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On Being a ‘Real’ Lion

11 May, 2005

On Being a ‘Real’ Lion

If you haven’t been by New Kid’s or Evie Ballerina’s since they came back from the ‘Zoo (lucky dogs!), you really must go! Both offer incredibly lucid essays on that elusive feeling of belonging that so many of us grasp at, but often as at straws. Or not.
It’s the return of the imposter syndrome, writ larger than ever. When do we become ‘real’ academics (or lions, as Evie puts it)? Is there a point where we get to say we belong? How will we know when we get there? And, once we do, how long will it take before the gatekeepers realize they let us in and politely ask us to leave?

I know that, for me, being published and getting tenure have always been the milestones. Lately, though, I wonder how much of that is true and how much of that is self-limiting. I am, despite not having a ‘real’ job (please, please, please, let one of these interviews pan out), a very good teacher. I have independent confirmation of this, although I know I could be even better. When I work on committees and give workshops with my colleagues, the feedback is good, and people actually ask me for advice. I think my blog colleagues must think so, too, because I’ve inadvertantly found that blogging is also a great way of networking and collaborating and I have definitely begun to reap the benefits.

But get me to a conference, and I experience real panic (mixed with delight). I’ve been to a few in the past couple of years, and people recognize me. Some are grad students on the market — many who are presenting, unlike yours truly. But others are established faculty and even Senior Colleagues. The big hunters. And they sometimes also know me. They ask what I’m working on. They engage in conversations based on questions I’ve asked, and don’t act as though I’m an idiot. Many of them seem not to have a problem with the fact that I teach at a CC and have a load that is certainly not conducive to production of scholarship. And I feel almost real. Because I know that I can be like them, to some degree. And I feel guilty that I’m not. And the more I think about this, I think that we academics, whether lions or monkeys or dolphins or hyenas, feel this way more often than not. In some of us, it manifests itself as a certain cockiness and an air of brusque certainty — often with an annoying lack of humility. But we come by it honestly. We have spent years putting ourselves out there to be judged. We live in advisor/student/peer review central. From our first college exams to conference papers, from thesis defenses to tenure review, we are — must be — judged by others. Even the Senior Colleagues are subject to peer review, although Seniority does seem to cut one some slack. And even they have to interview for the prime positions — against serious competition that would make us junior types lose all composure. Some of them will still be found lacking.

So why the hell are we surprised that we feel this way? Yes, we may act differently, and I have a theory about that, too. Adding to our own temperaments a relatively hostile/competetive grad program (maybe even undergrad ones) and you get the brash, arrogant imposter. Put us in a program with more nurturing, and we know we don’t deserve it. But you know what? Maybe we should sometimes listen to each other and our Senior Colleagues (who are just us, but have had longer to be better at it). When we go to conferences, we think (unless a paper is total shite), “hey, that person is really smart/good/knows a lot.” We admire each other as scholars and trust each other’s advice on sources, theories, and all those things we are supposed to know. But get us in a room with those same people whose judgement we most respect– even with Senior Colleagues and our own Doktorvaeter (muetter)/Advisors — and we ignore everything that might be a handing over of the keys to the Cool Kids’ Lounge, because in this one case, we’re just sure that they’re wrong. It’s a funny ol’ world, innit?

PS: OK, this is pre-interview procrastination, not avoiding scholarship procrastination. And it’s my bedtime (I get up at 5). No more blogging till I have been productive!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 May, 2005 12:47 pm

    this makes me glad my grad program isn’t competetive or hostile.

  2. 13 May, 2005 4:10 pm

    I recently had drinks with the young faculty group at William & Mary. One of the professors said that she became a real academic when, on one of her evaluations, she was dubbed a “real professor.” Why? She sometimes delivered lectures without or with minimal notes. My point: if you feel real you are real. 🙂 No almosts, ADM! We know you’re real!

  3. 13 May, 2005 8:57 pm

    Thanks, Rebecca! This last interview definitely helped. I’ll blog about it soon, but let’s just say I’m really glad I came — the place seems great!

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