How I #KeepJoyInScholarship on the Tenure Track

When my friends Micah Goodrich, Bre Leake, and I came up with the #KeepJoyInScholarship hashtag on Twitter, I was fairly new to my job. I was in my first semester of my first year at Rhode Island College, after a year as a teaching post-doc, and I was learning to navigate life as a tenure-track assistant professor. Part of our initial conversation was about this, and the hashtag remains a reminder of balancing various aspects of my job.

Micah recently put out a call to embrace the hashtag again and I’ve been thinking about it lately. Now, standing on the edge of summer, just after grades have been submitted, I’m reflecting on what it means to #KeepJoyInScholarship after the dust has settled from what has been my craziest academic school year.

Looking back at my tweets with the hashtag, I find that they revolve around similar themes: the community of medievalists (especially on social media), research and writing, and seeing students engage with their learning about medieval subjects. I want to write about the first and last of these, plus another way that I’ve found joy in my work on the tenure track.

As a lone medievalist, I’ve found social media to be a great place for community. The transition from being a graduate student in a Medieval Studies program with great community to being the only medievalist on campus has been challenging. I love my colleagues. We have great conversations about work and our lives outside of work. But I still look for medievalists to discuss medieval things.

Fortunately, Micah and Bre keep in close contact and we often share work. Many other medievalists I know have been generous with sharing work back and forth, too. I also find sharing my own thoughts via this blog to be helpful, and I have great conversations with #medievaltwitter. I’m grateful for the network that exists

Teaching has taken many turns for me over the years. I taught First-Year Writing throughout my MA and PhD, with many different types of content as my hook: non-fiction, fairy tales, gender identity, satire, and medieval and early modern literature. At RIC, I teach a wide range of courses, including an Introduction to Literary Analysis course for all English majors; British Literature to 1700; lower level general education courses, and upper-level courses like Medieval British Literature, History of the English Language, and the senior capstone course. And I find that there’s a different type of joy in each of these.

I especially find joy in the fact that my range of teaching both keeps me rooted in medieval topics and gives me freedom to explore other types of literature. In my Literary Analysis and general education courses, I often avoid medieval literature altogether (except for in my Vikings! course) and take the opportunities to teach other texts that I enjoy.

Every semester, I choose a piece of literature I’ve never read and put it on my syllabus, tackling it as a new experience like my students do. A few times, I’ve run a class nomination and voting process to choose a book that we all read together for the first time at the end of the semester. Some of these titles have included Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, poems by Sam Sax, Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds,” Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, and G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel. All of these have been a joy to read and to teach.

I also find ways to keep joy in my work from other outlets, such as service–which many people dread. During my first few years at RIC, I’ve been fortunate in getting involved with service to the college that I care about. The most exciting part of this has been my involvement with our common reading program, Open Books – Open Minds (OBOM). In many ways, this has intersected well with my teaching.

In the past two years, our common books were Diaz’s Oscar Wao and Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, both of which I’ve taught multiple times while at RIC. This past semester, I also taught next year’s selection, Coates’s Between the World and Me, and I’ll certainly use it again this coming year.

It’s been difficult to view OBOM only as service because it’s been so helpful to getting involved with the RIC community. The OBOM co-chairs to this point have been colleagues from my own department, and I’ve forged friendships with them both. I’ve enjoyed working with students reading out common books in my classes.

The program has given me other community opportunities, too. This year I organized a film series based on this year’s selection, which I’ll continue in the future. Helping with the Student Conference for the past few years has allowed me to see some wonderful student work come out of the program. This summer, I’ll take on a new role as a co-chair, since one of my colleagues will step out of that position when she goes on leave in the spring. I’m looking forward to a lot more joy in this role.

How we find joy in our work matters. While on the tenure clock, I’ve found that it matters in different aspects of my job. It also matters to step back and reflect on that process, and on the balance of different activities. At least, for me, that’s one way I’ve found to #KeepJoyInScholarship.

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One comment

  1. Hi Brandon,

    This is good to hear, and I cannot begin to express how important it is to keep a hold of joy in your life and work now that you’re on the tenure clock. I wish I had some wise words for you about how to do so. I certainly did not do a good job of seeking joy and holding onto what little was there, and it nearly cost me everything. That’s the bad news. The good news is that finally earning my tenure has released an avalanche for pent-up enthusiasm that promises to make the next few years very interesting indeed. You have to find your sources of satisfaction and don’t let anybody take them away from you. It gets tough as the years go on, but you can refuse to let it drag you down. Community is what I was missing, I think, and having a good colleague somewhere in the country to get weird with would have made all the difference in the world. Also highly recommended: have a strange pet project that makes no damn sense, doesn’t really connect to anything, and seems out in the weeds somewhere. Whatever time you can give that will be refreshing and regenerating. Finding joy in teaching is another great thing to do — it really was the only thing keeping me hanging on. But it alone is not enough. You have to have something in your life that makes energy —or renews energy— or things can get dark. But you are already flush with good things: it sounds like your school is decent, you have many colleagues, the Judith project is great & important, family is good too. Play with all the toys as much as possible.

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