Dear Graduate Scholar: The Stages of Alt-ac by Deirdre O'Rourke

Deirdre O’Rourke holds a PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies from University of Pittsburgh with doctoral certificates in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies and Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Her dissertation, "Restoring Britain: Performances of Stuart Succession in Dublin, Edinburgh, and London," served as a historiographical intervention in Restoration theatre history by combining the fields of new British history and Performance Studies to offer transnational insights into well-known narratives of the period, through case studies on beheadings, Shakespeare adaptations, and actresses in the three kingdoms. She was the recipient of an American Association for University Women Dissertation Completion Fellowship for 2013-2014. She has successfully taught courses in performance, dramatic analysis, Shakespeare, and world theatre history. Deirdre currently works as a Grants Coordinator for Girls in the Game, a nonprofit based in Chicago that provides sports, health, and leadership programming for girls. 


  • It’ll be better once I finish coursework and focus on the dissertation.
  • It’ll be better once I get a fellowship.
  • It’ll be better once I finish the dissertation and get an academic job.
  • I just have to publish.
  • Writing and publishing will be easier once I get a job.
  • I’ll like conferences more once I have a job.


  • I did everything I was supposed to do, dammit.
  • I’m a PhD. Isn’t that enough?
  • Other people I know are getting jobs, why not me?
  • Other people I know get published, why not me?
  • No one gives a sh*t about my work at conferences.
  • What a waste of a decade.


  • If an editor would just work with me, I could get something good published.
  • If I could just get a phone interview, I’d nail it.
  • If I could just get a campus interview, I’d nail it.
  • If I could just get a job, I’d nail it.
  • If I had an in, I’d get a job.
  • If I could just get a job, I’d like writing and publishing and conferences.


  • I failed.
  • I’m a terrible writer.
  • I wasted time and money I’ll never get back.
  • I’m worthless.
  • I didn’t try hard enough.
  • Everyone else is better than me.


  • Publishing and conferences aren’t for me.
  • I can write, research, analyze, project manage, and learn new skills and content.
  • My self-worth is not determined by my profession.
  • I miss teaching, but those skills are transferable. And who knows, I might get back to teaching some day.
  • I want to affect positive change for women and I don’t need to be in academia to do that.
  • My life happened in grad school. I met my future husband and father of my child and lifelong friends. How could that ever be wasted time?