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The Itinerant Postdoc

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[This is a guest post by Adrianne Wadewitz, a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Digital Learning + Research at Occidental College. You can visit her home page and follow her on Twitter at @wadewitz.--@jbj]

In previous posts in this series, I have discussed a day in the life of a digital humanities postdoc, digital scholarship at a liberal arts college, and the invisibility of digital work. In this last post, I would like to discuss the time management and life choices involved in a postdoc.

One of the real joys of my position is that I have time to learn new skills, such as coding. I can take time out of every day to work on projects that flesh out my skills. For example, I can take real time to develop this website on the New England Primer that I have been working on only sporadically for the past few years or I can experiment with 18thconnect’s TypeWright project. However, I have to rein in my desire to start lots of new projects and focus on developing my dissertation project into a book.

Choosing just how many new projects to develop and new skills to learn is difficult. Do I learn more about what I already know or do I expand my knowledge base? Of course doing both in some capacity is ideal but finding a balance is difficult. In the end, I’ve tried to develop skills that will help me expand my dissertation project in directions that I would not have been able to take it before. For example, I’m trying to learn to code in Python so that I can do data analysis of the 18th-century children’s texts I read for my dissertation; this will allow me to expand the project beyond the traditional kinds of literary analysis I had previously done.

Choosing which new exciting skills to learn and how much time to spend expanding my horizons of knowledge is simple compared to some of the life decisions that surround a temporary postdoc. In my case, I moved 2,000 miles across the United States to take a two-year position – I uprooted my entire life. Academia asks all of us to make sacrifices and as many of us know those can be quite wrenching. I left my friends, relationships, and family behind and started over in Los Angeles, a city which I had been told is incredibly hard to settle into. I’ve been lucky in making wonderful friends fairly quickly here, but in the back of my mind is always the nagging worry that I am sacrificing large parts of my life for a career that isn’t at all certain yet. I recognize, however, that I was in a privileged position, because I did not have to worry about moving a spouse or family.

I have had to choose whether or not to make friends and form new relationships in a city that I may not live in for longer than two years. I chose to be sociable here and explore the city and it has been remarkably rewarding. I know that I have sacrificed time I could have spent writing or researching, but I was unwilling to let the opportunity of new experiences pass me by. And learning to rock climb has made me a much better teacher as I have been reminded what it is like to be the worst student in the class rather than the best.

While the stress of having such an uncertain and unsettled life is often high, the excitement of having so many opportunities to learn on a variety of fronts makes my position one that I love.

Photo “NIXIE CLOCK: Basics” by Flickr user randomskk / Creative Commons licensed BY-SA 2.0

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