Wednesday, March 08, 2006


A couple days ago, I mentioned how Dr. TassePlein wished me to be a better student of institutions. There was more to it than that. He wanted me to be more aware of interpersonal politics. What leads someone to behave in a particular way towards or about another person?

Let me tell you a little story about one of your cohorts. You know TimidScholar, right? When he asks me for something, I think he's so fragile, so needy, that I want to take care of it right away. I don't feel that way about you. You come across as self-sufficient. That's good, but somehow you need to convince certain people over the next couple years that you're TimidScholar.

The point he made was that, if you come across as self-assured, and independent, this instills confidence in you, but doesn't motivate action. You need three people you can reliably depend upon to write your letters, to take care of you. You need them to feel that your career depends upon them. Not in a whiny way, but they need to feel a commitment and an obligation to your success.

For someone like me this is a constant struggle. I'm motivated not out of my status (though digging one's way out of a pit is quite motivating) but by my ideas. They drive me, which I admit sometimes leads me to overstep propriety, when I act as if, as if I have the power or authority to make things happen. Sometimes, this works; things do happen.

The summer after my second year as a PhD student, I organized and chaired a full-day (!) session at an international conference. Including myself, there were 10 scholars, from the USA and Europe. They ranged in status from independent scholars to emeritus full professors. They represented a variety of disciplines and methodological approaches to the question. They came for the simple reason that I asked them, that I had organized the panel.

The idea had come from a friend of mine, Dr. Virtuosity (who couldn't believe I'd actually done it). She had casually asked one day, as we were both bored at a conference, what would be my dream team for a panel? So, I compiled it, drafted a session proposal, invited them all. Most of them agreed. And it was accepted.

Yeah, sometimes it works. But... I still don't have a job. Something isn't working. Dr. TassePlein's comments bring me to understand that I am not so totally self-sufficient as I or others might believe. There is a hierarchy and a custom to academia. I need the involvement and support of others to succeed, which it's as important for them to realize as it is for me. So, no, I can't become TimidScholar, but I sure can cultivate some timidity in the midst of my temerity.

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