who is a young scholar?

Today my copy of blogger-pal, Eszter Hargittai’s new book, Research Confidential: Solutions to Problems Most Social Scientists Pretend They Never Have, arrived. Given the gauntlet of meetings I faced today and face everyday, I didn’t get through much of it, and it probably will be quite a while before I can finish it off. But I did buzz through the Preface, Introduction, and took a trip through another blogger-pal, Jeremy Freese’s chapter on secondary analysis of canned survey data (which is also, of course, the chapter that is the closest to being about my own research experiences).

In Eszter’s Preface, she notes that she asked “young scholars” to write the chapters for the book. I really liked this idea. Oft-times we turned to the wizened sages of the field for these kinds of reflective pieces, but why not ask some folks for whom the initial struggles are a bit fresher for their take? The whole idea made me look forward to reading.

I was rewarded by Jeremy’s chapter, which I thing you’ll agree is not only a good guide to thinking through a bunch of stuff that you really need to think through when you do this kind research, but very well written as well. I’ll probably add it to a syllabus or two if I ever get around to teaching again…

But then it struck me–Jeremy Freese? A young scholar? Well, maybe, but maybe not. This guy has been a full professor at Northwestern for at least a couple of years now–so is he still young?

I confess that in my career, I wanted to hold onto the “cool young professor” image as long as I could, but there have been a few transitional points that really challenged my ability to do so. One was my second year of teaching when one of my students, rather unkindly-while-trying-to-be-kind, told me how surprised she was that I was “cool” because I closer in age to her parents than to her! Ouch! A second was tenure time. Once you have tenure, you’re just simply in a different class of human being–no matter how much you want to deny it–you no longer one of those people of the potentially temporary variety and all its accompanying, shared-identity-inducing anxiety. You are now, as I was immediately told, part of the problem.

Becoming chair provided a (pseudo) authority that also eschewed youth and I think the capper was getting full professor. It’s awfully hard to think about full professors as people who were recently grad students, which I think is part of the definition of being a “young” scholar.

When you start spinning on this stuff, you can really get out there. Before I was done with this little bout of overthinking, I began musing about what my father was doing when he was my age, and what I was doing at that time. I’m 43 now, and my father was 43 in 1986-1987. At that point in time, he had five kids–four of whom could be called young adults and three in college. None of us would have remotely thought of him as young.

I, myself, was in my junior year of college and was, in fact, lo those 23+ years ago, becoming something like a “young scholar.”

5 thoughts on “who is a young scholar?”

  1. The usual tacit qualifier in these cases is “… for their rank”. Many “newly-minted” PhDs are not so young in years. Some tenured types are pretty young compared to the majority of their peers. I didn’t know how old you were until you mentioned it in the post, at which point I thought “Hey, that’s pretty young” — given the facts about your career. My undergraduate self would probably have thought this reaction laughable.

    On the other hand, I hear there’s nothing Jeremy, 38, likes better than reminders that he is getting old.


  2. I also edited a collection in which all the authors were “young” when we began but some were old (meaning “had tenure”) by the time it cam out.

    also, please don;t consider Jeremy old. Otherwise I am too and that sucks.


  3. I sure am behind on blog reading…

    Thanks for mentioning the book.

    Logistically speaking, I should note that when I asked people to contribute, they were four (!) years younger than they are today. The process took considerably longer than I had expected due to a myriad of factors (not least of which would be that I kept moving around the country over this period).

    As for who counts as a young scholar more generally speaking, good question. It’s worth mentioning that Jeremy is the most senior of the bunch certainly in terms of rank and possibly also regarding his age. Many contributors have just finished their PhDs (or some haven’t even yet) and were still well in grad school when I invited them.

    Interestingly, when I started a career advice column recently (called Ph.Do on Inside Higher Ed), someone in the comments noted that this advice would be more relevant coming from someone with more experiences. However, again, part of the point is that getting advice from those closer to us in age and status may be more helpful than hearing the reflections of those whose experiences were gathered under completely different circumstances (after all, aspects of academia do change in some respects).


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