Sit Down…Be Humble?

Kendrick Lamar Humble

Current events raise the question about the role and function of a history Ph.D student.

Are we acolytes, supposed to absorb from our foremothers and forefathers before spreading our wings to fly from the nest?

Are we proto-scholars, supposed to use this time as an incubation period, where our existing research is refined and defined to lend support to more seasoned scholars?

Or are we emerging academics, supposed to be crafting a voice to speak out and often about how our research touches the scholarly and public communities?

I ask this after reading a question about how grad students (and history grad students in particular) should respond to current events; if people without their doctorates, a full C.V. of papers and conference panels, without a renowned expertise in specific topics have the right (or gumption) to form an opinion in a public space.

Perhaps it’s the public historian in me (shared authority and all that jazz), or being an older student whose background is in art and its public expression, but the finger wags and long-winded ways to say “sit down…be humble” from advanced students bugged the hell out of me.

I struggled often over the past year, and definitely this summer, with what I’m “supposed” to be doing or what I’m “allowed” to do as a student.

Since I work simultaneously with completing my degree, the dichotomy between academia and the workforce gives me whiplash. The process of applying for a job, of working your way up the ladder, hinges on knowing your stuff. In the museum field especially, I’m expected to enter a position for a specific function and to perform at a particular level of autonomy and experience. I was just hired as a manager of a historic site and I am expected to take the reins because my resume says I am capable of leadership.

However, it seems the opposite is expected in the college system? I had an advisor accuse me of thinking I knew everything, which is why they didn’t want to mentor me. An accusation that shocked me, because I don’t think I know everything, I just know what I want to achieve and why, and sought someone who would help me find more productive ways to reach success!

And above all things, I just want to know WHY? What is this process? What is its expected outcome? How is success defined in or by this process? What are my limits in the process and why? How far can I push things?

But I digress.

If, as a graduate student, I am expected to be #1…well…hold onto your hula hoops, as my aunt says. That’s just not me!

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