Friday, November 25, 2011

Transition Series: Part Four

I thought it would be interesting when I sat down to write this fourth, and final, post about the transition from graduate student to faculty member to see what would pop up if I actually googled that phrase. I found quite a few great sites (some of those links appear below), but what I also found was a lot of similarity in the topics that were addressed. I doubt you are holding your breath here because I am sure you know exactly what those topics are: the importance of balancing research, teaching, and service, and how to be a professional in the field. Several of these sites were framed around the idea that these things will come as a great surprise to graduate students moving into a tenure-track position. The popularity of this framing device for disseminating advice was what actually surprised me.

Are graduate students really surprised by what it feels like to be a faculty member? Have I been caught off-guard by anything? Maybe I should just chalk this up to wonderful advisors who prepared me well, but I do not feel as though I have encountered much that I didn’t expect. Now, I’m not saying the transition has been easy, just because something isn’t “surprising” doesn’t mean it suddenly becomes easy. Here are some things that have not surprised me:

1) I feel like an imposter

2) it is hard to protect my writing time

3) there are politics in the department

4) the students are different

5) People treat you differently because of your title

6) it is lonelier being a faculty member than being a graduate student

7) the department expects different things from you as faculty than it expects from graduate students

I imagine these things sound about as obvious to you as they did to me. It’s still good to be aware of them, of course, but perhaps this rhetoric of the surprising and the unexpected drives this culture of needing to talk about the transition and adds to the mystique of being a faculty member. I did not think it at all strange when Matt asked me to contribute to this series (well, I thought it strange he asked me, but not that he was doing this series. Example of #1 above), but now that I have written a few posts and perused a few websites this morning I’m realizing that what I am writing about is not so much a transition, but the job itself.

Surely this is shaped by the institution you come from and the institution where you land that first job, so what I am saying here has to be taken with a grain of salt (or paprika, which is more fun to say). I would thus sum up the “transition from graduate student to faculty member” in this way:

You do what you did in graduate school, but with weightier implications

This is good news, right? Now, there is a lot of stuff crammed into that last bit, the “weightier implications.” But I’ll leave that for someone else to hash out, or for you to discover on your own when you land The Job.

What I will leave you with is the beautiful conundrum of being a Doctor in the Literature field:

You probably worked harder than most people in graduate programs, but you did it for the simple reason that you love to read. No magnanimous reasons that have to do with saving people’s lives, discovering epic cures, exploring uncharted territories, contributing to the greater good, etc. We are overly educated bibliophiles who, though we may outwardly shun any pretense to greatness, secretly believe we are saving the world. Now that’s a cool job.

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