Again, I had to remind myself: in this
business we call academe, there is no finish line.
However, it didn’t help to hear those words echoing in
my head. I was so tired that I couldn’t see straight. My
head pounded like a jackhammer, and my mouth tasted like
month-old toast. Yet that chapter had to be re-written,
the journal piece had to be proofed, and the review of
that dreadful book had to be finessed – all by tomorrow
night. All the coffee shop chatter in the world that
takes place between starry-eyed grad students couldn’t
prepare any of us for the ultimate challenge – our own,
self-imposed, workload as faculty members. We’ve learned
that getting a Ph.D. isn’t really a terminal
circumstance. It starts us down a long road of
challenges that are too numerous, and varied, to
categorize. However, this is exactly why we do what we
do. It’s why we brave the gauntlet of student
evaluations, grade truly dismal papers, and maintain
ghost ship office hours. We do it because we are
academics, despite the occasional desires to run
screaming into the night.
I am reminded of a cartoon show, in
which a plucky, mild-mannered chicken, sought to rid his
city’s streets of evil doers. To do this, Henry Cabot
Henhouse III drank his super sauce, and grabbed his
trusty sidekick, Fred – a large lion, with a lisp.
Together, Super Chicken and his companion would burst
through the walls of many a hideout, in an effort to get
that week’s dastardly Dan, or dame. Our hero would then
leap from the rubble unscathed, leaving poor Fred
horribly mangled. When asked if he was okay, Fred would
likely respond, “well, not really, and I haven’t been
since my third broken arm.” Our hero would then firmly
remind him, “You knew the job was dangerous when you
took it.” Did he really? Did we?
I often think not, particularly since we
assumed that after that miracle called tenure, things
would become, well, simpler. We would teach our chosen
courses, give our papers at only the best conferences,
and maybe become department chair someday. However,
that’s the danger, Fred: assuming we can rest on
worn-out laurels, and not continue to improve our
intellectual and pedagogical skills. There are still
many books to be reviewed, hundreds of papers to be
graded, articles to be re-written, and so much more.
However, if we take a moment to look
deep within our viscera, didn’t we choose this
profession for a sense of satisfaction? Aren’t we doing
this to assist students and inform our colleagues? Isn’t
this all about, dare I say, making a difference? To go
where no one has before? Well, maybe not that far; but
at least far enough to see our book displayed
prominently at the library, or the Dean’s Office. Well,
if we did do this academic thing for those reasons,
guess what? We still have so much more to do.
Education is never stagnant, and one
never learns it all. But, who would want to? I can still
remember that dusky, mildew smell from the library
stacks at my beloved grad library in Wisconsin where I
strained my eyes under dim florescent lights to find
another book to make my paper stronger. The excitement
of giving that same paper during colloquium, or an
improved version at a conference surrounded by peers,
made all the headaches worthwhile. Remember that since
of satisfaction when the applause at the end of your
presentation went on just a bit longer than normal? When
you had all the answers to each and every question asked
after? Why should we ever lose that zeal?
As I return to my stack of papers,
books, and other course-related paraphernalia, I find
myself eking a small, twisted smile, and I sigh. You and
I must remember dear colleague: there is no finish line.
Would we ever want one?
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