I’ve commented already on the goals I have for this blog, but I’d also like to reflect a little on my inspiration for it. I was very lucky to work with three fantastic women as graduate students during my first few years of teaching. All have since finished their MAs with me and have gone on to either doctoral programs or law school. They were all a joy to work with and I learned so much from each one of them. I know they are already doing amazing things with their lives and I look forward to seeing where they end up in a few years.
In a strange way, these three women also helped me to transition from being a graduate student myself. When I first started teaching, I couldn’t help but notice that I was not that much older than many of the students in my undergraduate classes (a fact pointed out to me several times during my first semester by resourceful students who had looked up when I completed all my degrees and did the math). I didn’t have too much trouble on this front, with the exception of one or two people clearly finding a way to challenge my authority on every front possible in the classroom. A learning curb, but perhaps not an unexpected one for a junior female faculty member.
When it came to graduate students, however, I was sufficiently more… let’s call it awkward, especially in that first year of teaching. The age thing was a factor, because again it was pointed out to me that I was either younger than someone or the same age as someone or that I was pretty young to have my job. I have to say that while there’s nothing on the surface wrong with the fact that these grad students were correctly identifying my age in comparison to other people, it goes without saying that this probably wouldn’t happen to my male colleagues (I’m okay with being corrected on that fact, though). I think much of this interest in the status of people starting their jobs (professional or otherwise) also stems from the fears that grad students are confronted with on a daily basis: am I good enough? Will I get a job after this? How did that person get a job/postdoc/scholarship and not me when my work is clearly more intelligent/critical/ awesome? These kinds of questions drive the best of us to imperfect behaviour, and I am no exception to that rule.
So there I was, being awkward with grad students, not knowing how to act around people who were in my age peer group but who were also in a very different kind of relationship than me with the university where I worked. It’s all well and good to have beers with people, or have dinner, or hang out together, but what nagged me about all this were the then unknown components of my job. How do you be social with people and then be on their defense committees a few months later? This kind of thing happened, and still happens, quite a bit. And while I didn’t want to stop being a social person, social interactions such as these can have potential complications for pre-tenure faculty members. Or at least I worried that they would at the time. But how do you express this to someone? I like hanging out with you but I’m afraid to be your friend because I don’t know enough about my job yet or what will be asked of me and it might affect you and your work? Super great and not at all weird party chat.
Suffice it to say that during my first year of teaching I had a hard time striking a balance between my natural inclination to be social and my fears surrounding being taken seriously in professional situations if I inevitably said dumb stuff at a party. I have to say I don’t really struggle with it too much anymore because I have more confidence in my position and I have realized that no one’s really thinking about what I say all that much (what a relief!).
Here’s where my three graduate students — the dream team — come in. They were smart and fun to work with. They were stylish. Most importantly, they were (and are) good people, which helped a lot because I was learning how to supervise as they were learning how to be graduate students. When I made mistakes, they were kind about it — at least to my face, which is all that really matters! They followed my advice with grace, even when it was imperfect. They taught me that I could be myself and also be professional at the same time. I’m really thankful for the experience I had working with them, and I have a feeling it may never happen quite that way again because I’m in a different head space now and I might require different things of myself and my students in the future.
They know I’m writing this post (I had to make sure I wasn’t going to completely embarrass them with my gushing) but it is worth saying thank you to them publicly here. So thanks, dream team, for inspiring me!