Friday, November 16, 2007

Whether You Get It on the Inside or Outside, The Lonely Academic Doesn't Need to Be Alone.

  • How I envy you lonely academics! In my department, "pulling together and sharing our fears and frustrations" seems to be an unwritten part of the job description. Now, this is all well and good if you like your colleagues well enough to be their bosom buddies, but it's torture if you don't. Oh, don't get me wrong--most of them are fine people and first-rate colleagues--but my actual friends, the ones I turn to when I want to share my fears and frustrations, tend to be people outside of the university. The result is that I'm seen as an aloof loner, while the person who came up to me in the hallway during my first year and said: "I hear you have local friends! How on earth did you meet them?" is seen as behaving perfectly normally. My advice: those "pods with separate tracks" are a blessing in disguise, because if you want real community, you have to look beyond the academy. There's a whole big wide world out there.

  • I think the lonely campus life is a sad reality for some places, and there are lots of legitimate reasons for it being that way. I have worked at major universities 25,000 students strong and little schools with as few as 2000 students. I also think, though, that instead of waiting to be invited to something (which I usually do too), think of being the inviter (invitor?) I worked at a campus once where one of my colleagues, bothered by the same lack of connection, started something on her own called SOFA (Something on Friday Afternoons, or, as it eventually came to be called, Soused on Friday Afternoons). She and a few of her colleagues merely sent out an announcement that they were going to be at a certain fine establishment (aka bar) on Friday and anyone who wanted to come was invited. It is amazing how this thing grew in the three years I was at that school. It eventually evolved into quite a gathering -- semester long schedules were made, people ended up having SOFA's in their homes, end-of -semester barbecues were planned. It wasn't that this original person was that extraordinary a host; she just decided to start somewhere. I am at a campus now where every now and again, a group of us has a margarita "focus group." Again, start small, see where it takes you. You just need someone to get things rolling.

  • For years now a group of faculty at my university have been gathering every second Friday at a local Irish pub for our "seminar." We're the "seminarians," of course, and the group which started as 3-4 has become a looser aggregation of 20 or so folks. And, while we were all about the same age at the beginning, all pushing toward tenure, our group now includes old timers and newcomers alike. When a new faculty member joins our department or division, an invite to a "seminar" is proffered, and most come to check it out. The potato skins are free on that first night, and we throw off the cloak of the academy for an hour or so. Most of them come back the next time we meet. Of course we all have friends, families, spouses, dogs, etc. But it's nice to know that the folks you work with, teach alongside, also have your back.