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.”