Otherworldly Voices

Nov 04 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Earlier this week I was having problems finding my own voice. No, not my inner voice or my writing voice, but literally, my real voice. On Tuesday, whenever I would try to talk, some raspy, otherworldy whisper would emanate from my mouth. I blame my kids of course, those vectors of disease that live in my house, who a few days earlier were themselves emanating raspy otherworldly whispers while they coughed all over my breakfast. Normally, this is not a big deal, after a few days of this my voice usually comes back gradually. But alas, I was scheduled to give my tenure talk two days later (more on that in a bit), plus I had agreed months earlier to give a guest lecture on a large intro class which happened to be on the same day. So that there was no way I could talk for 2 ½ hours unless my voice improved.

What is a tenure talk? In my department it is part of the tenure process that one gives a seminar, open to the public, about everything you've done during the past 5 or 6 years. This allows faculty members who will be voting on your case to get a chance to hear what you've been up to in a format other than what you put in your CV and research statement. So it better be good.

Needless to say I was panicked. I couldn't really back down from the guest lecture but I guess I could have rescheduled my tenure talk. But I was worried that that would look bad – so I decided to stick it out. I have to say that this process is somewhat stressful and I keep second guessing every move. For example, a colleague suggested that it might be a good time to apply for other outside jobs. The logic being was that even if I get tenure, if I have another offer I am in a good position to negotiate the terms of my reappointment in terms of salary, lab space, etc. Also, I get to see what else is out there and maybe get a good offer. Its not that I am unhappy where I am. I like the university, the students, my department and my colleagues. I also like the city where I live, but there might be other places just as good. And also, if I don't get tenure, then I feel like I was pro-active in finding another position. I don't think my colleague was implying that I was in trouble and should be looking elsewhere, at least I hope that's not what he was implying, but I figured what he said made some sense. Also when one prepares a tenure dossier, one basically is preparing the same type of statements and CV that you would for a job application so its not that much extra work to apply for jobs. I'm curious if any tenured folk reading this applied for jobs as they were coming up for tenure.

Anyway, by Wednesday my voice was improving so I decided not to postpone anything and this morning it was almost back to normal. Until I gave the guest lecture. About a third into this hour-and-a-half lecture I felt my voice getting weaker and weaker, raspier and raspier. The room kept getting hotter and hotter and the four-hundred freshmen staring at me kept wondering what was going on. About halfway through I mumbled something about larynxes and ran out of the auditorium, clutching my throat, to get a drink of water. I think I told them to take a little break, I don't remember. I managed to finish the lecture which involved a lot of talk about sex in voles and bats, so no matter how bad one's delivery is, the students always like it because of the topic. After lecture I had a couple of hours before my tenure talk, so I made some tea, closed my office door to rest my voice and promptly fell asleep. I woke up panicked and in a coughing fit. Fortunately my voice was partially restored and I headed down to the seminar room, where my supercool wife was waiting for me with cough drops. So in the end I sort of pushed through the talk, gently whispering into the podium mike about all the cool research done in my lab. I think it went well, but it is always hard to tell what people are thinking. I only saw one person fall asleep, but then again I usually fall asleep in about 60% of seminars, regardless of how good or bad they are. Let's hope that my colleagues thought my research was groovy too.

As far as job applications, we'll see what happens. I asked my chair if I should apply to other places, based on what my other colleague had mentioned. He shrugged his shoulders and said it wasn't really necessary to do so and to stop worrying, but that's easier said than done.

So that's done. I got home and had a few shots of tequila, and now my voice is feeling great.

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