My name is not Nathan

This dizzy life of mine/keeps hanging me up all the time/this dizzy life/is just a hanging tree…

-Counting Crows (great new CD out today—check it out)

I’ve been thinking about writing this entry for a while and worried that it might offend a few people, but given my stellar track record of late… let’s just say I don’t mind if it offends anyone now (that ship–sailed :)). But to be at least a little subtle, I’m just going to hint to the piece of scholarship I am responding to instead of stating the exact name.

At any rate, during my MA, I took a fantastic class on research methodology with one of my thesis committee members. One of the pieces we read early in the semester was a study by a pair of doctors who watched as their students became integrated into “professional” discourse.  Part of this article’s data—and the analysis of this data—was the slow tracking of one student’s frustration as he essentially lost his voice to become an academic.

At the time, I raged a little in class, and I suggested that perhaps this wasn’t the most healthy thing. Alas, this was the beginning of a full year of discussion in that program of “professionalization.” I whole time we talked about these things, I tried to balance my sense of what was being said and what I see out in the world.

This strikes me as one of the many places where our field has a bit of an identity crisis. I say “a bit,” because I do NOT feel the pressure from my current institution to become a tie wearing, jacket-with-the-elbow-patches, jargon spouting academic (I know this pressure does exist in some places, and I think it’s sad).

But let’s look at this for a second, from a logical perspective. We tell our first-year students to find their voice, to write in interesting and unique ways.

We praise the idea of being creative and innovative.

Then the suggestion is that we should beat a PhD student into being a sort of “disciplined” academic?

Someone actually implied on this blog, in a response, the same sort of mentality. FWIW, I don’t think there’s any specific behavior that defines PhDness or professionalism. I will always teach in shorts in the summer (unless I end up someplace where it’s not miserably muggy in the summer). I will always make pop culture jokes. I will always be who I am.

This is not to say I don’t think there is “a” professionalism. I show proper respect to other academics, I am careful about how I interact within the professional network, and my work does what my work needs to do.

I would argue, though, that the idea that there is some universal “professional” behavior, that we could/should shape every PhD student into a specific product, is ridiculous. I look at my heroes in our field, and they don’t all look and act the same. They don’t speak the same or write the same. They don’t even get along in some cases.

To claim we should all be the same is the very definition of hegemony. And that’s bad, right?


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