As a child, I wanted to be a teacher. I remember when my parents first bought an encyclopedia set (do parents buy encyclopedia sets anymore?), and the day they received it I played teacher all day. As a teenager, I attended a summer camp for future teachers, thinking that teaching was a more viable career option than “writer.” When I went into college, I transitioned to “professor” and aimed high for a tenure track position. It wasn’t until I had a newborn and an adjunct position in a new city (and no benefits from my job or my significant other’s job) that I stopped to think whether the tenure track still fit me.
I had to reevaluate my career dreams.
In Kansas City I stepped away from adjuncting, took up a job as a writing center staff member, and finished my dissertation. All the while, I was focused on getting a PhD. That was my goal, and it had been for a long time. After finishing my dissertation I was thrilled to just sit back and let my mind wander for a while. I took a full-time job at my university, and also took on some freelance editing jobs. I kept mentally busy.
It wasn’t until my husband got a job in Houston earlier this year that I thought about my post tenure-track career trajectory: What was I doing? Where was I headed? What would walking away from KU mean in terms of my professional identity? I realized I was a lot more attached to that job than I imagined; it wasn’t just the wonderful people I got to work with (and still miss) but also the idea of stability and direction. I was headed somewhere, and I was working toward something. It was neat. It was clean. It gave me the same feelings I had from my TT dreams, the feeling of moving toward a clear goal.
This year has been one of big changes because of my husband’s job, but the past seven months (since I left Kansas City and relocated to Houston) things went into overdrive for me. My husband’s new job brought me to Houston. I went from my first full-time job to full-on freelance, and some adjuncting on the side. I mentioned in a blog post earlier this year how I felt like I couldn’t see too far ahead of me. Mid fall semester I got to a point where I became comfortable with the idea that I didn’t have to pick a career direction, right here and now. But a job opportunity rolled along late in the semester, an opportunity that forced me to think about those questions all over again: Where am I headed? Where do I want to go? Is this job attuned to my personal and professional goals? And what about the writing?
I admit that I do have the privilege to consider these thoughts without having to worry a lot about my financial situation. When I left adjuncting over two years ago, I did it because we needed some financial stability, not necessarily because of my moral compass. This time, my husband had landed his dream job and a good salary, and that salary allowed me to not worry about immediate full time employment. It allowed me to just write for the first time in a long time. But I still wanted a career, a profession, a trajectory. If there’s one thing my mother and I have in common, it’s that we’re working women (and I sincerely hope that my daughter doesn’t hold it against me that working makes Mama happy), and that my drive was looking for something to grab onto. So I said yes to the new job.
As of this month, I am the new Editor for Women in Higher Education.
Although it is my first time as an Editor for a major publication, my excitement for becoming a part of a publication whose sole focus is covering issues that concern women in higher ed trumped my nervousness about the job. The more I learned about the history of
higher ed the newsletter and the better I got to know the founding editor, the stronger I felt about the mission of WIHE and my role within it.
I recently got to cover my first conference as editor of WIHE, the Association of College Union International‘s Women’s Leadership Institute. It felt weird to introduce myself to people as “the new editor of Women in Higher Ed” and in a way I didn’t feel it was right to claim it since the founding editor was right there with me, showing me the ropes. In my head I felt we were working together instead of me taking the baton and running the rest of the race. But I tried the title on for size. It felt a little big, like when you buy a sweater and it doesn’t fit you just right. I know I’ll grow into it though.
One thing I realized while at the conference was that I am never done thinking about what drives me and what I want to do in my career. I’ve talked in the past few months about writing a book and doing more writing, and now I’m taking on a new job as an editor, but now I think: Where do I see myself in a few years? Where do I see WIHE? Who will mentor me? These are questions the WLI made me consider. Frankly, there isn’t a better time to reflect upon these questions than now.
Here I go.
P.S.: If you are so inclined, please check out WIHE on Facebook and on Twitter. I’ll be taking over the social media soon, so both accounts will be back in action after the holidays. Feel free to tag us in your posts that relate to women and/in higher education. In the meantime, I’m still on Twitter at my new Twitter handle: @lianamsilvaford