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Author Topic: Don't think I think I'm better than you.  (Read 18643 times)
bassside27
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« on: September 30, 2011, 12:22:20 PM »

I received a PhD from an Ivy last year and have been adjuncting at an R1 while I get my life in order (taking care of an ailing parent, starting a family, exploring the possibility of a different career).  Common adjuncting frustrations apart, I am grateful for this gig and genuinely enjoy the teaching.  I am not currently on the market for a TT job but may try it next year.  I have always been very open and friendly to my adjunct colleagues but am often treated a touch coldly, delicately in return.  Some have alluded to the likelihood I'll soon be moving on to greener pastures (actual phrase used), that I'll have nothing to worry about when going on the market, and so on.  Some behave with gracious condescension, as if having to preempt the condescension they expect from me.  Some bring up the schools I went to and I frequently feel I'm in the position of downplaying my educational background.

I come from federal-poverty-level roots, worked part-time jobs all my life to support my family, never identified with the 'elite' institutions I went to, and am sick of being presumed I'm an Ivy brat.  Anyone who actually has a conversation with me can see I'm a real person.  But against those who treat me this way for the first time, I wonder what I can say in brief to signal that they're wrong -- without sounding like I didn't appreciate my education.  I know this is a champagne problem -- and that my own vanity's at fault, too -- but it's built up a lot anger, sadness, and resentment inside.  Any advice welcome.

(And sorry for how inelegantly written this is.  Language skills still recovering from a first round of paper-grading.)
« Last Edit: September 30, 2011, 12:26:00 PM by bassside27 » Logged
tuxedo_cat
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« Reply #1 on: September 30, 2011, 12:45:29 PM »

Well, OP, there are worse kinds of discrimination to face than those grounded in your perceived privilege (and you may already be familiar with some of them).  Sounds like you're in a pretty secure position financially given what you're doing with your life and the luxury of putting off looking for a tt job this year, or even longer. 

I'm sure it's no mystery to you what kind of fears and frustrations many adjuncts face, especially if they've been trying to support themselves and a family on those miserable wages.  If you're feeling anger, sadness, and resentment, unfortunately you are not alone, and you've been dealing with such feelings for. . . a few weeks?  So, not years and years.

I don't think there's any magical phrase you can utter in response to the cold shoulder from the other adjuncts.  And their suspicions and resentment obviously aren't about you personally.  I think all you can do is be pleasant and collegial in your daily contacts -- over time that may "humanize" you in their eyes.  But realistically, I don't think these people are going to be your new buddies no matter what you do.   This is not the end of the world for a teaching position that you will have for only a year or two.
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pigou
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« Reply #2 on: September 30, 2011, 1:09:34 PM »

Imagine if you also came from a wealthy background. They'd hate your guts, regardless of how much you worked to get to where you are. Getting a PhD from a top institution isn't easy, no matter your financial resources.

It's not limited to adjuncts either. I've heard faculty downplay others' achievements because others had lower teaching loads - the comparison just isn't fair! Or they just use their graduate students to do all the work! Or... it never stops.

Best advice I can give is to stay away from bitter people. Some just go through life feeling miserable and you don't want them around you. Find colleagues with a more positive outlook and focus on your own family/career.
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spinnaker
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« Reply #3 on: September 30, 2011, 1:28:48 PM »

I'd guess the draft you feel is the result of two things. One, the common common covetous attitude for Ivy Leaguers.
Two, you don't have to feel or act superior in order for the idea to be out there. These adjuncts may be committing one or both of these sins: adjuncting too long, or living off the income. You don't get the stigma, because you're 'just visiting.'
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larryc
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« Reply #4 on: September 30, 2011, 1:42:21 PM »

Crabs in a barrel. Frederick Douglass noted that crab sellers in the marketplace could keep live crabs in a barrel and they would not climb out because when one began to climb, the others would grab onto it and pull it back down into the barrel.
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voxprincipalis
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« Reply #5 on: September 30, 2011, 2:14:14 PM »

Some have alluded to the likelihood I'll soon be moving on to greener pastures (actual phrase used), that I'll have nothing to worry about when going on the market, and so on.  Some behave with gracious condescension, as if having to preempt the condescension they expect from me.  

Quote
Anyone who actually has a conversation with me can see I'm a real person.  But against those who treat me this way for the first time, I wonder what I can say in brief to signal that they're wrong

It may well be that your colleagues are basing their assumptions and behavior on how previous adjunct colleagues have acted. If they have seen ten Ivy-PhD adjuncts come, treat their colleagues like crap, and then leave as soon as possible, then they probably don't assume that #11 will be any different.

I suspect there is nothing you can do in a single conversation to allay these fears. But all you have to do is just not be like that. Over time, with continued demonstration of not being an asshat, your colleagues may come to see you for you, not as "the holder of an Ivy PhD (and therefore a jerk)."

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educator1
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« Reply #6 on: September 30, 2011, 3:21:44 PM »


Best advice I can give is to stay away from bitter people. Some just go through life feeling miserable and you don't want them around you. Find colleagues with a more positive outlook and focus on your own family/career.

+1
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spinnaker
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« Reply #7 on: September 30, 2011, 4:17:34 PM »

Negative people suck!
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caesura
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« Reply #8 on: September 30, 2011, 5:05:24 PM »

When they talk about your leaving for greener pastures, say something like, "well, I hope so, but, you know, with my mother so ill, I may not be able to leave Ajunctville."  That is, turn the conversation from being about (what they enviously imagine to be) your rosy future to being about your present actual life.
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bassside27
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« Reply #9 on: September 30, 2011, 10:32:58 PM »

say something like, "well, I hope so, but, you know, with my mother so ill, I may not be able to leave Ajunctville."  That is, turn the conversation from being about (what they enviously imagine to be) your rosy future to being about your present actual life.

Thanks, caesura.  This makes good sense, but I can't bring myself to peddle that personal situation, and feel it can only descend into an absurd and abject competition about who's had it tougher.  I've found myself in situations before this adjuncting job where I'd reveal things about my background to 'prove' people wrong, then regret giving anything away to people whose judgment I should never have cared about -- and who'd sometimes find in the new information something new to judge.
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bassside27
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« Reply #10 on: September 30, 2011, 10:52:53 PM »

Sounds like you're in a pretty secure position financially given what you're doing with your life and the luxury of putting off looking for a tt job this year, or even longer. 
I lived frugally and saved up my stipends, but it's true that that has enabled a temporary luxury.

I'm sure it's no mystery to you what kind of fears and frustrations many adjuncts face, especially if they've been trying to support themselves and a family on those miserable wages.  If you're feeling anger, sadness, and resentment, unfortunately you are not alone, and you've been dealing with such feelings for. . . a few weeks?  So, not years and years.

I am aware of this. Maybe I need to be more aware of it.  And maybe instead of proving something about myself, I should try to make them feel better about themselves.  And yet, just this afternoon I got caught in a conversation with an office-mate here -- a long-time adjunct -- who regularly doles out unsolicited teaching advice, asserts how wonderfully she's doing (names conferences attended, vacations taken, out of the blue), and/or pauses disapprovingly whenever I'm in the office when she wants to use it (despite my cajolings to share; I know this is all too common).  My instinct again was to engage, be a nodding listener, say "wow that's great" constantly.  And afterwards I felt weak and drained.  But I suppose the real weakness was in still needing something from the interaction -- i.e., to not be misjudged.
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bassside27
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« Reply #11 on: September 30, 2011, 11:08:30 PM »

Best advice I can give is to stay away from bitter people. Some just go through life feeling miserable and you don't want them around you. Find colleagues with a more positive outlook and focus on your own family/career.

Thanks, pigou.  I tried to internalize this in grad school but never wholly succeeded in protecting myself.  Will keep trying to internalize it now.
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spinnaker
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« Reply #12 on: October 01, 2011, 5:09:23 PM »

 Some have alluded to the likelihood I'll soon be moving on to greener pastures (actual phrase used), that I'll have nothing to worry about when going on the market, and so on.  Some behave with gracious condescension, as if having to preempt the condescension they expect from me.  

Then again, you could be imagining some of this cold treatment.
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tuxedo_cat
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« Reply #13 on: October 01, 2011, 5:22:31 PM »

OP, I think some of your discomfort is simply about making the transition from being part of a graduate cohort, where people do get to know one another pretty well, and make efforts to establish social ties, to being part of a completely disjointed body of adjuncts.  I think you are expecting a sense of community where you are simply less likely to find it, for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with your background or theirs.  The fact that you have this inclination to do things to make these other adjuncts "feel better about themselves" seems a little odd.  Nice, but not really appropriate for this professional context.

Seek your community elsewhere for the time being.
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adjunctprincipessa
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« Reply #14 on: October 04, 2011, 10:55:26 PM »

One great advantage of being an adjunct (especially when you are not interested in pursuing a tenure track position) is that as long as you show up to class, no one cares what you do with your free time when you aren't teaching.  If your colleagues are annoying you, you don't need to spend any time with them.  Your office hours should be "by appointment only" or immediately after class (when you would normally stay to answer student questions anyway.  As long as you are accessible by email, your students will be happy.  

I taught at one school with a toxic environment, and it was due to the fact that no one - not even tenured professors - could actually live on their salary since the public university was located in one of the most expensive cities in the country.  I found a faculty computer room that was almost always empty, and prepared for my classes there.  I avoided the office, which was filled with sad and unhappy people.  If you cannot find quiet space or friendly people, then do your work at home and just show up to teach your classes.  This strategy doesn't work if you need letters of recommendation or are trying to make contacts for your eventual job search.  But sometimes just knowing you have the option of avoiding people can make it easier to deal with them.
« Last Edit: October 04, 2011, 10:56:28 PM by adjunctprincipessa » Logged
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