Recently, there have been lively discussions amongst those in higher education about professors including “trigger warnings” in their syllabi and lectures to forewarn students when “sensitive” topics may be addressed. Quite interesting, but that’s a debate for another time. Today, I want to discuss a different type of trigger–the “post-ac trigger.”
The post-ac trigger refers to something that sets off an emotional reaction related to leaving academia. Triggers are unique to the person and could be anything (such as seeing a particular person or hearing a certain sound). These stimuli can inspire a cascade of complex emotions ranging from excitement and relief to anger and regret. This is my reflection on triggers.
This morning I submitted final grades for possibly the last time. Usually, hitting that “submit” button inspires an impromptu dance party in my living room. This time, however, was different. I sat solemnly, cursor hovering over the button, as I thought about what hitting “submit” means.
“Submit” means reaching the dead-end of my journey and facing immense amounts of uncertainty.
“Submit” means letting go of an identity I’ve spent nearly ten years crafting.
“Submit” means suffering an academic death. After all, post-ac = failed academic, right?
But even more importantly, clicking “submit” means I lose contact with students. Mentoring students was my entire motivation for pursuing a Ph.D. and now I face a future without them.
Once completed in a frenzy, I now lingered over assigning those grades, finding myself triple-checking percentages and reminiscing about the semester. I must admit, pushing “submit” ached a little.
The past few weeks have been chock-full of triggers:
- The invitation to the department’s “Welcome Back!” potluck in August. My former chair must have forgotten to remove me from the department listserve.
- The e-mail from the Associate Provost asking if I’d like to participate in freshmen convocation again this year. Mental note: don’t forget to send my regrets.
- The stream of calendar alerts for the fall semester faculty meetings. I really need to ask someone to remove me from the faculty listserve…
- Students asking to “friend” me on Facebook. One student said, “since you won’t be teaching anymore, I want to be able to stay in touch in case I need you.” A little intense, but it’s still nice to be needed.
- Registration reminders for the conference I’ve attended annually for the past 8 years. This has been the only opportunity for me to reunite with old friends who are scattered across the country. Now I guess we’ll have to be satisfied with e-mails and Facebook posts.
- A colleague asking for the syllabus and reading list of a class I designed from scratch. No! You can’t have it! That class is a prized possession. Now someone else will be teaching it.
- Facebook posts about friends and colleagues having successful third year reviews, being granted tenure, or moving to more prestigious institutions. I’ll admit, I’m wicked envious.
- Student emails and tweets thanking me for the semester. One student wrote, “I think you’re the best kind of teacher. You really, really taught us–in ways that the knowledge will stick. There’s something rare about you.” I wept for 10 minutes after reading this.
If I wasn’t leaving academia, these events would make me feel good, or not even elicit an emotional response.
“Ugh, more meetings.”
“Sure, I’ll participate in convocation.”
“What will I take to the potluck this year?”
“Aww, that student email was super sweet.”
But knowing that my days as a professor are numbered adds a different layer of meaning, inspiring doleful rumination and grumpiness.
This week I must write my official resignation letter and graduation is on Saturday, so I may have to revisit this theme again.
What are your triggers?