I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships lately. Relationships are everything in your personal life and in your professional life. My work in community/civic engagement depends on cultivating mutually beneficial relationships. As an introvert it takes a lot of energy to develop these relationships but it’s very rewarding.
While there are thousands of higher ed institutions across the country, I’ve always considered the field to be extremely small. I think that’s because so many of us are transient; most of us don’t stay in the same position or institution for very long. When we begin a new role we take our existing relationships with us and build new ones. Higher ed also has a conference for nearly everything. So although we might not see our friends and colleagues in person that often, there’s a pretty good chance that we’ll see them at least once a year at a professional convening.
In mid-October I presented at the Coalition for Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU) conference with my friend from Drexel University. Coming from a nonprofit I find it valuable to present with someone at an institution whenever possible and it’s a great way to highlight their hard work. It some ways this is an unlikely partnership. As much as I loved Rochester, there came a time when I knew I needed to leave. I applied broadly and while I hoped to end up in London, Boston, or DC, I left my options open. I ended up being a finalist for a position at Drexel. I enjoyed the process and while I was not selected, we ended the process on good terms.
Following that experience I saw the woman I interviewed with on several occasions at conferences. We also ended up sitting next to each other on a flight home. I was particularly grateful not to have to sit awkwardly for several hours in tight quarters. Jen and I became friends and years later she and her team put together a strong proposal for an award my organization was offering. (Full disclosure, I was not a judge during the finals). I was excited to work with her to present at CUMU and look forward to our continued work as we develop their program. She’s been generous with her time and her connections and I support her as much as I can. I’m also fortunate to be on good terms with both former employers and look for ways to highlight the work they are doing and offer my time to them whenever possible. I usually see them a few times a semester and sit on panels or host students.
Another aspect of the small-ness of higher ed is the personal relationships you develop with your colleagues. Few things bond you like writing a 40-page thesis paper, long grading sessions, or on-call duty rotations into the wee hours of the morning. As with most professions, we tend to spend more time with our co-workers than our family and that is most certainly true in this field. Your co-workers can either make or break your work life. I don’t know if the data exists but it would be interesting to see the statistics on higher ed professionals dating one another. I think they would be especially high on the faculty and student affairs side.
Humans are social beings and we (hopefully) learn from past experiences. We carry these experiences and relationships with us. There’s no getting around that, especially in our small field.