Often in class or informal discussions my classmates and I would gleefully make up words, justifying the practice by saying “we’re academics – we’re just creating new vocabulary to expand the discourse.” Of course this is all just rationalizing the bastardization of the English language, but we amused ourselves with it nonetheless. In some ways, it was a kind of dreaming ahead – one day we would be “real” academics. Our made up words would subsequently be cited and we would go down in the annals of scholarship as being the source for an absolutely integral concept or phrase. It could happen right?
Last year I found myself purchasing books on Amazon strictly because the subject area interested me beginning with Susan Bordo’s “Unbearable Weight.” This was followed up by several others: The Beauty Myth, The Female Body in Western Culture, Generation Me – I was unstoppable! Then I found myself reading chapters in texts OTHER than what I’d strictly been assigned for my courses. Out of INTEREST. What was happening to me? Had I finally made the transition? Was I an academic?!
What is an academic anyhow? According to dictionary.com an academic (noun) is:
8. a student or teacher at a college or university.
9. a person who is academic in background, attitudes, methods, etc.: [sh]e was by temperament an academic, concerned with books and the arts.
10. ( initial capital letter ) a person who supports or advocates the Platonic school of philosophy.
Huh. I guess I already am. I suspect I already was before I started this degree. It seemed like such a faraway, glowy title – something that was only achieved after being published, or getting a PhD or teaching. Who knew?
I started out this degree merely out of interest. I attended a committee meeting, and the courses the faculty described sounded so interesting I wanted to check it out. This was exacerbated by the fact that I was also dreading the day that some angry Masters student would come into my office railing at me (for some reason) and exclaiming that I had no idea what they were going through. Who was I to deny them anything since I couldn’t possibly understand the graduate school experience? I found myself daunted at the idea of arguing with that logic. Who WAS I to claim to understand? Now, to this day, not one student has ever come close to doing that to me. They’ve all been genuinely interested in my experience, and have graciously shared theirs, but a couple years back, I wasn’t quite so secure.
But now? It’s like a drug. I want to publish. And present. And collaborate. And be CITED somewhere. I can’t imagine what an intoxicating experience that would be. I want to receive unsolicited emails from unknown scholars who are interested in work I’m doing. I want to have a TV show based on my research like Kathy Reichs!
However, at the moment I am simply struggling to come up with a firm idea for my Jane Austen adaptation study. Suddenly the sexual exploits of Willoughby in the Andrew Davies versus Emma Thompson versions of Sense and Sensibility don’t seem like an interesting paper.
And that’s when reality comes crashing down on me. Being an academic is even harder than being a student. Teaching. Committee work. Research. Publishing. Advising. Conferences. Grant writing. Evaluations. As I sit at home, dreaming about PhD programs, debating about whether I would want to pursue Cultural Studies or Women and Gender Studies, I falter. Academia has its share of glamour and pride and collaboration and admiration; but it’s also a lot of work, and I imagine, a lot of effort to stay positive.
I have the comfort of knowing that when I am done with this degree, a challenge I took on for fun, I still have a job that I love. A job in the Academy that allows me the occasional opportunity to work on scholarly projects and hear about exciting new research yet is safe. There is no risk in simply completing my degree and staying with the status quo. But how long will it be before I lose the ability to critically analyze the world around me, and the opportunities to work on projects in my field stop being offered? How long before I become stagnant?
It’s a decision I have to make relatively soon. I am done in two months, and then what?
Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada