Dissertation Status: Defended!

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Me! Defending my dissertation! Pretty darn scholarly, right? Photo by Dr. Emily Durham

I have been in graduate school for twelve years. Two years for my Masters, one year in Paris, two more years of coursework, about three years of floundering and having a midlife crisis and trying to figure out what the hell to do with myself,* and about four of really writing. I have learned a lot, traveled a lot, and gotten a lot out of the experience. But now, finally, I am pleased to tell you all that I have completed and successfully defended my dissertation, and that means, well, I’m done. I have a PhD. You can call me doctor.

My dissertation is titled “Imagining Bodies: Technological Visions of Displaced Minds in French Speculative Fiction.” It is about how different media show us the body in different ways, and it examines novels that involve body-swapping and out-of-body travel: Théophile Gautier’s Avatar, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s L’Ève future, Camille Marbo’s Le Survivant, Maurice Renard’s Le Docteur Lerne, sous-dieu, Blaise Cendrars’s Moravagine, and Marguerite Berthet’s L’Ascète du Mont-Mérou. It probably won’t be publicly available for a couple years, but if you’re interested you can contact me and I’ll probably be so flattered that I’ll send you a copy within minutes.

What’s next? Bread Loaf Translators Workshop, to get feedback on my translation of Antoine Volodine’s Alto Solo. I have some summer work lined up in addition to that revision. I have some good short fiction news, but I should probably wait until I have the contract signed to announce it. Details to come.

Look, here is me, having a PhD!

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Just because I have a PhD doesn’t mean I can’t look goofy. In front of my intellectual home, Folwell Hall at the University of Minnesota, post-defense, yesterday. Photo by Mr. Jeffrey Mitchell

*What was this all about? Well, I began grad school with the idea I would become a professor. That’s what PhD programs in the humanities do: they train you to do research, but the goal is to get a job as a professor. As I progressed through school, however, some things became apparent to me: a) Being a professor requires a ton of work and commitment, which would not leave me much time to write fiction, something that is important to me. b) Teaching isn’t my favorite thing. I don’t dislike it—I taught last semester and actually really enjoyed it—but it takes a lot out of me, and if I had to teach 3-4 classes a semester I would crumble away into dust. c) The academic job market is ridiculously tough. People do get jobs as professors—some of them, anyway—but often after a post-doc or two. So you move to wherever you get a job, probably cross country, possibly more than once. Goodbye beautiful and beloved Minneapolis, in that case.

In short, becoming a professor would have required sacrifices I didn’t want to make— even if I could get a tenure-track job, I probably wouldn’t be happy in it. But there I was in a PhD program, without a very clear idea of what else I could do, or really wanted to do. So—not consciously, I don’t think—I slowed the hell down. I got myself a therapist. I started exploring other options when I could—translation, editing, publishing. And it was pretty hard at times but I think, now, that time was necessary, and I feel good about where I’m headed.

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