Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Musings on Academic Identity....

One's academic identity is a strange thing. It's linked in many respects to one's "real life" identity, but it is also this weird fragmented thing all its own, which mutates and and morphs based on the company one keeps - am I with grad student friends? friends from conferences? and which conferences are we talking about here? current colleagues at the institution at which I work? students? former students? and I suppose even virtual friends in the blogosphere (for surely "Dr. Crazy" is, in fact, one of my academic identities...)? I suppose I'm thinking about all of this in part because I've just returned from a conference that only happens every other year. Some of the people whom I know through this conference I see at other events or I might run into at MLA, but for the most part, it's only every other year that I see them, and thus it shines a light on the ways in which my academic identity moves and changes. Also, this conference tends to attract a academics who work at certain kinds of institutions that tend not to resemble my current institution but rather my grad school institution. When I began attending as a grad student, I felt like an outsider because I was a grad student, but still I think I felt a certain sense of belonging because of my institutional affiliation. Now, I feel like an outsider in some ways because of my institution - and because of my generational status in this field, and because of my sex, because even if literary studies tends to be feminized, whoa nelly is this particular sub-area stuck in a sexist past in at least some respects and related to at least some individuals - but I also feel a certain sense of greater belonging because I am now an actual colleague and I now have actual "friends" when I attend this thing - I'm no longer a novice. Incidentally, the return is still all fucked up - I don't know why - so this will be a big long paragraph and I'll have to fix it when I get to a decent computer that is not my mother's ancient machine that connects to the internets with the dial-up. But to continue. I suppose one reason that I'm thinking about all of this is that I've been seriously considering going on the market this year (i.e., I've decided that I will do this and I'm strategizing about how to do this both discreetly and yet with the blessing of certain key people in my department) and as I consider this, I know that I am a different person now from the person who went on the market in 2002. I've grown up as an academic in many ways, but also, well, I wonder how to characterize myself in light of how I've grown up. And I wonder whether any of it makes a difference anyway, given the state of the market and the state of the profession. I know I've done good work as a scholar in the past three years, but can that override the fact that I'm in a teaching institution with a 4/4 load? Do I want it to? I'm basically happy in my current position, so should I stop whining and be happy with what I've got? Is the fact that I feel like my current location is a dating wasteland really reason enough to consider leaving (and this, more than anything, is the main thing that is motivating me)? Do I really want to start over someplace new? Even if it might end up being worse? I'll be writing more about this in the coming weeks, but these are my initial thoughts/questions/ramblings. And it's all related to this identity thing - who I see myself as right now and who I see myself becoming. The bottom line is that in my current position, I kind of see myself becoming a burnt out teacher, a mediocre scholar, and a lonely spinster. Not immediately, but within the next 15 years. And that's just not who I want to become. But maybe what I'm seeing as a certain future is really more about fear than about reality, and so I suppose I want to blog about these things to think them through. I will say this, however. When I got my job, my dissertation director said to me, "This sounds like a good first job." At the time, I thought he was being insulting. Now? Well, I think I might agree with him. Since I pretty much need to construct him as my antagonist at all times - the mean daddy who is always wrong and who doesn't appreciate me - well, the fact that I think he might have been right and not being a jerk to me kind of kills me :)

11 comments:

Dean Dad said...

You want a job AND a life?

Clearly, you didn't get the memo.

Seriously, there's no shame in trying to have both. If that involves moving, so be it.

Cats & Dogma said...

And we all know you're building up the cred to effect precisely such a move.

Oh, and by the way, if your enter key isn't working, you can still code in html breaks in blogger...

Kate said...

Regardless of whether you're projecting this outcome of being the unhappy spinster academic, or whether it is a real possibility, you must trust your own instincts and thinking. You've got a great brain... if it's telling you you might want to go on the job market and move, there's a good chance it's right.

Margo, darling said...

I've been consistently impressed by how much research and writing you've been able to do with such a heavy teaching load. It seems like going on the market from a 4/4 job isn't a detriment unless it's kept you from producing, which it hasn't. So why not see what happens? Unlike the first time on the job market, this isn't a win/lose situation--you have a job and a good attitude about your job so if you stay, great, if you get an offer in a place you'd rather be, with more support for research, even greater.

While you're at it, why not get a gig chronicling it at the Chronicle. Oh, I know that's usually reserved for whiny people who seem to have mind-numbing amounts of privilege, entitlement, and confidence, but maybe you could blow everyone's minds by being interesting and charming.

JustMe said...

who you want to become is an important factor, and if you see yourself not becoming someone you want to be, seeking new options is the best thing to do. go for it and good luck!

Dr. Virago said...

You seem to suggest you worry that going on the market again primarily for a better dating life is silly or something, but heck, people move jobs for spouses all the time -- why not for *potential* mates? (Of course, you probably still don't want to say that in the interviews! Te-hee! "Why do you want to work at X University, Dr. Crazy?" "Well, I hear the men in this town are smokin'!")

And wow -- do I know what you meant about identity and status at a conference you've been to as both a grad student and in your job now. (In fact, wrote a whole series of posts on Kalamazoo that said a lot of the same things at verbose lengths.)

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I totally get this. I hope I can see myself in a similar popsition in 5 years, even though I also hope that I will not want to move -- partially because the teaching load is supposed to eventually be reduced

Eddie said...

Wow, you've just described my fears exactly. What if I teach myself into the ground and wind up an old cat lady in the process? There are literally no single men in their early-mid 30s in my teensy college town. Boooooo.

Anne said...

polish up the c.v., cross your fingers, keep writing, keep drinking, keep hoping

eventually, with some compromises, you can have it all

good luck!!!

timna said...

it makes all the sense in the world to me. seeing down the road a bit is an important first step in actually going the right route.

we are just starting to tentatively talk about where we want to be in 5 and 10 years. maybe it takes a certain stability to be able to think this way (done with the degrees, with jobs, whatever). good luck.

Gina said...

It might be worse somewhere else, sure, but what if it's better? Why not try? I heartily support academics who want to have a life!