I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours today with a former student, a poised, accomplished, and beautiful young lady who is nearing the completion of her Ph.D. program and is back in the state doing research. We talked about teaching, scholarship, family, and all kinds of matters of mutual interest.
As she approaches the end of her graduate school career and thinks about going on the job market in a year, she has many conflicting plans and possibilities in mind. What does she want to do? Where does she want to live? What kinds of colleagues does she want to have? Would going back to places she's lived and worked before be a step backward?
I did my best to give her the advice she was seeking, but the truth is that it's very hard for me to put myself back in her shoes. I can call up the memory of that year I spent on the job hunt and the anxiety of wondering whether anybody would want to hire me to do the kind of work I wanted to do, but I can't feel that suspension, that precipice, anymore. In retrospect it just feels as if I was always moving toward what I'm doing now -- there's a kind of inevitability to it all that leads me to believe, at some level, that I was always securely on this path.
Probably that's exacerbated by the way I just floated into the study of religion and into academia, never really stopping to think whether it was feasible. The couple of years where I wondered if the rubber was finally going to hit the road after all that preparation are relatively short in comparison to more than a decade of confidently pursuing my academic specialty without regard to the future.
My student P. has so many gifts; she's already bequeathed them to several students whom I've pointed in her direction when they needed her expertise and experience. I want her to be in a place and among people where what she has to give is valued. It's the idealist and optimist in me, bred of my own incredibly luck breaks, that believes such an outcome is likely, despite the cascade of decisions that have to be made and the scores of people that have to agree to bring it into being.