When you invest half your life and so much of your identity in a project that ultimately fails, it leaves you wondering who you are. I wanted to be an academic. I loved learning, I loved research, I loved data analysis. I enjoyed putting all the pieces together and trying to figure out how it all fit together. And more fundamental than that is your identity within a discipline.
Even in the most generous sense, I have not functioned as an ecologist in two years, but I still think of myself, foremost, as an ecologist. It’s more accurate, of course, to say that I have a Ph.D. in ecology. But while some people complete a Ph.D. and move on, my fascination with the science of ecology hasn’t dampened. Only my depth of knowledge.
So if I’m not an academic, what am I? Do I identify myself in terms of my job? It might help if Senior Wikipedia Content Expert was a thing people understood. I advise students who are writing Wikipedia articles as part of a class assignment. I serve as a go-between and a buffer between them and the Wikipedia community. I observe several thousand students as they edit Wikipedia and try to steer them in the right direction. I also help develop resources to help them write Wikipedia articles. I manage some projects, I manage a co-worker. I gather data. I have opinions. Plenty of opinions.
But what does this make me? It doesn’t fill the need for convenient labels or categories. It just leaves me with a question.
After I wrote this, I went over the Facebook and saw a link to Alison Harbin’s essay Why I Left Academia. Part I, Part II, Part III and a follow-up post. Her experience is awful – as are so many other people’s stories. They remind me that, even if the outcome was disappointing, my overall experience in academia was a good one. I was fortunate, I had an excellent human being for an advisor, I had a good committee and a supportive program. Not everyone was so fortunate.