GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

The Awkwardness of Multiple Roles in the Academy

In Graduate Studies & Students on 2010/06/02 at 09:00

Guest blogger, Deanna England, writing from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Last week marked the beginning of my Graduate Studies journey. And while I was thrilled beyond belief to have been accepted, I was concerned about the potential for awkwardness resulting from being both a Graduate Studies Officer and Student:

What if the students were uncomfortable as I switched from an advisor and administrator to a member of their cohort and peer? Could they strike the same balance as I must with these conflicting identities? What if the faculty had the same concerns? Could they grade and instruct me while acquiescing to my requests regarding their programs and committees? Could I remember to remain silent when the students were questioning something about which I had confidential information?

I gave myself a firm talking to and decided that I would own this program. I am doing this for myself, and no one else. I couldn’t let the potential for awkwardness bar my way to academic greatness. I was resolute.

Then 15 minutes before class a panic attack of comically epic proportions hit me. What if I failed? What if this was a huge mistake? What was I thinking? I couldn’t escape the idea that I had been accepted into the program because the committee couldn’t figure out how to say no. Did they feel pressure to accept me? How would it look if I quit now? Perhaps I could make up some “emergency”??

I called a friend and she talked me off the ledge. I saw students slowly trickling in, all of whom I knew by face and name. I edged my way into the room and spent an inordinate amount of time settling and choosing a desk. No one seemed to notice.

This gave me courage. My heart rate returned to normal, and I resumed my “resolute” frame of mind. This is my degree, and I can do this. Suddenly it all seemed rather funny. I remembered that I was not the first person to follow this journey, and that really, this is supposed to fun and interesting – not dramatic.

The instructor walked in and chose me to begin the “why am I here” and “who am I” introductions. I voiced my interest and apprehensions and found that I really wasn’t so different from any of them. The class moved predictably along, and I found that no one really cared who I was outside of the room. That was the best revelation of all. None of us were coping or performing – it was natural.

I breathed a sigh of relief and prepared for the next class. I wasn’t sure yet how comfortable I would be in speaking. The first class was primarily an introduction, so this second class would more clearly tell me whether I was cut out for this sort of thing. And of course, I was fine. I had done the readings and even had some insights to share. The professor is a delight, and I practically skipped out of the class with glee.

I’m aware that it’s only one course, and I have three more years to go. And I’m aware that there may yet be a time when I will have to recuse myself from a particular discussion. And I’m aware that awkwardness might yet sneak up on me from an unexpected source. But for now – I’m in love with graduate studies.

Deanna England is currently the Graduate Studies Officer at The University of Winnipeg. She graduated with an honours degree in Psychology in 1998 and worked in marketing and events for seven years before returning to Academia. This year she will begin her Master’s degree in English with a Focus in Cultural Studies exploring chosen cultures including women’s identification with the erotic community including blogs and fan fiction.

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  1. Well done, Deanna! Best wishes for continued comfort and success.

  2. Thanks Trish! :)

  3. feeling some of the same emotions that you have expressed in your post. being a student after being on the opposite side of the teching podium does make one think! graduate studies are great. really studying and learning about the most interesting things. students who have seen the teaching side may treat us in different ways such as not including in the conversation, rather assuming that we know the stuff or asking us to explain a matter when in fact the topic is as new to us as to them.becoming one of the studnets is a goal. yet isn’t it ok to not try to hard to become just like them? sounds to me like you are on your way to establishing a good working relationship with othe other students.

  4. [...] puppy-owner etc. But when it comes to my professional life, I struggle. I’ve talked about theawkwardness factor already – that’s certainly something that defines my sense of self and belonging in the Academy [...]

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