Monday, January 09, 2006

So, you've got an Advisor. Is that good?

Just read All in a Day's Work on ABD Mom. A few thoughts come to mind. She writes in part about her relationship with her Advisor. I've had a bit of uncertainty over the years about just what it is I've wanted from an advisor.

First, when I decided to go back to school for the PhD, after getting a Master's degree, and teaching at a community college for two years, I knew what I wanted to work on, and needed only to find a place where I would be left alone to do it. But, I also wanted to feel a part of a community of scholars. I've prided myself on being on the cusp between disciplines, on developing an area of research that only a handful of people around the world are working on. Yet, I've very much wanted to gain respect for my chosen field. It's an odd place to be.

Last year, during one of my telephone interviews, which ended there without a campus invitation, I was asked where I saw myself in terms of the mainstream of my discipline. "Well," I said, "I guess the first question is, what is my discipline. I really feel my home discipline is _____ & _____ studies... but there's not really a field in that. So, I feel like I'm on the cutting edge. That said, I continue to attend the [mainstream society] conferences, and feel it's important to make my work relevant to the mainstream." I guess that wasn't exactly what they wanted to hear.

But, I've learned in job interviews, there really isn't a right answer. At least, one should never try to guess what it is they want to hear. While it's true a job interview is partly about selling yourself, it's like the beginning of a romance, you want to sell what you really are, or you're both going to be sorry down the road.

So, I found a place that was willing to take me as I was. At least, I found an advocate, a full professor at the institution, with whom I had corresponded a bit for a couple years, who was willing to pull for me, and actively recruit me for their program. So I went. Unfortunately, the timing (for him) was bad. I'm not bitter. I realize that even professors have personal lives. I hope to be one someday soon. But his situation led him to be absent more and more. I think he was on campus three days a week the first term; then on leave the next; two days a week after that; then a whole year of leave. By my third year, he was a visiting professor quite a distance away, where he eventually was hired permanently. He remained the chair of my committee, through completion.

But I felt very alone throughout it all. Interesting that. I wanted a place where I would be left alone... but not THAT alone, I guess. My third year, I was done with classes, had a son, prepared for and passed my qualifying exams. My fourth year, I was overseas on a Fulbright. My fifth year, I buried my father, had a second son, and finished the dissertation.

Now, I've got my PhD, and a nice title at a university, but few perks. I'm in my second year of actively seeking employment, and floudering about for focus. I've decided to take it easy on myself for a while. It's work, not worry! That's my new motto.

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