More on explaining the academic culture to ‘outsiders’

As you may remember, the Chronicle Careers piece What am I doing? Shouldn’t seven years of graduate school have helped me avoid taking a job just to have a job? raised the question How do you explain the academic culture to ‘outsiders?’ In addition to the several comments on the post, I’ve received direct feedback which expresses even stronger frustration with the task. My prayers are with those such as the 5th year post-doc, who have found their academic context peopled with many small people:

Small in that underneath their facades of arrogance, superior intellect, etc., they are actually very insecure and fearful. Thus, they hide behind masks in order to hide their perceived inadequacies. They then act ‘small, which I see as trying to get power and popularity through movement up in faculty position, through advancing their agendas, by dominating their students, and by criticizing everyone and everything. It’s pretty sad, really. I’m not sure this is what you were asking, but it was my immediate reaction to the question. — anonymous

And those such as the young faculty who encounter a daily grind far from the idyllic dreams of the graduate students by which they’re surrounded:

I have given up explaining this to others outside academia… as it is a source of frustration for me and further misunderstandings for others… It is even difficult to explain to aspiring MA/PhD students what this life entails…

One of these aspiring MAs recently told me that she wanted to enter the profession because she envisioned being a professor entailed reading books, and chatting about them with her students either over coffee or in class!! I am afraid I scared her off with my contemptuous guffaw and sobering talk about the reality of it… (perhaps for the best, as she would have been in for a rude shock). …

It’s a rough life sometimes… Certainly not 9-5, with the teaching, researching, writing grading, prepping, meetings, Email, grant applications, reference letters, committees etc. etc. Some weeks, it’s even stressful or hard to make time for a Sabbath…! The summer off is nice, but I have yet to take off more than 6 weeks… And when I do take off those for those 40 days, it means I am working and sweating (must get AC!), the rest of the time…

Goodness, I am venting…! I should be counting my blessings really.. I have a job, am around young people, constantly learn new things, get to express myself…

What word do I have to share? Although the specifics are messy, frame your vocation in the context of Human Flourishing:

All people can contribute to human flourishing, if only in the humblest acts of care for others. But those of us in the universities and professions have been given a precious gift. We can contribute in extraordinary, even unique, ways to human wellbeing: the obstetrician who delivers a baby alive who would otherwise die, the teacher who guides students to understanding and academic success, the judge who shepherds a case to justice. Such examples can and should be multiplied and the stories told. Such principles should be advanced in every discipline and profession. Imagine what Christians might accomplish in our culture if we conceived of our academic and professional work as making a godly contribution to human
flourishing?

Where is this material from? A document which lays out the theme of Following Christ 08. If you long to dig into the questions of human flourishing and explore how one not only embraces, but also articulates this messy call, then join us for Following Christ 08. If you can’t come over the course of December 27-31, then take some of that time to explore the on-line resources available through InterVarsity’s Graduate & Faculty Ministry and if you haven’t already, become a member of the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). ESN provides access to a number of resources, including the opportunity to find a mentor in your discipline who will walk with you as you seek to understand and articulate your call in higher education. Lastly, keep your feed on this site as next week I’ll to wrestle with our redemptive/re-creative (and at times even prophetic) role in the messiness of higher education.  To God alone be the glory!

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Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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