Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sneakpeek into academic job candidate process

If my academic life is anything like my leaky basement, sitting in on the presentation of a job candidate this morning raised my water mark. I highly recommend it to any graduate student, whether or not you're interested in making a career in academia, and whether or not you choose to compare it with your leaky basement.

For starters, it is always exciting to watch one's professors banter over a given subject which is not necessarily the specialty of any one of them--and I'm not talking awkward Christmas party banter. This was like a coffeehouse on steroids, except that in place of feigned intellectualism it was pure--uncut--academic zeal and rigor. Maybe a little busting of chops, but no more or less than was necessary.

I felt akin to someone learning a new language who is suddenly immersed in a crowd of fluent speakers, and there was a thrill of self-congratulation* and increased enthusiasm each time I felt myself putting noun phrases and verbs together into coherent entities, and even more so when I found myself following the general direction of conversation!

This is where it got silly. When the words "synchronic" and "diachronic" were uttered, and I fully understood them in their usage and application to the discussion at hand (which, incidentally, I likely could not reproduce a sentence of here--it was fleeting perspicacity)--I jumped up and did a little victory dance.

Well, no, not exactly. But I did begin to daydream just a bit right around then. Not the kind of daydream that leads me completely out of the room and out of my head--this was akin to one of those waking dreams, in which I'm just conscious enough to have some semblance of control in whatever avenue the dream might take...I was entranced, so to speak, by the whole situation--as a newcomer, an observer of a very unfamiliar (and yet standard) ritual, and a neophyte by comparison with just about anyone else in the room. And so I watched the candidate tread water, change lanes and splash back with every question and comment that came her way. I thought, with excitement, of being able to volley questions ideas while maintaining an exterior of such absolute calm. She seemed more comfortable in that room than I was!

I realize that more than likely there are several things--either damaging or to her credit--that I was completely unaware of. My perception remained in the superficial, even aesthetic arena, and I had no qualms about letting it remain there (let the big dogs do their job. You know, like Olympic judges versus the uninformed onlookers). And this is where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers came in...the ease with which they present their task to their audience is a precise indication of their skill level. The enjoyment of the presentation is made richer depending on the audience member's own skill and familiarity with the dance. I am excited by the prospect of being so well-studied and academically mature that I could tap-dance with the material!

This clip of "Swing Time" about sums it up, if you're interested (it even has gratuitous fencejumping at around 2:15):

*I know it sounds petty, and yet this is the only description I can give the thrill. I don't intend it as a grandiose pat on the back; rather it serves as affirmation of all the reading/studying I've been doing for some time now, and incentive to continue this forward trek despite setbacks in circumstance and persuasion.

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