My mother, who lives about 1500 miles away, just visited for a few days. It was a nice visit, and of course thrilling for my daughter to have her grandmother visit. For me, spending time with my mother always highlights how odd my life is compared to the rest of my family. All of the adult males in my family have been or are involved in The Military and/or Religion as a profession. The adult women of my mother's generation never had careers.
I can accept and understand that they don't understand what I do and why I do it, especially since my research has few obvious relevant applications. What I find a bit annoying, though, is that my family celebrates every promotion step my brother achieves in the Navy, but my promotions to different professorial ranks are of no interest and even seem kind of pathetic to them. They are not sure whether they should be proud of me. After all, it's not as if I'm teaching at Harvard. I think they are also puzzled by my career because:
- Academic promotions are few and far between. My brother gets promoted every few years in the Navy, but my family wonders why my promotions have been so slow to occur. Why did it take 6 years for me to no longer be an "Assistant" professor? (which leads me to my next point):
- The names of professorial ranks are not very impressive. I am sure that this has been written about by many people in the past, but clearly being an "Assistant Professor" doesn't sound very impressive compared to being a Lieutenant or a Colonel. And then, after a few more years and a long involved process, one becomes only an "Associate Professor". My family wondered when, if ever, I would be a real professor.
My promotion to full professor a few years ago coincided with my older brother's promotion to Captain. His being promoted to Captain was a BIG DEAL in my family. There was a big ceremony and a party. My mother was very anxious that I give my brother a present that was suitable for the special occasion. My brother and I have a tendency to give each other joke presents that we think are hilarious but our mother doesn't. I gave him a large chain-saw wood carving of a bear; my promotion went un-acknowledged. I am very proud of my brother and his success, but I told my family that being a full professor was like being an admiral, and maybe one day my brother would get to this level. No one thought that was funny except me.
13 years ago