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Academic Rock Stars
June 30, 2011 - 9:30pm

Taking this degree part time doesn’t grant me much freedom to take advantage of the extra-curricular activities that I encourage all my other graduate students to engage with. I would love to attend conferences and assist in faculty research and teaching – but between my job, attending classes, and spending my “spare” time reading and doing assignments; I really can’t do much else. So when I had the opportunity to take the course I’m currently in, I immediately took advantage of it. The class is crafted around a symposium and the resulting collection of essays coordinated by the instructor. Though it is an exhausting intensive course which crams in a full year’s course work in half the time.

Last week was the conference – 3 full days during which we, the students, were responsible for acting as moderators and discussants, and creating the presentation panels, as well as the schedule and program. We also had the option to contribute to the writing in the collection and offer feedback on the presentations.

After the event was over, some of us went for drinks and a couple of the local faculty joined us. During the course of the evening, one of them mentioned which theorist she went “fan girl” on when she had the opportunity to meet him at a past symposium. She then mentioned how other people went a milder version of “fan girl” on her when they discovered that she worked with the woman who organized the symposium – our class instructor. This took me a bit by surprise – was our instructor a big deal? I hadn’t considered it before, but yes, when I step back and look at what she’s accomplished and her position, of course she is.

When I first started work at the University I quickly learned that just because someone has a PhD, doesn’t mean that they are in any way organized, responsible or necessarily…pleasant to deal with. Unfortunately this led to me becoming a little bit cynical about the abilities of certain members of faculty overall. (I feel compelled to note at this point: this does not apply to the woman previously mentioned. I have actually been working with her very closely since the day I started at the University and as far as I’m concerned, she can chair any program or committee I’m involved with as long as she’s there – she’s absolutely fantastic in every way).

I have met some astonishingly scattered, forgetful and diva-ish faculty members. And while I’ve quickly learned which researchers are the “superstars” and promote them accordingly, that doesn’t change how I interact with them administratively. However, every once in a while, I have the occasion to deal with them in a completely different setting. Maybe they’re on a graduate thesis committee, and I attend the examination. Maybe they’re doing a special guest lecture. Maybe they’re teaching me in a course. Or maybe I read an article they’ve written. This rare interaction affords me the opportunity to remember where I work and what kind of minds I’m dealing with.

By the time people reach PhD-hood, one would hope that these paperwork-challenged and forgetful individuals have gained some fairly specialized knowledge. They have a passion, and they have the drive and ambition to have made it their life’s work. This is something that I need to be reminded of every once in a while. I am dealing with people that someone else in the world would go “fan girl/boy” on because of what they’ve accomplished. It would be easy to resent these individuals as both a student, and a mid-level administrator for the amount of extra work they cause me. However, I think it’s a wonderful thing to remember that in working with them – I am doing my own little part in assisting them in doing something remarkable.

And if you’re interested? I would absolutely go fan girl on Susan Bordo – and as a result of the symposium, Laura Robinson if I ever got to see her again. Please feel free to share your own fan girl/boy stories in the comments – I’d love to hear them!

Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada

Deanna England can be reached by email at Deanna.England@insidehighered.com. She is a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.

 

 

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