So, my masters in environmental studies degree is nearly done. What does this mean for me? This is a question that has me simultaneously very excited, ambivalent, numb and generally horrified. Initially when I was finishing the thesis, I thought it was the stress of the thesis itself that felt like it was tearing me apart (yes, think of that scene from The Room), but I realized I was in fact responding to an earlier self-made prophecy about my career trajectory. This is kind of a big deal. There’s also the non-academic repercussions of the whole masters experience to process, which means I will have to contend with both the academic and the personal experiences that have passed. I want to say that I’m a stronger person, but I feel very amorphous in my ambitions and identity right now. I posted a status on Facebook the other day, which I think illustrates, what I mean rather well.
The closer I get to completing my thesis, the heavier everything feels. I was, at first, surprised by this, because the less work I had, the less stress I felt and the closer I got to the finish line, the more vulnerable I became. I went about my daily business as if nothing was out of the ordinary, but I eventually realized what I was reacting to was not finishing that one thing I need to graduate, but the culmination of experiences that led up to that point, and I was finally acknowledging the masters experience in its totality.
In 2014, when I started, I felt a mix of naive optimism, self-consciousness about my limited and amateur engagement with social theory up to that point and a vague but overwhelming desire to sever ties with an older identity.
Throughout this journey, I’ve met scholars who went through a similar process of ‘conversion’ (in their words) from the STEM fields to the social sciences/humanities, and I know that I’m not alone in my Phoenix complex. I saw myself burning down, and I feel like I’m still in ashes, and it’s a peaceful way to be. I will go where the wind takes me, and one day, I’ll fly again.
This is to say that I feel all kinds of weird about what lies ahead, and that is not unusual at all. I remember feeling similarly when I completed my undergraduate, then left engineering and now. What is life if not a series of Phoenix-like transformations? It’s true that for some these transitions are far more gradual and less jarring than what has been in my experience, but with any kind of change, there is a sense of discomfort, and if one happens to lean into the discomfort, it can get really debilitating at certain times.
Despite the uncertainties and The Discomfort, there’s a few things that are certainly looking good for me. In August/September, I will be attending the Social Studies of Science Conference in Barcelona, and presenting my masters research on ‘The Naturecultures of Lyme disease in North America’ in a panel entitled ‘Biosocial futures: from interaction to entanglement in the postgenomic age‘. This is a great honour, as I will be surrounded by some very established scholars in my field, and I will get to meet many people who share my academic interests. Then afterwards, if everything goes according to plan, I will begin my PhD in science and technology studies at York University.
It may seem bizarre that I feel sometimes very depressed about my prospects in the world given all of this, and the fact that I just came back from France after completing a prestigious internship at the United Nations Environment Programme. Somehow, I am plagued by the thought that I am not doing enough, or the right kind of enough, that I am at the wrong place, and should have tried harder. I have long been upset at the prospect of prolonging my stay in Toronto (frankly, world cities like Paris, New York and even Bangkok seem like a better fit for me as a person, and there are no long term attachments here in Toronto that are keeping me here) because I feel constantly stifled here. I realize that a PhD is by no means another sentence to stay in Toronto indefinitely, but part of me wonders what other opportunities await me elsewhere in the world and whether I would have achieved them had I tried harder. I’ve been living in Toronto without break (unless you count summers) since 2002, and I’m itching for bigger things that take me places. I realize that it’s already happening, but somehow I want more, I want something different. Maybe things will be different once I’m in a PhD program. Maybe I should chuck it all and move to New York and fulfill my lifelong dream of training at the Upright Citizens Brigade, get a TV show like Broad City and just make it (if only it was that easy). Perhaps I’m impatient, perhaps it’s academia that I’m tired of. I don’t know. I don’t know anything.
I’ll be over here watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Drop me a line if you have any advice. I surely am in need of some.