The Weary Need Not Apply
Managing the transition from graduate student to professor
I am thrilled to have received, and accepted, an offer as an assistant professor at a university in Texas, and my family is quite happy for me as well. My mother is particularly excited. This is just about as prestigious as it gets for her — now she really has something to brag about to her friends. However, she believes that there should be some changes in the process. She thinks I, or she, should speak to someone about my salary; surely I should be paid more, somewhere in the ballpark of six figures. And someone should pay for me to stay in one of those little suites with the kitchens for a month or two while I look for just the right house. As well, I should not be required to work during this time, because I will be much too busy house hunting, and the department should pay for it, too. What kind of institution are they running if they are not offering those types of benefits? But what she really wonders is why I am not earning as much as my best friend Jessie.
Jessie is a corporate attorney in Washington. She became a partner two years ago, makes six figures, and lives across the street from a well-known senator located in one of the most prestigious sections of the city. And, if you don’t think it can get any better, her husband is an equally successful Harvard business school graduate. And all this makes my mother quite happy.
Jessie and I were discussing my situation, how busy I am with work, etc, and she told me to just calm down. Jessie could not believe that a graduate student — almost faculty member — could be so busy or worried about anything. Well, I tried to explain to Jessie that academia works a little bit differently than the rest of the free world. Although I had just defended my dissertation in May, two weeks later I was off interviewing. She thought certainly, now that I had accepted a faculty position, I should be able to rest. Perhaps I could even take a couple of weeks of vacation. She certainly did not understand when I told her that I had to work on course plans for two classes before I set foot on that campus in September. She did comment that at least I would be paid while working on the course plans. I dare not tell her otherwise. I do not need any litigation taking place my first week of classes.
In the meanwhile, I also need to publish. Since I have little ones, this will take strategic planning. Wake up and start writing at 5 in the morning. Work from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. Be ready for breakfast before 10 a.m. Still, Jessie says, I should calm down. I already have prepared about seven papers (which she claims should be enough and does not see the need for more) for publication before I get to my new destination. Yet, I need to have them completed and submitted by next week, because I need to get started again on those course plans.
I also explained to Jessie that I needed to work at least four hours on Saturdays and Sundays to get in a total of eight hours, which she called “totally ridiculous.” I thought I’d better not tell her that I already had spent six hours that day writing, with my laptop on one knee and 2-year-old daughter on the other knee. By the way, did I mention that I needed to spend a week in the new city looking for schools for my children, a 2-year-old, a 4-year-old, and a second-grader? Or that I am in the middle of submitting two presentations to an education association?
The economics of transitioning from graduate student to professor requires extensive planning. Perhaps when I work on my next doctorate, I will be more prepared. Unlike those folks (such as Jessie) who garner professional degrees, I will not be privy to a signing bonus, a company car, or a dress allowance. I will graduate and move to a new city without any of the monetary bells and whistles that many people enjoy. No trust fund saved up for me. No nest egg, and certainly, no disposable income. No disposable anything — unless diapers count. Oh, but, I will have something — a huge student loan debt.
Still, Jessie says this should not be big deal, and somehow, I will be able to take a vacation. And she does have my best interest at heart; she just told me she is funding my transition to my new job. Thank goodness for best friends with professional degrees. They don’t understand how the academic side works, but they are willing to help foot the bill. Now, I can calm down, but just for a moment.
— Dr. Robin L. Hughes is an assistant professor in the department of educational leadership and foundations at the University of Texas at El Paso.
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