November 12, 2012, 9:27 am
Since I am just a few months into a two-year postdoc, this fall I’m pursuing only a couple of dream jobs. As it turns out, a good friend of mine was recently hired at one of the institutions that has caught my eye, so I called him up before sending off my application.
Mainly I just wanted to ask if he thought I would stand a chance. Since the position is open rank, I know senior scholars will be attracted as well. After all, the school enjoys a wonderful reputation in the field, is located in a particularly desirable part of the country, and attracts exceptional students.
Not everything my friend told me was comforting. For instance, he let it slip that one of my recommenders is also applying. Still, he encouraged me to give it a shot, and he let me know that he would tell his friends on the search committee to keep an eye out for my dossier. Perhaps more importantly, he was able…
November 5, 2012, 2:24 pm
Sometime around the first of November, many of my students seem to hit a wall. The most dedicated writers may miss one of their weekly assignments for the first time in the semester. Other students, who have regularly contributed to discussion, go suddenly mute.
In the past I’ve tended to write off that malaise as a symptom of the season: Colds are catching, the social calendar hits a peak, and (as one working student mentioned today) the move to “holiday hours” in the retail industry means some students are working later into the night before returning to their studies.
Perhaps more important, though, by November students have been well grounded in the vocabulary, methodology, and basic subject matter of their courses, so the beginning of this month often marks a transition into the semester’s most challenging nuances of application. This time of year, more is being asked of them….
October 25, 2012, 1:57 pm
We all know someone who is so socially engaging that even her small talk seems intimate and insightful, someone whose small talk—when we think back on the conversation later—isn’t really so small after all.
In the lobby of a conference hotel we see her pause at one of those little pools of insecurity and angst that academics form while someone in the group pontificates. Within a minute she has them laughing. Later, by the elevator, we overhear her talking with a younger scholar. Only she’s not talking at all, just listening so carefully that you can almost hear her attention. I say we all know her because it seems she knows everyone. People keep hailing her from across the room.
The person I’m describing here is not necessarily a superstar scholar. Neither is she a brown-noser, nor even the social butterfly whose contacts are numerous but superficial. I’m thinking of that rare …
October 11, 2012, 2:37 pm
Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities imagines a conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan in which the explorer describes the many cities he has visited on his expeditions. One is the metropolis Tamara, where “the eye does not see things but images of things that mean other things.” One recognizes the dentist’s house there by a sign depicting pincers. The tavern is represented by a tankard, and the various temples are decorated with the attributes of their gods so the time-pressed worshiper knows where to direct her prayers.
In retrospect, Polo realizes that even the forms of the buildings and their locations in the city announce their function. No one needs directions to the palace or the prison.
I got to thinking about Tamara today as I walked across the campus and stopped for a moment to admire the Chapel of the Resurrection here at Valparaiso—as I understand it, the largest…
October 4, 2012, 2:33 pm
Rob Jenkins’s recent warnings about the tendency of politicians to reduce community colleges to “job-training centers” strike me as particularly apt in the aftermath of Wednesday night’s presidential debate. Despite their “passion for education,” neither candidate seemed willing to imagine higher education as anything more than a means to a credential.
When President Obama spoke of community colleges’ preparing their students for “the jobs of today,” it was clear he meant simply a trade and a paycheck. Jenkins points out the flaws in that limiting vision in his most recent post to this blog, and I won’t rehash them here.
I would like, however, to expand and complicate a point made by one commenter—that a diminished sense of higher education’s purpose is a problem facing all liberal-arts institutions and that it’s the customer who will ultimately determine whether the future of…
September 26, 2012, 1:06 pm
Last week my wife and I got to see our daughter for the first time through an ultrasound monitor. Of course, the baby was real to my wife months ago, from those first flutters in her womb, but it’s only been since this recent doctor’s visit that I have really been able to wrap my mind around the idea of a new child. After finally seeing her face, learning her gender and that she is healthy, I’ve found myself trying to imagine the person she’ll someday become.
More specifically, I’ve been wondering if she might share some of my interests, if she’ll love books and language the way I do, and even if she might, like me, choose a career as a professor in the humanities. I know that from time to time most parents dream this way about their children growing up as little versions of themselves, but I suspect my recent reading might be exacerbating some of these fantasies—I don’t remember…
September 10, 2012, 1:14 pm
Last month I traded book manuscripts with a good friend from grad school. His notes came back to me a couple of days ago, and this afternoon I’ll put the finishing touches on my comments to him.
These are manuscripts of poems, so in addition to thinking about the global organization and sequencing of the book’s “argument,” we’re trying to pinpoint local rhythmic and tonal concerns on the level of the line. It’s a painstaking process, and after reading through my friend’s feedback last night, I feel profoundly grateful for his labor.
Others have gone over my manuscript in previous incarnations, but this latest reading turned up several issues I would otherwise have missed. I should mention too that, as in any field where the scholarship is produced in private, it can be incredibly encouraging to see that kind of intense attention lavished on the work.
This recent swap has also…
August 30, 2012, 8:57 am
Last spring, before I came on board, the English department here underwent an external review that cited the department’s strengths along with a few areas of significant need or weakness. This past weekend the faculty met to respond to the assessment and to begin work on a seven-year plan that will address not only these local findings, but the field’s national trends as well. As a postdoctoral fellow in my first week on the job, I entered the workshop more than a little unsure of the role I would play. I had received a copy of the external review, but beyond that document and the information available on the university Web site, I knew almost nothing about the inner workings of the department. Two years from now (let alone seven) I’ll be gone.
I was caught off guard then when the department chair asked for my thoughts on one of the matters up for discussion. What had I seen done at…
August 14, 2012, 4:46 pm
The posts I have written this summer about the demands of a cross-country move have focused primarily on what a new job means for me professionally. Writing for other academics, I’ve found it easy to overlook the fact that this move has, in many ways, been more trying on my young family. New hires have the excitement and challenges of the fresh position to anticipate, but our families may find less to distract them from the difficulty of leaving their old life behind. Even after arrival, the adjustment can be more stressful without a regular work routine to structure the days. While I run the gantlet of new faculty orientations, my wife and toddler son are exploring a strange town with no guide to help them.
With that in mind, I’ve been thinking more deliberately these last few days about how I can make the move easier on my family. Here are a few of the suggestions I have come up…
August 6, 2012, 11:44 am
Last week I visited my in-laws in the city where my wife and I first met. My side of the family moved out of state over a decade ago, but I found time yesterday to drive by our old home. Like much of that neighborhood, the house is suffering. From the street I could see damage to the roof and the azaleas along the front porch were brown and desiccated. Still, I had the feeling that I could walk in the front door, find my desk in the upstairs bedroom, and get to work just as I did in high school. It was like a little mirage of working peace in the desert of this summer’s travels, and it struck me that one thinks of a place as home primarily when one no longer lives there. When we’re comfortable, we forget the difficulties of acclimating. Only when we move on, do we think again about what that office, that house, and that city have meant to us and our work.
A former professor told me…