Wednesday, April 8, 2015

True Confessions: Not Born to be an Academic

I shocked my wife at dinner tonight.  Somehow, I got started talking about my attitudes long ago.  I guess it is because my daughter does not think she is a good writer when we have seen her do some great stuff.

Anyhow, I told Mrs. Spew two things: that when I was in college, I didn't like to do research; and I also didn't like public speaking.  Sure, I liked acting, but talking about stuff that was not scripted by someone else and memorized?  Oh my.  She really had a hard time buying it, but I was nervous in front of audiences, and didn't like that feeling when I was talking about my own stuff.

When did that change?  Probably at the University of Vermont, when I first started teaching.  I enjoyed the material (Intro to IR) so much that I forgot the nerves.  I still got nervous speaking to groups of professors at conferences, but having information supremacy over the students (I had done the reading and then some) helped remove the fear.  Over time, repetition helped me shake off the nervousness in front of prof audiences (except for job talks where the stakes were high--that never went away).  Of course, this tale is shocking to anyone who has tried to shut me up, which is pretty much everybody. 

About that research thing, sometimes it is still a chore, but when I realized it meant that I could pursue whatever I want, it became less of drudgery to be avoided and more of an opportunity to engage in my curiosity.  I think that shifted in my junior year in college when I had the chance to write my first long piece of research.  Still, research really became fun when I started getting out of libraries and talking to people about it--both interviewing subjects and presenting the findings.

I think the key for both of these things is that when I was in high school, I sucked at anything that didn't interest me (French, music, art).*  Once I found stuff that engaged me more than anything else--International Relations--the research of and the talking about it got much easier and more fun. 
* This does not bode well for me when it comes to administrative work.

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