Professor Who?

I was having a pretty good day today.  My writing is coming along better than I ever dreamed it could (see "Brief Regular Sessions").  My son got his autumn grades today and is doing brilliantly, even in History (not his favorite subject, I am sorry to say; that would be Math).  We got our new internet service installed today, so we have WiFi again.  And I might even make it to practice tonight for the first time in over two weeks.

And then I read another set of applications to our graduate program.  Let me tell you, any of you who are thinking about a career in academia, don't.  'Cause you know what?  You will spend eight years (on average) in graduate school, another six or seven proving yourself in order to get tenure (if, that is, you are lucky enough to get a tenure track job, hardly a guarantee), another ten or twelve developing your next major research project (again, if you are lucky enough to get time off from your campus responsibilities, again, hardly a guarantee), by which time, you will have it made, right?  You will have a reputation among your colleagues from your publications and conference papers; people will even cite you in their own research.  But--and here is the great big BUT--year after year you will be reminded that none of this means anything to the youth of today, not even those who say that they are interested in pursuing a career in your field.

How do I know this?  Because they have been telling me about myself every evening this week, every time I get to that part in the application where they promise that my university is the only place that they could possibly want to study.  With, you know, professor so-and-so whose interests are so close to mine.  Except that, well, I haven't read any of her work.  In fact, I'm not even sure if she is a he or a she (no kidding--one wonders why we bother to post photographs of ourselves online, clearly nobody looks*).  But I know she (or he) works on the Middle Ages, and that's what I want to work on.  Knights and witches and crusaders and Jews.  It's all so exciting, and I've spent my whole life (or the past year) immersing myself in the literature on it.

I shouldn't mock, I know.  These are kids.  How could they possibly know what it means to establish a professional reputation?  They don't know the first thing about what it means to conduct primary research; they barely even realize that actual (gendered) people write the books that they read.  Why should I expect them to know who I am?  Because I have a web page with a list of publications they might read before applying to work with me?  Because I have posted syllabi of all of my graduate courses, precisely so that students can get an idea of what kinds of courses they might take with me?  Because I have a blog?  (I will be curious what comments I get after this post.)  Nah.  That would mean surfing the Internet.  Clearly too much trouble to go to when making one of the most important career decisions one can make as an academic, namely, where to apply for the training one wants in order to become a professor.

So, listen up, if any of you reading this want to get into graduate school.  Do your homework.  Actually read some of the publications of the people with whom you will be asking to work.  Pay attention to the kind of research and teaching that they actually do, not just what they list in the faculty directory as their major fields (although that is at least a start).  Remember that these are people who have spent their entire adult lives trying to create a body of knowledge that they now want to share.  Don't assume that they will be blown away simply because you are enthusiastic about [fill-in-the-blank with the most recent trendy topic].  Show that you have actually engaged with the kinds of things that they are interested in.  No, not because they only want students who will reproduce them--heaven forbid!  But because they want to have people around them with whom they can have actual conversations about things that they care about.  Want to be an academic?  Start by being an academic, and read.**

Oh, yes, and proofread your applications before you send them in.

*Okay, my name is a bit of a give-away.  The misgendering was about one of my colleagues.  But still.
**And, yes, if you want to know, I did.  I read everything my adviser had ever published before I applied to work with her.  I had also met her at a conference, which was lucky for me.


  1. Interestingly enough, I found your blog, and this post, while searching for faculty interests and graduate programs at schools where I hope to apply one day. So if I ever have that chance, I will be sure to read your work first!

  2. You have made my day, Liz! Good luck with your applications when the time comes, and feel free to ask me for advice on the process!

  3. I absolutely will! Thank you!


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