Thursday, August 4, 2011

Re-encountering my old profs

No sooner did I settle in Ghosttown than I took off: I'm out in DOU-Town this week for moving purposes, and I'm trying to catch up and network as much as possible while I'm here.  I've had several encounters so far with my advisors from grad school, and it's been enlightening, if a bit of a shock to my system. 

I met with one of my diss committee professors, Egojab, and zi was less, um, ego-crushing than the pseudonym might suggest.  Zi actually had great advice for me, particularly on the subject of my book manuscript.  The scary part of this is that zi was not at all impressed with my idea of writing a 50,000-word book.  Zi thinks I'd be making a huge mistake, since "this is the book that will get you tenure," and therefore I must banish all thoughts of appearing on every colleague's undergrad reading lists.  Egojab actually shook hir head and laughed in astonishment when I suggested that part of my thinking was to write a book that would sell well.  Zi pointed out that even the vaunted Incredibly Awesome and Useful Text, by Mindbendingly Successful and Respected Pseudologist, was not written to be what it became.  "Zi wasn't trying to write a hugely successful book," Egojab observed.  "Zi was writing a pseudological subfield book in conversation with that stream of theory.  Zi had no idea that everyone would end up assigning hir book for all sorts of reading lists."

Egojab reminded me in fairly blunt terms that I couldn't assign too much credence to Lucifer's idea of a short pseudological book: "Has Lucifer published a book yet?  No?  Then zi doesn't really know what zi's talking about, does zi?"  Ouch!  Egojab also upended my understanding of academic books in a career trajectory: whereas I had thought that one's first book was the rawest and therefore, in some ways, the worst book one would write, Egojab argued that the first book, based upon one's dissertation, was nearly always the richest and best book that one would ever write.  (As a perfect example, Egojab pointed again to MSRP,* whose Incredibly Awesome and Useful Text remains by far the most interesting and high-quality book on hir CV, although zi has been publishing for decades.)  So now I'm back to questioning my own all-too-fallible instincts of what I should write and how.  It's hard to ignore that Lucifer is the only one who goes for the idea of a shorter book, and all of the tenured and all but one of the tenure-track folk I've consulted favor a longer monograph.  Res ipsa loquitur, perhaps?

On a similar note, Egojab also thinks I'm going off-track by trying to draft the entire book before doing the publishing prospectus.  In so many words, zi recommended I strike while the iron is hot, since a book contract carries a lot of weight with hiring committees, and could seal the deal on a much better position than I've netted so far.  And again, zi knows a lot better than my age-peer colleagues who are in essentially the same situation as I.

I also got a little face time with two profs at once, my beloved Awesome and hir colleague, Whirlwind.  (Whirlwind is almost blindingly productive, and made full professor at an age when most colleagues were still struggling to get tenure.)  They're good friends, and they've both known me for a long time, so our conversation was decidedly informal and dishy — surprisingly so for me, since they knew me for years as a grad student around whom they had to be circumspect about some matters.  It was bracing to hear them start to get into some gossip, wonder aloud if they should talk about this stuff around me, and conclude, "Ah, no problem, he's a colleague now, he's faculty!"  (Am I really?  Jeez.)  Hearing them dish on colleagues who had done this or that over the past year gave me a pretty good idea of what qualities they value in departmental colleagues, and how they want the politics of the department to flow.  Obviously, this is sort of irrelevant to my life right now, since it is no longer my department at all, but in another sense it's highly relevant, since it clues me in to how faculty at an R1 university approach professional obligations. 

All three of these profs are also kind enough to continue writing me letters for this year's job search, since I may be up a creek about my dissertation supervisor: Dr. Chair has gone on research leave to Bloody Remote Place, and may only be in sporadic email contact.  I'm not thrilled about this, since it could look awkward that my supervisor can't write tailored job letters for me, but then again, the consensus is that Chair never writes especially great job letters anyway.  (It's not a strength with everyone, you know?)  I was going to need back-up one way or another, so I guess I just have to work around this current situation. 

Tonight: drinking with colleagues.  Tomorrow: I hit the road for Ghosttown.

*I totally didn't realize that this pseudonym yielded such an amusing double-entendre of an acronym!  Good stuff, that.

1 comment:

  1. It's sort of unsettling - not always in a bad way - when your old profs start treating you like an equal. I had the hardest time calling them by their first names! Even now with my new colleagues, I feel like I should be addressing them more respectfully than "Bob" and "Mary." But this is all for the good.

    Much luck with your research and your move!