Thursday, August 5, 2010

Drive-Through PhDs and Other Career Choices

The fact of your having been editor in chief for six years of the book division of a scholarly publishing venture has not weighed heavily in your thoughts these past years until yesterday when, at a faculty meeting, you were informed that you were being assigned to teach the course Academic Writing in the Fall.  Your first reaction was the acknowledgement that to the person making out the schedules, the assignment made perfect sense.  You even found yourself nodding in agreement with the logic you'd supposed.  Things began to fall apart after that, the entropy achieving a rapidity that had you using the adverb "rapidly," as in "rapidly fell apart."

The designation of the course led you to understand that it was not at the graduate level, your more customary place for teaching.  Nevertheless, why shouldn't undergraduates learn how to prepare scholarly papers for journals; why shouldn't they in fact read and deconstruct scholarly journals; why, indeed, should they not wish to write things they might find homes for in scholarly journals.

The next plank to be removed from your already shaky platform was the discovery that, like so many of the words tossed about at the meeting, words such as "conversation,"  "window," "cognitive," and "returning learner," the designation of academic writing had nothing to do with publishing, such as your other courses do but rather with teaching individuals to write college-level essays, research papers, and term reports.

Having spent some time on line, examining various curricula at various institutions, you have reached an interesting juncture.  You cannot recall in specific numbers how many books you have published, nor how many essays, nor reviews.  You think the number of published short stories is thirty-two, but it could easily be more.  It is no stretch to say that you have, to use a buzz word from your own publishing background, been a "shirtsleeves editor" for at least five hundred book-length projects, an acquisitions editor for a few hundred more, all these numbers and history preamble to the wonder that you would sweat to get a grade of B in the course you are about to teach, such is the disconnect between the two worlds of teaching and writing/editing you inhabit.

It is one thing to be confident about a book project currently out in submission.  A number of publishers have already invited submission of the entire manuscript based on your proposal, and your literary agent is more than a little taken with the chapters of the novel you are sending her.  The vision of yourself with the academic tables turned is, if not hilarious, just a step short.

You vividly recall a time when a school chum of yours approached you one afternoon with the announcement, "We should be spending more time in the library.  We need to get ready for the PhD exams."  The vividness of your recall of that moment is because of the clear vision of the paths before you.  Less than four months later, a novel completed on legal-sized sheets of onionskin your father found at an office supply company he was auctioning off, you were headed for Mexico and a life that nodded respectfully to the library but which wanted no part of the PhD exams.

Interesting challenges now await you.  You think you remember what a topic sentence is, but just in case:

Topic Sentence

What is the topic sentence?
The topic sentence is the first sentence in a paragraph.
What does it do?
It introduces the main idea of the paragraph.

How do I write one?
Summarize the main idea of your paragraph. Indicate to the reader what your paragraph will be about.


There are three reasons why Canada is one of the best countries in the world. First, Canada has an excellent health care system. All Canadians have access to medical services at a reasonable price. Second, Canada has a high standard of education. Students are taught by well-trained teachers and are encouraged to continue studying at university. Finally, Canada's cities are clean and efficiently managed. Canadian cities have many parks and lots of space for people to live. As a result, Canada is a desirable place to live.

As one of your two mentors told you, "If you want to know how you feel about something, write a book about it."

That has become your study in metaphor for the PhD exam.

P.S.  Who knew the topic sentence was the first one in a paragraph?


Sarah said...

I find myself in a similar situation. I am also going to be teaching things like thesis statements and proper sentence construction. I can write "academically" and have published academic writing, but do I know the correct names of grammar errors? Can I convey what makes for a strong thesis statement, without actually writing it myself? I guess I'll just have to learn...

lowenkopf said...

Let's compare notes, Sarah, it appears we're in this together.

Storm Dweller said...

How to construct a paragraph? This is a bit sad to me, as I go back to a question I went back to during my short stint at the University that I often found myself asking, "Didn't we learn this in high school?" That was mostly in response to logical syllogisms and critical thinking.

If you start talking about the structure of 5 point essays, I may lose all hope for higher education.

(Off topic note: My word verification is swiness. Thing that make you go hmmmmmm...)