What is purgatory for a professor? I suspect it is different for each; isn’t that the point of purgatory? November 2014, I began my purgatory. One of my students, one that I mentored, defended his work… at the defense, he did not display the results of a statistical method according to APA style nor were all the calculated results necessary. One could say, “This was not just your mistake, but your mentee’s.” That makes it worse! The person that I guided made an error due to my lack of oversight! Could there be anything so egregious to a professor! We don’t want to share our ignorance but rather, our insight!
Excuses – yes, I could make excuses. There was a deficiency of understanding by committee members, who did not complete their work prior to the defense. There was my inability to be insistent on following particular protocol. Regardless of pretexts, the end result was the same. My student was humiliated, and I, probably more so. It was my responsibility, my watch. It was my death.
Wikipedia writers note that Purgatory, is an “intermediate state after physical death in which those destined for heaven “undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (August 21, 2015). Officially, I don’t ascribe to purgatory, which comes from Roman Catholic doctrine. However, this idea is very convenient for me albeit changing it around – a bit. I didn’t die a physical death but a metaphorical one.
What I found out about this metaphorical death: I survived! It has forced me to re-evaluate goals, say “no” to some tasks, and emphatically state the appropriate protocol in a situation. Prior to this incident, I would easily capitulate to a person’s insistence on issues where I felt less confident. Now, I pause, think of scenarios, review contracts, ask more questions, and I hope, am a little wiser – seeking out advice of experts. I would like to metaphorically think that I was purified in order to move on, to be a better professor and better person.
I love being a professor, but it is challenging if taken seriously. Many of my friends have noted that I have busted the “mythical bubble of professor-hood” when they see me work. They see my long hours, disappointments, frustrations, and probably not enough of the joys. But, they see that I do the work willingly because I love it. Student successes are the best! I have learned that it is impossible to do all things well, which makes me mad. I want to do all things well, but I have my limits! That sticks! The new academic year begins in 3 days. I have learned important lessons, and am ready to move out of own internal purgatory.