Funding My Theology Habit

It is never a good idea to announce online where you work. People get fired for saying stupid things about their places of employment. So I will not tell you the name of the university. But if you were to guess, “Vanderbilt,” you would be right.

I am staff, not faculty. I do not teach at Vanderbilt the university. I am an educational consultant for a department that offers services to support academically gifted students. What that means is that I help put the classes together. There is a large technology component to my job too, which happened somewhat by accident.

There are times when I miss the fantasy I have of one day being Mr. Holland or Robin Williams’s character in Dead Poets Society, but then I think about my friends. Vanderbilt has one of the top graduate religion departments in the country, and almost none of my former classmates is working full time in academe. We are cobbling our lives together in various ways, a bit of teaching here, a bit of copy-editing there, and so on. I am fortunate to have a full-time job at a university that offers good pay and benefits. Like most people, there are some days when I rail against my job and want to turn in my letter of resignation, but I really enjoy what I do most of the time.

What is hard is finding time to read and write. That is where “professional” academics have the advantage. It can feel like I am in an intellectual desert sometimes. My job involves numerous conversations with very smart people—professors and PhD students—in all sorts of fields. I have really fun conversations about things I know very little about (my favorite is fecal transplants). What I miss are the kind of deep conversations between colleagues that generate rich ideas. I miss the book recommendations, the reading groups, and even the fear that at any point in time my colleagues will find out that I am a complete fraud. That fear is a powerful motivator to work.

As it stands right now, I get up in the morning at 3:30 and try to read/write until 5:00, when I have to get my kids up and ready to drop off at their morning care before heading into work around 7. Writing for 90 minutes at 3:30 goes about as well as one might think, which is often not very well at all. Some days I make good progress. Most days I beat myself up for not doing better.

I know there are a lot of people out there like me, individuals who entered the academy with the intention of staying in it for the rest of their lives, only to learn later that they really couldn’t beat the odds. Given the state of the academy right now, I am pretty sure I made good life choices upon graduation. But finding time to do my scholarship outside of the job that keeps food on the table is a constant challenge. I wonder how others are doing it.


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