Sometimes it's rough being at conferences without my old Impressive University badge. Especially when meeting foreign scholars, most of whom seem to think that "college" means "private high school" (as it often does, I think, in Commonwealth countries?)
And, okay, I applied for a lot of post-docs, and didn't get any. I salve my ego with an awareness that my recommenders knew my long-term goal was to work at a college and probably slanted their letters that direction.
But a liberal arts college job was, indeed, my long-term goal (plus, back then I didn't know that it would actualy be easier to get such a job straight out of grad school than after a post-doc), and there were reasons. Like the balance issue. Teaching is going to be part of any position (stop sniggering!), and I wanted to be someplace where the students were good enough to make it fun and where it wouldn't be viewed as wasted time. I wanted to be someplace where research was expected too, and where the teaching load wasn't so rough as to make it nearly impossible.
I have to admit, though, one of my biggest reasons for wanting to work at a college—one that rose screaming from my subconscious during a recent conversation with a friend at a research university. She was bemoaning the extremely narrow intellectual interests, poor work habits, and grandiose career expectations of her first graduate student. How blunt should she be about the record he will need in the current job market? Should she ask pointed questions about lack of apparent progress? And how firmly should she suggest that the student try reading a new book once in while?
I don't want to advise graduate students. I have a rough enough time figuring out my own life and my own scholarly agenda. Back then I feared having the power to change the direction of students' lives, too.
Now I know that undergraduate teachers can have a huge impact on student's choices—especially at schools like Granolan where we have so much contact with students. (One of our seniors is about to head off to Antediluvian, where I strongly encouraged him to apply. I wonder, though, whether my pointing out Claritin's over-the-counter availability might have had an even bigger quality-of-life impact.) But I still I don't want responsibility for others as they pass points of no return. At college graduation, few roads have been closed off. Our students still believe they can go follow new dreams, and it's usually true.