimistic Angel

Those of you who have experienced depression know about that battle that goes on inside of yourself. It’s a constant struggle between the devil and the angel on your shoulders. The devil tells you you are worthless while the angel tells you to pick yourself up and get in gear. At the end of the battle, you are left exhausted and disappointed because you can’t just do what the angel says and leave the devil in the dust. It’s not that simple.

This scenario was triggered in me yesterday when the husband called after work. Bad news, that high school enrollment for next September is down and he’ll likely be out of a job. He’s a high school science teacher. This really threw me for a loop. I thought we were safe. He had just gotten tenure, meaning the school board would have a position for him. I guess if there are no kids to teach, they can’t very well have a teaching post for him. We are a single income (his) household, so this set me into panic mode. What are we going to do? I’ll have to quit my Ph.D. to get a job!

What if I did have to get a job? What would I do? I’ve got a M.Sc. in biology and I’m halfway through a Ph.D. in vision science. So I’m highly educated, but I have no skills and no experience. Who would hire me?  In addition, I live in Quebec and don’t speak French. I knew this would come back to bite me eventually. This rules out the possibility of working in retail or service industries. I have babysitting experience, but if I handed my resume full of conference presentations and cadaver research into a daycare center, I’m pretty sure they’d laugh me out of the building.

After some major panic, throwing up and a rather nice chat with some new friends I’ve made through blogging (thank you!), I came back to Earth. I tried to look at the situation logically. It’s not certain there wont be a job for him, so it’s not worth more panic….yet. There is a possibility of me getting a government fellowship. Please provincial government, fund me! I wont know about the fellowship until next month. So I can delay more panic until then.

This is the problem with higher education. You get stuck in a small bubble with all the other competitive, highly motivated students and professors and you forget that there are destinations other than being a tenured professor. You forget that there is a whole world out there that requires skills other than being an encyclopedia for a very specific field. It becomes hard to see a relationship between your specialized training and employment in the outside world. At least this is how I was feeling when I started my second round of panic.

Just as the panic devil was about to get me going again, the angel on my other shoulder chimed in. If this were true, then there would be an awful lot more highly educated, unemployed people. Of all the things I’ve done in grad school, there must be some transferable skills there. I was a teaching assistant for an anatomy lab. I dissected cadavers and taught students what was what. Unless I wanted to be a serial killer, the dissecting wasn’t going to help, but the teaching, that was good. I taught them about all the different nerves in the body and how to tell a vein from an artery. That’s attention to detail. Another skill! I was starting to feel better. What about all my conference presentations? There’s organization, communication and interpersonal skills. Alright! I was starting to feel like a rock star! Albeit, an unemployed rock star.

It’s important not to look at a situation through the devil’s eyes. You need to knock some sense into that angel too though. Singing empty optimism isn’t going to get you anywhere. What is true about the situation? I mean solid facts, not what you think you know or what you assume others think. Facts. Since I am being forced out of my academic bubble I have to make changes. I’m going to take my set of facts (knowledge and transferable skills) and go in a different direction.

I’m feeling better about this forced change. I know it’ll be hard and extremely unpleasant and part of me still wants to curl up in a ball and hide in the corner, but I know buried under all that theory, there are transferable skills. The thought of leaving my Ph.D. still breaks my heart, but I know I’m not doomed.

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