On April 13, 2010 Dr. Louise Jezierski provided our SOC 989 class with the most candid discussion of life as an academic. Her presentation covered a span of time from her early youth through her present activity as a professor at MSU James Madison College. I would estimate that the bulk of her presentation covered her life between graduation (PhD) from UC Berkeley and her hire at MSU. This included a stint at Brown. This essay will detail some of the points made during her talk as well as how each point relates to my life as an academic.
First, Dr. Jezierski talked about being from a middle- to lower-middle class background. This caught my attention immediately because I am, I think, one of the very few students in our sociology cohort that was born and raised within a similar SES class no more than twenty miles from where I sit in the MSU classroom. I was initially thinking that Dr. J and I would have a lot in common, especially with the midwest connection in combination with the middle-class upbringing. This was not the case academically.
Second, Dr. J explained that she knew she wanted to study sociology from roughly the age of 7, or something to that effect. In my life, I took my first sociology class in the PhD program at age 29. For sake of dramatic effect, I insert that fact as completely true and it seems that Dr. J “had it figured out” early on but I didn’t “get it” until I was old and gray. This is not precisely the case. The only real difference was that Dr. J. knew what “sociology” meant at age 7. I have been interested in sociological subject matter since I was roughly that age but I had simply never heard of the discipline. I would analogize that scenario to someone who runs marathons. That particular runner might enjoy long-distance running but not realize the popularity and organization of the standard marathon until late in life.
Another part of Dr. J.’s early life that stood out was her choosing to attend Boston University. She mentioned that she thought then that if the school had a strong grad program in sociology that it would also have a strong undergrad sociology program. This is also much different than the route I’ve chosen. When I entered MSU as a freshman in 1997, it was because it was close and convenient. I had no clue what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. In fact, I entered pre-dental and quickly changed to horticulture and then English. Those three majors are starkly different. It shows that I had no general sense of what I was interested in, other than I was interested in discovering what I was interested in.
The next stop in Dr. J.’s life was UC Berkeley. I think I remember her mentioning that it took somewhere between 7 and 12 years to finish her PhD. There is both a similarity and a difference to be found there in relation to my academic progression. First, the time span from undergrad completion to PhD completion will be roughly the same. However, the difference is that Dr. J. was in the same program at the same school for that long. I, on the other had, was at two different schools (and two distinctly different programs: law school and masters level non-profit administration) prior to even applying to the PhD program at MSU. Again, this lines right up with my approach to undergrad.
In addition to the literal chronology of her early academic life, Dr. J. provided the class with some motivational speak. It wasn’t blanket “you can do this” talk, rather it was more of a show of “how you can do this.” She spoke about the timing of having children. I’m not sure right now if I want kids but she did remind me of the internal clock that has an expiration date ticking closer. She spoke about coordinating the PhD program with a significant other. However, there wasn’t too much groundbreaking material within this portion of the discussion.
The final interesting portion of the presentation involved Brown University and the denial of tenure. I was slightly confused about the exact time line of tenure application, progress, and determination (or denial). The discussion would have benefited from more precise descriptions involving, e.g.:
- I moved to Rhode Island in 19xx
- I was an assistant professor from 19xx-19xx
- I was an associate prof. from 19xx-19xx
- I applied for tenure in 19xx
- I was denied tenure in 19xx
My request for specificity is not because I’m extremely interested in the time line as it progressed in this presentation. I can figure out the exact time line later. Dates would’ve contributed to this discussion because we would have been able to better see when the “bad blood” started to develop on her tenure track. In other words, had she expected to be denied tenure very early in her time at Brown, perhaps different career moves would have been appropriate. If the tenure denial was a complete shock, which I don’t imagine it was, then the story would have a different moral. I was left with a thirst for clarity in regard to this portion of the presentation.
The overall sentiment expressed by Dr. J. was that she was happy where she was currently. This is a good philosophy to have. Once we all figure out what we want, if we get something else, we should be happy with it. I want to teach. I am interested in teaching undergrads and community college or night classes in addition to teaching grad students. I would love to be a professor at MSU (that’s the dream!). I would also really get a kick out of teaching at an Ivy League school. But, I learned from Dr. J. (specifically in regard to the Ivy League incident) that expectations do not always play out.