Last weekend, we celebrated the first graduating class of our masters of public relations program. While small–there were only three students–the energy and excitement was palpable at the wine and cheese reception, and the next day at the graduation ceremonies where Tracey, Denise and Jolinne cleaned house on winning awards. The entire weekend, including the days spent in preparation, caused me to reflect on my work as a professor. Seeing students graduate has to be one of the top rewards for the work we do in the academy. It is for me, at least.
Margo Husby Scheelar has written that “our students are the greatest gift we will ever get. Publications may burn. Research will become dated. The lives we touch with compassion, with strength, with belief in potential and assistance in reaching that potential will make more of a difference than anything we do to bolster our own professional egos and status.” I think the immediate satisfaction we get from connecting to our students is why Husby Scheelar might have prioritized the student-professor relationship. Certainly, I get great joy in doing research, and especially because I have a fantastic research partner and I meet people who believe in books and reading. I mean really, how great is that?! But the satisfaction that comes from seeing three women walk across a stage and later thank you for your role in that is intensely validating.
I’ve often come across people who think that being a professor is easy, that my time is my own and that I must make a lot of money. Let this be known: that’s all crap. The pay is fair, but an average work week for me and my colleagues is 60-70 hours. In addition to teaching duties, we have to do research and publish and we have administrative duties.Those of us who value teaching, have to work extra hours to make our courses relevant, timely and fun. If we love research and want our work to add to new knowledge (and if we want to be promoted), we have to work on weekends and at night because course prep, teaching and marking take up all of our regular work week hours. And, let’s not forget the committee work, the advising, etc. etc. that counts as 1/3 of our responsibilities. While our work might be considered wise work, it’s a challenge to work wisely.
In preparation for the graduation weekend activities, I had to contact two of my colleagues who have retired. Marie and Judith were instrumental in convincing me to move to Atlantic Canada, and were supportive of me and my work since the day I arrived eight years ago. Over the years that we worked together, I saw how dedicated they were to our program and to our students. They, too, toiled in the intellectual trenches to try to prepare students with skills and foundational knowledge that would guide them through the next phase of their lives all-the-while trying to run the program and do a little bit of research on the side. Now that they’re retired, they seem to be just as busy with their own lives, doing their own things. Marie is writing a book while taking breaks to go on cycling trips. Judith, too, is writing and is doing it in between riding and working with her ponies. They tell me they barely think about working at the university and have a hard time remembering what that work was like because they’re so busy with other activities.
Seeing Judith and Marie, in preparation to watch Jolinne, Tracey and Denise walk across the stage, caused me to reflect on why I have dedicated my life to this profession. I really cannot think of a better job, but I need to somehow work more wisely so that I can see better the other side of the fence. I take great pride in my role–albeit very small–in getting a master’s degree into three brilliant women’s hands. But I need to remind myself two things: 1) that if I don’t work wisely, I’ll get sick and I will not be around to help others, and 2) it’s just a job.
Thank you Judith and Marie for your wise council. And, congratulations to Denise, Tracey and Jolinne!
It’s just a job, yes, but it’s a great one.