Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Personal, professional ... and industrial!

Hello again; I've spent part of this evening catching up on the posts and comments of the last few days. As I read Hall I find myself--as other posters also have done--reacting to different facets of his argument and storing (or trying to store) ideas to comment on later. Now's as good a time as any to note down some of my thoughts, some of which relate to ideas we've already discussed.

One thing that struck me right away is that a number of the anxieties Hall rehearses--in particular related to the status of one's employer in relation to other universities--are perhaps not felt quite so acutely here in New Zealand. The main reason for this is that all universities here are state-owned and partly state-funded. Although there are strong moves on behalf of the different campuses to distinguish themselves from each other in a hierarchical model, these are recent.

Having said that, many of the status anxieties described by Hall could be reframed as applying here between the local and the international. Certainly in my darker moments I question my decision to stay here, wondering what it says about the "quality" of my work, or maybe my courage about shopping myself out to the open market.

More generally, there are things in Hall's discussion of self in chapter one that make me feel uneasy. I think principally this comes from ways in which his argument is framed. Universities in New Zealand are highly unionised (I am active in the union) and relations between staff and employers testy nationally. At the same time, there is to my mind a certain amount of solidarity between and within the universities, so that, for me, discussions of the university as intellectual community necessarily evoke the university as employer, as industrial community. (This is something to which, it seems to me, shadows was pointing in this comment.)

So, to Hall's second maxim, that "All our careers are also subject to certain forces beyond our control", I would add that a big part, for me, of being in academia, is being mindful of just for whom I am working, performing (in the sense that the professional self is performed) and reflecting. I work in a hierarchically-managed section of the university, in a programme whose interface with the open international student market is considerable. One thing that this has made me aware of is that it's useful (both personally and professionally) to keep a rein on the extent to which my reflection informs my collegiality and my professional behaviour, since the vagaries of our programme's structure mean that our labour can easily be absorbed and then become surplus to requirements (in the very bald equation by which a drop in student numbers means a drop in staff numbers.)

I can see a benefit in this in working in a low-status part of the university community (although I'm aware that even as I write "low-status" I'm committing the kind of fallacy Hall urges us all not to), in that it has enabled me to separate the personal and professional far more effectively (and at times brutally) than I did as a research student, and to look critically at the systems that, until I began working, I assumed were sustaining me. I suppose if I were to add a further maxim to Hall's five on pp.11-17, it would be something like this: having regarded our academic selves with the same critical, reflective eye as we do our texts or subject areas more generally, we should be judicious in which conclusions we then decide will inform our professional interactions and which we will let seep, silently, into our writing and classroom work.

More than anything else, I'm aware while reading Hall of how much my thinking about the university, and my field within the university (both as an area of specialisation and the programmes in which I teach) has changed since I was a student. My academic ideals were once embodied by the university--this was the place in which it would all happen--whereas now, I tend to see the university as an site of industrial relations which, equally with the professional and personal contexts and constraints of which Hall writes, must be daily negotiated in order even to begin the business of academic praxis.

(This is all sounding very Platonist, no? Curiouser and curiouser.)

Sunday, June 26, 2005

One of those learning moments.

As I read through this book (more slowly than I would like due to a million other things on my plate) a lot of it doesn't fit well for me and my experience. It may be my field -- smaller than most, fairly specialized, not all that focused on the R1 job (other schools are fine, so is corporate/non-profit work), the "good" schools to be at are not necessarily the ones you might hail as the good schools in general, etc.

But one sentence stood out and reminded me of an important moment in my professional development. On page 13, Hall says:

What can it hurt (except our ego, of course) for us to reveal to students and young colleagues that we seasoned and experienced academics fail at times in processes by which we are judged.
I instantly remembered a conversation with my major professor and mentor at a conference about 2 years after I graduated. He's a big name in my field, and is well-established through a series of books he edited. Lately he's been reinventing himself, pursuing a new line of research about which he is rather passionate. The problem is that he's not recognized in that part of the field and that the part in which he is well-known is looking to him to continue producing some of the same old. He told me that he was having a very difficult time getting his manuscripts accepted and had just had two rejected -- one with a plea to start writing about his old topic again. When he told me that I realized that his success and reputation didn't mean he would never fail any more. He's still working hard, accepting failure and trying to find his way down a new path. It was a very important moment for me, to see how human he is and how he must struggle with his work just like I do.

A response to What Now?'s post 06.25.05

I started responding to What Now's post on Chapter Two, but ended up going on and on (and being fairly self-absorbed!), so I thought I'd make this a post of its own. I think some of this responds a little bit to Mel's post, too.

In the comments to WN's post, mshoff asks how to rattle the institutional hierarchy, once we've figured out that it's a construct like race, class, or gender. This is a good question, and I don't have an answer, just a reaction... While reading Hall's book I've been sort of patting myself on the back for already recognizing the artificiality of these hierarchies as constructs; in parts of the book my reaction has been a little bit of, "ho-hum, doesn't everyone know this already?" But I just realized that my idea of "rattling" the hierarchies is to work at a teaching school and to (try to) be a "legitimate" or "respectable" researcher as well - kind of like the supermom myth, I want to try to do it all. Which is not to say that those of us at teaching schools shouldn't/don't do research, but to recognize that I'm not really challenging the primacy of research as the measure of academic worth or legitimacy. Yes, I do believe that it's possible to be an active researcher outside the context of a R1 university, which is a step in the right direction, but I'm still privileging research, despite the fact that I think in general that I am a better teacher than I am researcher.

I do believe that graduate departments bear the brunt of trying to change these hierarchies (although Mel's post cogently points out the kinds of institutional constraints within which departments operate). I say this because it was my experience in my graduate program that made me aware of any of the arguments that Hall makes.

To explain the background to my grad school experience: I grew up in a suburb that placed a LOT of emphasis on going to a name-brand college or university - ideally, an Ivy or baby Ivy. And I went off to a very elite, small, private liberal arts college. When I was applying to graduate schools, however, I was well advised, and while I did apply to a number of Ivies (couldn't resist the opportunity to get rejected AGAIN by Harvard), the schools that best suited my interests happened to be large state schools (the kind of schools I would NEVER have attended as an undergrad. What can I say? I was a total snob and completely bought into the hierarchies that Hall lays out, or at least the undergrads' version thereof). Actually, thinking about it, I suspect it didn't hurt that the grad school advisor in my undergraduate department was one of the few faculty there who hadn't gone to an Ivy (and in fact, he was an alumnus of the grad school I ultimately attended). Many of my classmates didn't quite understand why I would attend a non-Ivy grad school; most of my friends joked about not knowing where grad school state was (somewhere in the generic middle of the country), and when I told one classmate where I was going for grad school, he said bluntly, "Why?!?" (He also went to grad school in history. He went to a name school. He never finished. Heh. WN, I got schadenfreude too!)

In any case, I went off to grad school in Large State School (where the history department was on the 6th floor of a 14-story building; just taking an elevator to my department was slightly mind-blowing, as I'd never even seen an elevator at Small College). The first thing that helped me to disassemble some of the hierarchies I'd grown up with was my graduate cohort: although I believe this has changed a little, at the time that I started there, the department had very few students who had attended Ivies or baby Ivies and few who had come to grad school straight out of college. Most of them had gone to large state schools for undergrad as well as graduate school. This is really embarrassing to admit, but I remember being surprised that there were all these really smart people who hadn't gone to swanky name-brand schools. (At least I was able to get over my shock, however; I started with a fellow who had gone to Carleton, who was just incensed that he didn't get a graduate fellowship, whereas a friend of mine, who'd gone to U of Midwest State, did, and never quite realized how offensive this attitude was. He only lasted a year, though.)

Most of the funding at Large State School was through teaching assistantships, and since I was in grad school for a long time (!) I got to teach quite a lot. This was another step in dismantling some of my assumptions, because the students at Large State School were extremely non-traditional - when I started TAing, the majority of students in any given class were probably my age or older. Again, I'm embarrassed to say this, but these were people that, if I'd gone to high school with them, I would have considered failures (it was just unheard of in my social circle, growing up, that someone could not go to college right out of high school and become a respectable, upstanding citizen). And of course, these students were anything but failures. A lot were working adults, others were single parents, and most who took full courseloads worked an average of 30 hours a week. And some of them were spectacular students. Plenty weren't, but teaching them cured me of the idea that there was some natural correlation between where one went to school and one's intellectual abilities.

So, my experience as a student and a teacher at Large State School was incredibly valuable. Perhaps because my ideas of intellectual success and value were so rigid and unrealistic, there was no way that they could survive the actual experience of intellectual life in such a completely different context, and this helped me be willing to question many of the assumptions I'd grown up with.

Finally, I've said this in a comment over at Prof. Synecdoche's blog, but I'll repeat it here: My grad program was extremely good at drilling it into our heads that were very unlikely to get a job at a school that looked like Large State School. Instead, they emphasized that R1 institutions make up a very small proportion of the total number of schools out there, and that if we wanted to get jobs, we needed to be able to sell ourselves to a wide range of schools - R1, small liberal arts, comprehensive MA-granting institutions, rural, urban, elite, non-traditional, whatever (I think there was a slight neglect of community colleges, partly because I don't think our faculty had much experience with them). Partly, this was convenient for the graduate program because it provided a rationale for getting the students to teach a lot - wide and varied teaching experience is a prerequisite for getting a job at any teaching-focused institution, and grad students teaching a lot allows faculty in the graduate program to focus on their own research. But this approach was part of the program's principle that students should be able to talk about their research to a wide range of people, not just experts in their own field (the department was very big on comparative history and on interdisciplinary/comparative workshops).

So, what were the actual practical things my grad program did?
  • admitted graduate students from a very wide range of backgrounds
  • provided graduate students with experience teaching students from a wide range of backgrounds
  • fostered an atmosphere that encouraged sharing ideas across narrowly-defined fields, by organizing comparative and interdisciplinary workshops in which graduate students participated fully
  • encouraged students to present at conferences and to submit papers for publication
  • held a placement meeting each year, to which all graduate students were invited, which explained the process of applying for jobs and what the typical materials you needed to prepare were
  • had panel presentations/roundtables with recently hired junior faculty, who shared their experiences with grad students
  • held mock interview sessions, asking the kinds of questions that might be asked by a wide range of institutions
  • worked hard to place students in jobs of any kind, especially jobs that matched the students' interests, whether those jobs were at R1 universities or not
Now, I'm not going to claim that the program didn't value research over teaching, etc.; if one of our students got an on-campus with an Ivy, the faculty were just thrilled and the news raced round the department. And one of the things that I know grad students found frustrating was that when our program held searches, they paid no attention to all the teaching skills and experience that they told us we had to have, and hired entirely based on research pedigree (people from big name schools with big name advisors). Obviously, this isn't surprising, but we found it frustrating just the same.

I offer all this up, partly because it helps me to think through some of these issues, and partly to throw out ideas about rattling the hierarchies. But I suppose the pessimistic coda to these comments is that one of the consequences of the conditions of my program was a fairly high average time-to-completion. Since I was there, the program has worked hard to get students through quickly - eliminating some of the opportunities for socialization into the profession and broad discussion along the way. The department has also been accepting fewer students, and more and more of them are more traditional, closer to having just graduated from college, and from more "name" schools than previously. I doubt that this has absolutely transformed the departmental atmosphere, but I do wonder how easily the kinds of things that helped question traditional hierarchies can be reversed.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Further thoughts on Ch. 2

I thought I’d offer up some of the quotations that I marked in the margins (certainly one way of judging a text: How often did I pull out my pen and put a mark in the margin so that I could find this sentence again?) and some initial thoughts on why I did so, perhaps as a prompt to further conversation:
“Once employed at teaching schools, young academics may indeed break productive connections with the larger profession; fall out of the conversation in their fields of specialization; and sink into silence and resentment under the weight of papers, exams, and committee work” (23).

This is my concern. I actually have some research support at my teaching college: a great ILL librarian, funding for one conference a year, a summer grant program that I’m enjoying this summer to fund some research travel; plus I live close enough to some major cities to make easy day trips to research libraries and collections. And yet the fact that my colleagues for the most part never discuss research, the fact that even those of my colleagues with active research agendas only pursue them to the extent that they separate from the rest of the school and from colleagues, means that there’s almost no faculty discussion of research, at least in my field. And since I find that I live my life mostly locally—that is, my colleagues at St. Martyr’s have far more to do with my day-to-day life than researchers in my field who are at different schools—I have in many ways lost “productive connections with the larger profession.” Admittedly, I was never much of a networker ever in my grad school days, but I increasingly find that I don’t know anyone at conferences and have a difficult time connecting with the people whom I should but don’t know. This has become very apparent to me in the last year as I’ve struggled to think of outside reviewers for my tenure case, people who are in my field, not at St. Martyr’s, and likely to be predisposed in my favor. We’re talking big goose egg here. I never was one to keep up with the latest research in my larger field—especially since this is a rather large project when one is in the overflowing field of American literature—but at least in grad school I had friends who were better at keeping up with this sort of thing and who were eager to talk about what they were reading. But now I’m living in something of a research wasteland—again, more in terms of people’s day-to-day interests than in resources per se. So this is a real concern for me.
“Hierarchies of affiliation and the ‘prestige’ level ascribed to jobs exist solely as conventions, as professional/social constructs. We should bring the same thorough skepticism to those constructs that we do to constructs of gender, race, and sexuality” (29).

I feel naïve admitting this, but this statement of Hall’s was a major revelation to me. I’ve always known that our hierarchy of what was better and worse in terms of academic institutions wasn’t necessarily the only way of looking at the world, but I’ve clearly internalized it to the extent that I feel an ongoing inferiority for having ended up where I did. But somehow to put this hierarchy on the same terms as those hierarchies of gender, race, and sexuality—all of which I deal with daily, in terms of either my own life or my research—helped me to think of my internalized hierarchy in political terms rather than simply in personal, emotional terms. I’m afraid that my ideas of undercutting the academic hierarchy have been along the lines of, “Sure, the losers [including me] always want to think that the hierarchy isn’t valid, but that’s just sour grapes.” But I would never say or think such a thing about the other hierarchies that Hall lists. I know it’s a strange thing to say, but this statement of Hall’s about “denaturaliz[ing] our common, received professional definitions of success” (42) was the most important thing I got out of Hall’s book.
“Some institutions with very attractive teaching loads and benefit packages are, in fact, vicious places, torn by internal struggles and dominated by some angry suspicious individuals” (37).

Here I just want to admit to the ugliness of schadenfreude. I’m ashamed to say that several of my relationships with grad school friends have suffered because I ended up at St. Martyr’s and they wound up at R1 schools, in one particular case an Ivy League R1. And in some ways we now just move in different worlds, and the bitterness and envy on my part and the pity and self-absorption on their part has effectively spelled the end of at least one stint of our relationships. And the only way that I’ve been able to handle this is to imagine (based in part on their own comments) just how unhappy they are in their new jobs and, I’m afraid, to take pleasure in that thought. Yes, it’s an ugly thing. And the stupid thing is that, if I really do think they’re so miserable, why the hell am I still jealous of them? I have nothing more profound than this to say about it, but I think that confession can be good for the soul, so I wanted to place my ugly schadenfreude out in the light of day. Perhaps it will shrivel up and die in the glare of sunlight.

research/teaching schools/jobs (ch 2)

Thinking about Chapter 2 and some of the posts here, one of the things that really struck me was how, even in trying to challenge or complicate the hierarchy that assumes R1 jobs are "better" than small-college-teaching jobs, Hall's prose tends to assume that these categories are somehow fairly clear.

So, in the interests of furthering his goal of encouraging more discussion of the wide variety of situations and jobs in this profession, a few thoughts about my own institution. I'd say we are something like a 3rd, or 4th or maybe 5th-tier research university. What does that mean, exactly? We are the major public university for our city and for our region of the state. In a very small number of academic disciplines or professional fields, our U is nationally known; in others, we have a solid regional or local reputation. The original mission of this U was to educate the working class of our city, and that mission has remained a large part of our educational practice. This is one of the things I really enjoy about working here.

In my department, many of the tenured faculty joined the department at a time when research expectations were very low. Teaching loads were 3-4 or 4-4, and after tenure was achieved, usually with a number of articles or occasionally a book, few faculty continued to produce much scholarship. There was a hiring freeze in the 1980s for 7 or 8 years which produced a generational divide within the department. Those hired afterwards were products of the job market crunch in English -- PhDs from Ivies or other top-list schools. Some of them wanted to continue their research but found that the lack of institutional support for research effectively slowed or stalled their careers. Gradually some of these faculty, as they published their dissertations and got tenure, were able to change the climate in the department to one that rewarded publication with a lower teaching load of 3-3. Many of them found that under that teaching load and the administrative duties demanded of tenured faculty they couldn't write a second book. They could publish a few articles here and there, present at conferences, and try to keep current in their field to support their graduate teaching. But sustained research output wasn't really possible.

Now, since the late 1990s, the administration has decided that we must try to compete more strongly with other universities in the state -- so they've set a goal of becoming a "nationally known" institution -- which they measure only in terms of outside grant funding. (The R1, R2 designations which have actually changed from the original Carnegie system) are all too often treated by top-level administrators simply as numeric benchmarks.) So lots of funding has been directed to the hard sciences, since they bring in more government and private sector contracts. At the same time, the administration has decided that it must improve the quality of the faculty. So they've raised the standards for tenure considerably, without providing institutional support that would encourage the increased level of productivity now demanded.

To be very specific: yes, I teach at a research university, in a department that offers MA and PhD degrees. I teach a 2-3 load if I can keep my publication level up-- it can be raised to 3-3 if an article doesn't come out on schedule. We have no research assistants, no graders, no teaching assistants. Sometimes there is a little money available to support travel to a conference -- sometimes not. The faculty grant program for the humanities college, which offered $500-$1000 grants to support travel to an archive, publication subventions (if you need to pay for illustrations, etc), or new computer equipment, has been discontinued. We have no cost of living increases -- any salary increase occurs only if you have published something during a year in which the state legislature has decided to give money to our university. The costs of not doing research are high -- the older generation of faculty increasingly feels that the rules have been switched on them late in their careers. They can no longer simply focus on their teaching and administrative duties. Yet the institution hasn't been actively supporting research in the humanities -- simply demanding that we show increased output.

The conditions of my job are nothing like those at R1 departments (I have friends at such places and am amazed by their easy access to travel funding, research support, and clerical assistance). Yet I think most of my colleagues would be happy to focus more time and energy on their research projects if they could. We are a research university in name and sometimes in practice. But the overall climate of intellectual inquiry and support for research is not yet part of our culture. And given the economic practices of our administration, it's not likely to happen for the humanities.

Reading Hall, I am reminded of how simplistic the division of jobs and schools into "research" and "teaching" can be. I don't think my job is more comfortable or more prestigious than teaching at a good small liberal arts college would be. I think it suits me better, based on my political and pedagogical beliefs, and my own intellectual interests. But teaching loads and publication expectations are just parts of a larger climate and culture that varies tremendously from place to place.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

On teaching as work

I began this as a comment to Joesph's post, but thought maybe it would be more appropriate as its own beast.

There I asked what counts as the creative work (as opposed to the grinding work that we seem, perhaps to have escaped as academics)?

The obvious answer, is, of course, whatever counts for research. But I think we as a profession need to make a better case for teaching as a site for invigorating, creative, and important work.

The same may also be true of service and collegiality. Hall, however, spends a lot of time later talking about service and collegiality, especially in the excellent fourth chapter.

But teaching, to me, is, and likely always will be, undervalued in in this profession. I am, I believe, a devoted, creative, engaged, and often popular teacher. My research is fine, and it seems to have landed me this job, but I think I shall never be a rock star. But 40% of my job is teaching, and I just don't hear about people forming working groups around teaching their classes. Pedagogy is a huge part of our jobs, but it is often treated (here I think generally by omission), as that thing we have to do to get all the other perks of the life of the mind. But to me, teaching is a life of the mind. I am happy about doing a little less of it in this position not because I can focus on other, more important things, but so I can teach the hundred odd students I'll have this fall (and maybe 50 in the spring) that much better.

What this calls for (to me) is a greater attention to how these things are assessed. What does it mean that 40% of my job is teaching? How do you measure whether that teaching is good, creative, or just popular?

Part of what I am missing in this book, then, is the way that the academic self gets constructed in the classroom. I think the notion that what we do in departmental hallways matters is important, but the classroom needn't get shafted.

So the question I pose to you all: how does your classroom persona intesect with your collegial persona, and with your writerly persona. Venn diagrams optional (but highly encouraged).

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Work (Ch. 1)

Hall's positioning of Thomas Carlyle at the workaholic end of the spectrum put me in mind of Freud, who at the end of Civilization & Its Discontents suggests that creative & scientific work offer the best possible solution to our inevitable discontent with the human situation.* Freud is not saying that any sort of work will serve to give meaning to a human life, but work of a particular kind. Since Hall seems to be suggesting that academics are particularly well-equipped to manage the dynamics of a reflexive self, I'm surprised that he does not make Freud's distinction between mere work & creative work. I think most academics had an early realization regarding the differences between these modes of work & that many chose the academy over, say, business, because it offered the possibility of creative work. Or perhaps this is implicit in his argument. I'll say this, though, that hardly a day goes by that this kid from the working class does not thank the gods for the privilege of pursuing the life of the mind.

Another question: Where do we place ourselves on the spectrum between the dilettante Casaubon & the workaholic Thomas Carlyle?
*Having rejected drugs, booze & religion because of their obvious downsides.

Update: The spectrum between Casaubon & Carlyle that I proposed above does, as comments indicate, leave a lot out of the picture. What I was groping for was a sense of the way we as academics respond to the demands of our work. Ideally, I am with Carlyle, or, given my particular background, St. Paul: "Work, for the night is coming," a motto Dr. Johnson is supposed to have had inscribed on his watch dial. In practice, though, I am a list-maker & a procrastinator. Looking back on my career so far, I am amazed that I have managed to accomplish as much as I have. On the other hand, I often think of all that I might have accomplished had I been somehow better at my work.

Monday, June 20, 2005

more on failure/success (still ch 1)

I'm still thinking about some things in Chapter 1, related to my own career, a conversation I had with an old grad school friend, and Joseph's posts from last week. I agree with Hall about the need for being explicit with students and with each other about the contingency of this profession -- the presumption that decisions (jobs, fellowships, publications) are made solely on merit is one of the most psychologically damaging aspects of the profession. Plenty of people who are not otherwise paranoid or neurotic become that way (at least temporarily) in certain situations (the year one goes up for tenure a classic moment, but there are others). We are given so few opportunities for feedback -- and the ones we do get are mostly very high-stakes. So it's difficult, I think, to maintain one's equilibrium at all times, even if you intellectually realise the value of what Hall is saying.

Hall's main points are about the damaging aspects of failure (the job you didn't get, etc). Such stories are familiar to all of us -- we've all been rejected for various things. Yet his main example of contingency (the finding of a book while browsing before a movie) winds up with the happy ending. Mine does too -- the very random set of circumstances that meant that the one on-campus interview I got my first year on the market wound up in a job offer. I have felt grateful, and not a bit guilty, at times, for lucking into a situation that suits me pretty well.

I guess my question has to do with how one processes such luck, contingency, whatever you want to call it. Because it can (on bad days) sometimes make me feel like a failure -- not for externally defined reasons, but for internal ones. If I got my job because of contingent factors-- when there plenty of people I knew who were as qualified who didn't get jobs at all -- then it's not really an achievement. Ditto for anything else. (This is, of course, how we internalize perfectionism and the values of the profession.)

More pointedly, for where I am now in my life -- if I got tenure based on a book, but it wasn't the book I was "supposed" to write (in my field your dissertation is supposed to become your first book), when can I let that old book go? I hadn't realized until a few days ago how much I was hanging on to internalized assumptions that were basically keeping me stuck. I'm not the person I was when I started that research years ago. But my academic self-definition hasn't caught up to who I am now, yet.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Chapter One - mixed reactions

My copy of Hall finally arrived, so I can catch up with everyone else. I've made it through the first chapter, and I find myself with some mixed feelings. Hall says some things about academic careers that I've been thinking myself, which on the one hand is nice confirmation that I'm not alone in my attitude to this career; most important, I think, is his point that academia tends to define success too narrowly, and we all need to define success for ourselves. On the other hand, as I'd already discovered (largely through blogging) that other people also felt this way, part of me comes away from Hall thinking, Yes, but what's new about this? I'm probably underestimating the significance of actually saying, in print, that the hierarchy of academic success is artificial and we have to determine what success means for ourselves. But while I'm glad to see someone say this in print, it doesn't feel very radical to me. (Or I should say, not necessarily radical enough to merit being published?)

I suppose part of the reason why I'm less impressed than I hoped to be is that in reading this chapter, I found myself filtering out much of the literary theory and "translating" his arguments into, well, common sense. As I read, I wondered whether all the references to Giddons et al. are really necessary? While certainly much of what Hall writes applies to all kinds of academic disciplines, couching this first chapter in terms of such theorists demonstrates that Hall really writes for literary scholars. (I know someone made this point in the comments already; my apologies for not going back and digging out the reference.) By saying this, I don't mean to suggest that no one else can read the book with profit, but there are certain fundamental assumptions that he makes about the academic endeavor in this chapter that, I'd argue, don't apply to people who aren't literary scholars. And because so many of his criticisms of academia as it currently exists (at least in the first chapter) derive from what he seems to see as the disjunction between the kinds of scholarly thinking we apply to [literary] texts in our teaching/research and to our academic selves as texts, it does seem to matter what he thinks that scholarly thinking looks like. In the introduction (xviii) he writes, "Yet certainly the impulse to question, reinterrogate, unsettle, and dissipate familiarities should drive our work as intellectuals." Yes, I would agree with that; but would academics from all disciplines talk about the goals of their work in quite this way? In the first chapter(18), he notes, "Even as we teach binary-undermining theories and revisionary practices--of poststructuralism, postcoloniality, semiotics--we too often engage in professional behavior that evinces startling forms of 'us/them' thinking." Yes - but not everyone teaches these theories and practices. This appears even in his "starting points" (the 5 points in bold on pp. 11-17): #5 reads, "In reflecting upon the constructed nature of our professional self-identities, we can remind ourselves always to work more honestly and forthrightly to integrate our theories and our practices." Are we all operating on the same theories here? I hate to be a disciplinary grouch by quibbling over such things, but his assumptions seem central to his understanding of the academic self. Fundamentally, he seems to be arguing that the problem with academia is that it's populated by people who've spent their lives training to analyze texts and break down what seems "natural", but who are unwilling to apply those skills to themselves. My reaction is, this is not what all academics are trained or trying to do. Again, this is not to suggest that therefore no one who doesn't study literature should read this book; but I would have preferred to see Hall acknowledge his implicit audience rather than speak as if he's writing to all academics. (Though it may be the case that it's the press that has erased clear pointers to the literary scholar/MLA attendee as audience.)

Perhaps because I see what I do slightly differently from the way that Hall describes it, the other thing that I found slightly disconcerting about this chapter was that it seemed to allow for no separation between work and self, in a way that was a little strange given his criticism of workaholism. One's academic self seemed to be one's self. This probably sounds anti-intellectual of me, but there are times when I want to treat work as just work - not my life, not some expression of my self-awareness - just a job. Obviously, by going into academia I've chosen a job that's intellectually demanding and is very closely tied to my sense of self. But Hall seems to be holding academics to a much higher standard of self-analysis than other professionals. Maybe that's a fair demand, given what academics do. But sometimes I get a little tired of self-analysis.

In any case, I don't mean to suggest that Hall's book isn't worth reading. And I'm looking forward to going through the rest of the book. Onward!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The self and the market

The previous post asks "to what extent does an academic self control its narrative?" I think this a good question, and I don't want to undermine it. However, I just logged on to pose a similar question, but perhaps also slightly different: "Doesn't the academic self always remained, at least to a certain degree, determined by the job market?" Let me explain, but let me also say that I think what I have to say on this may be something that is more acute in humanistic and other disciplines where it is widely perceived that there is an oversupply of Ph.Ds (or in the case of the previous post, of MFAs). I wonder if it would be the same in disciplines where PhDs felt more secure of their chances of employment.

Starting with Hall, even he frames his own narrative of the development of his academic self around his experiences on the market, first as a candidate, then as someone who hires. Speaking for myself, when I started to define myself professionally as a graduate student, I always did so with some awareness of the impending job search. Choosing fields of interest was staking out a territory, which is not to say that I didn't like the territory, but rather that I knew I had to find territory to stake. And of course, my major statements of self-definition have been related to employment: those job letters I labored (and labored) over, the interviews, and then the set of statements I developed more recently for tenure.

I was thinking of this last night when Pylduck suggested that we post snippets of our professional statements here. I actually started to poke around in my research statement for tenure (which I am happy to send anyone, anyone at all, who would actually want to read such a thing) for good paragraphs. I found a few, and was just about to paste them into Blogger, when I remembered that the professional statement that I thought was most sucessful was actually something else I wrote about the same time: a three-page job letter. (My grad school mentor even commented to me that I defined myself with particular clarity in the letter.) And I thought, what does it mean that my best statement of who I am as a professional comes when I am considering myself as a prospective employee?

My point is that the job market saturates our thinking about our professional selves. I think to some extent that Hall wants to try to reverse this by suggesting that we rid ourselves of a hierarchy in which there are only a few "prize" jobs and the rest are drudgery. On the one hand, I wonder if that's enough; on the other, I am not optimistic that even that is possible.

To What Extent Does an Academic Self Control its Narrative?

I mentioned in my post last night that my failure to get a certain job many years ago had at least partially defined the sort of academic self I have developed into. Give the expectations of my graduate training, I should have emerged from that experience with no expectation of any sort of academic position. On the first day of orientation, a senior member of the MFA faculty stood up & told us to forget about the degree being a job credential. "You are apprentice artists," he told us. Still, there he stood, a one-time apprentice artist with a nice job teaching in the best MFA program in the country, which is to say, the message was internally contradictory. The best of us, I presumed, would wind up teaching the best, most advanced students.

Didn't happen. By 1980, when I got my MFA, the first wave of the MFA craze had crested. I was lucky to find adjunct gigs. I've already sketched the rest of the story below. Reading Hall has brought into sharp focus a number of things about my really pretty successful career that I have long suppressed. (Which is no doubt why these posts ramble so much.) I have realized fully for the first time that I am ashamed to be the kind of writer who teaches undergraduates rather than grad students. This despite the fact that I have continue to be a (moderately) successful artist & (quite) successful academic.

It was bad luck, or a crappy fate, that kept me from getting that job in the Midwest MFA program. I did everything I was supposed to do. The wisdom to draw from this is that our academic selves are contingent creations over which we can exert only a limited amount of control. I don't think Hall denies this, but the way, but the self-help genre in general probably has to over-emphasize the degree to which we shape our own fates.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Self & Narrative

I've been trying to wrap my mind around Hall's Introduction in terms of my own academic self & its narrative journey over twenty-five years in the classroom. I've had some trouble doing this since I find Hall's style a little vaporous. I have also been reading the introductions you have all posted with great interest--what a range of academic experiences!--& trying to see how my narrative compares.

I will begin with a confession. Reading Hall & the posts here so far, I have come to see that my academic self has consistently sought security. That is, one of the values that has driven my career is the desire for security, both professional & economic. I stand in awe of people who have left secure positions to test themselves in new & uncertain circumstances. I will not go into the whole psychoanalytic song & dance about a working class background & strange family life, except to say that such things were obviously formative. That said, I pursued a crazy-ass route to security, deciding that I would devote my life to poetry. After a nine-year undergraduate career at the University of Washington, I applied to one graduate program: Iowa, considered the best at the time & still highly rated. I got in & prospered. I was not the most talented member of my class, but I was the most driven & enthusiastic.

I got my MFA in 1980, which was about the worst possible moment to be graduating into the ranks of those supposedly qualified to teach. I didn't really expect to teach immediately, though I had long thought of myself as a teacher.

Fast forward through a job as a journalist & several of adjunct gigs. My first book is published & I get an offer from my current school for a TT job teaching undergrads at a tech school. I take it, but keep applying for jobs. Two years into my new TT job, I am a finalist for a job in an MFA program in the Midwest. The Chair all but tells me I Have the job when he drives me to the airport after the interview. Except I don't get the job. I go back to being the one poet at a tech school get tenure & get promoted to full prof ahead of several colleagues who were already tenured associates when I arrived as a beginning assistant. But that failure to get the job teaching in a grad program has defined my academic self more than I like to think about.

Interestingly, another "failure," not being chosen to Chair my department, has resulted my making a complete reevaluation of my priorities & has led to a creative & intellectual explosion over the last few months.

I want to address several of Hall's ideas in more specific fashion, but I'll wait until tomorrow.

Graduate Student Angst

Hi all! I'm joining in late, but I'd like to start with a suggestion that those of us interested share not just introductions but snippets of our Professional Statements. Though I agree with Mel's comment in a previous post about the rhetorical messiness of this idealized vision of the PS in Hall's description, I do think that a version of this kind of concrete reflection on one's goals can be helpful. I'd like to think of the PS as a quick statement I could give to someone who asks me what I do for a living. I've had professors suggest that we write yearly "intellectual autobiographies" for a similar purpose -- tracing through conceptions of our present selves as the result of our past intellectual pursuits in order to understand where to go from here.

And in part, this kind of written statement is appealing to me because some of us in my graduate program feel that the wide range of career aspirations amongst graduate students can be confusing. Some of us do want to go into teaching jobs. Others are more interested in research jobs. But we aren't really encouraged to express these aspirations because, as Hall points out, the reigning understanding is that research jobs are the "good" jobs or jobs for the "smart" scholars while teaching jobs are bad jobs for the not-quite-as-astute scholars.

My introduction: I am an ABD graduate student in UNC Chapel Hill's English program. I am a bit of a fish out of water working on an Asian Americanist dissertation in a program with only its first Asian Americanist scholar starting this coming fall. As a result of not being "trained" in my field, I've been especially conscious of trying to enter my field through conferences and e-mail communications with other Asian Americanist scholars (mostly graduate students and junior faculty) around the country.

I have found Hall's book incredibly thoughtful, and I look forward to more of discussion in the next few weeks! (Forgive me if I write about the book vaguely since I had to finish it in one sitting and return it to the library since it was on hold for another patron -- perhaps someone in this group?) I'm going to work on a PS to share here later.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

ch 1: statements of self

Hall's discussion of the need for academics to thoughtfully and reflectively create statements of professional self-identity is, in at least 2 places in the text, put in the context of the job market: on pp. 2-3 he describes an interview question he asks job candidates, and on p19 he imagines a variety of contexts in which a Professional Statement might be used. Although Hall acknowledges that of course any answer given within the context of a job interview probably is created at least in part to suit what the candidate thinks the questioner wants to hear, he also suggests that one's answers to the questions "what goals are you setting for yourself as you embark on a career?" and "talk about the type of department or university setting that you imagine would be one in which you could thrive and meet those goals" (2) can reveal "the degree of professional flexibility, potential for equanimity, and commitment to collegiality of the candidate in question" (3).

I don't doubt that such conversations can be fruitful, and perhaps even useful in an interview setting. But the reality is that most of us find ourselves already located within departments, with only limited chances of mobility (particularly after tenure). So imagining the type of department seems more an exercise in discovering what one values (or thinks one values) in academe, rather than something externally focused. (I was initially going to dismiss that question altogether until I realised one useful aspect of it.)

I think Hall wants to move such conversations beyond the interview scenario to include the rest of us who aren't seeking new positions -- the self-reflection he recommends inevitably (it seems to me) comes up when you're writing job letters. It happens less obviously when you're busy with the day-to-day of the academic position.

But somehow his call for us all to write statements of professional identity wasn't very compelling for me. Maybe the documents I wrote for the tenure file aren't far enough behind me yet. Maybe I'm too cynical about such documents -- just as a job candidate would tailor her/his remarks, so too does a tenure candidate. What would such a statement without an audience look like? No text exists without at least an implied audience (says the rhetorician in me). So, what would my statement to myself look like? I don't know yet. (Hall's own professional statement is in an appendix at the end of the book, if you haven't looked yet.)

Monday, June 13, 2005

Quick Beginning

Hi all -- can't talk about this properly till I'm done with the marking of the finals, but there are a couple of things I wanted to get down. First, ouch! That's the other reason I can't blog properly -- the chapter brought up a lot of stuff I really need to sort through, especially the paralysis and shame. But I'm also having a little problem with the assumption that everyone who's reading the book has a job -- for all he talks about the "us/them" thing, it's as if (at least from where I am) there's an implicit "usness" of the employed academic upon which much of the other stuff is based. But then, i'm touchy on that these days.

I was also just appalled by his connection of unhealthy (if Carlylean) workaholism with "belief systems" like ... Nazism!?! (p. 8) There was so much in that bit that just felt wrong to me. Otherwise, though, I think there's some good stuff in the chapter. I also now feel that I have to go out and buy (and read) Middlemarch. I've never read Eliot.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

A late introduction

Just back from my trip and starting to catch up ...

I'm an assistant professor (social sciences) at a public R1 school, in a department much like the one that granted my PhD. This is my second t-t position, and it is considered a move up from my previous one (which was considered a pretty desireable position as well) although I'm not here because I was overly ambitious and trying to leave. They came for me. This has been the hallmark of my experience, with the path just laying itself out in front of me and inviting me to walk down (start with my first accidental MS). I do work hard when I work, but I've not really chased a passion or a dream. I get handed an opportunity and take it on as a challenge, and then the next opportunity dangles in my face. The biggest differences for me in this job are teaching load (in my two years here I've only taught 2-1 so far and I'm being protected from new preps/classes I don't want to teach) and the students (pretty much only dealing with grad students these days). I suppose higher tenure requirements, too, but I have a very "whatever" attitude about that.

I have no idea where I am on the tenure path for complicated reasons. I may be able to use 2 years from my previous job, but I may not want to because my first year here was very rough due to personal life issues. I mostly don't think about it. I mostly don't care. My area of expertise and skill set is one that is desireable in a corporate setting and I tend to keep that as a safety in my back pocket. This is typical of me, keeping each foot planted in a different world and not really wanting to belong to either. Might be something worth exploring.

I feel really guilty about saying all of this, knowing how some folks have struggled on the market, taken jobs they didn't want, etc. My field isn't one of the overly impacted ones, but it certainly isn't this easy for everyone.

My job is great. Yes, there are always things that could be better, but I feel like my department values my presence and contributions and I'm pretty realistic that every place is going to have its little issues so I don't let those bug me very much. My worst complaint is incompetent support staff, followed by inadequate pay. My colleagues try to mentor me, but no one interferes too much. They accept me as I am.

My biggest issues/problems would be lack of motivation and my personal life (or lack thereof in this lame college town). I suspect the two are related, that I'm waiting for a stable personal life before I do anything else. I have no plan. I'm drifting. I've always drifted and things have just worked out. That may need to change. Maybe this exploration will help me set some goals and get a sense of intentionality in an overall sense rather than just tossing myself at project after project. Goals. Yes, goals.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Mentors, mentors all around, or What did you learn in school (pt. 1)?

Thoughts upon a quick read of Hall (just got back in town and retrieved my book):

Hall complains early on that the 4-4 loads that come with many available jobs "were never even mentioned" (uel sim.) by grad school professors. While I take his point that grad school professors implicitly or explicitly train their students to replicate their own research careers and that grad school typically offers little direct preparation for teaching-intensive jobs, I'm flummoxed by the notion that one could get all the way to the job-search stage of a PhD and have no idea what was out there waiting. Did Hall pay no attention at all to the job searches of those a few years ahead of him in his program? Did he have no contact with alumni of his program? Were his interactions with professors limited to those old and sheltered enough not to have passed through less glamorous jobs on the way to the the exalted positions in which they were privileged to teach the (no doubt extremely irritating, if highly self-motivated) Mr. Hall? (Sorry, I'm getting a little crabby here.) In my experience, some of the most important mentoring in grad school came from the community of students, especially those five or six years older, who were finishing when I was starting and whom I could watch moving through the early stages of their careers as I approached going on the market myself. And while a significant number of my profs were people who had been hired in the 60s and had only ever had one job, there were plenty of others who had had a variety of kinds of positions before landing at Provincial Flagship R1. You'd have to be living under a rock not to be aware of new hires in your program and both the accomplishments and job-search vagaries that allowed them to move into R1 jobs, people on temporary contracts, late-stage grad students adjuncting all over the metro area, etc., etc. Big universities come equipped with the full range of kinds and stages of academic careers. For someone who is so interested in social structures and networks and is so organized about (micro)managing his own career, Hall seems (rhetorically, at least) to have moved through his own PhD experience in a very blinkered way.

Moreover, few students spend their entire academic careers in the same type of institution all the way from undergrad through PhD. Whether you started out in a liberal arts college or a branch college of a state system or whatever, you're likely to have been taught by people with careers more like the ones you're contemplating as a new PhD than like those of your grad school mentors. I know from personal experience that most undergrads are clueless about the status and workload of their professors, but surely students who are contemplating academic careers look about them and make inquiries and learn something about the profession. If they don't think to do it earlier, the topic surely comes up when undergrads talk to their (usually non-R1) mentors about recommendations for grad school. I know that when my students at a regional liberal arts college come to talk to me about grad school, the first question before they're even all the way in the door and in a chair is about what kinds of jobs one can get in what fields and with what kinds of degrees. They're clueless about the answers until told, but they're not at all clueless about what questions to ask. I know that when I was an undergrad, my favorite professor was on a series of one-year contracts and he didn't hesitate to talk about the trials of being on the market every year. His job at my undergrad school didn't turn tenure track till after I graduated. He was one of the luckier survivors of the dismal job market of the late 70s, and he was very up front (i.e. discouraging) about what lay ahead for his students contemplating grad school.

Indeed, I think the influence of our undergraduate teachers on how we ourselves teach and as models for what an academic career looks like is seriously underestimated in most discussions (laments) about the inadequacy of professional mentoring.

(Enough screed for this morning. I have more thoughts about the Hall version of what you learn in grad school, but I'll save those for a separate post.)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Mentoring and the self

Inspired by this blog, I've been posing some questions about mentoring on my own blog -- and the comments are quite interesting. Feel free to jump in there.

Hall's book makes me think about mentoring because of his frustration at the gap between what he thought his professors trained him to do and what his work experience actually is. So I have been thinking about how better mentoring could prepare people for their jobs. One thing I keep coming up against is that I feel like my own "academic self" could have developed in a number of different ways. As it stands, my academic life -- or just my life -- is very bound up with working, teaching, and talking to graduate students and highly motivated undergraduates. That's not all I do, of course, but it's a big part of it. (And I'm about to become DGS, as I may have said, so it will become bigger.) However, when I interviewed for jobs, I also interviewed at a number of different kinds of universities and colleges -- urban public universities, rural flagship u. in a very poor state, a hippy public u. in the redwoods, a small private liberal arts college in New England, and so on. And during that three-day period of MLA, I tried to convince the job committees -- and convince myself -- that I could cultivate an academic self for each of these kinds of institutions. And I really believed it. Of course, not everyone bought it, but I really could have very easily ended up at a university where, for instance, I focused more on other parts of my academic interests and very, very different kinds of teaching. Would I have been just as happy? I can't say for sure, but I'd like to think so. And I guess I'd like to help my graduate students here be ready to be happy in a number of different situations as well.

Why Ms. Mentor?

(I'd like to move on from introductions, if that is OK. Here goes ...)

One detail of Hall's introduction disturbs me: his critique of Ms. Mentor. Considering that he endorses such self-help pap as "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff," it is remarkable that he would conduct an extended close reading of MM in order to accuse her of endorsing both a thoughtless youth and a cranky professorate (pp.xvi-xvii).

While I have not read "Ms. Mentor's Impeccable Advice for Women," I am a devotee of her Chronicle column where, it seems to me, she imparts clear-eyed advice on the muddy waters of the profession. I have always liked the fact that MM admits that academics are cranky -- rather than attempting to shine up the image of us as thoughtful and wise (very rare, in my experience). She is also consistent and unsparing in her valuation of women's professional selves in a society AND profession which devalues them. (I love when she tells women with selfish husbands that tenure lasts longer than marriage.)

So, I wonder why Hall chooses to challenge MM so blatently ("attack" is too strong a word, but considering Hall's gentle tone throughout, it is perhaps the closest to it in the book).

Any opinions?


introducing timna

I read Donald Hall's book about two years ago after my first year on the job market and graduating in 2003. At that point I had an academic self - I'd been teaching for 3 years in a community college and was starting to publish - that I wanted to tweak into an employed self. I read the book with an eye to presenting this self in my applications that fall. Looking back, it seems to be a very shallow way of using the material, but I know that I found a way to read his book that also accepted the current academic self, even if I wasn't satisfied.

Two years later, I'm both more and less content with the self that has evolved. I'm a much better teacher, having taught more classes and having a clearer sense of my objectives for each class. My research has gone forward and back: I've had articles accepted, revised, and then had publishers withdraw when I discuss family opposition to my work (the subject of my work is a book published in 1995 and fairly widely used in academics; however, the original manuscript is held by the family and their permission to use has been withdrawn since my dissertation was written). Lately I've written encyclopedia articles and started different research directions. Seems like juggling a lot of different stages of research and perhaps others can tell me that's exactly what happens.

I continue to teach at the community college on a temporary, part-time basis. I've applied there three times and not been accepted. On the other hand, I literally have more classes than I want (3 classes = 12 credits is enough for insurance for the family, but I usually have 4 classes). We have excellent faculty development, both funding for conferences (2-3 a year) and workshops for teaching and curriculum development. Few of my colleagues do research work and I don't talk about it there much at all. My second year on the market yielded the most campus visits, but no offers. There were issues with "tenurability" with my lack of publications. This year I had fewer interviews and no campus visits, but I also stopped applying early in the season and took a break. I must admit I've been much happier not applying for jobs all of the time.

This summer I'm revising the diss for publication since one publisher read it and said they'd be interested in seeing it in a more narrative form. One article is coming out this month. I'm sending out two more that have gone out before (one of the one's that had been accepted).

So, my academic self is not at all sure that I'll ever be on the tenure track, but I guess I haven't given up entirely yet. Writing and researching seem too important to me on a daily basis to just skip out at this point.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Another Introduction

Thoughtful, hmmm? I'll give it a whirl. I'm a second generation university professor with fifteen years of service under my belt. As a daughter to one academic, sister to another, this seems to be the only world I really know (though I did a few years of dotcom consultation, I find the corporate world alien to the core.) I network a lot across disciplines, but in a very superficial manner. I tend to be a bit cynical about academia because of my long history. Said cynicism stands me in good stead when new management trends are inflicted on the institution or calls come for "relevant research."

I teach at a mid-level university with definite ambitions (I'm speaking here of the university's, though I have my own). From the sleepy school which hired me, this feels like quite a change and part of my interest in this discussion is examining the shifts both in myself, the individual, and the institution in which I teach. I also feel quite the disconnect between my very esoteric specialization and the constant call for applicable "real world" results.

One advantage at a teaching focused smaller university was that getting tenure was easy. I am thankful, as I had two toddlers in hand at the time. Honestly, parenting consumed a lot of my life since the childrens' birth (and youngest's special needs diagnoses). It's only been over the past two years as if I felt I could do more than a conference paper or two in the academic year. I'm rediscovering my academic writing as well as my research skills. Much of my self-identity has been tied up in my teaching and service (the latter largely unnoticed and unrewarded) because my writing has languished. I'm seeking to focus some of that energy and identity on my research.


A thoughtful introduction?
This seems strange to me because generally I go to great lengths to avoid introducing myself as an academic and instead introduce myself as a "normal person". I avoid words like professor and faculty member and instead identify myself with my profession in hopes of not seeming pompous and obnoxious (I heard someone recently say "Hi! My name is X. I have a PhD. I teach classes in FieldofChoice at State University in Capitol City" to some people he had never met before... blech).

Anyway, I am an assistant professor in a top-ranked allied health department at a public R1 research institution. I have a reasonable teaching load (1-1 this year which ramps up to 2-2 longterm). Research expectations are high and that is something that causes me some stress. Am I getting things out quickly enough? Am I getting my lab started quickly enough? What counts as reasonable work load with regard to seeing subjects or designing new studies? Like Bright Eyes, my profession has a pipeline problem so just because I got my job is no guarantee that I have what it takes to keep my job. In some ways I'd feel better if I had beat out 100 applicants to get the position I have because then I'd at least know I was good at what I do - instead I could just be mediocre but the best of what was out there this year.

Unlike Hall, I am not bitter about my graduate experience or the shift to tenure track and the job hunt. These things were all smooth and insulated, in part because my advisor is a good mentor. In fact, I think I've had pretty good mentoring so far - I definately knew what to expect this year and I haven't found things so overwhelming that I can't keep my head above water (although the fact that I'm coping feeds the fear that I'm not working hard enough or not smart enough to know that I'm failing or something). And the department here is collegial and supportive. I feel there are people to talk to if I were to have problems, both junior and senior. And people have gone out of their way to be helpful when I have trouble with logistical issues (copier, computer support, reimbursement). If there are factions or major competitiveness within the dept, I haven't noticed it.

At the same time I haven't really connected either socially or intellectually with anyone on the faculty yet. I have plenty of social connections in the community but not so many within the university. There are some hints at possible collaborations but not anything concrete yet. And definately no one here to kick around research ideas or design issues with. Not that they wouldn't listen - just not exactly their area of interest and not something they would want to devote a ton of time to. I came from a large lab so this intellectual isolation is something new to me.

I'm interested in issues of professionalism and professional development both from a very personal vantage point and from a more long term passing information along perspective. Either way, I am looking forward to hearing different points of view about what it means to be a professor and how one cares for oneself along the way.

"Hello, Hello..."

Hi, everyone. I feel like I know many of you already through our blogs (though this is my introduction to Jason, who is just down the road from me!). I just received the book today and have only flipped through it, but I like the idea of thoughtful introductions, so I'll dive in. I earned my PhD in English from Illinois at Chicago in July 2003, starting my TT position here at the University of Hartford in August 2003. I am in the Department of Rhetoric, Language, and Culture, which houses the first-year writing program and the professional and technical writing program.

I always feel just out of place in most of my personal and professional situations. In terms of my education, I have a BA in English (from U of Houston) and two MAs, one in Women's Studies and one in Comparative Studies (from Ohio State). I knew early on, in junior high, that I wanted an academic life, a life of reading and writing and teaching. This is a bit odd considering that neither of my parent's finished high school (though my father did get his GED in the army and did finish college through night classes while I grew up). But I really didn't know what I wanted to do. I loved poetry, but I could not see building a career or a life around it. That's how I ended up in Women's Studies because the women's lit class I took as an undergrad really felt significant and important to me. It felt like we were talking about life and not just the text as text (I had a prof ruin romantic poetry for me because he wanted nothing to do with the lives of the poets or the social context or anything that, to me, provided a reason for studying such lit in the first place). I found rhetoric as a field that tied all of my diverse interests together, and I love teaching writing. So rhet/comp became my focus.

It's no secret that my years at Illinois at Chicago were chaotic. Stanley Fish took over as dean the year I started. I saw a lot of change in my few years there, some good, some not. I saw a lot of political grandstanding and infighting. But I also met some great people. My exams were a blissful experience I loved, but my dissertation defense was awful, partly the result of the politics I just mentioned, or so many of my committee members told me later. There was also an administrative snafu that was not my fault but almost led to me not getting my degree. I left UIC with a bad taste in my mouth. Sometimes, I wonder if it's fair of me to feel that way, though many there support my thinking.

I never heard of U of Hartford until I saw the job ad. I do like it here. We have a wide range of students, some amazing and some not. I was told by some jaded faculty that we only get the students who are rejected elsewhere and whose parents have enough money to send them away anyway. If true, it's only partially true. We have some great programs that attract great students, and we do get those with little to no motivation.

Did I say that I just finished my second year? Already, several people who started with me have left for "better things." Our teaching load is 3/3, which is pretty good. We have research expectations but they do not seem onerous. Some faculty do want more prestige and higher pay. I can understand that, but I haven't been looking. It's funny because people expect me to be looking. I've been asked about it, about how long I think I'm going to stay. And I have no plans to leave. I know I should want to teach graduate students and should want more money, but it's been good so far. I don't feel the pressure to write a book, which means that the book I'm writing can really be what I want it to be. If it fails, all is not lost. And that's a good feeling. I have not taught anything above the 200-level yet, but I do get to teach books I want to teach, for the most part.

I'll be honest and say that I like the potential to become a big fish in a small pond here, but I also like the chance to blend in and do solid, good work without the Research I kind of pressure. So, that's me, and I'm looking forward to the book discussion.

Kia ora koutou

Hello everyone.

I'm known as harvestbird on-line. I work at the pseudonymous Concrete University, one of New Zealand's eight universities, where I teach in Bridging Programmes, pre-undergraduate courses that prepare local and international students for university study.

I'm also a New Zealander by birth (hence the Maori greeting; the standard signal by which kiwis of many ethnicities make ourselves known internationally).

I teach New Zealand Literature and Film Studies in the programme for local students, and a general arts elective. My doctoral research was in the poetics of the New Zealand writer Robin Hyde (from whose writing I take my on-line moniker).

My current position is a continuing contract, while many of my colleagues remain in fixed-term employment. Tenure as such doesn't exist in New Zealand. Having said that, many local universities now employ new academic staff on a trial fixed-term period followed by a review, usually after three or five years, so we are starting to resemble the American system.

My own weblog (at diaryland, not linked to from my blogger profile) is reflective and anecdotal in content, rather than dealing with issues of scholarship and life in the academic system (other than as narrative). I suspect this is because my professional position within the academy is low in status.

A large part of developing my professional identity has been separating the strands of what I do (teaching and accompanying administration) from who I am: a thinker, a writer, a critic.

So I welcome a discussion of the kind Hall's volume seeks to initiate. I'm aware that the cultural context (including some aspects of academic culture) out of which I write differs from other participants--my location, for starters--but I hope to be able to make some contribution beyond attempting to speak on behalf of New Zealand!

Who am I?

That's what I'll answer briefly here for everybody, and it's what I'm hoping to figure out as we work our way through the Hall book. My own academic self-identity is not obvious to me (I think Another Damned Medievalist noted this as well), and I am at a period in my life in which I am really thinking about how I want to live my life for the next 30 years or so. I am up for tenure this year and am making my last stand this summer to get pregnant at age 40-something, so the idea of self-consciously figuring out what kind of life I want to have in academia is appealing to me.

I teach in a small social sciences department at a private Research-1 U., 2-2 teaching load. I found the atmosphere here pretty much the same as my R-1 graduate school, but not in a good way: The lack of intellectual intercourse or even general camaraderie is the same as it was in grad school, but I had hoped for more. It's not that I feel competition with other junior faculty, I just don't see much of them. And while I have a good mentor in my dept., our subfields are different enough that I can't toss ideas around with him the way I wish I could.

But I know that I'm lucky to have this job, and I don't really want to go anywhere else. They let me do my own thing; that's the good part. (Whether what I've done so far will be enough for tenure -- we shall see.) What I hope to get out of this book group is a renewed confidence that academic life is what I want and a better sense of what my place within academic should be, given my own strengths and weaknesses and my desire for a balanced life, with or without a baby in the picture.

I look forward to it!


A more visible intro

Like others, I'll link to my first introduction in an earlier set of comments, and I'll expand more here.

As I said in the link, I often fear I tread the line between healthy optimism and naivete; it's a faith in academia that I have yet disabused of, and one I cling to dearly. It's what fueled the drive to finish the degree and go onto the job market three grueling years in a row, where on-campus interviews at Leafy Private College, Overburdened State U, Urban Comp U, Mass Catholic College, and finally my job at Mountain R1 (which I indentify elsewhere freely, but I'll follow convention here), left me with a job, some serious interview skills, and very little desire to ever put myself through that again.

And while three years on the market and two years teaching comp in a program that began as a utopia, and then sort of self-destructed this Spring required and tested that optimism, it hasn't used it up (although another year in the comp program would have stretched it to the limits).

Because I work in theatre and drama, I am all about collaborative effort, and the community that it engenders. And so Hall's sentiments--generous, ethically motivated, and optimistic--strike as precisely the midset I want to adopt as I venture into this new job. As I said once to an administrator in my last program, I may get punished for professional generosity, but I'd rather take the punishment than be disciplined into cynicism. I really do hope to maintain an openness and idealism about what professing the humanities can be, even though it may bite me in the derriere. Perhaps this is its own dysfunction (willful blindness?) but at least its one I'll happily own.

This notion of owning dysfunction seems to be a tricky one, though, because it seems that in order to own a part of ourselves that is not functional, we acknowledge that we hope not to have to own it sometime in the future. Can I own up to naivete and hope to remain idealistic (I know I'm conflating my terms here) at the same time?

Introduction From a Community College Professor

Yes, that's right, I don't have a position at a 4-year or university; nor do I have a doctorate (yet). I teach basic reading and writing (by choice) at a community college and am currently writing my own textbook, which doesn't serve any professional needs but my own desires.

I'm participating in this discussion largely for my own professional development--to gain a deeper understanding of what it's like at other schools, in other kinds of teaching positions. So, I may not be the most vocal member of the group, but I will always be listening and learning.

BrightStar's Introduction

Many thanks to Mel for getting this group together. I've enjoyed reading your introductions so far.

I just finished my first year as an assistant professor. I finished grad school / submitted final revisions of my dissertation in July of 2004 and started my new job this past August. I work in the field of Teacher Education, which means that much of my teaching involves working with undergraduates who want to become elementary school teachers, and I also teach graduate courses -- for teachers who are working on their masters degrees in my sub-field and for doctoral students who take courses in my sub-field. I teach two courses per semester.

Something particular about my line of work is the capacity problem in my sub-field: There are often more available faculty positions than qualified candidates available to fill them, so recent Ph.D's on the job market may have multiple job offers. This sometimes leaves people like me wondering, "Do they really think I can do this, or did they just need someone to teach the courses?" I am finally at a point where I believe I can do this line of work, and I believe my department / colleagues believe this as well, so that's a relief... but I wanted to acknowledge that it's complicated taking a job on faculty even when they're not so difficult to come by.

In terms of my response to the introduction of the book, my life as a professor so far has not matched the expectations I developed in graduate school, even though structurally the institutions are similar. I work at a Research I university, and my teaching load is somewhat similar to those who mentored me during graduate school. My expectations were not met, though, because in my work environment I have found the following:
"...seasoned junior colleagues who were horribly stressed and well on their way to a state of 'burnout'; and too often a tense, competitive atmosphere in which personal achievement (often the single-minded pursuit of stardom) was valued over collegial exchange and communal responsibility." (p. xiii)
To be fair, I have found collaborators in my department already, which I see as a blessing, but I have been surprised at how much research and academic work goes on in private. I hoped for more intellectual exchange among colleagues. Also, the pressures for tenure appear to lead decision making in ways that make me uncomfortable, such as tenure track faculty discouraging me from attending meetings, such as those discussing the improvement of the undergraduate curriculum, because that's service and (apparently) I need to focus on research.

The idea of owning up to my own academic dysfunction appeals to me as well. I can see how I contribute to the intellectual isolation I feel at work. Sometimes I resist taking the risk of initiating dialogue about research among colleagues at work because it's initimidating to bring up research issues if others appear to be avoiding those sorts of discussions. It's threatening. I get my ideas evaluated all of the time through reviewers -- why go through that informally at work? (Well, I had informal conversations about research during graduate school, but really only with professors / committee members. I honestly wasn't so great at initiating informal research conversations with fellow grad students.) It makes me vulnerable among my colleagues to bring up those ideas in conversation. It's safer to deal with my intellectual life between me and my computer and my grad students and the few internal reviewers I typically interact with. It would be useful for me to reflect upon how I can be the bright candle I am looking for in my workplace.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Intro and more related comments

HI all -- like NK, I've linked my intro here. And really, I'm not nearly as bitter as I sound. And my apologies for getting perhaps too self-reflective. I'm sure it'll go away ;-)

I think one of the things I find most interesting about Hall's introduction is the assumption that we all have an academic self-identity. I'm not sure that that's been true for me up to this point. That is, I've always thought of myself as an academic, or as an academic-in-waiting, but it's always been somewhat disconnected from the actual academic life that I realize I have lived and will (touch wood) live again more successfully.

I think my own grad school preparation was such that I, and many of my cohort, were so focused on getting through the next hoop that I never realized that I was actually a functioning, if still very junior, academic. But where Hall finds an advantage in his claim that,
Indeed, many of us, perhaps the happiest of us, employed at "teaching schools" have found that as we move into our post-graduate school careers, we have not become "like" our graduate school professors; instead, we have remained "like" we were in graduate school ... (xxi)

I do not see that as advantage. This is purely me, by the way. Hall's advantage seems to be rooted in his having had that self-identity. I don't know that I ever stepped back enough to separate the two, either to realize and address my shortcomings (a tendency to procrastinate coupled with a need to put other people and their issues, including service and collegiality ahead of my own productivity -- likely because I want my colleagues to think of me as useful) or to acknowledge to myself that I really was successful in any academic terms. Unlike Hall (apparently) I never realized that, by combining coursework/research/writing, teaching, and service, I really was a functioning academic. This is despite the fact that Southern Soda U didn't let us teach till we had our MAs, which meant that we were as qualified as any community college prof and even some of the older university profs!

It is Hall's call to us to re-think our ideas of success that really put me in this frame of mind. Part of this is that I think I do implicitly accept, at least for myself, some of the "common definitions of success" he pland to question. (xviii) What are my definitions of success? Ultimately, a tenured- or continuing-contract position, here in the US or in a select group of foreign countries. But it's only lately that I've realized that my idea of such a position includes all the things I've been successful at in the past: teaching well, contributing to committees that make a difference (as a grad student, I served in student government, dealing with disciplinary and budget issues regularly), research and write, preferably with a bit of outside funding, and attend conferences (hopefully as a presenter in most cases). I think that promotion and tenure are just the external validation that I need to know I'm a success. Sad, but true. I don't know that Hall would approve. We'll see.

Thinking about the whole success thing, though, has been helpful in helping me to re-frame my own thoughts and attitude towards myself on the job market and as a colleague, even one in the hell of adjunct land. Many of you know I've been struggling with this question for a while ("oh. my. gosh. Important Senior Colleague treated me like ... a colleague! what can she have been thinking?"). But reading what y'all have written and Hall's chapter have helped me to better articulate my goals to myself. This was especially true when I read the bit about his interview question (at the beginning of the next chapter, it appears) about what kind of department and setting candidates were looking for to fulfill their goals (2). My ideas of success are closely tied, I realize, to the kind of department I want to work in, and to the kinds of colleagues I want to work with. But that's the next chapter, I guess. Oddly enough, for now, as much as I want a T-T job, I can finally start to see my (possibly successful) academic self even without that happening this year.

Another intro (or link to it)

To go along with Joseph's request for intros as posts, not comments, just thought I'd do a quick post with a link to my intro (which I made in the comments), just so all the intros are (sort of) together.


I've just finished my second year at this university, which is a former teacher's college. Like many schools of this sort, the workload heavily favors teaching: My standard teaching load is 4/4, plus service, plus thesis supervision, etc.

Like several other folks (hi, Mel!), I strongly feel the disconnect between the training I got at my PhD program ([edited to avoid possibly identifying someone]) and the career that I have embarked upon. Perhaps unlike some others, I am the son of a lifelong community-college professor and administrator, and so entered graduate school with a clear-eyed understanding of what life could be like outside the research institution. (That 4/4--some mixture of composition, general education &/or honors, and an upper-division course in my specialization--feels pretty good compared to 5/5 or 6/6, with all composition.)

Not sure if there's much more of interest to say: my teaching focuses on Victorian and early 20thC British literature; my theoretical obsession is psychoanalysis, which, perhaps quixotically, I'm convinced is in the first instance a theory of temporality and history; my book is done, and goes to its press's editorial board next week; & my partner and I have just bought a house a half-mile from campus, which we think is good news but which we worry also means we'll be absorbed into the university.


I well remember reading Donald Hall’s original article in Professions back in 1999 and then the responses to it—the exchange that became the genesis for this book—and I read through the entire book in the week after graduation this year and found it very interesting. I’m really looking forward to this discussion; Mel, thanks so much for setting up this forum.

My introduction: I’m an assistant professor of English at a Catholic college I call (mostly affectionately) St. Martyr’s. I’m going up for tenure this fall, and my prospects look good (but one doesn’t want to count one’s chickens prematurely). I have found Hall’s book particularly interesting because some of the demands of his job sound a lot like mine. I teach a 3/4 course load and do a significant amount of service, none of which earns me a course release. It’s a very collegial school, which makes it a great place to work (although, as Michael Drout pointed out recently, it also adds to the workload in some ways). Because we’re mostly a teaching college, my department’s scholarship requirement for tenure is only three articles in peer-reviewed journals, a requirement I’ve more than fulfilled, and I’m now at work on a book, which is the scholarship expectation for full professor (not that this is my motivation for the book, but it doesn't hurt to look ahead!).

I’ll have more to say about the chapters in Hall's book, but for now let me respond personally to the Introduction by noting that I’ve felt a lot of bitterness in my time at St. Martyr’s, mostly because of the ways in which my professional life wasn’t living up to my grad school conception of what it would be. I knew that it was beyond unreasonable for me to be snarking about my job, given that I was lucky enough to have a job, but I found three years on the job market to be a very scarring experience, and I kept comparing myself to the friends who got R1 jobs in their first year out, had pre-tenure year-long sabbaticals, and enjoyed institutional prestige out the wazoo. The last year of knowing other academics through the blogosphere—people with whom I don’t have leftover grad school competition!—has helped enormously, in helping me to see both the realities of life at other schools (which I think I’d been romanticizing) and the real benefits of my own position, for which I am very grateful. So I think I read The Academic Self at a time in my life when I could actually hear what Hall has to say, when I’ve let go of enough defensiveness and paranoid anxiety so that I might be at the point to accept that “what is in the past cannot be altered, that lingering grudges only hinder our work in the present if we fail to recognize and then let go of them” (xii) and that it’s worth rethinking our definitions of “success.”

Introducing Myself

I'm a professor of Humanities at a small private university in northern New York. Clarkson used to style itself as a tech school, but in recent years has been moving toward making itself a more comprehensive institution. I am a poet & teach literature & creative writing classes, along with courses that primarily serve the general education mission. Over the last decade my primary research interest has been Vietnamese literature, language & culture--in 2000-2001 I lived & studied in Hanoi as a Fulbright Research Scholar. I am currently translating an 18th century Vietnamese anti-war lament spoken in the voice of a wife left behind when her husband has been drafted into the emperor's army. I'm tenured & was promoted to Full four years ago. I was recently one of two nominees to chair my department & was not chosen by the dean for the position, which has not made me bitter, but has given me the freedom to take certain, let us say, astringent, positions. I live with my wife & three (or four or five, depending on who is sleeping over) dogs on the Raquette River in St. Lawrence County, NY.

Note: I've been reading through everyone's comments & would like to suggest that folks put their bios or introductions on the main blog rather than in comments--much easier to see & track that way.

More on self-help

Is it only me, or does it seem as though a disproportionate number of academic bloggers have recently received tenure, as Mel has? I, too, received tenure last year; I teach at a medium-sized, private university of the wannabe-Ivy variety. I think there is something about this stage of the career that encourages self-reflection. For the previous stages, we've been working toward a fixed, identifiable goal -- a job, and then tenure. And now the goals are less clear. We look around and we see colleagues who are burned-out, or completely detached (at least I see them), and we are wondering how to avoid that.

It is, in other words, a natural stage to take some self-help advice and sieze control of one's own professional "textuality." But I am also wondering about how one can encourage this -- and what it would mean -- as a graduate student. To this point, I have been deeply involved in helping graduate students craft their professional, textual identities when they go on the job market. (I worked as job placement officer for several years; and I've even had a few of my own students go on the market-- and even get jobs.) Now, I'm designing a new class for our first-year grad students on the profession in English. I'm asking how I can help them to craft their professional selves without dictating what the content of those selves will be. How do I say, Here are some ways to be professional without implicitly saying that MY ways of being professional are the best ones?

A belated welcome (and introduction)

I'm sorry I was unable to post yesterday to start things off -- my household just moved and my internet access wasn't up yet. Thanks to Joseph for jumping in already!

Just as an opening thought -- one of the reasons I wanted to start this discussion of Hall's book was as a way to bridge the individual or personal and the communal -- a challenge for anyone wishing to change the institutions of academe as well as our individual relationships to and within it. On page xix of the Introdution, Hall acknowledges one frequent critique of the self-help genre is that it places responsibility on individuals rather than at the broader social level. There are other critiques too, of course, which I'm sure will come forward in the days ahead -- Hall's intro reveals his need to address what he assumes will be some resistance among the very readership he's trying to reach.

I agree with Hall, however, that some self-reflection and focus on individual choices is necessary as a component of other kinds of social interaction and change. If, as Hall suggests, such self-reflection has not been a frequent part of published analyses of academia, it is a valuable aspect of the blog format. I've learned a great deal over the past year in reading blogs written by others in various academic settings and positions.

From Hall, xx:
Academics love to critique institutions because there is a certain tangible textuality to them, with their documents, written rules, and administrative structures. Yet we are not so comfortable contemplating our own textuality, our own motivations, priorities, fears, and ambitions.

I'm looking forward to both kinds of conversations over the next month as we discuss Hall's book. As an initial step towards the self-contemplation that he recommends, perhaps brief introductions (as pseudonymous as you need to be) would be in order for the various blog contributors?

I (Mel) am an Associate Professor in an English department in a large urban public university. I received tenure a year ago. I'm mostly happy teaching where I am, but for personal reasons am contemplating a move to a different state, which might require a significant change in my career path or definition. I'm also struggling with the disjunction between the level of intellectualism and professionalism I was trained for (at a top-ranking PhD program) and the realities of my new professional location as tenured faculty at a 4th or 5th tier university.

Please add your own introductions so that everyone will know who's here --


I've read through the first couple of chapters of Hall's text, but what keeps banging around in my mind in this book's cover. As it happens, I have had my own encounter with Ohio State UP's design folk--fine professionals all, but stubborn--& so I am inclined not to pin the author with responsibility for this particular rhetorical frame. Still, phrenology was among the earliest American self-help movements & I have been wondering about the way that popular psychology--ancient & modern--functions in The Academic Self. Partly, I am trying to look critically at my own bias against the genre; but in doing that, I want to understand the cultural positioning of self-help as a genre. I may be particularly sensitive to this positioning because, as a poet, I occasionally find my books shelved in bookstores under the heading Poetry & Self-Help, or Poetry & Spirituality. Having said all this, I think Hall's notion of the textuality of the academic self is quite useful. I like the idea that, at our best, we academics are constantly renegotiating our relationships with each other & with the institutions in which we work.