Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Souring grapes

And why am I so... so detached from my academic self these days? I think of Leslie Madsen-Brooks' recent column on "Slash and Braided Careers," and I realize I've become somewhat removed, estranged even, from my academic self.

In 1983, I joined the university ranks, as an early admission freshman at City College of New York. I've always felt at home in the academy. One fantasy I had in my teens was to found and direct an academy of learning. I never really worked it out, but I had in mind a place where knowledge and learning and inquiry were king.

I've become jaded of the university however, bitter I admit that it seems to have refused me entry as professor. Last night, Rocket and I took a brief walk around the neighborhood. Recently, I find myself a bit uncertain as to which step to take next. I mentioned my floppy fish metaphor. I reiterated my somewhat self-pitying "It seems to have all been largely a waste if time, the PhD. I've really gotten nothing for it." Not so, really, she retorted. You've got this gig at Lemon, it might be less than you expected, too little, too late... but it's something.

Ah yes, it is something. You'll enjoy yourself once you get in front of a classroom, she continued today at lunch. (She had an OB visit, so we were able to share a meal afterwards). I've sat in my office today not really getting much work done.

The idea of being an entrepreneur, of pursuing a collection of research projects that truly capture my excitement and interest, to move along without regard to the requisites of getting tenure (publishing and presenting willy-nilly; quantity over quality; say something whether or not you have anything to say--you can always retract it later) is rather freeing.

Partly, I'm not desperate to take a faculty post, any post. That's something too. But... it doesn't mean I have to throw away my /academic. I am a /scholar. That's irredeemable. But scholar and professor are different things. At least, they're different titles, bringing with themselves different expectations and duties.

Come the end of next month, I will hold the title of Lecturer once again (perhaps even Visiting Assistant Professor, if I can muster it). It's a bit disappointing I suppose, because there's a bit of the missed expectations.

It's as if a friend had told you how wonderful the food was at this Indian Restaurant: Oh my god, it's to die for. I mean, it's the best Naan I've ever tasted, and the saag paneer, oh.... I'm drooling here,... and the samosas, and tandoori, I mean all of it. Run, don't walk. You won't be disappointed.

And after such an introduction, only Brahma himself with a retinue of Vishnu and Shiva as sous-chefs could provide! Nothing short of nirvana would do. And... it won't do. Their really fine dining is sure to fall just a bit off the mark of expectation, and by falling short of those (perhaps unreal) expectations, we're sure to overinflate our disappointment, like investors fleeing a stock after the anticipated 23% growth in earnings comes in a mere 19%!

And so it is with my academic career. I thought I'd fly from freshly minted PhD, to Dr. Glorious, the new and resplendent shining star of the department, emblazoning the school with my wit and charm and cutting edge research. Instead, I'm welcomed, almost begrudgingly, as a soiled post-doc, to adjunct a couple classes at a quarter to a third the going rate I'd have gotten on the tenure track.

Maybe I will light up a bit once I have that classroom of my own. Meantime, I suppose I ought give the course prep my best effort. And it behooves me to keep my eyes open for those few positions that might emerge that have Articulate Dad please apply written all over them. Only time will tell.


trillwing said...

Try not to get too frustrated. You're a creative, driven person, and your path will soon, I'm sure, become clear--simply because you're looking for it.

Lilian said...

I can only nod in agreement. Academia has also lost its luster for me, but I guess that like you I'll always be an /academic. (I guess the first part would be hmmm... mother, aspiring writing/blogging mother?).