We Are Not Machines

I know Kerry Ann Rockquemore is probably tired of saying the same thing over and over in different ways but I love her for it.  From folks like myself who are just trying to wade through the vortex that is Dissertation Land, to the assistant professor suffering through a third-year review, her advice always comes Right On Time.

Same today:

“I am often contacted by faculty members after a catastrophic professional event has occurred and they realize that their productivity isn’t going to meet their department’s expectations for promotion. The most common scenario is a professor who has received a negative third year review because she fell into the typical tenure-track trap: spending all her time on teaching and service, promising herself she would write on the semester breaks, and then making little progress because she’s exhausted from over-functioning in other aspects of her job. As a result, she uses her breaks to physically and mentally recover, doesn’t write, and experiences guilt and stress over her lack of productivity…”

Rockquemore goes on to discuss ways to keep yourself sane while getting tenure, like having realistic expectations, empowering yourself and avoiding the academic’s worst tendency–being hypercritical.

She reminds me of something very simple, so simple it usually gets lost in the shuffle, especially these days as working in academia begins to feel more and more like working for a high-powered firm.

The truth is we are NOT machines.

I didn’t enter academia to have summers off or enjoy the perks of a two or three day a week work schedule.  And no one should–because these are myths.  There isn’t a faculty member I know, tenured or adjunct, professor or TA, who isn’t working 24-hours a day (yes, in their sleep) on their research, teaching and service.  No one survives in this profession if they don’t love all three, even if they don’t love them all equally.  If we aren’t on campus then we are at home–working.  Even when we are out of the country, we aren’t casual tourists.  We are in a lab or an archive somewhere–working.  And if you think you’ve caught us sitting and having coffee or playing with our kids or walking the dog on some imaginary down time, don’t be fooled–we are still working.  Thinking about something we read, organizing index cards in our head, brainstorming the next seminar or lecture series or all of the above.  We work ALL THE TIME.

But we aren’t machines.

Rockquemore wrote once that untenured faculty (which I read as including almost Ph.D.s) need to abandon the idea that your life will have “balance.”  At least until tenure is achieved.  Just knowing that was such a relief because it freed me from having to pretend that I have it all together.  That I’m some kind of Superwoman successfully juggling family, friends, community and professional commitments all while staying right on top of the latest tweet, the last MTV video, the latest fashion trend and the New York Times bestseller list.  I can’t do it.  I look pretty frumpy these days.  I depend on my support network to love me DESPITE my lack of regular communication.  I haven’t been active in my sorority going on four years.  I couldn’t tell you who won the Pulitzer or even a BET Award this year.

But I also know that the only way to get everything done is still to find ways to BE a human.  That may mean treating your “fun” like it is work because it will eventually enhance your work.  Doing capoeira and Afro-Brazilian dance not just because it is fun but because this fun will expose me to Africana culture, relieve stress (including the stress I feel when I look in the mirror and think about what the dissertation is doing to me) and structure my time making my work day more productive and my writing more creative.  Scheduling my writing like I schedule my meetings–no flaking, no cutting corners and no rescheduling to accommodate other people and things.    My writing time is not optional.  It is a necessary part of my work day.

And so is my support network.  Committing to some logical amount of time during each day to dive into my bloglines and update here and here.  Scheduling time to call my family and friends (which is at least a little less trifling than not calling at all) and sticking to it because I am guaranteed to feel happy, healthy, whole and LOVED after I chat with them.

Basically, finding ways to feel more like a Na’vi ABD and less like a Cyborg ABD–a gangsta-ass warrior woman who is deeply and spiritually connected to her work, her community and her planet.

(Go with me people.  I’m on a roll)

Cue music:


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