My Own Transition


I would like explain my recent absence, for those who have been following my posts.

After the last post, I had decided to focus all of my attention on finishing the dissertation. This site has been an essential tool for exploring the ideas I had been contemplating throughout the time I had been writing it, but nearing it’s completion, I needed to put contemplation to the side and focus on the less inspirational task of editing.

I buckled down and wrote all five chapters through roughly four drafts each, overseen by my two supervisors. This was a long few months revisions, but I am happy to say that I have now sent out a final draft to a committee of five experts who will read it before I defend it in front of them orally on August 17th, at which point I hope to successfully conclude my doctoral program.

For everyone who is interested in reading my dissertation, I have made sure that it will be published online, open access for unrestricted viewing, and I will share a link on here within the next month when it is officially submitted.

Like many of the posts on this site, my dissertation explores the experiences of thirty five Canadian Veterans of Afghanistan and proposes a concept of transitional trauma to explain the risk of suicide from a social perspective.

Although the transition out of my doctoral program should proceed smoothly, this did not seem to be the case a few months back when I stopped writing. Throughout the editing process, I saw that the end was near and needed to line up employment. Throughout the past year I had been applying to faculty positions at universities throughout Canada and the U.S without any success. I had applied to a Social Sciences and Humanities Research grant to continue my research on Veterans and received a high degree of negative feedback stating that my project was not relevant.

Time was running out and income was necessary, so I started applying to every job I could find in order to bridge the gap while I looked for academic positions. After nine years of university, several invited presentations, a couple publications, a feature on national radio, and meeting several dignitaries, I found myself applying to become a waiter, bartender, security guard, and sales representative. Unfortunately, this is a common reality for many academics.

I rewrote my resume, taking out everything I had been doing the past five years of grad school so that it made sense to an employer in these areas. I went to three different job agencies whose representatives all gave me strange confused looks, not knowing how to categorize my experience. One woman who had previously managed a clothing retail store bluntly stated that she would have passed off my resume and taken a high school student with some experience working at a coffee shop, instead. My confidence was at an all-time low.

I then turned to online resources, firing off resumes to almost every job in the city, from door-to-door window sales, to janitorial and maid services. I thought I got a lucky break when I found an opportunity selling coupons for donations to a charity, but couldn’t morally bring myself to do the job when I found out that the donations were primarily divided amongst the sales chain of command, leaving the charity with a small cut of the money.

Finally, I landed an interview at a local property management company. The interviewer sat down and proceeded to inquire about my academic background, curious about the employment prospects for someone with a PhD in sociology. He then told me he had looked me up online, and was very impressed by the articles he found, particularly the one on what Veterans know about leadership. I was flattered and happy to know my hard work had paid off, but wished that it was for a position in my area instead.

The interview at the property management company went very well and the employer had an extremely high level of confidence in my abilities stating, “…you’ll be able to do this job in your sleep.” This was followed by “…we are a fast-paced environment that requires a lot of multi-tasking.” Right then, I knew this was going to be an interesting challenge. I had been learning, contemplating, researching, theorizing, and writing for the past five years. At this rate, simply driving a car down a busy street has become difficult for me. My quick thinking and multi-tasking muscles had grown extremely weak since all of my attention had been focused on developing my ability to think deeply and carefully.

After a few weeks on the job, administering property services via a constant barrage of emails, I felt like a fish out of water. My trainer repeatedly told me, “stop analyzing everything.” The work was easy, but for some reason I couldn’t get the hang of the immense juggling act required to stay afloat. Most people are not suited to working in this type of environment, but for me the transition from the deeply reflective and careful process of writing and editing a dissertation made it even more difficult.

The employer quickly realized he had made a mistake, recognizing that my research and writing skills are not directly transferable to fast-paced administrative office work. He decided to let me go. This was a bitter-sweet moment for me, given that I hated the soul-crushing work. But I felt like I had failed at just about everything employment-related.

Although I was starting to question viability of attaining employment in my area, I persisted. I can now happily state that I recently acquired a government contract doing research on Veterans in transition to civilian life, and was hired as a part-time lecturer at Eastern Michigan University. Although these positions are temporary, it is an honor to be given the opportunity to contribute within my area of expertise.

If you are struggling to find work in your field, don’t give up. Be willing to take entry-level positions, or positions outside of your expertise, but don’t settle for mediocre. As, Tony Gaskin’s said, “If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help build theirs.” And as Aristotle said, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.”

If it wasn’t for all of the positive feedback from my supervisors, my fiancé, and many of the commenters on this site, I would have questioned my ability to continue in academia. THANK YOU  to everyone who has taken the time to comment on my posts and to those of you who have shared your experiences with me. I look forward to continuing the dialogue.

Feel free to share any experiences you have had regarding career transitions. One thing I have learned is that the more personal the problem, the more universally it is shared by others.

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  1. Mr. Rose, You articulate yourself beautifully. I have read through your blog and it’s truly inspiring. Your work in psychology is not in vain. I look forward to reading your dissertation. Best wishes!

  2. I sympathize. When I got out of graduate school, it took me about a year to find a job. I found many to not understand what I studied as well. I finally ended up at a local university

  3. You might find a book by Norman M. Camp, MD, available free on line : US Army Psychiatry in the Vietnam War, interesting and useful….university may even want the hard copy for its library. Transition is always challenging; we know what’s happening, but not what will happen….I’ve never met a confident, relaxed caterpillar.

  4. I hope the defense of your dissertation went well. I don’t know much about veterans issues, psychology, sociology, or suicide, but I have taken QPR training (Question, Persuade, Refer) and found it empowering and helpful. Good luck.

  5. Keep up the confidence. Do what you truly love and live free. I’ve found that to be more satisfying than anything else, including heaps of money. (Although I would like that too 😀 )

  6. Not being an academic what shines through your words is your attitude and ability to access your inner wisdom, however much knowledge you may have gained. Good luck on 17th and many thanks for your follow of Hanukah & the Angel. Love, David

  7. I know so many people with excellent credentials (HYPS-MC grads) who have struggled for years in search of jobs or permanent employment. IMO, something is seriously wrong with the job market/hiring. I’m hearing these stories all over the place. Good luck to you.

  8. Thanks for sharing yourself in this post. I shared it on my Facebook page to encourage others who may be going through a similar experience. Blessings.

  9. Thank you very much for the work you are doing. Your dissertation is on a very relevant and serious topic, and I am very happy to see a committed academic taking an interest in this issue. Veterans transitioning have a very difficult road, and your own struggle I feel will help you understand your research in a more personal way.

  10. I am glad you found something you liked. I work in a business school and I would also suggest looking at centers of entrepreneurship which focus on Veterans. Or even come up with a social enterprise to deal with veterans issues/rehab and enter it into social venture competitions. Your passion will translate well into practice and impact. Good luck.

  11. Excellent post. I am glad you are finding work in your field. You deserve to. I have enjoyed your posts. I have spent my life working in media and, for the most part, feel I have now “aged” out and am contemplating retirement. It is an interesting transition.

  12. Glad you’re making it through.

    As a vet (US), I appreciate your work.

    My partner recently completed her Masters in Environmental Anthropology- so we can also appreciate your struggle for applicable employment.

    It’s real in the field! Keep up the great work!

  13. Interesting experiences that certainly personalized your dissertation. My personal experience is taking off the uniform symbolic of my identity of 25 years. Five years post retirement, I have returned to school. My interest is the transition of women veterans. Good luck and I will be referencing your work!

  14. we live, Steve, in a world which seeks profit rather than information, your bit of even significant knowledge will need to be foisted upon authorities who prefer anything to the disruption of the status quo, the status quo which assures their positions, these start with the guy who wanted to hire you to “sell[..] coupons for donations to a charity”, you don’t get paid much for acts of conscience, these however, acts of conscience, change the world – don’t give up – what about writing, you’re pretty good at that – Richard

  15. Steve, Tubularsock is recent to your blog but what a great story you have just related. Glad it is working out in a direction you want even if it is temporary. Shit happens along the way of temporary.

    While reading, Tubularsock could not fail to equate your transition back into society with that of the veterans you were studying. It sounds to Tubularsock that you may have Academic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. What do you think?

    If anything would give APTSD to you it would be getting a PhD degree in sociology.

    Good luck with your thesis defense on August 17th.

    1. Thank you! Although I see parallels in terms of the vast majority of employers not understanding how to use my type of experience, I wouldn’t say there was any trauma at all. It went very smoothly, but was marked by a brief moment of increased uncertainty. My transition was extremely easy in comparison to any military to civilian transition.

    1. Thanks, Mark. The contract is for the VAC Ombudsmen and consists of a literature review and methodology for a small qualitative study on CAF medically released Veterans for the purpose of defining a “successful transition.”

  16. It’s easy to assume your experience can be put down to the economic downturn but it’s thirty five years since I graduated with a degree in Sociology and Social Administration (in the UK) and things were pretty bad then too. I got my first proper job which lasted sixteen months doing social research. The first twelve months was paid for by the government under a scheme for the unemployed and the last four months was paid for by the employer. I went on to do advice work in the voluntary sector which I enjoyed but which was also temporary. It isn’t just jobs like property management which are highly competitive with cut-throat managers – they exist in the voluntary sector too. A few years later I went on to get a law degree, financed by my partner. I trained and even qualified as a solicitor but found my employer too cut-throat for my liking. I went back to advice work and then I left and started writing fiction. Financially it has got me nowhere; for the past eight years I have been selling second hand stuff (most recently paintings) online and, at the age of sixty, have now given that up too. It’s around ten years now since I applied for clerical-type jobs, to no avail. At my age I reckon I would be lucky to get a job in a supermarket on a zero hours contract. I am anyway lucky I have my early-retired partner to support me. Let’s face it, employers, by and large, dislike academics and intellectuals. Mention writing and they think JK Rowling. I wish you all the best with your career and hope you have better luck than I’ve had. If I had my life to live over again though I’d probably forgo some of the qualifications in favour of making more contacts. I don’t for a minute though think life is a bed of roses for people who stick to the one job for years when it amounts to so much less than what they’d hoped for. We all have to make difficult choices and the consequences of those choices are often not apparent till much later. I still write – though not as much – and the one book I had published, while it had a few good reviews and decent sales for a few moths or so, has been quietly forgotten. These days I self publish (under my real name Alexis Scott) and give books away. After all, it is the writing that counts and I never wanted to be JK Rowling anyway.

  17. Everyone can relate to finding work, doing it or not doing it. I believe there is success and failure in everything we do. I have been working at the same job for ten years, but recently left it to pursue a change. Like so many stable aspects in my life, it is a surprise when they flip into a vulnerable position. I left the job and got hired on the first interview. ” I want to hire you right now!” This is still a good experience three months later.
    Best of luck with your ‘transition’. I am fortunate to be living well through mine.

  18. i also received a BA in Sociology, as i loved the topic and its relevant applications to the real world problems we face in various groups. i then went to find a job in my degree area, and found it was impossible. they are either government jobs above my skill level/degree level or i was routed to apply for HR positions. I ended up continuing to do the job i did all thru school, being a Nurse Aide in hospitals and nursing homes. i found a job as an night supervisor in a unit which provided treatment for behavioural, medical, and mentally ill children, often with co-morbid illnesses such as drug abuse or addiction. in a year i had prepped myself to become the manager of a whole house (2 units), but lost my position as i was hospitalized for 3 weeks. this was the closest i ever came to at least working on/with something that was in some way related to my degree, and had upward movement possible. now i am disabled and owe for that education that was practically useless in my real life. it is extremely challenging and difficult to find a path to a job that uses your sociology degree, and i applaud you for sticking it out through all the other (non) jobs until you found what you are doing now. now you will be able to build off this success, and your path should be easier in the future. good luck to you! You are awesome.

  19. I’m so sorry that your search for a job has been so difficult. I saw several friends go through similar experiences while finishing up their graduate work. Thankfully they’ve all been gainfully employed for over a decade now. I wish the same for you. Your work is definitely relevant!

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