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It must be a wonderful feeling

16 August, 2009

It must be a wonderful feeling

Yesterday, as I processed in borrowed regalia, a junior colleague (in the sense of still a probationer, rather than age or time at SLAC — there are several people who have been here as long or longer than I, but haven’t gone up yet) said, “Ah, ADM, it must be a wonderful feeling!” “What?” “You have tenure (or its equivalent)! You have no more worries!” “You know? It’s not like that.”

I can’t blame hir for thinking this, though. We’re trained to think that we are simply jumpng a series of hoops, with tenure as the brass ring* — oh, it will be great after coursework! No, it will be great after comps! No, it will be great after the thesis is done! Oh noes, everything will be fantastic as soon as I get a job! Oops! Maybe it will all be perfect when I have tenure and promotion!

Somewhere along the line — I think about halfway into my probationary period, it occurred to me that the brass ring, didn’t really exist. Instead, each hoop is a gate, or door, that grants us access to another set of possibilities, for success AND for failure. Before you think I’m going to get all self-help-y, don’t — I’m not about to start saying that we need to look upon stress as an opportunity for growth, or any of that crap. But anyway, back to the wonderful feeling.

It’s not like that. I mean, it’s good to know that, unless I truly screw up, I now pretty much have a job for as long as I want it. And it’s nice to have the decision made and the reassurance of the new contract. perhaps it’s not really sunk in — or maybe it’s just that I haven’t worried much about my employability for a very long time. Mostly, though, there’s also the knowledge that I am now at Associate level based on a book contract and one accepted article (scholarship-wise), and that I am less marketable if I want to change jobs than I was last year.

That sounds a little ungrateful, doesn’t it? I don’t mean it to. But I’m looking at a backlog of work, and some projects that I really want to get on with, and no sabbatical in sight. So for me, the promotion, etc., doesn’t feel any more than a confirmation that I am an actual working academic. My responsibilities haven’t changed, and now I am qualified to be on more and harder committees! Honestly, though, I feel under more pressure to produce and to be good at my job now than I did before. It’s a different kind of pressure, but pressure all the same.

A year ago, or even two, I felt like I had to show I was good enough so that I could keep my job. That’s stressful, I admit. As I write this, though, I have remembered that the President commented in our ‘welcome to the fold’ meeting that one of the things zie appreciated about me was that I have always contributed and spoken my mind, even when zie didn’t agree with me. And that is true. The junior colleague does not speak up, and frequently gets others to speak for hir, because they are ‘better’ at it or they are senior. I have an idea that zie thinks this will all change, once zie is in my position. Perhaps it will make a difference for hir, but it didn’t for me.

When I told the colleague I felt under more pressure, though, zie boggled. The thing is, I feel that I have to live up to being senior faculty. I feel that I have to set an example for why tenure and permanent contracts are not bad things. I feel that I have to get the damned book done and get on with the next, and in the meanwhile send 10th Medieval the article abstract I just realized was due yesterday, and then I need to write the bastard thing! And I have to keep working on my teaching, and try the things I want to try to make the courses better. There are new projects, speakers to arrange, freshmen to advise, piles of journals to get through …

And no, it’s not to keep my job anymore. It’s not (much) about thinking towards the next promotion. It’s not (much) about keeping myself marketable, because I might want the option — or need it, depending on my personal life — to be able to move to a different job (with luck with a *slightly* lighter teaching load). It *is* to some extent about getting myself in a good position to apply for fellowships, especially for my sabbatical in 4? years (or a really good one that allows me to take a semester leave before then!).

But really, it’s about knowing that there are no more hoops, or doors, and that it’s pretty much all down to me about whether I am the sort of grown-up academic I want to be, and gaining — and keeping — the respect of my friends in academia, as a person AND as an academic. It’s not about getting the job, or keeping the job anymore: it’s about doing the job and being the person that is, in the end, the real brass ring.

Or at least that’s how it strikes me at the moment 🙂

*does anybody else remember brass rings (and I know that they don’t fit the metaphor of hoops, except that one finds both at carnivals/fairs)? Do they have them outside the US? When I was a kid, we would sometimes go to the boardwalk at Santa Cruz and ride the carousel (the one in Sudden Impact, as it happens). If you sat on one of the moving animals on the outside, you could reach out at a certain point and grab a little ring out of a track that fed the rings to just within arms’ reach. Most of the rings were grimy steel, but there was an occasional one made of brass. If you got that, you kept it and gave it to the guy who ran the carousel, and got a free ride.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 17 August, 2009 9:57 am

    I never ran across the brass ring, so when you mentioned it my first reaction was, "Yeah, it's the one they put through your nose." Still not convinced I was wrong…As to abstracts, believe me, you are far from the only one missing. I will get round to harassing people once I have current job application off my back. Don't stress about this unduly.

  2. 17 August, 2009 8:29 pm

    Actually, you may be right! or partially right. Although now I have Edward Lear running through my head. Have sent the abstract, but am more than willing to tweak it.

  3. 19 August, 2009 4:17 am

    Definitely the carousel, & I've ridden the same one. Did you go to the Golden West Pancake House while you were there?

  4. 19 August, 2009 5:06 am

    I do believe I did — and rode the Cyclone!

  5. 31 August, 2009 12:40 am

    I've been thinking along similar lines lately. On the one hand, it's great knowing that I'm free to explore projects (research and otherwise) after years of feeling like I had to finish THE book. And not having to write another performance review until I go up for full is nice, too.But I confess to feeling a bit adrift. For the longest time, the battle for tenure and the book gave structure and purpose to my life. Now I have to dictate my own path, and fight my natural tendencies toward inertia. Then there's the bit about looking around and realizing that much of what I've been calling "my life" has actually been a series of projects designed to get me over the next professional hurdle. I'm wondering if I've let every other part of my life atrophy to the point of no return.I know how to start a new project. But how do you pick up a life that's been deferred for so many years?

  6. 31 August, 2009 8:47 pm

    Notorious — that's so true! I took so long to get the PhD that I have not been deferring my life lately as much as some, but still, it's been my goal for this year to try to have more of a life — especially after Superdean said I needed to focus on scholarship more AND on getting a life 🙂

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