Saturday, October 18, 2014

Am I Full Professor Material?

Thursday, I turned in my promotion file.

Here's the deal: at most universities, you have to go up for tenure. "Up and out," they say. Every school has its own standards: some require a book, or even a book plus progress on the next one. Some, more teaching-focused, want lots of good teaching, course development, plus more campus service than you might think is humanly possible. Some schools (primarily religion-affiliated ones, I think) want a heavy dose of community service in there -- making connections between campus and community. My school falls somewhere in the middle of all this, and people work the teaching-research-service balance in various ways across the campus. But in any case, you have about five and a half or six years to prove you're doing the kind of job they want to see. And you don't have a choice. You can't just say, "Oh, I'll take the lower salary or whatever and will go up when I'm ready." It's up or out.

Going up for full professor is a mite different, in that, at most schools, you never have to do it. And if/when you do it, you can do it on your schedule. And if you don't get it, you can try again the next year. And the next. But the file itself takes about a month and a half to put together, so you don't want to do it until you're reasonably confident that you'll pass. Most people at my school do it five years after tenure. So, last year when it was my first opportunity to go up... I declined.

I just wasn't sure. I mean, I had done some pretty good stuff with teaching. My service was okay -- nothing spectacular, but I wasn't shirking. But I still only had the one book to my name, and only one post-tenure article forthcoming and another in the pipeline. The second book was a stack of documents, some scribbles, a couple of conference papers, and a title (though a damn good title, I must say). How to count the first book was the toughest thing to gauge: I had sent off the manuscript literally two days before submitting my tenure file. As anyone who has published a book knows, there is a lot of work after that point -- even after you get the contract, there are months of revisions, then copy edits, then page proofs and an index... but still, it was just one book. And I just didn't think it was enough.

Here's the thing, though. I was judging my record based on the paths of the faculty at the university that I got my Ph.D. from. These were my models. And if you earned a Ph.D., you were at a research institution. But very few of our post-Ph.D. jobs are at such institutions. And sometimes we forget that our jobs are different. You can't crank out an article every year plus a well-reviewed university-press book every six or seven while teaching three or four courses a semester. You can't get to the archives every summer if you don't have research funds. And that's okay. You are doing different work. No less valuable.

So, the point of this story is that this year -- in fact, just two days ago -- I turned in my file for promotion to full professor. It has a couple more articles in it than it would have a year ago. It has a major service commitment. And it has a well thought-out book proposal. But my senior colleagues looked at my record and asked me why I didn't go up last year. The answer is that there will always be a significant part of me that doesn't feel like full professor material. But I'm trying to let that go.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What I'm Learning from my Grad Students

How about: way more than I thought I would?

I have a system for my M.A. exams for my grad students. I developed this system to try to balance student interests with me not going completely insane trying to make sure I knew all the material that they'd covered for their exams. I haven't been in the biz long enough to have an eight-page bibliography from diverse medieval stuff topics from memory or in my notes already, and since I'm the only medievalist, I've got to be able to cover students interested in stuff all over the continent, for the entire thousand-year period.

Here's how it works: Students taking a M.A. exam with me have to read about 45-50 items, spread out over 5 different subtopics. I have a list of about a dozen topics that I've got reading lists ready to go for.

But, here's the deal: if there's something they really, really want to explore, and it's not on my list, they can design a field of their own. They come up with the topic and a preliminary reading list; I tinker with the list to make sure it works, and off we go.

What this means is that, for most students, I end up reading up on a field that's totally new to me. Sometimes I couldn't care less about the field. Anglo-Norman institutions? Do. Not. Care. But I read them, and I try to design a question.  But sometimes, it's pretty interesting.

Which is a long way to say that this month, I'll be reading a whole heck of a lot on Islamic, Norman, Angevin, and Aragonese Sicily. And I think this is actually going to be one of those reading lists that ends up being a lot of fun.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Rookie Mistakes

You know how we always tell students to read the directions?

How we always tell them that, if they want a letter of recommendation from us, they ought to get the request in way in advance?

How we always wish they were more concerned about professionalism, and it makes us grumble when they're not? "Nobody ever had to tell me to do this stuff."

Yeah, well, I got another lesson in humility this week. Applying for Big Fellowship #1, I gave my letter-writers a heads-up and lots of materials several weeks ago. But then I made several assumptions about how the online application system worked -- and here is the key bit -- without first reading the instructions.

The result? A near last-minute "omigodheyrememberthatletterwetalkedabout ::deep breath:: it'sdueinfourdayshere'sthelinkkthxbai!"

Okay, perhaps it wasn't that bad. But that's how it feels in my gut. I've got a little stored-up goodwill, but if I were one of these folk (especially the one who's traveling) I'd be pretty damn annoyed.

I've been doing this for two decades now, if you count grad school. Will someone please tell me when it will be that I'll finally stop making rookie mistakes?