Three months ago, on April 24th, I defended my dissertation and earned my doctorate. I was, at long last, Doctor Geoffrey Gimse. There was an almost jarring sense of the surreal when I realized that I had come to the culmination of of an 11 year sojourn. A sojourn that began when I decided to return to school at the University of Iowa and major, of all things, in English. At that moment, I told myself that if I was going to to do this, I was going all the way to the PhD.
It certainly hadn’t been an easy run, but there I was. I was done and that nagging question kept sitting there in the back of my head. It was a question that I had studiously avoided thinking about during the final push of dissertation writing, but it was always there waiting for me.
Here is the reality: I like teaching and research. I am fascinated by rhetoric and technology. I love writing with a passion I can’t ever fully express, and I find particular delight in creating new avenues of thinking in the world of technology and communications. I could have probably found a job with a university, somewhere. The problem is that I’m not interested in working just somewhere. In fact, there are a ton of places I don’t want to work or live. Professorships are scarce, though, which means that in terms of hiring, universities have all the power. If you want to work in the academy, you go wherever you can. That just isn’t the type of person I am. I applied for a few jobs, but nowhere near the number I should have or could have applied for if I had been serious about an academic job. To be honest, I found the entire process annoying and insulting. I would spend hours crafting CVs, cover letters, teaching and diversity statements, teaching portfolios, and whatever other hoops the hiring committees demanded just for the possibility of an interview for a job that was going to pay me far less and demand far more than working in the professional space where a well-worded, concise cover letter and resume were all I needed.
So, I went a different direction. I took a position in the Twin Cities working in healthcare analytics where I am combining my technical skills with my communication and design expertise. It is a job that puts me in the middle of a dynamic and changing environment that is resulting in massive political and cultural transformation. It is job that affords me the opportunity to keep learning and developing my own skills. In fact, I am paid to continue to grow and learn as a developer and a communicator. How could I not take a job like that?
The PhD is a terminal degree, but I think we forget what that means. I never saw the PhD as a path to a job. I saw it as a path to growth1, learning, and as a way to access the skills I wanted and needed to better understand and research the world I live in. No matter what I do, that will never go away. I will be always be an academic. I will always be Doctor Geoffrey Gimse. The research is in my blood now. I spent almost a decade steeped in it. Now, I just get to find new ways to deploy that research and writing acumen for the broader public while still living a healthy and happy life.
I am looking forward to finding out what those new ways will be, and I hope to start sharing more of that journey here for whoever may still be reading.
I don’t say this lightly, but graduate school, quite honestly, saved my life. ↩