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Tenure

A million years ago, I wrote about being in the middle of the tenure process, wherein I am evaluated by a series of committees and then either lose my job, or get to keep it until my endless ethical breaches (the falsification of data, the research assistants chained in my lab, the moonshine still in my office…) are discovered. The process has ground along for well over a year; I submitted the documents a month or so before Bun Bun was born.

But it’s over. I am tenured. I suppose I should be pleased, but it happened so slowly–and with so little ceremony–that it’s a complete anticlimax. Like, I more or less found out it was official when I received my new contract.

Under “remarks”. Isn’t that perfect?

Plus which, my enthusiasm for my job is still at low ebb. Not lowest ebb ever (what would that be, like neap tide or some shit?), but low.

Last week I had coffee with a student I’d mentored, and we chatted about our lives. I told her how tenure in combination with all my BABIES seems to have shifted my priorities considerably, away from work. She nodded enthusiastically–she was looking forward to finishing her MA, getting a job, and having a nine-to-five life with family at the end of her day. (She’s gay, just in case you’re assuming she has easy access to babies and are hating her.) She’s a mere child with her whole life ahead of her, so it was odd to find ourselves in more or less the same psychological place.

Meanwhile, I am surrounded by people who are foaming-at-the-mouth eager for a job like mine. I recently ran a workshop on applying to PhD programs, which was full of students who want to “go into academia”, whatever they think that means. I told them that a PhD is useless for almost all the jobs in the world, and that the chances of getting one of the jobs it IS good for are miniscule. Afterwards I though about how little that wisdom would have influenced me when I was an undergrad. I just couldn’t do otherwise than apply to grad school. I was infected with scholarship. A weak, mediocre, unproductive strain, but it seemed incurable at the time.

So what happened to the Bunny of a decade ago–why am I not more pleased with myself? Maybe it’s that I know this achievement means less than I thought it did. I thought you had to be super awesome to get tenure. But you don’t, because I’m not. As various committees voted yea on my weak ass over the past year, I had to accept that my mediocre efforts are good enough (good enough for Mediocre Institution, at least). I still encounter the career trajectories of my cohort of grad students and feel sad and pathetic, but maybe I am more willing to accept that I will never be like them. In short, I’m not more excited because being stamped ADEQUATE is nothing to celebrate.

It’s also possible that the way parenthood worked out for me had a massive impact on my level of career ambition. I mean, everyone says having children changes your priorities and it’s partly just that. But I also think that, had I gotten pregnant when I first tried, it would have been another item on my checklist. Instead of being all fuck my career I don’t caaaaare waaaaaaaah I would have been all I have to work even harder and be an even better researcher and mother and… THE PRESSURE!

Which is not to say that had I not spent two years weeping under my desk, I would have achieved greatness. I think I’d probably be in more or less the same place career-wise. So perhaps wanting parenthood and failing to achieve parenthood and then achieving parenthood (I mean, how perfect is this: Right when I might have been anxious about the tenure process, the world’s best bundle of attention-absorption appeared in my life!) was in fact the perfect distraction from my own mediocrity. Thanks, meatball-filled pelvic cavity, for keeping me mentally occupied.

A final possibility is that I’m just a big Eyeore who refuses to take pride in any professional success.

21 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ana #

    Regardless of the ambivalent feelings behind it, it is indeed a great accomplishment. CONGRATULATIONS Bunny! Now go hang out with your little Tigger that’ll bounce you right out of your glum mood!

    June 21, 2012
  2. Misfit Mrs. #

    Tenure? Hot damn, Bunny. I highly suspect that you are in no way mediocre and that for a number of students, you are a bright spot in a dull class load. Life has this awful vacuum effect where desire can suck the joy out of great milestones. You are making it and looking good doing it. So what if you gave it a b effort. The A team at A Universities stand for pompous assholes. I also suspect that you aren’t mediocre on the home front and with your baby hoarding days ahead, academic achievement will always be tempered by your family milestones.

    It’s also a known fact that mediocre people think they are great, whereas great people will more likely think they are average at best.

    Bunny is untouchable and can now wear a sword to class and elf ears without getting fired. And if you do release you inner elfen queen, I call dibs on pictures!

    June 21, 2012
  3. Dude!!! Dude!!! AWESOMEPANTS! Tenure. Kick your inner Eyeore in the butt and get excited. Congrats!

    That being said, one thing stuck out at me and I feel it to – “Maybe it’s that I know this achievement means less than I thought it did”. I think this is called being young and hopeful. We all suffered from that and we are all figuring out now that the kick-ass idea we had of what our day to day would be was mostly fantasy. Real life ebbs and flows. Somedays it is super awesome, but a good majority of the days are pretty yawn-worthy.

    This shouldn’t detract from the fact that you have arrived at where you intended to go. So congrats on your milestone Eyeore.

    June 21, 2012
  4. Well I’m happy for you about this! Congratulations!!!! It is a big deal even though it’s a long and anticlimactic review process. Anyway, won’t this achievement also help to enable your baby hoarding?

    June 22, 2012
  5. I’m pretty damn impressed with your bad self so congratulations!

    I think our perspective on life changes at every stage, more so when major milestones pass (or are damn hard to reach). Hopefully one never fully feels they have “arrived” and always have new horizons upon which to gaze. Your path changed the view you had in the review mirror but taken as a whole, I think it’s a pretty damn amazing journey!

    June 22, 2012
  6. Jen #

    In my best Oprah voice — “you go girl!” Sadly, there is not a free car waiting outside for you. Just freaking job security. Well played.

    June 22, 2012
  7. Trinity #

    I know shit about shit when it comes to academia and tenure, but I do know this: “mediocre” and “adequate” have never been two words I would use to describe you. For serious.

    I don’t know how this exactly relates–perhaps to the fervid idealism of youth–but I spent a lot of time in undergrad and grad school collecting fancy achievements and acknowledgements and awards…only to eventually understand how little currency those things really carry in the real world. In the practical application of things, no one really gave a fuck. It was a huge kick in my ego’s nutsack. Because even when you have these esteemed milestones in your education and career…how much does it really even matter? I mean, really? It’s just all one big, mostly pointless circle jerk. Meh.

    Then again, my view is a bit skewed. I am hopelessly in unbridled love with my mamahood gig (99% of the time), and everything else (for now) just seems like an absurd waste of my time and heart. And I know that has pretty much everything to do with my own journey to parenthood.

    Anyway, as anti-climactic as it may seem right now, this is superb and celebration-worthy news, and I’d like to buy you a congratulatory non-alcoholic beverage. Heartfelt congrats, lady!

    June 22, 2012
  8. I agree with the ladies above, kick Eyeore and get proud, this is an accomplishment alright! Congratulations!

    As for not feeling as you thought you would – you know how we all start out as revolutionaries and end up conservatives? That is experience and life lived, my friend. That does not mean you are mediocre. Come freaking on, it’s TENURE. But it is good it is just a side of you, not all of you, huh? Multifaceted Bunny… 🙂

    June 22, 2012
  9. No matter how you may feel about it, congratulations! It is an achievement (and one I hope to obtain in the not too distant future…)

    June 22, 2012
  10. mmd #

    Congrats! I’ve never commented here before, but am in a very similar spot in life myself – just got tenure at my own mediocre institution, have a toddler at home, and expecting #2 at the end of the summer. As this past semester ended, I just kept thinking that I couldn’t wait to have to time to just sit around and be pregnant. I do think tenure is pretty anticlimactic for a lot of folks, though. In many cases, you have a pretty good idea what’s going to happen early on, but have to wait several more months to find out for sure, and there’s this feeling of, “so, what now?”. I visited my dissertation advisor recently, and spend a few hours catching up and talking about our kids, and our ongoing research projects, but realized afterwards that I’d never brought up my recent tenure.

    June 22, 2012
    • Congratulations to your OWN bad self! And it’s true–when it works right, it’s not much of a surprise.

      June 23, 2012
  11. Congratulations on tenure, no matter how anticlimactic. Just think: now you can go tell off that dean who’s been annoying you for years! Except not really. Alas.

    June 22, 2012
  12. Hi. Not sure I’ve commented here before.

    I’m a fellow academic infertile. My son was born in November, and my tenure went through (finally) in December. When I submitted my documents I remember thinking it didn’t really matter as much as I thought it might, as I was really in the thick of fertility treatment at the time. But after a lot of bureaucratic nonsense that made me think I wouldn’t get tenure…the same week I found out I was pregnant and likely miscarrying, well, I held my breath through the entire rest of the pregnancy and tenure process. It’s been VERY good being on the other side of it and having maternity leave and post-tenure sabbatical coincide.

    Anyway, congratulations!

    June 22, 2012
  13. Congratulations on tenure, Bunny! It is an excellent achievement, even if it doesn’t really feel like it right now. I can understand why it doesn’t feel all exciting after that very long slow process. But here you are, all tenured! With Bun Bun and Bunlet on the way. Lots to be excited about, Bunny.
    xo
    A

    June 23, 2012
  14. Congrats on your tenure Bunny. Trinity is right you are neither mediocre or adequate. You deserve this and whether you admit it or not, you worked damn hard to get it. Sure it hasn’t given you the big wizz bang feeling that you thought it would but isnt that always the way with the big things? Dont we always over estimate how much the ‘big things’ will change our lives for the better? Or is that just me. And because this happened so gradually and quietly and so many other great things have happened to you in between it makes sense that your feelings arent the same as they were a year ago.
    Your priorities have changed to being a brilliant baby nurturer but that doesnt mean you dont deserve tenure.
    PS – Eyeore was always my favourite!!!!

    June 23, 2012
  15. Dear Assoc. Prof. Bunny,

    You are awesome.

    Go share a little of that moonshine with your research assistants.

    Cheers!

    June 23, 2012
  16. P.S. Everyone knows you put your still in a cave. (Surely there are caves near your fine institution! Though, I know, the commute between still and office can be quite grinding.) If you get fired, it will clearly be for improperly concealing your ‘shine.

    June 24, 2012
    • OMG, that’s exactly what I look like, too! I get no end of shit for my overalls, but they’re so comfy.

      June 24, 2012
  17. Congrats, Bunny. I know that it’s anticlimactic in the extreme, but it’s still a very good thing. Security, what it says about appreciation of your scholarship/teaching, etc.. And I think “adequate” sells you short. I know a lot of people who have been shot down on tenure, even at institutions that are not on the cutting edge (also describes MY institution, for what it’s worth). All that said, though, I do know exactly what you mean. I know so many people who would kill (and, lo, some people DO actually kill over tenure) for a tenured job…but my reaction was like, “Yeah, well, that’s nice.” Actually, no, it was more like, “Of course THIS works out…I don’t want THIS…I want a baby…(low, drawn-out moan).” And at the same time, having tested the patience of my own institution excessively (I’ve been off nearly two years) it’s good to have a job to go back to. To be somewhere you can hang your hat for the long-term. Even if that place occasionally drives you out of your gourd.

    June 24, 2012
  18. Congratulations!!! It’s amazing what parenthood does to our priorities, and what we think we want out of life vs. what we have… Or THOUGHT we wanted. I just wrote a post about my career, and how what I thought I wanted has nothing to do with what I’m happy with now…

    June 25, 2012
  19. Forgive my tardy comment, dear Bunny. Let me start with my warmest Congratulations to you. It may feel like a rubber-stamped, black-inked Adequate on your record, but we all know that tenure is a big deal, that you are a big deal, amazing woman. You are also now permitted to screw off as much as you’d like and you can still keep your job. But seriously, I think job security is infinitely meaningful when one is about to give birth to her second child. Am I right to imagine that it brings a sense of stability?

    I don’t know how you would feel about this if your career was THE big thing in your life right now. It isn’t. You’re having a baby next month, and you’ve got one at home that is needing a lot from you these days. You’re trying to balance it all out and in my humble opinion, doing a fantastic job.

    June 28, 2012

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