Friday, March 14, 2008

The Real Professor

Today a graduate student in the English department asked me if I am a "real professor". It's not the first time I've been asked that, of course, though the episodes in which my realness is questioned have become more rare with time.

I wasn't offended, but only because the student seemed like a nice (albeit clueless) person. I suppose he was wondering if I am an adjunct/instructor or a tenured faculty member, but his choice of words had a rather high probability of offending no matter what the answer. A "real" professor could be offended that her realness was in question, and an "unreal" professor could be offended by the use of the term "real".

There must be better ways to ask this question, though perhaps none that involve a one word adjective modifying the word "professor".

I know nothing of the culture of English departments, but it would surprise me if this question were considered polite (as worded). Perhaps there is a more poetic, inoffensive, and/or mellifluous way to request this information from someone? I welcome suggestions from experts in phraseology, diplomacy, and dactylic hexameter, among others.

Example (from a scientist): What species of professor are you?


Anonymous said...

This is just to say

I am puzzled
that you
are so young
and tenured.

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

What's in a name? That which we call an adjunct by any other word would still grade papers. So FSP would, were she not "tenured professor" called, retain that constant burden which she owes without that title. Oh FSP, doff thy name, and for that name, which is no part of thee, tell us your real one ;)

just kidding, it's more fun anon.

Anonymous said...

Why should anyone be asking these kind of questions in the first place? Let'em look up your title in the university directory if they're so fucking interested.

Dr. Lisa said...

I'd let this one slide - so many humanities departments rely heavily on adjuncts/lecturers. Truly, I can hardly keep in mind the difference between assistant and associate professor, much less adjunct vs. lecturer.

I'm "assistant professor" at one school, "visiting faculty" at another - guess I'm real to some, but not to all!

michiexile said...

Maybe the student thought you to be so complex as to potentially being an imaginary professor - and thus wanted to check that Im FSP = 0.


Anonymous said...

I am often asked, even by the registrar when I drop off grades, if I am a graduate student. I find it amusing and I take it as a complement. It means all that time in the gym is working. (Of course I have a little help from Ms. Loreal...)

Marciepooh said...

In addition to dr. lisa's comment, in my experience science departments use graduate students just to teach labs but humanities departments will use them to teach lower level classes. Three out of four of my English classes were taught by students and a friend of mine getting a Master's in German has taught a couple courses.

Female Science Professor said...

Yes, I know, and as I wrote, I was not offended. I was just wondering if there is a "good" way to ask this question.

ceresina said...

Other than wanting to avoid the legal ramifications of a professor/student romance, I can't think of a situation where the _meaning_ would be polite, no matter how worded or how unoffended the person who was asked is.
That is, what physioprof said.

Anonymous said...

I think the best way to ask this is to ask about rank. I can think of a few situations in which this would be relevant: for example, if someone wants you on their doctoral committee. If you ask someone's rank, then they will say something like assistant prof, associate prof, etc. Unless they are non-teneure track, in which case they don't have a rank, and will reply, "Oh, I'm an adjunct.."

Anonymous said...

"Where do you fit into the U. heirarchy?


The History Enthusiast said...

I'm a history grad student, and I agree with dr. lisa's comment. I've taught my own courses (as a full lecturer) for five semesters now, but I am still a grad student, and so I tell my students to call me Ms. ___.

The undergrads here are really confused by the hierarchy in academia, so I usually have to explain that I am almost done with graduate school--but not quite--so they shouldn't call me Dr. ___.

However, I do understand how the term "real" is a little uncouth. It seems that perhaps one could say: "Are you tenured?" Although, that may hit a sore spot for someone who isn't quite tenured. I don't know.

Perhaps a coy way to get around this would be for the student to say: "Should I call you Dr. FSP?" Then when you say "yes," they'll know you have your doctorate.

Anonymous said...

For those old enough to have seen Max Headroom, I think a good question would be whether you are a real professor or a virtual professor.

Mark P

Anonymous said...

That is similar to the problems adoptive parents get. "Where's his real Mommy??" Depending on my mood I might answer "Right here!", or I might say "Do you mean his birth mother?" Luckily, we do have nice alternative terms: birth parent, biological parent.

I get the "real professor" stuff too, actually, more often than not being confused with a secretary unless I wear my scruffies.

You could rejoin: Are you a real student? Or look down to your arms in mock shock and pinch yourself, saying "Yup, still real!" Or just head on in: Does that surprise you?

Or you could have some Capt'n Crunch thingy in you pocket to whip out, flash by them, and say: Psst, don't tell anyone, I'm under cover.

Actually, they all suck. What would Ms. Manners say? Probably: Yes, thank you. And change the subject.

Dr. Cuba Libre said...

To a certain extent, the politeness of the question would depend on the situation as mentioned by others, but surely one could simply ask "what sort of appointment do you have?" in the appropriate context, without offense. Hopefully, the English student was asking with a sense of camraderie ("hey, I'm a grad student, you look young, must not be 'real' either")

Anonymous said...

I've got one! From English: What genre of a professor are you?

Ms.PhD said...

I like the species or genre wording, for lack of anything better.

I do sometimes find myself asking people what their official job title is.

That way they can explain whether they feel it appropriately reflects what they actually do.

Nobody I've met seems to think "official title" = "sufficient to adequately describe reality".

And some might think a 'real' professor is officially a #$%&.

You know, said with the right tone of voice, "Yeah, he's a real professor."

I still think we should call you Dr. Superhero, Fantastic Blogger and Mentor Extraordinaire.

Anyway English departments spend almost as much time, if not more than, Philosophy or Science departments discussing what's real and what's not.

For example, I'm sure spelling it right, but blogger seems to think extraordinaire is not a 'real' word.

Note also that blogger recognizes its own name, but not the word google.

Who owns who again? Apparently google exists outside of blogger's reality.

Female Science Professor said...

By the way, although I recognize that students can be of any age, I definitely look like I'm in my 40's-- from a distance and/or in dim light, maybe late 30's.

Anonymous said...

While it may be a question of genuine curiosity, the "are you real" query also makes me a bit suspicious of whether the covert message is something more like "do I really have to treat you with respect?" Because, really, why should it matter what a person's rank is?fkuiu

Anonymous said...

There are a number of reasons a student might need to know: in need of an advisor for a project (adjunct and research faculty can't officially advise); letters of recommendation (TT professors carry more weight); looking for a mentor who will be around till graduation (adjunct often have 1-year appts); probably others. I notice no one has suggested any way of asking that might be accessible to an undergrad (refereneces to 'hierarchy', 'tenure-track' are probably gobbledy-gook to an undergrad). I'm an "Assistant Research Scientist", and I explain that I'm not a professor, I am research faculty, and don't teach. I ask people "What type of position do you have?", but I'm not sure an undergrad would.