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Autumn Update and Some Musings on Academic Titles

Well now. Since I last posted, The Book has been published, hurrah. It’s been nice to receive some email responses as well as to hear through the grapevine that some reviews are in the works. There are a whole list of online places to find it (including alibaba and walmart [?!]), but it’s always nice to ask the library or the local bookshop to obtain a copy. I’ve since spotted a couple of silly translation errors, grr grr grr, but for the most part, it’s a satisfying feeling to finally have this monograph in hand.

The 4th Asian Borderlands Conference Call for Papers has now been posted (deadline 1 February 2014), with the theme, “Activated Borders: Reopenings, Ruptures, Relationships.” It will be held in Hong Kong in December of 2014, and so far, City University of Hong Kong has been fantastic in helping to organize the event. Looking forward to it already. I’ve also just applied for some funding to do a project on mobility and small international airports. It’s somewhat of a new direction for me, but I’m extremely excited about starting a fresh project. I sort of feel like my research is heading in a more coherent direction this time around. Or maybe it’s just because I’m getting older and I’m finding any kind of jargon more and more unpalatable.

Here’s a segue related to air mobility and border crossing: I travel to the UK a lot, and when I enter the aircraft, the flight attendant occasionally sees my title on my boarding pass and says something like, “Welcome DOCTOR Harris!,” to which someone behind me will sometimes comment, “Glad we have a doctor on board!” To which I end up replying, “Er, not that kind of doctor” – or when I’ve had a particularly difficult week, “Not the useful kind, I’m afraid.” This kind of exchange always calls to mind a story from a colleague in sociology, perhaps a little apocryphal, but certainly not unbelievable. During one long-haul flight, he was summoned on the PA system to head to the front of the plane. There he found a man in distress, assisted by a couple of flight attendants who looked relieved when he arrived. He suddenly realized that someone must have seen his “Dr.” title on the passenger list, and said it was the only time where he felt truly useless, and that he wasted his career. He also mentioned that the thought ran through his head that he only would have been able to help had it been a sociological emergency. It turned out that a medical doctor was on the plane as well, and my colleague was able to hold the person’s hand and talk to them until the MD arrived.

When I fill in my UK landing card, I have learned to write “lecturer”, as I am not a “professor” in the UK context. Yet I am a professor in the US, while “lecturer” normally refers to a non-tenure-track position. “Assistant professor” is the usual equivalent in North America, but in other international contexts I’ve been told that it sounds like you just assist the professor, “hold her briefcase or whatever.” And my official title in Dutch is Universitair Docent (UD), which translates to “university lecturer” in English, but is part of yet another complicated nation-specific system of institutional title-hierarchy. It also means that I don’t get to wear my puffy tasseled velvet 8-cornered hat and Dumbledore-y robe at a PhD defense (not that I mind). Only full professors get to do this in the Netherlands, whereas in the US, professors of all ranks often wear regalia for most graduation ceremonies. I don’t care so much about titles or regalia, but what I am interested in – and fascinated by – is international miscommunication based on the translations of titles. “Docent” in Dutch can translate as “Teacher” in English when it is a non-research tenure-track lecturing position, but I doubt that many UK or North American job applicants would apply for the job if they just saw it was for a “Teacher.” And, what’s further, if someone from the US is asked what they do for a living and they say they “teach,” this can apply to teaching anywhere, in a primary/elementary school all the way through postgraduate level. This is much less common in a UK context – you “teach” at a primary school, but “lecture” at a university.

Anyway, these are just some minor musings based on travelling between three different countries for both academic and family life. I’ve dug around a bit and found some articles that explain these situations a lot more succinctly, especially this guest blog post by Veronica Davidov on the Dutch academic job market on Karen Kelsky’s site “The Professor is In,” and a post on international academic titles on my favo(u)rite linguistics site by Lynne Murphy – “Separated By A Common Language,” concerning the differences between BrE and AmE.

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