New Semesterish

The new semester started and the return of routine is somewhat invigorating. I need to get back to exercise; it fell somewhat by the wayside during the winter break.

I spend a lot of time interacting with undergraduates this semester. Basically, three days of my workweek go into teaching or teaching-related contact and activities.

I have a big deadline coming up on March 1, which is daunting/paralyzing, as well as exciting. I am very deadline driven, so it  should be fine.

I’m not too psyched about my latest crop of graduate students, that’s all I will say. I got spoiled by my most recent graduates. Expectations need to be recalibrated.

The problem with academics is that we’re expected (by colleagues and higher-up admins, but mostly by ourselves) to pour our entire beings into the career. But sooner or later, most of us find that careers don’t really love us back.  It’s a cumulative effect of ever mounting administrivia, eroding support for the higher education especially visible at state schools, and constantly being slapped around (critical reviews, rewrites, unrelenting grant rejections). And at some point we turn around to find out that few people actually care about what we do, and that those people might include us.

I think I am finally at the place where I am OK saying that this is a job. A good job, with lots of perks and freedoms, but it is a job. It is not an embodiment of my soul, or at least not all of my soul. It is OK to enjoy parts and not enjoy other parts, and for these parts to change over time. It is OK to not put 100% in, especially when no one else seems to do things above 70% of their capacity. I know these sound like trivial insights, but the good little girls (and boys) among us need constant reminders that being less than perfect is OK.

There are many exhausting things about being a faculty member, and a woman in a men-dominated field, and also a theorist in a field seemingly filled by experimentalists who appear convinced that theorists (except for the one or two they have heard of) are useless time wasters. But I am too exhausted to list all the things that are exhausting.

Instead, I will go look for the incarnations of the pieces of my soul elsewhere. One might be among the Amazon Prime movies. Plenty are at the local library and in online fiction magazines. The parts of my soul that are still inside me all want chocolate.

(Btw, top 2017 commenters lyra211, gasstationwithoutpumps, and Prodigal Academic, your rewards have been sent! Check your email!)


  1. It’s really easy to get swept up into a career. For a lot of us, this work is what we’ve been best at, and it’s really difficult to not want to throw yourself into what you think you’re best at. It’s comfortable. And with jobs (whether at a start-up, big company, academics), it’s just that-a job.

    “But sooner or later, most of us find that careers don’t really love us back.”

    Spot on, xykademiqz. Diversifying oneself is really important to put things into perspective, and realize you’re good at things other than academics and to focus on something with a return: I love to backpack, travel, watch TV, my family and friends, and to draw. Even with a supportive environment it’s important to recognize the things outside of work. And if you’re into Amazon, check out The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

  2. “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” -Douglas Adams

    On that note, Dirk Gently is on Netflix and so far recommendable if your soul can be tempted to a stint off Amazon Prime.

  3. One of the things I really appreciate about ProdigalSpouse is that he has always considered “professor” to be a job like any other, with advantages and disadvantages. This perspective has been very helpful to me in boundary setting. There is so much pressure to make a TT position the defining thing in your life. It is helpful to have someone around who reminds you that this is just a job.

    Bummer about the students. I find it is easy to get spoiled by a run of good students and hard to recalibrate expectations.

  4. My spouse had to literally collapse from exhaustion in the middle of the night before he started setting reasonable limits on his professor job. Turns out adequate is fine and he’s ramped it down a bit. I only teach part time so limits are easier to come by.

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