For those of you who haven’t been reading for years BES is Bright Enthusiastic Student, whom I taught and whose senior thesis I advised four years ago. She is now in her third year in a top-tier Ph.D. program, and we are now “friends,” though our friendship is surely more like me being her aunt or cousin or something, as I’m still sort of her mentor.
So we’ve talked on the phone a lot over the past couple of months, and we talked for like 3 hours tonight. She’s coming up with her reading list for comps, so that’s part of why we’ve talked a lot recently (though she’s not specializing in my field – so what we talk about is more the process of it all), but it’s also that now we have teaching stuff to talk about, and as she’s transitioning out of coursework (this is her last semester of it) we have different conversations to have. Also, this semester, she’s taking a class that’s basically in my specialization, and the theory that they are reading is stuff I’m working with right now, so there’s that, too. Anyway.
What’s awesome for me is that our friendship really has developed as a friendship, while at the same time I get to continue to mentor her. I like that I can tell her stuff that nobody told me about the process of getting a Ph.D., but I also like that we can talk about teaching and ideas we’re having in a way that’s not about me being her mentor. Does that make sense? I hope that makes sense. Basically, it’s really awesome to be able to give her the benefit of knowing my take on things I experienced that she is now going through, but it’s also awesome that we have a relationship beyond that, you know?
But really, all I want to write about this tonight is how nice it is to see the progress she’s made, and to be in a position now where when we talk about literature or theory or whatever, she’s coming with her own set of concerns and the conversation is like a conversation that I have with a person I meet at a conference, rather than a conversation that I have with a student. Tonight we had a lengthy talk about Jacques Ranciere, for example. Yes, I see my influence on her way of thinking about some things, but it’s not like I’m teaching her, or like she’s trying to please me by reflecting back what I think. She is her own scholar, her own thinker, her own critic. And that is always what I wanted for her. And when we talk about teaching, I see that she’s trying to do the same thing for her students.
I suppose that this is what it’s supposed to be like if one teaches at a research university and advises doctoral candidates, but the truth is that I don’t long for that sort of job. I suppose I fear that in that sort of job that oftentimes that isn’t what it’s like. Also, it’s nice being this “voice from the past” who is there to give intel but who isn’t actually in charge of her future.
At the end of the day, I never entered this profession to reproduce myself, to send a bastion of students off to graduate school, spreading my intellectual seed. What I did enter this profession to do was to teach and to give students new ways of thinking. When I talk to BES? I think I’m doing what I aimed to do.
Also: she was in that Joyce and Woolf class four years ago. I told her about those papers from this semester, and she said: “Oh GOD! You’re still doing that to them? I mean, it’s good, and they will learn from it, but IT’S HORRIBLE! At least you’re meeting with them to soften the blow this time, WHICH YOU DIDN’T DO WITH US!”
BES is truly one of my favorite friends in my life. And she’s also a former student. And that’s weird. But I think it’s good.