Monday, January 5, 2009

Sunny Sarah from Salinas Is Clearly Someone We Made Up, An Apocraphyl Junior Faculty Member Who Likes Her Deadwood.

First, let me reveal my bias--RYS, you had me at "snowflake." The snideness and snark that I can rely on RYS to provide is a wonderful way to counter the occasional self-centeredness and overblown self-importance that is sometimes found in academic circles, as well as the sometimes surreal, well, "snowflakiness" of some students.

However, recently as I've been skimming through posts, I find my irritation and disbelief swells. I can hold it in no more. Gumdrop Unicorns, WHAT IS YOUR DEAL? I ask you as a fellow GU--I defended my dissertation this past May (In the softest of social sciences, but from a top notch program that often elicits squeals, or at the very least appreciative nods from other professionals.) and just finished my first semester of a great new tenure-track gig. I can certainly relate to the nervousness of job interviews, sizing departments up to assess "fit," ambitiously asserting your strengths and talents, as well as looking at senior faculty, wondering about why they've stayed at (any mid-size/state school/university beneath you) as well as when they'll leave so you too can have the comfiest of chairs/your pick of classes/the ability to scowl rather than smile at your co-workers regularly. What I don't get however is the apparent disdain for our well-established colleagues, and the arrogance and entitlement expressed so regularly by the GUs who can't even frame their doctoral degrees yet because the ink's still wet.

It's all well and good to have an ambitious agenda--you will be a fantastic teacher, a ground-breaking scholar, yadda yadda yadda. It's great that your parents' effusiveness have provided you such a, uhm, healthy sense of self-esteem. And, of course, we're the "future of the profession"--I'm sure if we could all put down our Blackberries and journals long enough and concentrate collectively, we can light the dark corners of our tiny offices everywhere with our bright, shiny futures.

Not to kill the egotistical buzz you've got going, but did it occur to you that the senior colleagues you are so swift to look down your noses at, disregard as unambitious/irrelevant/impotent (or that you even accuse of being jealous of your youthfully-enthusiastic-yet-wise-beyond-your-years presence) may have something to offer, and dare I say, have a thing or two to teach you? I wonder what we'll all look like 30 years from now listening to the Gumdrop Unicorns of the future tell us how much they know, how much better they can do our jobs, all the while not only entertaining, but changing the very being of the students we teach, and, dressing better to boot.

Maybe I'm just lucky. The senior faculty in my department are kind and supportive. They appreciate enthusiasm and innovation. They listen, offer suggestions and feedback, and ultimately step back and let me do my thing. Or maybe it's that I am respectful of their work, appreciative of their help, and know that most of them have worked their asses off and deserve to be where they are. Regardless, for now I'm glad they're there and find it easy to share a work environment with them without feeling resentful that they don't have to worry about every little comment on a teaching evaluation, that they can go to whatever conference they want, and that they pick the best course times, while my future is full of evening classes.

Instead, I am, well, feeling a feeling that rarely gets expressed by the GUs here--grateful. Not just grateful, but thrilled to be doing what I'm doing. Think about it fellow GUs, we get paid to study what we love, to share our knowledge and passion for our scholarship with others, and have a great deal of flexibility and freedom to do so. Maybe you haven't worked as a copy clerk/janitor/fast food service worker/corporate America drone, but quite frankly, work outside the Ivory Tower really sucks. Perhaps, identifying a little appreciation for the opportunities that present to you in your professional life, as well as for those who have been doing it since before you were born, may help you approach your job interviews/first years on the tenure track/networking at your professional conferences with a different perspective. And also, just maybe, you'll find those Silverbacks will be appreciative of you as well.