“Ideal Ego and a Career Plan” A Letter from the Dean

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“Ideal Ego and a Career Plan” A Letter from the Dean

“Ideal Ego and a Career Plan” A Letter from the Dean

When Elsa asked me to contribute a column to the Professional Tips Newsletter, I agreed with some trepidation. I’m still one of the “new kids on the block,” as they say, and I’m still navigating my way around the culture of my new home, Bethlehem University. In frenzy, therefore, I rummaged through different books that promised to offer the aspiring career-oriented faculty and staff tips for leading a successful and happy professional life, but I always felt queasy about (self-)help books in general.

After consulting with various colleagues on a potentially good topic for the column, someone suggested I answer the other question I did not address in my “cup of coffee” story (the idea that there is something deep down each of us, an unconscious fantasy, that motivates us to exceed even our own expectations). If I explained why I’m interested in research in that story, she opined, it behooves me now to talk about how I have done it. Motivation is not enough, she stated, and some people may have the motivation, but they still do not know how to do it.

This was a great idea, but there might be a risk involved in re-presenting one’s own career path as a model of sorts. What worked for me might not work for others and my priorities and the choices I have made in my life are by no means a golden yardstick, against which other people’s paths should be gauged. I know too well that there is no mystery to the road I have taken, to echo the American poet Robert Frost, but there has always been an” ideal ego” and a solid career plan underpinning it.

This plan has been rooted in a childhood dream to become a professor of English, even though my family thought I should become a lawyer, since I never stopped talking as a child. This was the “ideal ego” I have constructed for myself early on in my life; it is the way I have seen myself and wanted others to see me. I have endeavored to live up to this ideal image of myself and to the high standards of professional conduct it entails throughout the years.

A big part of re-imagining my professional career in line with this image was breaking away from my past experience as a high school teacher. Before I left to the United States on a Fulbright fellowship to complete my Ph.D. at the Pennsylvania State University, I taught English in high school but I never felt it fit into this ideal ego I have. Do not get me wrong: Teaching in high school shaped my identity as a teacher in many ways, but it worked against my desire to fulfill my ideal ego especially, when it came to research and publication.

Once I assumed my position as a professor, I felt the need to recalibrate my ideal ego to accommodate the triumvirate work of a faculty member. I was no longer expected to teach only, but I was expected to engage in research and publish as well as commit myself to service to the university and the community. I had thus to break away from the traces of high school mentality that lurked beneath. In particular, the time frame that defined my work as a high school teacher was no longer tenable.

I now found myself more and more in need of completing my research and my writing projects on my own private time. During weekdays, in particular, I used to go back to my office in the evening and continue my research and complete writing the research projects that I’d publish later. Well, I signed up for this career and I would not let my ideal ego down in any way, shape or form. The good thing is that I am doing what I love to do as a person, and I’m getting paid for it. I really cannot complain.

Finally, it really helped me that I had a clearly defined research agenda. Since I was involved in issues of diversity on campus in my capacity as Director of the Gender Studies Program as well as the Co-Chair of the Diversity Council, I devised a long-term plan to publish a peer-reviewed academic article on every aspect of diversity I used to work on including, gender, race, religion, nationalism, colonialism, and class. I’d make every effort to write a paper for a conference on one of these issues every year, revise it after the conference, and send it out for publication.

Two strategies helped me here tremendously. First, I tend to integrate my research interests in my teaching. In fact, the most interesting articles I have published came out from my reflections on issues and texts I have taught in the classroom. Second, I had a clear methodology and a solid theoretical framework for developing my arguments. This allowed me to discuss, let’s say, the aesthetics and politics of a certain text in relation to some aspect of diversity mentioned above, only to relink back to the larger picture that has to do with living in a global capitalist world.

Achieving your full potential and ambitions in the career you have chosen is within your reach. The only thing I’d ask you to consider is to rethink your ideal ego and make sure you have a solid career plan that you can develop for yourself.

Best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year

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