Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sibling Promotion Rivalry

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.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I can identify with this sort of thing. I have no siblings but my parents put more interest into my boyfriends science career than mine, despite the fact that we are at the same level with identical qualifications. On the phone they ask how he is doing at work, and not how I am doing...he get's a publication, huge deal, I get one, no big. My take is that they think this is what I do until child bearing starts, until then I'm just playing at having a career.
I also know that they don't understand academia one bit, no comprehension of the motivation to do obscure research or to want a career rather than a simple 9-5 job. Doesn't help though.

Ms.PhD said...

Well, congratulations after the fact from me. I'd happily adopt you into my family and throw you a big- though much belated- promotion party.

My younger sister makes a lot more money than I do. My family responds to her increasing success the way yours responds to your brother's. So I can definitely imagine how that feels.

I suspect I would hate your family, though. I hate the military and can't understand the mentality at all.

I think the whole Named Promotions thing is a bit like getting little gold stars in school. If you're doing it for the sticker, you're doing it for the wrong reasons. And if you're impressed by that, you're also probably impressed by Hollywood and appearances in general.

Your achievements, no matter what they're called, are more than skin deep. It's too bad your family can't see that.

Ms.PhD said...

p.s. Propter Doc, that's horrible! I hope your boyfriend is at least very supportive of you and your publications.

Dr. Brazen Hussy said...

Yep. Although I am a postdoc and no longer a graduate student, my parents still refer to it as "school" and not "work." I think they're just generally baffled by the whole thing.

(Propter doc, that IS awful!)

Ianqui said...

Wow, that story makes me pretty sad. I'm not sure if my parents would really understand our promotion system either, but I know that they'll get it when I get tenure and be proud of me. Well, at least your readers recognize your success, and though it seems long belated, congratulations!

Anonymous said...

A few years ago my father was complaining that one of my friends (same age as me, son of his friend) had a "real" job while I was staying forever at school: I graduated from my PhD for my 26th birthday, and then went on for two years of postdoc, while my friend got a job as an analyst programmer (with a chemistry background) when he was 23.

I angrily argued that I had a "real" job, and even a better one than the friend in question, in the sense that I love mine and he hates his, to no avail. Only later, my mother, who is teaching in primary school, told me that my father does not consider her job "real" either...

Anonymous said...

My advisor actually gives out literal, physical, embodied gold stars in lab meetings. To people between the ages of 20 and 40. Works great, let me tell you.

Propter Doc, my in-laws are the same: my (male) spouse is a big deal, but why the heck am I not in the kitchen?

And I think the bear/ admiral thing is hilarious!! Full speed ahead, Admiral Professor!

Frank said...

Maybe you could get a position in Germany? Then you could hit them with a "Frau Doktor Professor" and who could NOT be impressed with a title like that, especially said with a heavy German intonation. *LOL*

Anonymous said...

I'd be curious to know whether or not your brother accords you respect for your accomplishments, even if your parents don't.

Female Science Professor said...

No. My brother and I get along just fine, but he's not that interested in the details of my career.

Brian said...

What you should do is translate the academic ranks into a number system, then wear some type of insignia pin on your clothing and hats...and have your students salute you when you bring your mom around :)

Anonymous said...

My sister and I are both in the physical sciences, and she has always felt that our family ignores her achievements, while I've always felt that our family couldn't be more supportive of my career. I can only offer a guess as to why we get such different treatment: I always try to explain to people about my work and my goals, even if they don't have a clue. At some point, my family grasped the concept that when I tell them I got some great results from my experiment, or another paper published, that this is a big deal to me, and they can see how happy I get when certain events happen. After a while, they started asking me about the things I've mentioned to them before, and it can be a real morale boost. My sister, on the other hand, doesn't ramble on about her work like I do, and I don't know why. Perhaps it's not a proper thing for a woman to tout her achievements and failures so openly, and I am just too socially inept to figure out that I am not following cultural expectations.

I guess I'll be spending the next N years patiently explaining to my family (through many repetitions if necessary to get my point across) what tenure is about and why I want it, so that if I am lucky enough to get it, I know they'll be waiting to congratulate me. Call me self-absorbed, but I need all the support I can get, and I will make sure my family has enough information to be able to offer me the kind of support I want.

Anonymous said...

undergrad = Ensign
grad, pre-quals = Lt. Junior Grade
grad, post-quals = Lt.
grad, ABD = Lt. Commander
postdoc = Commander
assistant professor = Captain
associate professor = Rear Admiral lower half
professor = Read Admiral upper half
distinguished professor = Vice Admiral
professor emerita = Admiral

It actually works out rather well. Though I'm not sure what to do with adjuncts, lecturers, and so on---maybe they're Captains on a different career path.

(I know this post is old, but I've been poring over your archives and I couldn't resist commenting on this one as a career academic with a sister in the Navy.)