Saturday, November 3, 2007

Some Caution for Naive Nina.

Here's a final installment on the "just a job" discussion. See also: Nina Naive & some first responses.

I know this this is difficult to envision right now, but I suspect there will come a time in your scholarly career where you will need to be able to say "it's just a job." I needed to, anyway. While earlier on RYS a senior faculty poster ridiculed junior faculty as "believing they are the first to discover the joys of friends, family, and pinochle," framing your job as "a just job" at various times as junior faculty helps keep you grounded and sane for several (healthy) reasons that have nothing to do with leisure time.

First, some senior faculty take delight in rubbing your nose in the fact that you are untenured and that they hold the votes to decide your future. If you think your committee is bad, pray you never wind up on a faculty of bullies. I did. If you have to face that, day after day, you will quickly frame your lifelong dream, your calling, into "just a job." Why? Because that way, if the jerks do the worst they can to you at tenure time, they would be taking from you "just a job" instead of your whole life.

Second--and this is a very healthy reason--it is probably not good for your research or for your teaching for you to put too much of your identity into either of them. Whenever I have to deal with some blowhard lecturing me about his deep, personal calling as a teacher, I usually find that the students really can't stand him--and it's nothing to do with how much he demands in the classroom. It's because they know he's gratifying his ego off of them, and there is something vaguely creepy and vampiric about that. They sense he is not there for them; he is there for himself. When you get over the notion that your classroom work is "your calling" in favor of viewing it as collaborative work with students, it hurts a lot less when students act like meatheads and assholes (and they will) and you will be better capable of not letting them ruin the work for you or the students who are neither meatheads or assholes. When you see your research as your work rather than as your calling, it also hurts a lot less when Reviewer #2 writes "This work is vaingloriously insignificant; it is my recommendation that the manuscript be rejected and the authors beaten with sticks."

Gradually, as you come out of your first frantic years as junior faculty, by your third year I found, you will get out of the slump you cause yourself by working too much and worrying too much about tenure to realize that you have your work, rather than "just a job." It is indeed possible to love and devote yourself to your work. I was raised in an ethnic tradition where it is practically sinful to do bad or shoddy work. I find that value helps me do my best in the classroom and as a researcher. It is enough, friend Nina, the work is more than enough, to satisfy that part of you who wants to lose yourself in learning both as a teacher and as a research.