I would categorize the family I grew up in to be very much in the "not academic" category. We were down-to-earth blue collar folks, a family who worked hard simply to make ends meet. We had few books in the house, and the fact that I wanted to read all the time was seen as strange. Most of those I went to school with were also children of blue-collar types, and I learned to hide my high grades from classmates because it would only ruin my already disastrous social standing.
Going to college and then Seminary introduced me to families + situations that were vastly different, and there was a phase when I was jealous of other people's families because I seemed not to have fit so well into mine. I am thankful that phase has long since passed, and even though I sometimes wish I could carry on a coherent conversation with Matthijs about classical music, I am deeply grateful for my family, especially the love of laughter and life skills that they taught me (and continue to teach me, such as buying a house and taking care of a baby).
I have sometimes beaten myself up that I haven't already finished my PhD: it shouldn't be taking so long since I'm smart enough and lots of other people finish earlier. I don't think it ever occurred to me to see a correlation between my non-academic family and my current academic progress (or why, at forty, I am not currently a tenured professor somewhere). Yet, this article argues that there is a correlation, which then also helps me extend a bit more grace to myself and my (lack of) accomplishments in this area.
One section that especially stood out to me is Herb Childress's description of his own academic progress:
"I graduated with my undergraduate degree in 1989, at the age of 31. Had I come from a college family, I’d have finished my Ph.D. by the time I was 31. Had I come from an academic family, I’d have had half a chance of being tenured at 31."It is those words that gave me the sense that perhaps my failure to complete my PhD before now was not simply about incompetence on my part. Perhaps more played a role, including the possibility that I had brought with me to the academy the sense that I did not belong - a sense that would only have been compounded by being a female in a predominantly male field and studying at a foreign university.
Childress's words regarding how first generation scholars often do not fit well either in their home community or their academic community also resonated with me:
Every first-generation scholar becomes the butt of jokes about not knowing how to do some task like replace a toilet gasket or stack firewood, how to make a good pie crust or a tortilla, because our labor doesn’t really look like labor.. . .
As with any immigrant community, naturalized scholars are never quite welcome in their new homeland, either. We study the habits, master the vocabulary, serve on yet another committee. . . We take nothing for granted; we always think our cover will be blown, our ruse revealed, our passport revoked. My first-generation colleagues tell me that they can never allow themselves to be seen as “that farm girl,” the former truck driver or warehouseman, pretending to be scholars like little children wearing their parents’ shoes. We master the camouflage that keeps us hidden and safe. We smooth out our jarring regional accents, stop telling jokes, take up skiing rather than snowmobiling. We are double agents."The words also make me realize that it is perhaps not so strange that I've found a fit within campus ministry. Not only do those words above describe the unease of first generation academics, they also can be applied to some of the unease that Christians feel when they go into the academic community - or when academics become part of local Christian churches.