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Academic Coaching & Writing

VII. An Academic, Writing: Probing Coaching Questions

Jan 09, 2013 by Lee Skallerup Bessette

The first things I received from my Academic Coach, Moira Killoran, were a series of forms and questionnaires related to my goals and vision for working with her. Most of the questions were easy: what my project is, what I was looking to get from the experience, what challenges I face when writing, etc. But then came a series of questions that I wasn’t prepared for, questions that challenged me to think about my personal and professional identities.

Academic Coaching Questions

I put off answering the questions for a while, and finally when I tried to answer them, I had difficulty answering more than one or two questions at a time. The questions forced me to confront some uncomfortable truths about my attitude towards my career and my life at the moment. Where did I see myself in five years? What would I do if money were no obstacle? What needs to happen in my life for me to see it as a success? What do I see as my role in my community? These questions cut to the heart of who I am right now as an academic off the tenure track.

However, a good academic coach needs to do this: get right into my current state-of-mind. I’ve never been one to mince words, so I was honest. I won’t get into all of the details here, but I feel pretty comfortable sharing the basics of my answers. I am frustrated at the moment with my current professional position. I have hit a professional ceiling at my current institution, teaching in an area that is outside of my expertise. I got into academia because it allows me to do the three things that I love: read, write about, and teach literature. However, in my current role, I don’t teach literature and have little time to research and write about literature anymore. Not to mention that there is no upward mobility.

My current position also doesn’t leave me a lot of room for self-care. I tried to start swimming again this fall, only to get sidetracked by my life, professional and personal. The pool is where I feel most at ease and at home. If money were no object, I’d teach, write, read, swim, and advocate for real change in higher education, especially in how it treats non-tenure-track faculty. I have trouble seeing my place in any community, academic or otherwise, because I wear so many different professional and personal hats, but also because my husband and I have moved around so much because of our jobs. I teach writing in an English department, but my research and writing is about postcolonial authors in both French and English. Neither my research nor my teaching matches the English literature job descriptions.

Mostly, I struggle with self-doubt, which influences every aspect of my academic identity. It strikes me when I try to write and find myself wondering, “what’s the point?” I know that I want to do my research, that it brings me great joy, but I also wonder, ultimately, what difference any of it will make for my career? Or what difference any of my teaching and advocacy will make? I know that these thoughts are neither healthy nor helpful, but they are always there, sometimes more prominent than at other times. I hope that my coach can help me with strategies to negate or at least minimize their impact on me.

I wonder if Moira knew what she was getting into when she agreed to coach me over the upcoming few months.

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