During my last quarter as a undergrad I was enrolled in independent study with a favorite (and well-known) professor. It was an easy way to get credit–we met every two weeks while I was doing research and writing an academic paper about my findings.
Our meetings usually lasted between 30 and 45-minutes, during which time we’d talk about the paper, but also about what my post-graduation plans were. Having earned his PhD in Sociology, and taking a particular interest in news media, he delighted in knowing that I wanted to be a writer some day.
For our last meeting he decided we should go on a field trip. To be honest, I felt a little anxious about it. It’s one thing to know your professor in an academic setting, and an entirely different thing to spend time with them off campus. (I’m not suggesting it isn’t normal to do so, because I think at certain universities and for certain kinds of teachers, it’s very normal to interact with students like that.) When the time came to go on our excursion, we got into his (very nice) BMW and set off to our destination.
Truth me told it ended up being rather uneventful because when we showed up we were told we had needed to make an appointment to speak with an official of the location. Discouraged, my professor tried to finagle our way into the office, but alas it was a wash. Not totally defeated he suggested we go out to lunch and turn the afternoon around; I agreed.
We ended up getting Vietnamese food to-go and ate it as we drove back to school. Probing me for a little more information about my career goals, I mentioned that while I did love writing, I was also considering working in higher education as a counselor, and that I wanted to work on a college campus while I earned my masters.
Like I said, he’s a well-known professor, so I wasn’t surprised when he told me he knew someone at Stanford University (in the Bay Area, where I’m from).
“You know I know someone in the Sociology Department at Stanford. I could pass along your information to him, and see if he knows of any job openings.”
Me: “Wow, thank you, I’d really appreciate that. Stanford is a great school.”
“Yeah, and if nothing else I think he has a few kids, maybe you could be his babysitter.”
Stunned is the best word to describe what I felt when he said that. Really? A babysitter? Babysitting is what I did when I was 16-years-old. Before I worked my ass off and earned a degree from a top-flight institution. All I could think at that moment was, Would he ever say such a thing to a male student in my position? And of course I know the answer to that: no.