Monday, March 5, 2007

A Little Slack. But Not Much.

Dear Not Everyone,

It's Saturday, and I've been up since 5:30 to help my partner get herself to a conference that's important for her career. I have three boxes of conference proceedings to get in the mail, four essays to grade, and boxes to pack up for a move. I have two manuscripts to revise, a paper I promised but haven't completed, and a conference abstract that frustratingly fails to write itself. I've had a reminder email from computing services that my inbox is now full, a sink which needs to be unblocked, a bike which needs a new chain, and a stack of bills to pay. There's also a wedding we have to plan and pay for ourselves. Luckily, no children yet, but just imagine what exponent that would multiply everything by.

You see, university is a taste--and just a taste--of your responsibilities as an independent adult. In your life after college, everything you're experiencing now is going to multiply by a factor you're just now beginning to imagine. Cafeteria food might not be up to Mom's standard, but it's prepared for you, and the dishes are washed when you're finished. If the plumbing in your dorm stops working, someone fixes it for you (eventually). You don't get an electric bill. And if your assignments are late or poor, you get a bad mark and a scowl, not fired. And you should see the emails I get, or answer the knocks on my door. Trust me; your parents and friends are persistent, but they have nothing on a student who wants an extension, or a parent whose precious little flower has failed her first course ever.

So you do get some slack (at least from me, and other professors on this site) but only if you realize and accept that the slack is finite. The supply is not inexhaustible. A good professor will ween you off the slack by the time you graduate, because employers are not famous for their generosity in slack.

One other point...not one of us here was born with a Ph.D. Nor did we jump straight from secondary school to a Master's program. We've all done what you're doing. We understand what it's like for you now. But we also understand what it will be like for you in a few years time. I spent plenty of evenings getting drunk and neglecting work. And I might not have submitted everything exactly on time. But I learned how to get it done, through being pushed and pulled in the right direction.

That's what professors do, at least the good ones. You sound like you're close to figuring this out yourself, and you seem to be making the right choices. Every one of us is pulling for you, without hesitation, whether it looks like it or not, whether you believe it or not.