Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Today's tooth extraction: A metaphor for post-academic life

Well, as I have such a long history now of life as an academic who has had some great pleasures in reading interesting scholarship, attempting to build my own research and scholarly identity, I now see that I will forever be 'thinking' about intriguing metaphors. It has become a habit now that I think will be hard to break, so I'm just going to go with it and see if takes me to some other creative places outside of the academic sphere. This is what is leading me to share my experience today at the dentist's office.

I have a had a bad tooth that has been causing me problems for actually quite a long time now. I've begun to lose track of the start of the issues with this problem back tooth, but I believe it caused me some basic headache years ago when I discovered that I had got into the habit of 'grinding' at night. This terrible way of dealing with stress (unknowingly) I think introduced problems with old fillings, and led to paying for an expensive root canal later on. Even using the dreaded mouth guard (another term for this is called 'birth control'), I still hadn't quite overcome it. Last year after having more toothache there I saw my dentist who put in a massive filling. It really just about covered most of the tooth itself on the inside area. I was desperate to have this done before my family and I went on vacation to the US last summer. Unfortunately, into the first week of the holiday when I bit down on something with that tooth, I ended up with growing pain and a gum abscess which had to get sorted immediately, and not so cheaply, by a local dentist there. Eventually when I got back to the UK and saw my dentist, she went into a very long technical explanation about this previously root-canalled and now thinly cracked tooth, how important it was to try to save it but if more filling wouldn't last, it would need to come out or have another expensive procedure that would call for specialist treatment, blah blah. At that point in the conversation I couldn't really hear or understand any more. It was as if she was speaking another foreign language. I basically planned to try the other type of filling and if it failed or didn't last, I was happy to have her take the dreaded thing out and be done with the problem.

So, fast forward now to the next year - present day, when two weeks ago this damn tooth filling chips at the corner on a Saturday, no pain, rush into see her as soon as I can - happens to be on the day of my birthday (yes, as you get to my age, you fear losing all your teeth) -and a patch up does the job, with a reassuring smile that all is okay now. Unfortunately, another week passes and eating a similar type of food as last time (just ordinary chicken thing, not hard or crunchy) and it chips off again, close to the same spot again. Rush in again but have to see another dentist as she's not there and his discouraging look tells me, there's no hope left. The tooth is cracked. There's an infection starting. It's got to come out (confirmed fear of ageing and losing all my teeth). He could have done it then, or I could have seen my dentist the next day, but the next day was my job interview. Hmmm. Scary thoughts were going through my mind. I won't get through the night. I'll wake up with a massive abscess and pain. I'll have a high temperature. I will need to see some straight away and hence, I must withdraw from the job interview as I won't get the job anyway - self-pity, self-pity and more self-pity.

Well, I got a grip and carried on and as readers know, I did get offered the job, another year older, cracked tooth, self-pity and all. This has meant that I had to wait a whole week before I could see dentist today to get rid of the thing. I am now back home after the lengthy time of the extraction and feel compelled to share the thoughts that have been running through my mind while sitting in the waiting room and then while holding my mouth open and being pulled around and drilled at for at least 30 minutes.

This tooth and the extraction has become a metaphor for some of my recent post-academic in transition experience. So last year, I resigned from teaching and took up the RA contract. Not quite 'out' of academia, and wondering if the job would turn things around for me a bit, get me into a better academic position to look forward and maybe apply for other academic posts afterwards. The job was fine, it held me over but I wouldn't say it wowed me. In retrospect, I guess I could say it was like patching up the problem tooth for a while. The tooth was never really completely fixed after such a difficult history, but it was fine for the time being.  But then a little chip here and another chip there, revealed the bigger problem that never really went away. The crack got worse, started an infection that was only going to get very bad if it wasn't extracted. Thankfully I don't really need to go the expensive crown route as it was at the very back. As she was yanking out as much of the tooth as she could, although she had to break it up and take it out in pieces, she said, reassuringly, 'You won't feel any pain, but you will definitely feel lots of pressure and force'.

This, I guess is how some of the transition out of academia has felt. At the very beginning when I had difficulty deciding if I should carry on or stop, it was very painful, with lots of tears and anxiety, and maybe I was grinding again too, creating more of a tooth problem! After leaving teaching and doing the other job, I began to really think about other options and read a lot of books and sought advice about career transition possibilities. The painful element of leaving was a bit less intense but it wouldn't say it was emotionally easy during the job-seeking process - lots of self-doubt pressure was there but not constant, at least. The final crack in the tooth happened at the same time as the recent job interview. The extraction that I have now been looking forward to so much for the last week, so I can put this bad tooth history behind me, now coincides with the new job prospect. I'd like to see this final, drastic extraction as a nice metaphor for the removal of many of my post-academic struggles that grew out of years of hard academic work and uncertainty, not to mention, accompanied with the side-effect of teeth grinding! What I do realise though, is that there is a huge gap in my mouth - and it feels bizarre, strangely inviting, to run the tongue across it - it's so hard not to. I think I've accepted that there will always be some kind of post-academic gap in my life too. Academia has taken up a large part of my life and made me who I am today. It will find ways of enticing me to have a look now and again at what's happening in academic life in my PhD field, I'm sure. This will be hard to escape - a couple of good friends are academics in closely related fields, my husband is an academic in another field and I will be working at the university where I did my PhD - how will I ever be able to completely avoid it? The gap will be what it will be. I've decided I shouldn't be too worried about trying to fill it, but see it as something that was part of me and my history but had to be taken out because it didn't serve it's purpose anymore.


  1. Wow! I love it, Jet! Fabulous connections made -particularly like the gap metaphor with all that this implies.
    Hope you heal from the trauma, in both senses, soonest - and enjoy the intriguing prospect of exploring the gap!

  2. Cool website buddy I am gona suggest this to all my list of contacts.
    teeth extraction

  3. Thanks for the above comments. Apologies to Sir King - I only just saw in Blogspot today that your comment was awaiting moderation and waiting to be published. I was away on vacation for a couple of weeks after your comment and didn't see it. Thanks for taking an interest here!

  4. You write wonderfully, Jet. Indeed, all things are connected. It’s incredible and at the same time awful to think that your dental problems played a huge impact in your entire life. Anyway, how’s it going now?

    1. Thanks Eugenie - how nice to hear that. Apologies for not noticing that your comment had been waiting moderation as I've been busy with life and not been checking these details. Things are going well now and I've achieved a nice moment in life of feeling 'content'. That's very good indeed.