Two weeks ago I was in New York City, presenting a paper at the International Legal Ethics Conference. I stayed on for a few extra days in that wonderful city. And (amongst theatre visits, running along the Hudson River, and eating the most gorgeous pizza in Hell’s Kitchen), I visited locations featured in the 1984 film Ghostbusters.
Ghostbusters is a childhood favourite of mine. I must have watched it 100 plus times. It was one of the first DVDs I bought. I quote it at length, at random moments. Last September, when we visited New York for the first time, Mark and I sought out ‘Spook Central’, the apartment block where Rick Moranis’s Louis Tully and Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett live (and – spoiler alert – where the final fight scene with Mr Stay Puft takes place).
This time, I really went for it. I realised my hotel was only 10 minutes from Columbia University, from which Drs Venkman and Stanz are unceremoniously ejected. Next to the beautiful fountain and library steps, the Drs concoct a plan to set up in business as catchers of spectral forces. As a child (and in every subsequent viewing), I saw Bill Murray sitting on a wall outside the Columbia University library drinking from a bottle – and thought he was the coolest human being I had ever come across. I sat on that very wall (and some others just in case I’d got it wrong) and was overcome with pure joy (see photo for said joyfulness – and evidence I’m no good at rubbing in suncream). Later, I went back to Spook Central. And I did a twirl a la Dr Venkman outside the Met Opera fountain – just like many other people it seems! I didn’t do the jumpy foot dance though. Not cool enough for that.
It’s just a film, right? Yes. It is. And it’s blatant nostalgia on my part. I totally accept that. But it means something to me.
So, when I went to see the new Ghostbusters film (the one with – shock horror – women in) I wondered how I would feel about it. I entered the cinema wishing the filmmakers, cast and crew well, not least because of all of the completely unnecessary rubbish they’ve been forced to endure. But I really didn’t know what my reaction would be.
I exited the cinema with one thought. I loved Dr Jillian Holtzmann. Played by Kate McKinnon, Holtzmann is an expert scientist, creating spectacular gadgets and stunning equipment for the Ghostbusters crew. She’s also, as director Paul Feig has said, a ‘glorious weirdo’. She is pure quirk. She says what she thinks without affectation. Her gear (those googles! that jacket!) is thrown-together-stylish. Her stance is empowered and confident, yet she’ll kick her legs up on the table whilst she’s working because, hey, she’s just more comfortable that way. Importantly, she is completely at ease with herself. And clever, successful, inspiring, practical, and innovative. In short, she is all the Professor I aspire to be.
Before I went to New York, I spent every evening frantically drafting my National Teaching Fellowship application. Whilst I was away, the application would go through an internal review process, and it wasn’t until my last day in the Big Apple that I heard the outcome.
Initially, I had deleted the email containing the call for applications. I kept thinking about it, but hesitated. But after being asked for the third time whether I was going to go for it, I finally took the hint, and decided I would.
What made me hesitate? Confidence (or rather lack of) was certainly a factor. I looked at the criteria and the other NTFs and wondered if I was good enough. But alongside this, I had decided that if I was going to write 5000 words about excellence – individual, raising the profile of, and developing – then I wanted to write using my voice, and (to borrow from Frank) my way. In essence, my plan was to let rip the glorious weirdo, rather than create a document which dispassionately observed achievements and goals. And I wondered whether this would be an exercise in futility. Academia has funny old thoughts about writing in your own voice. We reject (and/or perhaps fear?) the use of ‘I’ in our academic work. Our creative, subjective expressions of self seem to get crushed, right from the word go.
But I put this all to the back of my head and got writing.
An example of utilising my own voice? Well, part of the application requires you to evidence your commitment to ongoing professional development in teaching and learning and/or learning support. At first I did what I suspect most people would do and started to list all of staff seminars, CPD days, conferences etc. I’ve ever attended. Then I deleted it, and started again. Because, let’s be honest, some sessions we go to are useful, and some are not. Listing all the sessions I’ve ever been to does not evidence my commitment to ongoing professional development. Quite frankly, all that sort of list does is evidence commitment to attending events which promise tea and biscuits (or sometimes – gasp – cake). So I wrote that (although not the bit about the refreshments). I wrote that I’d started writing a big long list, but that didn’t evidence my commitment to developing my own practice. What really develops my practice? Random conversations in corridors about trying new teaching activities. Going up to a speaker after their conference paper, teasing out the issues, and then following up with an email or phone call to work out possible collaborations. Watching a colleague handle a room of disgruntled, nervous students and replicating her strategies. Catching up over a cuppa (those refreshments again). Arranging a writing day with my PhD Buddy. I wrote about that. Like I’ve just done here.
And you know what? They liked it. In fact, one reviewer said they loved it (!). That bit about professional development – the bit I thought the panel would either roll their eyes at or dismiss kindly as ‘engaging, but not scholarly’ – got the highest praise out of the whole thing. So, I am thrilled to say that my application is now in the hands of the reviewers at the Higher Education Academy. And I am thrilled that it represents me. The proper me. With a large dollop of quirk. And also successful, creative, practical, and clever.
Who are you going to call? Well, that’s easy. Call on yourself – you’re the best person for the job.