Giving advice

I had lunch today with two of my former grad students.  For both of these women I have served as their dissertation co-adviser and mentor for several years.  Over that time we’ve become friends.  Now, we are in the process of removing me from their committees and learning to be just friends… Partially that’s because it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that I’m done with academia but also because… I am a terrible mentor right now.

One of my students friends has a three month old baby and she is preparing to start collecting data for a dissertation.  And, she’s under a strict deadline in order to qualify for a fellowship.  Every time she would worry that she hasn’t been writing or describe some preposterously elaborate childcare/writing/researching/travel plans that she’s worked out in order to get some writing done in order to meet that deadline, my heart would break a little.  I remember in agonizing detail having a 3 month old and trying to finish a paper that I knew I needed to get out under review that month.  Just typing this sentence makes my blood pressure rise and a panicky feeling start to descend.

My other student friend is dying to have children, anxious about her future, and described how in order to collect data she and her husband have spent only 1 entire week together since November.

And, today, I had nothing helpful to tell either of them.  Because what I really wanted to say is that the deck is stacked against you, if you chose to have a family you are not likely to have the career you imagine.  And, time is fleeting.  Babies grow so quickly.  It gets harder and harder to have a kid the older you get.  Stop worrying about those writing deadlines and enjoy what you have now.  Don’t put off the family you desire because it may be too late when you get there.

BUT, THAT IS NOT WHAT  A MENTOR SHOULD SAY.  That isn’t going to make the long, lonely road of dissertations and writing any easier.  And, at any rate, they know my story. They know every detail of how and why I was denied tenure.  They know that I’m disillusioned with academia these days.  They know that I have come to see it as a credentializing endeavor focused far too much on profit and prestige and very little on learning and creativity.

So, for now, we go out for Indian food.  I smile and joke around.  Maybe in my relaxed posture, my relationship with my terrific kids and my truly authentic smile I indirectly pass along the only advice I have these days:  If you are not finding this path to be fulfilling and joyful, then you should consider another.  If you are loving what you are doing, then keep doing it.


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