Monday, November 30, 2009

Extra parents

Cosimo has now met my dissertation director and I've met his. It feels like bringing someone home to meet the parents--except with a less clear script and a less clear sense of what the introduction is meant to accomplish.

When you take a new partner home to meet your actual parents, you're facilitating an introduction of people who might conceivably wind up stuck with each other for decades; even if they see each other only infrequently, the two parties will play a continuing role in each others' imaginative lives for as long as each is associated with you.

The same, presumably, is not true of the advisor/advisee relationship. Yes, my advisor is one of my most important intellectual influences, and yes, Cosimo is in an adjacent subfield and might have had a distant professional interest in meeting her (or she in meeting him). But it wasn't about anyone's intellectual or professional life--or if it was, it was about that weird space in which the intellectual and the emotional overlap and are indistinguishable from each other.

I spend a lot of time in that space. And in it, my advisor is mother, father, and both sets of grandparents.

13 comments:

Ianqui said...

My advisor is way too f-ed up for me to see him as a father figure, but he does hold a very special place in my life. Possibly as important as my father. But what really weirds me out is that someday someone may think that about me. I really hope not...

Flavia said...

My advisor definitely isn't motherly or fatherly in the way that my own are--I used to joke that I had a perfectly happy childhood and family life, but would need years of therapy to work through my relationship with my advisor--but there's something significantly parental there nevertheless. And as we're building a more adult and personal relationship, post-grad school, it only feels more so.

(And it turns out that 5 years of full-time employment/away from grad school are just as good as therapy!)

Moria said...

I spend a lot of time in that space.

Me. Effing. Too. One of the most difficult things, emotionally, about being a grad student is trying to puzzle out what spending time in that space means, how to live in that space, be a good citizen of that space, whether it's healthy (or "good"), whether it matters whether or not it's healthy or good, whether it's possible to do otherwise.

One important teacher used to joke, calling himself "father confessor." I go back and forth on whether or not he knew how not-a-joke that was. Another of my mentors consistently uses the same adjectives to describe my affect and my intellect (I "feel strongly," "think strongly"; I am "sensitive to" emotions, language, tone). A third uses endearments, but I think it's my work, in the end, that she's talking about, and not me.

It's all a puzzle.

medieval woman said...

Hmm...I feel this way too - my advisor (indeed my entire committee and TD's committee) came to our wedding and danced and drank like nothing else. We got very nice gifts from them. Buuut, the most emotional I've ever been with my advisor is when she saw one of my first conference presentations - she was sitting in the front row and as I walked away from the podium, she just winked at me, nodded and gave me a very discreet thumbs up.

I've carried that warm fuzzy with me since - even through the numerous intellectual bloodlettings I've had with her in the intervening years.

I'm sure Cosimo was a delight as always...

:)

Anonymous said...

When I read your advisor-themed posts, F, I'm struck by how much more intense that relationship has been for you than it was in my case. My diss. director and I had a warm, professional relationship-- I like her, admire her, and we remain cordially if irregularly in touch-- but there never was anything surrogate-parental about it, for good or ill. Now I'm graduate chair in my dept., which involves lots of mentoring and advising-- and my instincts are still to keep it professional. Not that professional means superficial -- for those of us who choose this line of work, our professional selves are in some ways our deepest, or at least those in which we're most deeply invested-- but it would never occur to me to present myself, even jokingly, as a "father confessor" like Moria's teacher. Maybe it's just a matter of the personalities involved-- or maybe we advise as we've been advised, just as we teach as we've been taught. Cheers, TG

academic vixen said...

Don't kid yourself. Your introducing him to someone who will be in your lives for years! ;) And even after you finish, advisors linger on emotionally like exboyfriends.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Yeah, it's funny how different advisor-student relationships are; mine was a lot more like TG describes, perfectly cordial and friendly but mostly hands-off, even while I was writing the diss. (I wanted it that way, and picked Advisor partly because I knew he'd let me alone and trust me to figure stuff out for myself, but I don't think surrogate-parental relationships happened at all in my grad program, at least not among early English lit folks.)

Flavia said...

I don't mean to imply that my relationship with my advisor was warm; far from it. It was brusque but basically cordial, and we met extremely infrequently (and usually very briefly) for almost the entire course of my career. I didn't get a lot of feedback from her, and I felt that she was much more invested in her other advisees than in me.

It's my own pathology that has made me keep in relentless touch and continue seeking approval from her and that (to put it more positively) has, I think, begun to transform our relationship into something pretty positive and mutually enjoyable--if still not warm and fuzzy.

Doctor Cleveland said...

My relationship with my own advisor was very harmonious, and on the acknowledgments page of my diss I thanked him with the old academic term "Doktorvater." But it wasn't much like my relationship with my actual parents.

feMOMhist said...

well given that during my (bad) first marriage, my adviser said "you have to chose between your marriage and your thesis" perhaps I SHOULD have facilitated introductions first. Said adviser was world renown and single.

Renaissance Girl said...

Funny...I read this post (and the comments) on the same day I received in the mail a beautiful wedding gift from my diss advisor, as well as a card that managed to move me to tears. I have a very strong grandfatherly thing going on there, which has been clear to me for a long time. The downside, obviously a better index of my own psychological profile than his, is that I feel as a consequence the desire to "make him proud" not only in professional terms but also in personal/ human terms.

~profgrrrrl~ said...

Yes, this rings true for me as well. Not with my advisor, but with two other committee members (Mom and Dad, although surely I was their test tube baby). You capture the feeling of it all beautifully.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

This is great. I distinctly remember in graduate school, dating various people and thinking that the perfect man would be one I would be proud to introduce to both my parents *and* my adviser. The guy who is now my husband completely hit it off with my adviser, she came to our wedding, and we've been closer since then than we ever were while I was her student.