Shenandoah

That was Shenandoah, whose smiling valley I long to see. Now, as promised, we will talk briefly about this piece, by a valuable person but one more conservative than I.

1/- My general complaint about all columns like this is that people keep explaining how to write and exhorting to move “anywhere,” but evade the actually pressing issues which are how to deal with the bosses, the instructors and the freshmen and how to distinguish between what you must put up with and what you are only told you must — or to think about what you are and are not willing to  tolerate.

2/- Ms. Mentor talks about what is rational and not. It is not rational to pine for jobs you do not have. I would say it is rational to analyze what you would like, however; the great irrationality I have encountered personally is the myth that you can write yourself to where you want to be. Many try and they do write themselves somewhere at times. But the exhortations to keep on expecting and/or to write not just without resources but under the strain of poor management, and that your (probably one) new offer will give you what you need are as irrational as anything I have ever heard or seen. I think it is rational to want more choices in life than that and I say let freedom ring.

3/- Meanwhile, though, I think many people simply do not know how to move. Even I do not always apply my moving skills perfectly. The gist of it is, you must immediately involve yourself in exploring your area, and you must join community groups. I always find certain kinds of venues, and some people are churchgoers, but I actually think that to hit a home run on this what you should also do is join very upright civic organizations, e.g. the League of Women Voters, the local NAACP, Rotary, whatever fits you. But one or more of your organizations should be composed of pillars of the community. You will change atmospheres and find you have resources and also allies, and perhaps information about the politics of the university that will serve you well.

4/- It is easy but not useful to get too caught up in a social circle of younger faculty from your department. You never leave work that way and these people have perspectives on things that are too close to what their graduate student selves said, or their dissertation directors, or the department chair. They focus on all these things too much. They can embroil you in their stews and hold you back when you need to get out of the gate. You should meet people from other departments and talk about teaching techniques and research.

5/- In my main discipline, most people are foreigners and they have a great advantage I do not, and also a terrible disadvantage. The great advantage is access to a reasonably priced apartment in the country of their fieldwork, parents, and friends. So for the price of one plane ticket, they go home and to work and to their other real life, and for them the sentence “it does not matter where you are” is almost true.

Their disadvantage is that their undergraduate professor brought them to the United States as graduate students when he got his job here. He then took care of them, and they had a social and study circle within that department. They did not venture outside it or learn to live on their own. When their professor, who has now also directed their dissertation, pushes them out of the nest it is cataclysmic.

That is an extreme example of what it is to be in a position where you must depend too much on your department, but it is a cautionary tale for one and all.

Axé.

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