Academic Humblebrags

David Galef demonstrates, with a wink, how to perfect the modest utterance that’s actually a boast.

November 18, 2016
 

So you’ve published a paper on monetary theory, snagged that fellowship for research in Rome or received an award for best teacher of the year. Or maybe you’ve just served on seven committees this past semester, from tenure review to curriculum reform, and colleagues ought to appreciate that.

But they don’t, at least not to your face. And the pathetic “Faculty News” page of your department website just doesn’t cut it. (Take a look at the listing for Professor Dale’s publication in Southwest Annandale Historical Society Notes: doubly out of date, since both the professor and the journal are extinct.)

You want to be known as the foremost expert on forensic linguistics or the one who got a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to study Rilke -- back in 2011, but still. What to do? Think of Berkeley’s famous proposition, applied to academics: “If a paper is published in a journal and no one knows about it, does it make a sound?” Is it OK to toot your own horn? In this era of Facebook, are you kidding?

Consider the humblebrag, a seemingly modest utterance that’s actually a boast. The British have excelled in this charming self-deprecation for centuries: “Oh, I don’t suppose many people were in the running this year,” for instance, to explain why you won the London marathon. Only this is higher education in 2016, with access to Twitter.

Think brassier, think of that academic review coming up in 2017, and think within a 140-character limit:

Gosh, if I don’t send in that manuscript to Oxford by this fall, they’re gonna kill me!

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I don’t see how I’m going to get any work done during my fellowship in Belize.

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Darned if I know why the Fulbright committee chose my proposal over so many deserving others.

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You know, if it weren’t for all the grateful letters that I’ve gotten from students over the years, I’d’ve given up teaching a long time ago.

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Never mind all my publications. The Smoot Teaching Award I got this year makes me realize what really matters in life.

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I keep thinking there must be some mistake: Why would the Guggenheim committee even consider my work on medieval stairways?

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You know, I never set out to write a best seller. Everyone knows what people in academe think of that.

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Promotion to full professor isn’t much, I guess, but I try to see it as an affirmation of all I’ve done here.

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I don’t anticipate the deanship will give me much power, but I do intend to take the responsibility seriously.

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It’s not fashionable to talk about service, I know, which is why I don’t discuss all the behind-the-scenes work I do for the college.

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All that work for such a simple title: provost.

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I’m sure plenty of people could have delivered the keynote address at this conference, but I’m the one who got suckered into it.

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They said I’m the youngest program director they’ve ever had -- must be their code word for inexperienced.

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The students in my econ class all say that I’m their favorite teacher, but you know what that means.

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As an adjunct, I could just phone in my performance, but I always have to put in 200 percent. Sigh. That’s just me.

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That’s what I told Mike -- I mean, the chancellor. No idea why he listens to me. Hey, I’m just custodial staff.

Bio

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book, Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, has just come out from Columbia University Press.

 

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