Sunday, November 4, 2012

Reading; and, refusing burdens

Moria has a great new post up at her place, observing that too much writing and not enough reading can lead to a discomfiting sense of distance and confusion about one's own material.  I'm feeling that hard right now, in fact.  I've been having one of those weeks in which I tried to re-work the journal article I'm revising now to serve as my conference paper at the Big Giant Pseudology Conference, and instead found that this is a futile endeavor: the one will not translate into the other.  Now that I've admitted that, I have about four and a half pages of talk drafted, with more soon to follow.  It's a good thing, too, because I am increasingly aware of how staggeringly ignorant I feel of my own subfield of pseudology – basically, I identify as a Damn Liar specializing in Research Country – at the moment.  A new Annual Review of Pseudology article came out covering the recent developments in my subfield, and it freaked me out to read through that and its bibliography and see all these pertinent, interesting-looking books and articles that I'd never fucking heard of.  I can honestly say that this didn't happen much to me three years ago, when I was writing my diss; there was little on either Damn Lies or Research Country that I hadn't read, and less that I hadn't heard of.  The volume of research published just in the last year blows my mind; how has this stuff not come to my attention before a freaking Annual Review article collated all of it?  And, of course, the thought immediately comes to me: I can't finish writing my book until I've read all this stuff!  Wrong, wrong, wrong, I know.  But it's kind of unsettling to me how quickly I can become ignorant of the latest work after just over a year of full-time teaching.  I may need to start typing reminders into my calendar to check the various journals for new articles.

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Meanwhile, I'm having a moment of hesitation that would astonish Fie Upon This Quiet Life, given how vociferously I have argued in favor of being mercenary and self-interested as an early-career academic trying to climb the ranks.  A student of mine has asked if I would oversee hir independent study next semester, and I haven't actually said no yet.  Let me list the pros and cons:

  • Zi is whip-smart and fun to teach.
  • I have some specialized knowledge in short supply at CBU that makes me a more obvious candidate for the job than most other professors zi knows.  If I say no, then zi may be unable to pursue the independent study.
  • I feel unusually sympathetic toward this student, since zi has confided to me that zi has been having a difficult time due to some of the interpersonal politics of the university.
  • My specialized knowledge is still not ideal for the job, and I am sure that zi is asking partly because the prof who would be a natural is never around, wrapped up in other business.
  • While I am deeply sympathetic to the student's unhappiness, I also recognize that I cannot alter that situation, and if zi continues to rely on me as a confidante, I can do no more than be a friendly ear for hours at a time.  Seriously.  Zi could go on indefinitely, I fear.  Often when I have other work to do.
  • This is flatly NOT MY JOB.  No one is going to give me a course release for this independent study.  No one is going to give me a salary bump to compensate for the lost time.  And certainly no one else will do the supplemental research for my book while I'm mired in extra grading and advising.
  • For real, people, it's NOT MY JOB!  I'm a two-year hired gun here, albeit kindly treated and more or less a full voting member of the department.  I refuse to be burdened like a pack mule without either concomitant job security or financial compensation.
  • And finally, as cruel as it sounds, it's just not my job.  The student isn't even a pseudology major; zi is just taking a course with me.  Someone from Stu's own department really needs to be stepping up to the plate to advise hir, instead of letting hir cast about like this.
Really, I suppose my mind is made up, and I'm just stalling on sending an email disappointing a favorite student.  Sigh.


  1. Please say no. You're right, it's not your job. Is IS your job to do the work that will get you another position. Is the student savvy enough to understand that as a person on a limited contract, you aren't the best choice for an independent study?

    1. Frankly, I think it's less an issue of "is zi savvy" than "is zi thinking clearly right now"? My gut instinct is that this independent study is as much about emotional support as academics, which simultaneously makes it even clearer that I must refuse, and more depressing to do so. :(

  2. I'm not astonished. I knew there was a heart within that cold, calculating body. ;) That said, it's totes not your job. You could always tell the person that s/he needs to work with someone who is permanent because you're not really supposed to do stuff like that according to your contract.

    Good luck with your paper!

  3. If this is, in fact, your favorite student, and if you think you would gain something valuable from the exercise--whether that's something pedagogical, intellectual, or even inter-personal--I don't see why you shouldn't. Don't do it SIMPLY because you fear disappointing her. But if there are other motives, there may be other rewards, too.

    To me, the main issue isn't lack of direct compensation (in my dept, we don't get course releases for independent projects, MA theses, etc., which is really a problem as some of my colleagues direct a TON of them and others--like me!--not so many). The real issue is that the institution hasn't made a long-term commitment to you, you're still seeking permanent employment, and you do need to protect your time and look out for No. 1.

    But this is something you can list on your vita, and it's experience you might (or might not) value. The department should absolutely not *expect* you to do this, and you shouldn't do it routinely. But we have a VAP on a 3-year contract whom we've been protecting from all service, all additional teaching/advising burdens, etc., who this year actually told us she WANTED to be on a committee, and WANTED to advise some students. And I see her point: she wants to be more involved in the life of the place--and, I presume, she wants to be able to talk about this stuff in her job letter.

    So, totally your call. But there are mercenary reasons to accept as well as to decline.

    1. I thought of that, actually. I might be more inclined to say yes if zi wanted an independent study within one of my actual specialties. What zi wants, though, is only a specialty of mine by comparison with most other CBU professors — hardly the same thing. I'd have to do so much extra work on my own, to refresh my memory, that it would be a huge time suck.

      So really, your second paragraph rules the day for me. I suspect none of this has ever crossed Stu's mind, and that zi has a far different understanding of what professors can and cannot do than I have.

    2. Yeah, doing extra intellectual work that doesn't in any way benefit your own research/teaching doesn't sound like it's a winning proposition--and neither does the emotional drama that also seems to attend this student. Even the work of setting boundaries with her might be as exhausting as the reading & grading. . . !