Walking the Line, part 1: Humility

Each year, as I make my final preparations for teaching, I reflect upon the fine line I must walk over the next nine months. As a junior member of staff, as an immigrant (gasp!), as a woman, as a 20-something, as a chatterbox, and as a human being navigating a sea of new faces and ever-changing expectations and rules, I find that this line has become no less difficult to travel. One the one hand is authority, the desire to express my competence and my right to be at the front of the room. On the other is humility, the little voice that reminds me what it was like to be a first-year student and how absolutely terrifying that first week really is.

This week, I have tried my best to focus on the latter. Rather than assert my professional gravitas with incoming students, I attempted to make myself as approachable as possible. I arrive early in order to chat with the first arrivals in the hallway and offer self-deprecating stories of my own lack of navigational prowess. After three years, I still do occasionally manage to get lost on my own campus. This approach is aided tremendously by the fact that I am still often assumed to be an undergraduate myself. Whether this is because I actually look 20 years old (doubtful) or my years of study have simply imprinted a permanent ‘student aura’ upon me is irrelevant. What matters is that I am, hopefully, able to establish a collegiate relationship with my students before ingrained teacher-pupil protocols kick in.

The other, perhaps more important, method for keeping myself humble it to re-read my own first- and second- year essays. I graduated Summa cum Laude as an undergraduate. I earned a Distinction for my MA dissertation and continued straight into my PhD, which I completed in three years. I was a very keen student. But this does not mean that I did not write some truly horrific papers. The following is an extract from one from the beginning of my second year:

Besides social curiosity and patronage to finance scientific discovery, political and military consideration were also taken into account in the burgeoning age of science. The most obvious example of this was in the field of cartography. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were great times of regular travel for Europeans, both eastward to the Spice Islands and westward to the Americas (135). Although trade routes had already been established, unreliable information on locations led crews to take extraordinary detours to reach their final destinations. In voyages that were already guaranteed to be months long, accurate and time saving maps could be the deciding factor of who would reach, the therefore control, a richly deposited locale first. It is therefore not surprising that European governments offered great rewards for those who could accurately and consistently calculate longitude (14). Latitude having been properly established by the astrolabe and cross-staff (134), longitude was still needed in order to properly assess location. After agreeing that a celestial event would could be observed at different longitudes at proportional times (136), an eclipse seen in France could be seen in Canada some hours later, a variety of methods were used. Notable of these was the French method of using the eclipsing moons of Jupiter, or Medicean stars (136). For methods such as these to be accurate, several other fields had to be vastly improved. Clocks that would keep consistent time far from home were necessary to describe to the time change (136). Pendulum clocks, which required prestigious care (149) and often lost time around the equator, gave way to spring balance clocks. Portable but powerful telescopes were also necessary. Huge observatory telescopes became increasingly compact for easy storage and setup on sailing vessels. Therefore, the simple economic need to have reliable sea and star maps led to the birth of modern cartography, which in turn required the growth of chronography and optics fields.

Yes, I used parentheses instead of footnotes. Yes, I only used one source for that entire paragraph. Yes, the grammar and syntax are extremely poor. All I can say is:

Dr Amy Froide, if ever you should read this, please know,
I am very, very sorry.

Thus humbled, I am ready to begin the year anew.

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