Dr. Quinn

a woman of words

The Candied Land: Adventures in Higher Ed (#1)

Adventures in Higher Education

Adventures in Higher Education

I’m sitting in my campus office. The afternoon light is streaming in the side window. [This office gets the best afternoon sun!]

It’s actually my 2nd office since I started working at McKendree University in August – just two months ago. The university is expanding, and like all small liberal arts institutions situated in small rural towns, space is hard to come by. But my office in this converted home from the  mid 1950s is pretty spacious. And while I’ve only just begun to decorate, it’s already beginning to feel like my place – a space to settle into and carve out my mark at this institution.

Its been 3 years since I graduated with my PhD. Sometimes I still feel like I am in graduate student mode (which is really survival-panic mode, a constant state fight or flight). Perhaps that feeling of excited anticipation and the need to persevere and excel just goes with the territory when you select the academic field as your profession. A year ago to this day in October, I was busy writing and tailoring my cover letter, sending digital copies of my CV via Interfolio, and waiting for emails to set up phone interviews with universities hiring for instructors and professors in Rhetoric and Composition.

[I was also waiting for and then eventually receiving print letters to thank me for my application but basically informing me I hadn’t been considered for an open faculty position.]

Yindiartz: Authentic Aboriginal Creations

Yindiartz: Authentic Aboriginal Creations

But, I landed my dream job now, and I’m in my office as an Assistant Professor of English. I’m sitting at my desk holding up my gratitude rock in the afternoon light. It is hand painted by Australian Aborigines and the last thing I purchased before moving from my hometown of Toledo, Ohio.  A special exhibit visited the Toledo Museum of Art, and after walking through the exhibit of artifacts with my children, husband, and mom, I visited the museum shop.

There I discovered the gratitude rocks — these little, brightly painted stones that seemed to glisten under the fluorescent lights.

Now, my little painted rock sits on my office desk (when I’m not holding it, of course).

Gratitude rocks remind us to appreciate everything we have. Both my mom and I decided to purchase one. There were only two rocks left the day we visited the gallery, but we seemed naturally drawn to a specific rock. I chose the rainbow rock.

Inside the little plastic bag with my stone was a strip of paper, like the kind you find in fortune cookies – only bigger, explaining the meaning behind the design painted on my rock (see image above):

“At the end of the rainbow you find a pot of gold. The rainbow person is very lucky, they always seem to find their pot of gold. This is because they are diligent, focused, and goal oriented.”

How apropos.

I don’t know why anyone chooses to pursue a graduate degree – whether a masters or doctorate – especially in the humanities. Because of the economy, funding is tight (although this is true across the board in higher education), the job market is highly competitive, and before you even get to those concerns, you have to worry about the financial aid loans piling up behind you after each completed semester (and you are hoping that it is all worth it before you even graduate – IF you graduate).

Then you DO graduate and you have a whole new set of concerns completely unrelated to economic woes – review processes, publishing, presenting at conferences, and tenure (and that is if you can land a position that still offers tenure track). And you still question whether it was all worth it.

In my field – English, Rhetoric and Composition – the degree and the courses of study we take explore the field from various perspectives (teaching, research, professionalization, publishing, engagement, etc.). I recall reading books about professional expectations, the dissertation process, and publishing, and while I found all of these books extremely helpful, I often felt as if something were missing in the discussion.

[I highly recommend, regardless of your anticipated or current field, researching titles and, at the least, looking at books covering professionalization and the like before entering a Master’s or PhD program. You don’t know what you are getting yourself into, and you probably won’t even after looking at these publications, but at least you can feel better about yourself knowing you attempted to prepare yourself when you are panicking during your thesis or dissertation process.]

I don’t know – I wanted something more from the preparation books. I wanted the BIG book of answers, thoughts, and guidance. I might not have read it diligently, but something that touched on all the parts of the PhD experience as well as post-graduation and made connections would have been helpful then. And now (…because even as a young professional, I continue to discover connections between specific classes I took and experiences from my doctorate days and the work I now do).

On the other hand, sometimes I wish I had a time machine, so that I could go back in time and warn myself.

I love teaching. I really do. Some days teaching is one of the hardest things I must choose to do and love all over again. If I had a time machine, I would go back in time and warn myself – you don’t want to teach freshman composition courses for the rest of your life! You don’t want the debt! You don’t want to age as your student population remains forever youthful at 18 and 19 years of age!

And because I know myself, I would have to go back at least 2-3 more times to convince myself to pursue some other more suitable job – one that certainly pays better.

But, if you are like me, you probably can’t imagine yourself doing anything else. The academic life just suits you. Some refer to this as a calling. I certainly feel compelled to teach in, research about, and serve the academic community. So like any professional (somewhat seasoned in the field but in a new position at a new institution), I am trying to balance life and work and grow both professionally and personally.

I am trying to make sense of my graduate student experiences and to contribute to the field. And I hope this little BIG blog (or, perhaps, someday a little BIG book) of reflections will help you do the same, whether you are pursuing your degree or currently working in The Candied Land — higher education.

[Return to this post and/or this blog to read more about The Candied Land and to learn what it actually is…..!]

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