I feel like I’ve written this post before, but I’m too lazy to go searching for the link to whatever that post might have been. And it also occurs to me that maybe if I write this post now, it might be different from what I wrote before. So at any rate, a commenter, Andrea, writes:
Once again, when I read your column I wonder if I wrote it in my sleep our experiences are so similar! But I aged out of being the youngest during my phd program because it took me so damn long. And though I too am realizing that I am a mid career prof it’s just because I’ve been at my school for a decade not because I have become an important scholar. . What I can’t figure out is how you have the time for that much scholarship with a 4/4 load. No seriously. That s my biggest struggle. Tips/advice would be greatly appreciated. Like literally when do you do it?
First things first: I don’t think I’m an “important” scholar. While people are apparently recognizing my scholarly work these days, there is a vast chasm in my head between that and “important.” Seriously? I think that I’ve just been around long enough that people have heard my name. And I think if I were truly important that I would have achieved a hell of a lot more, and I likely wouldn’t be working at a regional university. So let’s not think more of me than should be thought. Have I had some good ideas? I think I have. Do I think I make a contribution? I do. But I ain’t no Judith Butler (or even somebody less famous than she is, who is still -marginally- famous).
How have I done scholarship with a 4/4 load? Let me count the ways:
1) I entered my tenure-track job having been jilted by a dude to whom I though I would get married (I was 28). I had a lot of time on my hands once I started my job because I wasn’t managing a committed relationship. And since I’ve had that job, I pretty much prioritized my ideas ahead of any other person. I don’t recommend that, if you want stuff other than work, but it’s what I’ve done. BECAUSE MY IDEAS ARE IMPORTANT!!!! And I’m a workaholic.
2) I really do care a lot about scholarship: I wasn’t that person who started grad school believing she’d like to be a college professor in order to teach college students. You might think that this doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it really does. Do I love teaching now? Sure. Do I think (and do I have evidence that) I am good at it? Yes. But if I’d gotten into this for the teaching, I’d never have achieved what I have as a scholar. Because I just wouldn’t have cared as much about making that happen.
3) I am privileged to have a tenure-track position that allows me to teach courses that combine with my research. And since I got my job, my ideas for research came out of my teaching, or vice versa, because they had to. With a 4/4 load, it is entirely unrealistic to totally divorce one’s scholarly life from the work that one does with students. My colleagues in the sciences (and sometimes the social sciences) manage this by having students work in labs for them. In the humanities? In English? The classes that I teach must inform the research that I do, or vice versa, if only through the texts that I teach.
4) But teaching comp (even though I’m not a rhet/comp specialist) helps me, too, because teaching writing makes me a better writer.
5) At the end of the day, I really do believe it is intrinsic to the job that I do as a professor to be an active researcher. I’ve seen the way that it has helped my students get into graduate school, and I’ve seen the way that I’ve been able to persuade students not to go to graduate school, as a result. The point is: how can we really teach our students if we are checked out of our fields? It’s not just about me having a job, at the end of the day. Academia is a pyramid scheme. I want to give them good advice, and they need me to give them good advice, and I can’t do that if I don’t do research myself.
6) I am inspired by my former students. Today, if you don’t know, is Bloomsday. I teach Ulysses every four years. Today I’ve gotten Facebook messages, emails, whatever, from students who read that book with me. Why do I care about scholarship? In no small part because caring about that means having this particular relationship with my students.
But seriously, how do I do what I do? People have told me that I have more energy than other people do. I’ve always thought that’s crazy, because I feel like I’m lazy, ultimately. I have thought to myself that I just have more ideas – and then I pursue them, which I think is the trick – than other people do. But seriously? Lotsa people have ideas: I’m not unique there. But then I pursue them? Other people try to pursue them, so why does it work out for me?
Seriously, I got my job in my first year on the market, abd, in a year when only three percent of people in their first year on the market in English lit got a job. Is this because I’m awesome? I don’t think so. I think it’s because I was like win-the-lottery lucky. That doesn’t mean I don’t think I’m good enough (any more… I used to think that). It means that I recognize the role of chance in all of this.
But so here’s the thing: I got a book published before tenure because I had great advising during my dissertation which led me to an almost-book product. I’ve done good research since then because I courted excellent mentors who helped me to get publications, even though that is really hard when you have a teaching-intensive position. And I have sacrificed my personal life in order to get more professional recognition. At the end of the day? This job has been more important to me than anything else has been. And I don’t recommend that, but if you want to know what I have done, you have to know that this has been true for me.
Will it continue to be that important for me? No idea. But that is how I’ve “done it” teaching four courses a semester.