Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Long-term and short-term goals

So it's August and I'm in Northwest City and I'm trying to come up with a professional game plan for the year (while at the same time refusing really to acknowledge that the summer is almost over and that I don't still have TONS of TIME in which to get accomplished everything that was supposed to be accomplished by August 28th). I'm also thinking a bit about my long-term plans in the profession and in my personal life, which is something that I haven't done or really been able to do for a long time. For years, my future has looked like this: "finish grad school, hopefully get a tenure-track gig somewhere or other, and then. . .uh. . . I guess we'll see."

Being a part of the academic blogging community has been helpful in allowing me to think beyond the next semester or the next academic year, as has being in a relationship with someone who's now four years ahead of me on the tenure track (and who's up for tenure and going back out on the job market this year). Possibly for this reason, or possibly because of the culture of my grad institution, I do tend to assume that the job that I'm beginning this fall is a first job. As I've written in response to posts at Dr. Crazy's and elsewhere, I just take it for granted that that's how the academic world works, same as the "real" world.

This isn't to say that I might not stay put; in fact, knowing what I know about my new institution, I think that I could probably be reasonably happy and productive there for the rest of my career. If I love it and/or if George Washington Boyfriend gets a dreamy position in the area and/or if my scholarship turns out to be such that either I couldn't move or that I didn't see any benefit to moving to a different kind of institution--well, then, I might be there quite happily for the long haul. However, I'm pretty sure that I have at least two or three books in me, and although I have no desire to teach doctoral students right now, I think that I would like to be able to do so in five or ten years, when I have more confidence (and more credibility) as a scholar.

But moving up or simply moving within the profession requires, you know, work along the way. There is no five-year plan without a one-year plan! So I've decided that my major goal for my first year on the tenure track is to do all the things that I really ought to have done before going on the job market in the first place. It's a common problem, I know--but I work on a very small corner of a small part of this field known as "Renaissance literature." There are a lot of works that I've never read. There are a lot of issues about which I still know woefully little.

So although I have at least two articles and a new chapter to write this year, I'm going to consider my main goal to be gaining competency in areas I'm weaker in. Fer instance: I feel very confident about my knowledge of Shakespeare, but as long as I'm going to be teaching Fast Willie once or twice a year for the foreseeable future, I really ought to have more familiarity with--and perhaps some involvement in--current scholarly trends there. So I've gone and joined the Shakespeare Association of America and I'll be attending the conference in the spring and hopefully for the next few years. I'm designing a new class on the Renaissance lyric (SO far outside my expertise that it isn't even funny), and I'll probably be teaching an upper-level class on Stuart drama next year. I've also drawn up a manageable list of Important Scholarly Works--both Early Modern and theory--that I figure I really should have read in order to be a self-respecting member of the profession.

And you know what? It's exciting in the same way that starting grad school was exciting. Despite the pressure that I feel to get the goddamn book ship-shape, I'm really excited by the freedom that comes with no longer being a slave to the dissertation and the job market. I've been sitting around reading books that I bought years ago, and never read, just for fun. I've been thinking up courses that I'd love to teach.

It's all so damn much FUN. And if it helps me professionally, so much the better.


dhawhee said...

wow, I must be a little psychic, because I was loading my dishwasher today and thinking, "hm, I wonder if Flavia will ever apply for a job here. that would be cool." (for context, lest I seem a little psycho: our department has just been swept of renaissance colleagues).

I do think it's a good place to be: open to staying or someday going.

Anonymous said...

I think your game plan sounds great. One of the things that I'm so grateful for in my teaching in my first job was how much I learned about my larger field. Like you -- and like most of us, I suppose -- I was strong on my dissertation topic and weaker (or in some cases completely weak) in nearby topics. But at the end of five years, I can confidently say that I know American literature, history, and culture reasonably well, even those areas that aren't at all close to my scholarship. And that feels pretty darned good; I'm much more competent and confident than I used to be as an academic.

All of which is to say: Go, you!

Flavia said...

DH: Ooh, that's right! I either know personally, know of, or had distantly heard about three of those departing persons. That's really a blow to a good program. I'll keep my ear to the ground over the next few years.

Bardiac said...

It IS (and should be) exciting! And hard work.

Grad school's a great taste, but the real fun comes later, I think.

Good luck at your new school.

Mel said...

your first year (and esp first semester) is all about gathering up that background knowledge and teaching a lot of different things -- which will then make your next few years easier. Enjoy, and allow yourself the time to step back a bit from the diss/book and get acclimated to a new job.