What I Wish You Knew: Alisha Kirchoff
Ph.D. Student, Sociology
Written by Alisha Kirchoff, edited by Laura Schaefer
I am a sociologist. I am currently Ph.D. student and am building a new career as a scholar in my thirties after spending my twenties traveling and working in an administrative capacity in higher ed institutions. After a while, I realized that while I was making a good wage and using my degree in a stable job, I did not feel a sense of intellectual fulfillment. Learning and acquiring knowledge has always been important to me, so I realized it was time to go back to school and get a Ph.D. I am now at Indiana University in Sociology.
My job absolutely brings me happiness and a sense of fulfillment. When I was a kid, my mother would get concerned because I would often close myself into my room for hours on end to read and write. Now, that behavior is seen as a productive contribution to my field. However, now my writing does not live in a notebook. I get to write things that people read. I get to present ideas that people think about and might learn from. I place learning and education above all other values except kindness and compassion, so this is pretty close to a dream job for me.
Scholar and mother
I think that my generation was the first where little girls were told they were just as smart and strong and capable as their male counterparts, but while I believe that is true, our institutions, attitudes, and structures have not necessarily adapted to accommodate the specific needs of women in traditionally male-dominated space. That is changing, but that change is slow and it is interesting that we have not sufficiently normalized the idea that women can be parents and spouses and still be successful scholars.
I underestimated how important it would be to my colleagues and students to see me simultaneously performing the role of scholar and mother. I have been told that it makes them feel as though they can have that life for themselves as well, if they choose. I did not expect to be influencing social change while simultaneously studying it.
I anticipated that it would be difficult to balance the demands of daily family life with the demands of a life-consuming career path, but I have zero regrets. The pay isn't great, either, but that's not what I am here for. I have no regrets. I genuinely love what I am doing and the flexibility of academic life allows me to be available to my children more than I would be otherwise. It's not easy to juggle everything, but it's possible.
What I wish you knew
I wish that more people appreciated the value of understanding how the world works. While not all disciplines lend themselves to this, sociological methods and research can help influence effective policy measures and help us better understand why things are the way that they are. I think that scholars are often dismissed as occupying only the ivory tower and as inherently unwilling to engage with those who are not part of the intellectual elite.
My experience is that, while scholars are often highly specialized in their particular area, the key findings of their work often has the potential for broad relevance and appeal. Some of the work of my colleagues has helped change standards and practices in the fields of education and medicine. A lot of the information that we have today and knowledge that we may regard as common is the result of a discovery by a scholar. I wish we placed a higher cultural value on research and education, particularly in the social sciences and humanities.