Category Archives: Doctorate

When God Calls: An Academic’s Experience

Almost three weeks ago, my denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, voted not to let major regional divisions decide whether or not they had the authority to ordain female clergy. I won’t waste time on the semantics of this vote, because the vote itself is not the point of this post. Rather, I am thinking in particular about one speech that caused me a lot of inner reflection. It is the speech of a young woman in a position of leadership, a young woman that spoke out against the ordination of women in ministry. It is a speech that has caused me to rethink what we mean by “calling.”

Brief disclaimer: I have decided, for the sake of Christian fellowship and transparency, to include the transcript of her speech, but not identify her or include the YouTube link to this post. I do not wish to shame her publicly, nor do I wish anyone reading this post to shame her publicly. Her opinion is her own, and I respect her right to her privacy and her opinion. If you, however, would be interested in watching the video for your own edification, indicate so in the comments or message me, and I will gladly share the YouTube link at my own discretion.

This is what the young woman said as a rationale for her NO vote to the ordination of female pastors in the Seventh-day Adventist Church:

  1. I want to speak on behalf of thousands whose voices are not being heard in my division. Thousands of NAD members do not agree with women’s ordination, and the initiative bringing it to the front has served not to unify but to polarize this division. As the president of GYC which has the largest annual youth and young adult conference in the Adventist church, I hear from those within the NAD who feel their voices have not been heard or at least not acknowledged. There are those in this division who believe that we should be considerate of the world church and what regional beliefs will mean for our unity rather than feeling the world needs to be considerate of us. And if our division has not acknowledged all the convictions within their own division, how can we anticipate that they will be considerate of the world church family on other issues when we once set a precedent that each locality can decide for itself?
    2. I am a young adult, a young woman, an ethnic minority, and a leader of one of the largest youth movements in Adventism, and Mr. Chair, God has already called me to work for Him and that is all the calling I need. Not all young people, not all young women, not all North Americans, want our church to be divided for the sake of having someone lay their hands on us. And while people recognize my work as the president of a young adult conference, they should give more recognition when I become a wife next February and a mother after that, since the Spirit of Prophecy says that position is higher than the minister in the desk or the king on the throne. We should focus on giving that the dignity and honor that it deserves.I say no to the question, no to dividing the church.

It’s this question of calling that caught my attention. This young woman asserts that, despite her position of leadership, there is no higher calling than becoming a wife and mother for her. Her confidence in God’s will for her life is inspiring, and I applaud her for it.

But does this apply to all women? Should her calling speak for all of us?

That’s the question I find myself engaging to this very day. The implication (given by many people, and not this young woman specifically)—that there is no higher or better calling for a woman than to be a wife and mother—suggests that unless a woman is married and has given birth, she has not fulfilled God’s calling for her. I am uncomfortable with this idea. I know many fulfilled women who do not have children, or who have not married. I myself did not always know if I would marry. And by the time I did, I had already discovered God’s calling for my own life. Yes, I am still a wife. I love my husband. I have grown closer to God as a result of my marriage. But there are many components of my life that I juggle, and it feels odd to chuck one of these pieces in favor of a calling that does not resonate with my own experience.

I’ve talked about the process of getting my PhD on this blog, but I’ve never shared how it all began. This is a story that goes twelve years back, though I had no idea at the time it had begun to unfold. About two days ago, I discovered my Senior English Portfolio, with my collection of writing projects from the course of my senior year. This list I now share, written when I was 18, shows that I had a very specific idea of what my life was going to be like:

Ten Things I Foresee in My Future:

  1. Enjoying new adventures at Andrews University
  2. Travelling all over in my new car
  3. Taking a year off to be a student missionary
  4. Falling in love and marrying a really sweet guy
  5. Graduating with a BA in English
  6. Teaching English at an [Adventist] academy
  7. Having two boys and a girl
  8. Publishing a novel
  9. Living in a two-story house that always needs repair
  10. Growing old with my husband, and enjoying grandkids

At 18, these were my big dreams. I thought in terms of other people: I would teach other kids, I would be a wife, and I would be a mother. These would define my identity and my life.

And then, God called.

My dad took me to my freshman orientation week at Andrews University. He and my mom were so excited for me. Though they are both medical professionals, they have always supported my love of reading, writing, and analysis, and they were excited that I was embarking on an English degree—a world so far removed from theirs. At the parent/student lunch, we were introduced to the Dean of Students, whose husband had been my dad’s dean at Loma Linda University Medical College. She jokingly remarked, “When you get your PhD, you can come back here and teach!” I remember laughing politely and turning to my dad after she left. “I’m not going to get my PhD,” I told him.

My dad looked at me and, with all seriousness, responded, “Don’t count it out.”

Those four words would mark the shift to a future I never even knew existed.

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I had never considered an academic career, and it wasn’t until my junior year in college that I actually returned to that moment and asked myself, “Is this what I should be doing with my life?” In the midst of rousing discussions of John Dryden (no easy feat), Aphra Behn, and Jane Austen in my English Literature II survey, I began to see a new idea and a new purpose.

And yet I decided to be safe and continue on my English education course. I determined to finish my degree as if I was going to teach high school, with an option for graduate school, if I really wanted to.

I forged on with student teaching, on the fence about what to do with my life. But that rigorous semester was fraught with the struggles of balancing preconceived ideas with the realities of high school education, questioning God’s plan for my life, and the simple discouragement from being mentally and emotionally drained constantly. I cried every Sunday night, because that meant school was starting on Monday (The Chancellor can attest to this—he and I had been dating by this point, and he often had to pep me up before the week even started). I had to face reality: this was not my calling. I returned to the fragile, yet growing, idea of going to graduate school, and I decided to take a leap of faith.

I spent money I did not have on the Graduate Record Exam and four MA program in English applications. I asked my professors for last-minute recommendations, which they all very graciously provided. And I waited. After two immediate rejections, I received the miraculous email from Western Michigan University. I was going to get my Master’s Degree in English.

When I began my program, I knew immediately that I had found my calling. I was stimulated by interesting, challenging discussions with my colleagues. I was energized by the diverse capabilities of the students in my classroom. On my worst day, I never felt any regret that I had turned away from my high school dream. I was called.

But at the end of my first year at WMU, I fully began to realize the implications of my calling. If God was guiding me towards a PhD, that would mean a LOT more work. It would mean spending money I didn’t have to retake the GRE to get a better score, spending more money I didn’t have on graduate school applications, getting rejected again, and then, at least four, if not five, years of school, which included qualifying exams and a dissertation to write and defend.

That summer, I had two big decisions to make. First, whether to apply for PhD programs. And second, what to do about my relationship with The Chancellor. I haven’t written too much about the US part of our marriage, for the sake of his privacy and mine, but this actually became really integral to my calling. He had just received his own calling. After finishing his MA at Andrews—where we had met in a young adult literature class—he had gotten an interview from a day school outside a large Midwestern city. I was in agony. I didn’t think there were ANY programs in the area. I began to think that I would have to make a choice: go forward with The Chancellor and give up my calling, or give up The Chancellor. I hated both ideas.

A lot of people in my personal or church life would have told me to get married and forget the PhD. After all, I was 25, not getting younger, and not at an Adventist school anymore.

Several academic friends and colleagues would have told me to go forward with my career. If The Chancellor did not fit in, he didn’t fit in. After all, this was my career.

The Chancellor had his own say: “If you give up the PhD to marry me, I’m breaking up with you.” This was perhaps the most miraculous intervention I’ve ever had. God did not present me with the “really sweet guy” I yearned for at 18. I mean, The Chancellor is a good and kind man, and yes, he can very sweet. But he’s also tough as nails, an ardent feminist, and a believer in standing up for what’s right and following God’s leading in your life. He’s the guy I needed to have the confidence in God’s calling for me, and for him, as well.

So, in the biggest leap of faith we both took, we decided to make it work. He would accept the job. I would apply to every PhD program relevant to my field (at the time 18th and 19th century British literature) within a three-hour driving radius (as it turns out, there were 11 such programs). And then we would get married in the summer of 2011. We were in this with God—together.

When God calls, it’s really scary. You make choices. You make sacrifices. You make it work.

I was accepted into Marquette University’s PhD program in English, which meant a 90-mile one-way drive. One of my dearest childhood friends and her best friend opened up their home to me, which meant I had a place to live during the week. But that meant being away from my brand-new husband for part of the week.

It was a wrenching and sometimes very stressful sacrifice. My first semester of my PhD was awful, in ways I will not expand on here. But I survived it, and I discovered the field I was meant to be in my second semester. From there, I began to find a rhythm in living two lives at the same time, of balancing my academic life with my teaching, my work life with my personal life, my marriage, and my friends. It was not easy, and it’s still not. Not everyone can do this. Not everyone wants to do this. Not everyone was called to do this. But I was.

Not every day of my teaching career at the college level has been magical by any means. But even on my worst day, I can’t even think of doing anything else. I have found the calling God made for me. I balance it with my daily life, and with my marriage. It is in my marriage that my calling has been strengthened. The Chancellor bounces ideas off me, and I off him. We read some of the same books, provide each other with inspiration, and challenge each other. I could not have done this alone. I am grateful that The Chancellor acknowledges my calling, and I his. We strengthen each other and glorify God together.

Fulfilling God’s calling for my life has meant research and teaching. It has entailed me to use my mind and challenge preconceived ideas with new ones. My calling has asked me to consider new perspectives and possibilities, to read books that challenge my Western ideas of thinking. It has asked me to accept students whose views are not my own and to treat them with dignity and respect. It has asked me to spend summer hours on my dissertation, to forgo pleasure in order to fulfill my role for God. And it has asked me to be open to communicating those ideas in my life, in my church, and in my work.

When God calls, and when you answer, there are beautiful moments beyond compare. I cannot describe the moment in which my name was called, and I walked across an auditorium stage to receive my diploma and have my hood draped around me. It all pales to the moment I heard my family and friends cheering loudly and shouting my name as I smiled into the light. The dream God had given me had come true on May 17, 2015.

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And it’s true to this day. While I do not have a tenure-track job at this moment (I’m on the market, so I hope to be employed full-time next year!), I do have teaching to look forward to. I have faith that God will provide me with the employment to fulfill my calling for Him. I have training, a mind He has prepared, a curiosity to seek knowledge and use it to make others’ lives richer and better.

When God calls…He changes your life forever. But only if you let Him do it. You can choose to follow the path you think is acceptable based on ideas of tradition, or you can accept His calling for you. Sometimes, it is that “traditional” path to which He leads you. And other times, as in the case of a teenaged girl with a third-grade education, He leads you beyond the boundaries of your home to reach classrooms, churches, ministries, individuals hungry for Him. When God calls…what will your answer be?

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Filed under Beginnings, Doctorate, Faith, Family, Feminism, Marriage, Teaching

Why I’m Staying

I’ve tried to keep myself as anonymous as possible on this blog, particularly since future employers will be Googling me to see what I am all about. But today, I am unveiling a bit of anonymity to talk about the university at the local level, because it is symptomatic of a larger issue. And it forms the heart of this post.

While I am not a resident of Wisconsin, I go to school here–not at the UW system, but a private school. As it turns out, I am actually being protected by the un-unionized private school more than I thought, because now all UW schools are under fire. Governor Scott Walker has unveiled a glorious new plan (read: sarcasm here): cut funding to the entire state University of Wisconsin system by $300 million, and provide $200 million so that the Milwaukee Bucks can have a new stadium. The sheer chutzpah of this plan boggles my mind, because you just know that of the $300 million getting cut, it will not be administrators and six-figure salaries, nor sports. Majors and programs are going to get slashed left and right, which means fewer academic jobs for an already gutted profession.

I just can’t even.

And then, Gov. Walker defended his brilliant plan. I’ve linked to the article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here, but I’d like to leave with this quote. It’s the money shot, in my opinion:

“In the future, by not having the limitation of things like shared governance, they might be able to make savings just by asking faculty and staff to consider teaching one more class a semester,” Walker told reporters at the Madison hotel. “Things like that could have tremendous impact on making sure we have an affordable education for all of our UW campuses at the same time we maintain a high-quality education.”

It is clear that Gov. Walker has absolutely no idea what goes into preparing, teaching, and grading a course, not to mention the committee work, the mentoring, and the research each faculty member conducts on his or her personal time, otherwise, he would not be asking them to add an additional course for no additional pay.

I just can’t even. It’s insulting, and it tells me that my PhD, which I am soon to receive, and which took years of toil, time, and MONEY, is of absolutely no monetary or intellectual value. It makes me so f**king angry sometimes.

But I’m not here to rant. Instead, two peculiar insights emerged this morning.

The first came when I was packing up my lunch. What if, I thought, I’ve been sent here for a time and purpose–like Esther? It was a momentous insight, one that I probably very much needed to gain. I’ve never second-guessed my love of writing and literature, higher education, or the desire to teach others the subjects that help us understand our world in ideological and abstract ways. But I have definitely questioned the sanity of it. I’ve spent years trying not to read thought pieces basically accusing me of being quixotic, of irresponsibly throwing away my economic future for a shadow, a dream. It’s been disheartening. Instead, here are the words that entered my heart this morning:

“For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, NKJV).

Such a time as this. Yes. Perhaps when I felt the call to be an academic, I was meant to enter the storm, not prosper in the calm. Weirdly, I find it encouraging.

The second insight came when one of my students, a total rockstar, had his meeting with me today. Tuesday, we watched Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary Blackfish, which chronicles the sad, sad story of orcas in captivity at SeaWorld, and the violence that has emerged when humans collide with such magnificent and pent-up creatures. He showed me screen captures that he had taken from SeaWorld’s website, which included accusations of a documentary being one-sided (really. You don’t say), and the idea that there may be no zoos or aquariums is just crazy. My student said, of the former, “it’s not like you show Hitler’s side in a documentary about Auschwitz” (I lol’ed at that, but it’s totally true), and of the latter, “If we had things always the way they were, you could make that case about civil rights. And equality.”

My heart grew three sizes today. This freshman in college is making an argument supporting civil rights and equality, and it all started with a discussion about Blackfish. That’s why we need college. That’s why we need teachers who are creative and passionate and innovative.

And it’s likely why I will spend years toiling as a poorly-paid adjunct. Because I feel the need for a good education. Because I had a good education. Because our nation’s children and young adults deserve a quality education.

And that’s why I’m staying.

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Filed under Doctorate, Faith, Teaching

The post-DQE update

If you are my real-life or Facebook friend, then you know that I passed my Doctoral Qualifying Exam on Wednesday. It’s been anything but a blur. I can still remember how I felt when I stepped into the elevator to go up to the examination room, the eager excitement welling up as one of my committee members tapped into an idea I’d been secretly playing with, the sweat on my palms as I waited almost 15 minutes (maybe it was 10–it felt a LOT LONGER) to hear my results. But I still find myself strangely incapable of putting together coherent, linear thoughts on this blog. So I thought, why not a bullet-points list? Sorry if it’s disjointed. You still get the picture:

  • I joked to my friend S that I felt like I was getting married again. Funnily enough, I wore the same sandals I got married in, as well as the dress I purchased on my honeymoon.
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Photo courtesy of Brad Leavelle, Red Dirt Photography.

And really, if you think about it, I *was* getting married: to my topic. Now that I’ve signed off on the paperwork and said “I do,” there’s no going back now. It’s finish or nothing at this point. What an exhilarating and terrifying thought!

  • Like my wedding, I was also filled with this strange enthusiastic energy to undermine any nervousness I felt. Although, at my wedding, it meant cracking a series of dirty jokes to The Chancellor during our photo shoot.

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    Do not be fooled by my innocent face. Judging by The Chancellor’s smile, I have just said “That’s what she said.” Photo courtesy of Brad Leavelle, Red Dirt Photography.

Thankfully, no dirty jokes were cracked. I did, however, make a gratuitous Benedict Cumberbatch reference during my DQE. As well as notes about Wills and Kate memorabilia cranked out by the Heritage Industries in Britain (though the latter was brought on by a question my dissertation director asked).

  • In the elevator, I prayed deeply and hard. I prayed for the calmness of spirit to not be nervous. I prayed for God to take it all, and empty me completely. I prayed to give it my everything.
  • I am super grateful to my committee, who made the exam an intense, but oh so valuable process. They asked tough but fair questions, pushing me to consider my own stance further, and to help me recognize my limitations at this point in the research.
  • Keeping Calm and Carrying On is a secret ingredient to success during QEs. It was important in helping me remember text names, theorist names, and certain ideas that I had wanted to bring up. And since I’m better at writing than verbal exposition, it was vital in not wandering off into a needless tangent.
  • I talked about Jane Austen, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, Hanif Kureishi, Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy, Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, Henry James, Louisa May Alcott, and William Dean Howells. A formidable host of writers, by whom I deeply honored to surround myself, both in the project research and the larger teaching field.
  • In the waiting room, I prayed again. Gratitude, joy, relief. Glad to be over, relief that my part was over, and joy that pass or fail, I had given it EVERYTHING. I would so much rather have failed honestly giving it my all than to half-heartedly pass.
  • Ultimately, I’ve decided that DQE was, to this date, the single-most beneficial exercise I’ve undertaken in grad school. I know where I stand in my research, how well I know my field, and what steps I need to take next to strengthen my project and my knowledge of my teaching field. What could be better than that?
  • I’m excited to start writing. Yesterday, I played catch-up with teaching and graduate business, and today, I found myself rereading my first text. During my reading and note-taking process, a potential chapter outline presented itself to me. So I wrote it down. You can understand my excitement.
  • Once the paperwork comes through (I’m guessing in a few weeks?), I’ll *officially* be ABD (that’s all-but-dissertation for my non-academic readers). The next best three letters to the best three letters I hope to receive!

So that’s the latest from my world. At some point, I need to write a teaching post, because I am simply in love with both my classes. They are energetic and bright women and men, and I have high hopes for their potential and success. Oh, this life. It fills me deep, abiding joy sometimes. And I can barely even scratch the surface of it in writing.

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Filed under Beginnings, Books, Doctorate, State of mind

ANXIETY

This is going to be a mess of a post. I am feeling all the feels today, and I can’t quite seem to make sense of it. So, I’ll start somewhere and then end up in a totally different place than where I intended. Let’s start with the facts: my doctoral qualifying exam (known as DQE in my department) is on the 28th of this month. 12 days away. My prospectus has been sent in, I’ve practiced with a colleague who gave excellent feedback, and I’m already starting the re-reading of one of my primary texts for the writing process that’s about to begin. I’ve got this.

And then, this morning, I woke up in a cold sweat, because my first-ever DQE nightmare came to visit.

[Sidenote: every summer, late July, early August, I start to have School Dreams. Something odd always happens in my classroom, and one of my nightmare students is always in it. It sucks. I get this momentary dread that school is going to be bad. It’s not.]

In my dream, I was at my dissertation director’s house. Now, I’ve never been to his house, but my dream-sense told me that it was his. He grilled me on “brionext theory.” I have no idea what that is even supposed to be. He grilled me on The Passion of the Christ. You know, the Mel Gibson Jesus-gets-crucified film. And asked for the medieval literary connections. So I rambled on about Margery Kemp and Julian of Norwich. This is funny for several reasons: I am not even close to being a medievalist/medieval studies scholar, and haven’t read any medieval texts for a good 7-8 years; also, my director is not a medievalist. Not even close. He’s even made some good-natured gibes about the medievalists in the class I took with him last spring. So, there’s that. And THEN, his children showed up. Now, I’ve never met his family either, but again, dream-sense. So somewhere in there, I started reading to his child.

AND THEN, one of my committee members started talking about her childhood in Mexico and all the sharks that lived along the beaches. This is funny for several reasons: she has not, to my knowledge, ever lived in Mexico. Also, The Chancellor and I watched  a Shark Week program before bed last night featuring sharks possibly breeding off the Mexican beaches. Or a rogue shark trolling the beaches off Mexico. I can’t remember now. But there was a map to accompany this sidenote. And my other committee member was not there. I remember wondering if the other two had dis-invited him from my committee. Which is crazy. And not true.

I woke up in an absolute panic. What if I can’t remember every single point of every single thing Fredric Jameson’s ever said (yes, I thought that at 6 am)? What if I get lost and can’t even remember the names of the books I read (also thought at 6 am)? What if I don’t pass?

So, the anxiety about not passing the exam has caused me to put off studying with shocking ease. I started rewatching an old TV series when I should have been reading Money or brushing up on my Fredric Jameson. I actually feel like it now, so I may just do that before I lose my nerve again.

But that’s the honestest truth about this process: there’s a whole of brain, yes, but there’s a nerve aspect to it that I am finding unpleasantly surprising. I have absolutely got to keep my wits about me, especially for the really difficult questions I’m not going to know how to answer satisfactorily. I cannot expect perfection, even though I am a fairly extreme perfectionist. I just need to pass this exam so I can write my dissertation and graduate and get a job. This 2-hour segment of my life is very important, yes, but I need to remind myself: it’s a short-term means to a long-term end.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my old crony Martin Amis is calling me.

Let's tango.

Let’s tango.

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Filed under Doctorate, Outlook

Wanted: Your book opinion

Hi, friends. I’m going to buy a book, and I need your help deciding what shape this book should take. By that, I mean: Nook file or hard copy? I’ll set out the facets of my particular dilemma, so you can give an informed opinion. Though a shoot-from-the-hip opinion would also be helpful. 🙂

Okay, here’s the deal. I just finished reading History and Refusal by Stephen N. doCarmo, a fantastic and excellent book on the relationships between consumerism and postmodernism in American social politics, as seen in contemporary American novels. It is one of the densest but best setups of the various debates raging within postmodern literary theory and is going to become an absolute MUST for my dissertation prospectus. Obviously, I need to own a copy so I can desist from marking up my university library’s copy, right? ALSO: the introduction sets up this debate fantastically, and I feel like it would be a perfect companion to a contemporary American class or an intro to literary theory class (either of which I *might* teach, if I’m very lucky in my career). Plus, the chapters on American Psycho and White Noise have some of the most interesting critical analysis on each of the texts and would again make perfect teaching companions for these novels.

So…in checking out Amazon: I could buy a new hardcover for $45, with a used book running about $47 at the cheapest. Google Play does not have an ebook for sale, and the hardcopies direct me to Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Barnes and Noble has a hardcover for $53, with a Nook file for $30. Ebay has a used copy for $37 (I think), and Alibris.com has a used copy for $37.

I’m honestly tempted to buy the Nook file. I could have it uploaded to my computer AND my Nook. Plus, my bookshelves are double-packed already. Actually, make that bookshelf. My cheapo grad school bookshelf I bought from a shall-not-be-named Stuffmart Consumerist Conglomerate was just not going to survive the move to our new apartment. My Sister and I tore it down with shocking ease, and so now I have a stack of about nine beer boxes sitting in an empty space where a bookcase will eventually stand. So, I’m not *exactly* suffering for books.

BUT: if I buy the Nook file, have I then gypped myself of being able to utilize for my students? My current graduate institution has a fantastic system called ARES, in which you can provide the chapter/book/article, they upload it to a protected site, and they pay the royalties so there’s no copyright infringement. Of course, every institution is different, and some just want you to have the password protected site like D2L or blackboard. My thought is, if I buy a hardcover, then I can make a PDF or hard copies to then share with my students in the appropriate and copyright-appropriate channels. But if the library has a copy of the book, I could just use the library’s copy, right? Of course, assuming the library has a copy of said book and I don’t have to resort to ILL (which is fantastic, but takes time for the requests to be fulfilled).

I’m *clearly* overthinking this, but I want to throw my money at the best long-term solution. So tell me: what is that solution?

 

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Filed under Books, Doctorate, Teaching

The Extroverted Academic

I’ve seen a lot of books, social media, and clever analogies devoted to introverts. And with good reason: introverts are deeply intricate, mysterious individuals who can (but not always) keep personality traits close to them until they feel safe enough to be themselves around trusted friends. They are fascinating, exciting people of great depth, wit, and character. I should know: I married an introvert, and many of my family members are introverts, as well. In fact, so are many of my friends and colleagues. I do greatly enjoy reading about the care and feeding of introverts, because it reminds me that Not Everyone Is Like Me. Did I forget to mention? I’m an extrovert with a  capital-E. Really, in my mind it reads more like EXTROVERT!!!! but you get the idea. By the way: if  you’re not terribly familiar with an extrovert, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert yourself, I highly recommend reading this blog on The Care and Feeding of Your Extrovert from an extrovert’s point of view. Rowan, an extrovert, does a great job of explaining the complexity of what has often been seen as a “simple” personality trait.

When contrasted to the many, many introverts in my life, I realize how different I can be and seem. Especially in my profession. As my faithful readers know,  I am a doctoral student in English Literature, and currently teaching courses for the university at which I am enrolled. Many (but certainly not ALL) academics I know tend to be introverts , and if you think about the nature of academia in English Studies departments, it kind of makes sense. Our work involves, with a lot of teaching, a lot of research, introspection, and connection to ideas, theories, and insights. To generalize: a lot of thinking and reading. By stereotypical standards, introverts would thus seem to be a perfect fit.

As an extrovert, I find myself fighting stereotypes over both academia and extroverts. You see, some individuals are guilty of setting up false dichotomies about personality types, with introverts depicting extroverts as shallow, unfocused butterflies who flit from one shiny thing to the next and suck the life out of everything with their obnoxious energy, and extroverts depicting introverts as withdrawn, unfriendly, and selfish. Neither of these stereotypes is fair. But, I’ve yet to see the outpouring of literature that accurately describes extroverts in the way that studies have churned out books about introverts. I sometimes secretly feel that though we perpetuate the myth that the world is made of extroverts, my own life experiences has shown me that it’s just not true.

If you think about the Myers-Briggs Type Indictator (MBTI), you will realize that extroversion is one of eight personality indicators, and those who identify as extroverts come in eight combination types: ESTP, ESFP, ENFP, ENTP, ESTJ, ESFJ, ENFJ, ENTJ. While I often test between ENFP and ENFJ, I really manifest as an ENFJ. The Myers-Briggs website describes an ENFJ as “warm, empathetic, responsive and responsible. Highly attuned to the emotions, needs, and motivations of others. Find potential in everyone, want to help others fulfill their potential. May act as catalysts for individual and group growth. Loyal, responsive to praise and criticism. Sociable, facilitate others in a group, and provide inspiring leadership.” Thus, I am less likely to be “logical” and task-oriented than an ESFJ, but I am highly attuned to the potential of others. In fact, the ENFJ personality type is often described as Teacher, which I think is a fitting nod to my profession.

Academic myths that we perpetuate tend to value the individual over the community, the intellectual thinker over the sharer, and knowledge over people. If you look over the many blogs and articles written about the current state of academia (which I do not urge you to do–it is rather grim right now), you will see that the bottom line and the tenure line takes precedence over building the sort of idealistic communities that extroverts tend to yearn after.

And with these two perceptions, I sometimes find it very daunting to be an extrovert in academia. What follows is a guide that has helped me articulate who I am in my professional environment. If you are yourself an extroverted academic, or know one, I hope this will provide some clarity and insight. Disclaimer: this list is not to be taken as an insult to introverts or a poor-me manifesto, but an exploration of the joys and challenges of my personality type within my particular occupation. This is not a one-size-fits-all list, but rather, a guide that expresses my particular manifestation of extraversion:

1. Human interaction is a basic emotional need for me. I am fueled by my relationships with my friends and colleagues. This does not automatically mean that I looooove going to conferences (they’re just okay) or am awesome at schmoozing (I’m not, and for reasons I’ll articulate in a little bit); rather, I am fueled by my interactions with my colleagues and peers. I am energized when several of us get together and share ideas/stories/critiques.

2. It’s true that I love to talk and will share my ideas, especially if I find you interested and receptive. But I also enjoy listening and hearing your ideas. Basically, if you give me a teaser or introduce yourself in the conversation, I will welcome you with open arms and shut up attentively. But I am not a mind reader. I don’t know if you’re secretly resenting my seeming domination of the conversation, or if you’re just being a good listener (though your body language can certainly help me make that distinction). If you keep listening and I have something to say, I’ll keep talking. But if I have nothing to say, I won’t say it. I don’t just gabble on because I love to hear my voice–I enjoy hearing yours, too.

3. I genuinely like teaching. I’m not posturing when I say that I really like my students, and I find it to be my calling. As an ENFJ, I am peculiarly attuned to the potential that other people house within themselves. Therefore, I make it my mission to help my students unleash that potential. I find a batch of poor grades as much a reflector of my teaching as I do on my students’ performance (though circumstances could tweak that mindset, certainly). Therefore, I find it terribly hurtful when I’ve had colleagues suggest that I am not “mean enough” to my students or that I “give to0 many As.” As someone who puts her heart into making her courses concise, understandable, and meaningful, I find such suggestions denigrate the way I relate to my mentees, and to their potential abilities.

4. I will not be shattered if you offer constructive criticism or legitimate concerns that you can back with specific examples. I *will,* however, be devastated if you are a jerk behind my back, if you attack me for no good reason, or speak badly about me when I have given you no reason to. I have been at the receiving end of backhanded criticism, and I spent HOURS trying to decipher what I’d done. I analyzed and second-guessed everything in my interactions with a few of my colleagues. In the end, I had to conclude that it wasn’t my fault, and all I could do was be polite and respectful to my peers. But I have never forgotten those comments, and I never will. And I think about everything I say before I speak to those individuals.

5. I am a social person, and I realize that I am intense, and can come off too strong. So, I try to control myself, and can often seem shallow because I offer up small talk as a “warm-up.” Listen, I am more than happy to discuss auteur theory with you. But I am equally happy to discuss the Kardashians (and it’s true, I know way too much about that family). See #1. It’s just that I’m afraid to overwhelm you with my intensity. Which brings me to…

6. Though I naturally gravitate towards human interactions, it comes with a nasty companion: constant, social anxiety that can sometimes overcome my joyful embrace of humanity altogether. If you are cold or unresponsive, I am (usually) quick to recognize that and may end the conversation as soon as I can think of it–this may make conversation awkwardly abrupt. I may become afraid that I am boring you and get out of a conversation, even if I’m enjoying it. I may be afraid to approach you, simply because I don’t want to seem like I am foisting myself upon you. My need for human interaction is linked to my need to be accepted and nurtured. Thus, I can’t let some things slide as easily as my more introverted companions. I overthink conversations constantly and cringe at all my mistakes. Thus, I sometimes find it awkward and difficult to schmooze with academics, particularly if I am afraid that I am going to be judged because I like Jane Austen (and seriously, the academic backlash against Ms. Austen is unbelievable, but that will have to be another blog post), or because I listen to Lady Gaga unironically. And not to hate on academics, but seriously, we can be a judgy, pretentious bunch sometimes.

7. Having a cheerful…no, let’s be honest, perky…demeanor often works against me. I am a small-framed, white, blonde, feminine-looking woman with a high voice who dresses in bright colors, and often wears dresses and flip-flops in the summer. I smile A LOT. Kids, I don’t mean to be a Pollyanna. I’m just in love with life, and if it’s a good day, I have no compunction about showing it. Therefore, I have been seen as fluffy, not smart, an airhead, you name it. Being treated this way by men is a grim reminder that the glass ceiling is alive and well. And yet, if I am assertive or aggressive in defending my theory/reading/ideas, I am then called a bitch. I work hard, and my appearance or demeanor does not (or should not) overshadow the seriousness with which I approach my occupation.

8. Sometimes, I become lonely in toxic academic environments. In places that value the individual and unintentionally reward backbiting and other nasty behaviors, I withdraw when I realize that I am not going to be appreciated. I’m not shy, and I’m not a snob. But I can recognize where I will be hurt or unappreciated, and so I take measures to protect myself. But then I suffer, because I crave a nourishing, balanced community made of accepting and loving people with whom I am an equal.

9. Despite some of the posts that jokingly assume that extroverts see a book as a paperweight or a doorstop (really, Tumblr? Really???), I enjoy reading. I’m not a nonstop party, and I like my down time, too. I find that reading nourishes and develops other sides of me. I can sit for hours with a book and be transported into other worlds and ideas. I just might text someone throughout the process, though. Because if I’m engrossed by something, then I have to share it.

10. I can commit to things, and I can follow through on some of my grandiose ideas. It’s true that I’m not the best planner or the most logistical of thinkers. But that doesn’t mean I flit carelessly from one idea to the next. I stumbled upon my dissertation idea last spring, and it’s stuck with me ever since. I’ve had to change/abandon a few related ideas, but the overall topic has remained the same, and I’ve had no hesitation about sticking with my commitment. On that note: yes, extroverts can and do commit. I’m not quitting my PhD program any time soon in favor of becoming a basket weaver or a yoga instructor (can I get a sarcasm font for that?).

11. I love to share. Really. If I have a great idea, then I share it. If something works, I want to talk about it. I’m not backhandedly suggesting that your teaching is bad, I’m just sharing what has worked. And, in fact, I will also share my failures and frustrations with you. In that respect, I am a sort of open book. I’m just as open about my failures as I am about my successes, and I will be the first to beat myself up about them.

How do you see extroverts, if you are an introvert? How do you see yourself, if you are an extrovert? Please feel free to share–I find personalities fascinating, and I’d really love to have more dialogue about extraversion, especially in light of the explosion of texts about introverts.

 

 

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Filed under Doctorate, Outlook, Personality, State of mind, Teaching

Knope: We Can!

I’d been planning a several-day trip to visit people at both my alma maters (and thankfully, both are in the same state), but I’d considered cancelling, due to money constraints. But the Chancellor, good man that he is, encouraged me to at least take a few days for myself and make a trip anyway. So, I planned an overnight stay with my friend K and a day with friends I’d met while doing my masters.

I’ve been home for a little under an hour, and already my spirits have lifted so, so much. I can’t say how glorious it’s been, because it would make you jealous (unless, of course, you happened to be there!). K and I chatted and laughed and ate homemade food and stayed up watching We Bought a Zoo (a lovely, sentimental film). Then, this morning, I made the hour-trek to see friends I haven’t been with in almost two years.

Oh, the loveliness. I was reminded yet again why I wanted to go into academia in the first place. My lunch with several amazing women (and a seriously cute boy) fed my community-seeking soul, and re-nourished me all over again. I remembered, when again chatting with my mentor G, just how much I grew from being held up by someone in a position of authority. I miss, miss, miss these people. I’ve alluded before that my current graduate situation is not exactly a utopia (but really, what graduate program IS?), but I realized that it was right to leave my MA-institution and still keep these beautiful friendships. Because of these people, I am in academia, and because of this current situation, I am ready to move on and start my professional life.

And then came dinner at my favorite Indian restaurant, which brought even more wonderful things. My friend A, whom I’ve known for almost ten years, introduced me to her beau, a lovely, lovely man. My MA project/intellectual mentor C affirmed my current work and was genuinely enthusiastic about my dissertation topic, which gave me even more excitement about my research. And it affirmed just how much I learned from him. I took his literary theory course and it unwittingly has shaped the course of my own academic discourses and brought me to the path of contemporary scholarship.

On my way to pop in and see my younger brother (and surprise him with a donut!), I realized from this time of fellowship that I have a new life plan. Are you ready for this? I aspire to be the academic Leslie Knope.

large_parks-and-rec-banquet

Okay, not with THAT hair (though bonus Ann as fake trophy wife/real sidekick is always a good thing).

But seriously. In the pilot episode of Parks and Recreation, a coworker mentions that in six years of grueling government work, Leslie has never lost her enthusiasm or her optimism for her job. She gets yelled at by members of the community, laughed down by fellow employees, and wet-blanketed by her bosses. And she never lets it bother her enough to quit.

Leslie is also an ardent feminist, an idealist, and a true, loyal friend. She loves passionately, and she genuinely cares about the well-being of others.

I want that to be me.

So here’s my resolution: NO MORE WHINING about the things that bug me. Make what small changes I can. Just do it. Don’t be afraid to fill in that pit!

Academic Leslie Knope, folks. Yes, I can.

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