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Writing Across the Curriculum


Holloway Hall

Help For A Drowning Colleague
Brandye Nobiling
Health and Sports Science Department

It’s Monday. On my schedule it reads, “Research/Planning Day; Office Hours by Appointment”. No classes, just time to work on the overwhelming week ahead for me, a new assistant professor. Mondays are the day I strive to stay afloat in the murky water of the first semester at a new university. This Monday, however, I do not find myself creating a new PowerPoint presentation on chronic and communicable diseases or organizing an in-class activity for my school health reading and methods course. This Monday, I wake up, make coffee, and begin my day of planning as usual. But half-way through creating case studies on bacterial infections of the skin, I find myself interrupted by a drowning colleague seeking counsel on how to teach a new class. Under most circumstances, I would advise for a moment or two, and quickly return to my task at-hand. But this situation is quite different. This drowning colleague is my husband.


As for me, I am in my fifth year of teaching at the post-secondary level, and in my first year as a tenure-track assistant professor. I am experiencing the typical balancing act: prepping four new classes, serving on a number of committees, and disseminating executive summaries and manuscripts of my dissertation in the hopes of future publications to prevent perish in the academy. My days are full, but positive and productive, and I am at ease, as I am realizing I am done (Finally!) being a “student” (in the traditional sense) for the rest of my life. I was buoyant throughout my doctoral program, and, despite the challenging economic times, I secured a promising tenure-track position. I am excited to float for a while.


My husband, on the other hand, is just learning to swim as an academician. While I worked on my doctoral degree, he completed his bachelor degree. Now a graduate student of fine art pursuing his terminal degree (an MFA is the terminal degree in fine art), he is performing the “strokes” needed to be a member of the academy. I perceive myself as an academician with a lot to learn, but to my husband, I am his lifeguard. As he discloses his many anxieties about grading, classroom management, and pedagogy, I survey, striving to catch any approaching dangers.


My husband and I are synchronized swimmers training for the ultimate routine of coordinated professional lifestyles. But we are leagues away from being in step. In theory, being partnered professors appears to be ideal: parallel schedules – both day-to-day and year-to-year, similar educational levels, and moderate incomes. And once both partners endure the full track of tenure and promotion, living with a colleague could be “smooth sailing”. This premise, however, overlooks the daily frustrations that accompany residing with someone who is your partner, both professionally and personally. For example, in typical professor fashion, we usually “forget” to leave work in our offices on campus. Therefore, our house is a collective workspace. As a result, we often find ourselves, at 6:30 am, scurrying around the house, shouting interjections: “I think you grabbed my roster!” or “I hope you didn’t start saving documents on that silver thumb drive; I need that one for tomorrow’s classes!”


We do not expect this ballet to become graceful in the near future. Our next step, as expected, is the hope to dive into a dual-position hire. Even if that epitome becomes a reality, there will be rough waters ahead. We will continue to be forced apart due to conflicting professional obligations such as conference travels or visiting professor invitations. Inevitably, there will be more file mix-ups ahead. But we have to remember that we are partners, in every sense of the word. And, as partners, we accept that our respective roles constantly will shift. At times, I will be the one lifting him out of the water for his time to shine. Conversely, he will be my base, supporting my successes. Together, we will choreograph a routine that works for us. But, until then, we will keep on swimming.


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