Friday, 30 July 2010

Why are we doing this?

As I am waiting for my angel Jamie to take me to the airport I cannot help reflecting over the past week. Why am I doing this? I have travelled across the globe in packed planes, getting up ridiculously early in the morning, changing planes under extreme stress, slept six nights in a strange bed, eaten casual and irregular meals, missed my family, my garden and my cat. What's the reward?

In the beginning of my career I went to all the conferences I could go to, applied for all possible grants (and frequently got them), guest-lectured, travelled more than can possibly be healthy. It was exciting, but it was also necessary to build up a CV. I don't need more merits. Why am I doing this?

A student actually asked me a good question the other day: "What do you like most about being a professor?" (Now, note that a professor in the US is any university teacher). I had to think a few seconds before I answered: "Students".

I am doing it because I like meeting students. This is also why I like guest-lecturing better than conferences. I certainly like meeting colleagues, old and new, but there is no greater joy than meeting students and hoping that maybe, somehow, I will plant a little seed. Leave an academic footprint.

Maybe some student that I met during this week decides that academic career is after all worth the trouble. Or the other way round. Maybe some student's career will take a new turn, without any of us being aware of it. Maybe ten years from now I will meet one of the Hollins students at a huge international conference, giving a keynote address. Maybe one of the papers I have judged will develop into a fantastic piece of scholarship.

This is the reward. This is why we are doing it.

Sorry for getting sentimental.

1 comment:

Tina said...

Maria, you don't need to travel to make an impression! Two years ago or so I attended my very first distant learning course. It was a short course at Stockholm University giving an overview of Children's and Young Adult's Literature lead by you. I loved every piece of it! It made me want to learn more and I have since taken quite a few internet based courses in comparative literature. You could say that it's become a new passion of mine. So mission accomplished there, I guess?! :-)