Young, Black, and Fresh Out of Grad School

November 9, 2015

The academic job search felt like a war, with endless battles. I still shudder at the thought of the countless teaching and research statements sent into the seeming abyss. The hours of self-doubt and criticism. It's unforgiving and relentless, as our most things in this field. Luckily, I survived it -- somehow -- and landed here in the Deep South (Georgia, y'all!)  into a job that fits like a glove.

 

I was really expecting the re-emergence of the impostor syndrome monster  that haunted me in the early years of graduate school. BUT! I am happy to report that its still slumbering soundly. I'm trying my darndest not to poke it with my toe.

check out this cute lil' impostor!

 

If anything, I am glad I was so well-prepared from the beginning for the experience of being a young person of color in academia (see this, and this, or this, and, well, this one too for good measure). Otherwise, I wonder how many hours of potential productivity I'd waste wondering if there was something wrong with me. ::sigh:: What did people do before the internet? 

 

In terms of adjusting, the phrase I get most often is "I thought you were a student." Yes, I am a professor. No, I am not a student. No, hearing how young I look 10-15 times a week does nothing to build my confidence or contribute in any positive way to my achievement as a junior faculty member. In fact, it's actually pretty undermining. In addition to the worries we all must encounter presenting research or leading a class of students, I can add "Are they imagining me shaking a rattle in diapers?" to the list of anxious thoughts that cross my mind. Then try being the only person of your race in a room. If you haven't had this experience lately, give it a shot. You'll experience that delicious cocktail of increased self-awareness and consciousness, that particular buzz of awkward.

 

Anyway, I think it's a trick. When I'm young, I'll deal with the struggles that come along with being young -- perceived incompetence, the additional energy it takes to establish boundaries and credibility with students -- but I also get the good things. I can relate more readily to the experiences they face, the insecurities, and the milestones ahead of them. When I am older, I'' just have to deal with a new set of struggles and strengths. And that's just it -- I'll deal with them.  We'll be fine, but as a friendly public service annoucement, give a new faculty member a hug and tell them how OLD, distinguished, and wise they look. 

 

I am reminded of a therapist I worked alongside a few years ago during one of my predoctoral practicum. She was in her late 20's, but looked younger and her clients noted "We're just so uncomfortable with how young you are." Her cheeky, hilairous response: "On the bright side, I'll be older when you see me next week." Maybe, I should give that a try...See you next Monday. 

 

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© 2019 by Dr. Janelle S. Peifer