Pittsburgh: My Road Most Traveled and Loved
I am happy to update this site after quite a long hiatus. The last time I posted anything on this blog was in May of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic had a solid grip on the world. My focus shifted entirely at that time. Professionally, things immediately turned upside down for me when restrictions emerged, too.
Prior to that, I had needed some time to recenter after being in school for, quite literally, the majority of my life. I took a couple of semesters to breathe before jumping into an intense job search. "Two semesters, and then I'll start the process," I told myself, and with that swift declaration I had my post-doctoral plan.
In general, I just needed a break. Physically. Professionally. Academically. Spiritually.
I continued working a part-time faculty position at a local university while planning my next steps. The two semesters passed, and then all hell broke loose. 2020 presented me with some of the most character-building events that I could not have seen coming. Every ounce of my tenacity and perseverance would be needed for the rocky road ahead.
At the start of 2020, I had several interviews for jobs, and things were going well. All of this was happening when COVID was gaining momentum in February and March, creating a vortex of societal crisis. My invitations for campus visits were canceled due to mandated shutdowns. Most universities switched to remote instruction as well. Soon after, most of the job postings were canceled altogether (including positions for which I was being considered). It felt like a professional checkmate, because I knew that time is of the essence in academic life. I had taken "time to recenter" only to find myself in the middle of a pandemic, a year out from finishing my Ph.D., and not sure how my career would survive.
This tectonic shift placed me somewhere in an academic wilderness—i.e., nowhere near the "center" I had sought to reclaim.
Of course, in the parallel narrative, the omnipresent threat of death and devastation reminded me to refrain from feeling sorry for myself. I had much for which to be grateful. I made sure some of my more vulnerable family members had groceries and supplies every week. It turned into a system of intentionally caring for others as best as I could. (I think I have always made efforts to show care and concern, but this was a more urgent and important matter in comparison.) My checking-in-on-loved-ones system was on autopilot and working well for a while, and then came the news that my beloved father-in-law had an inoperable brain tumor. Glioblastoma.
Without too much disclosure, I can say that I had been estranged from my own father for many years, and my father-in-law was like a surrogate father figure to me since I was 19 years old. In more recent years, I would often ask his advice as I worked through my doctoral program. He had built a successful career as a surgeon and otolaryngologist, and I appreciated his insights on a life dedicated to one's craft. As an immigrant to the US, he worked with great persistence to achieve his career goals.
He was always happy to talk with me and share his stories. One time, when I expressed that I was considering leaving the Ph.D. program, he said, "No, you can do it, and it's important to finish what you started!" He was matter of fact like that sometimes, and I honestly needed to hear it that way. I needed to hear it from him. During one of our conversations, I could see a light behind his eyes as he said, "Wait, I have something to show you!" He disappeared to the other side of the house to grab a little plaque displaying a poem titled "Persistence." After I read it, he pointed to it and told me, "See, that's really important!" Thankfully, I got the message.
*This is an excerpt from the list of acknowledgements in my dissertation:
To my mother-in-law, Lita, and father-in-law, Lito, you have been extremely
supportive as I worked on this doctorate. Salamat sa paniniwala mo sa akin.
My mother-in-law gave the plaque to me after he passed away in November of 2020, and I keep it on my desk as a daily reminder. I was a main caretaker for him in his last few months with us. As it turned out, I had not moved away for a new job due to the shutdowns, and I was able to be fully present to help.
After our family's terrible loss, my husband and I stayed with my mother-in-law for around seven months. Sometimes it was both of us; sometimes we took turns. The final month was mostly my husband staying overnight because I started to develop a concerning health issue, and I also spent some time with my sister and niece who had come from Texas to visit. It was really special to see how my niece, Aashi, interacted with my mother-in-law. She calls my mom "Nonni," for "grandma," and she adopted the name "Tita" ("auntie") for my mother-in-law. Together we celebrated my sister, mom, and mother-in-law for Mother's Day 2021. That visit was a bright moment to cherish after experiencing so much sadness and chaos the previous year.
I am very close with my mom and sister, and I have a special bond with my mother-in-law as well. Over the years, I have felt like we sometimes communicate like sisters more than "in-laws." While I was staying at her house, I discovered a posting at a university that had always been a dream job location of mine, the University of Pittsburgh. Because it's an R1 university, I knew the competition would be enormous, but I felt an innermost push to apply. That week, I updated my portfolio materials, and my mother-in-law would listen each night as I presented my revisions to her. She encouraged me to send it when it seemed complete, and I did!
That summer, which by that point was mid-2021, I was offered the position. Since then, I have been working full time as a visiting lecturer in the English department at Pitt. The experience has been almost magical. (That might sound like hyperbole, but it is totally true.) In just two semesters, I've accomplished a list of academic goals, including being accepted into a fellowship program this spring. With an unofficial renewal already in place (I just have to submit some forms to follow protocol), I am looking forward to making my second year a time of immense professional growth. I have also applied for a second fellowship program for next year. Other items on my to-do list include moving my publishing agenda along, which has been a bit slow-going because I have been immersed in navigating my new role and working on pedagogical research on metacognition during my first year.
In retrospect, I think Pittsburgh has always seemed to call to me over the years. For instance, after finishing my master's degree, a friend had asked if I would like to sit in on a class with her at Duquesne, and I enjoyed it. A few years later, I applied and was accepted. My studies went extremely well there. It is a well-respected program, and it reshaped who I am academically and professionally. Interestingly, my academic road continues to lead me to Pittsburgh!
At this point, I can see that the past couple of years have brought some tragically sad events but also some fortunate personal victories. I wanted to share my personal 'ups and downs' of life as part of my return to updating my public postings, as I am not really the same person I was even just a couple of years ago. Life has presented some tough lessons, to put it succinctly. My purview has evolved.
Additionally, for those of us in academia, we endure the 'ups and downs' of academic life, too, and I hope my story can give some people encouragement not to give up when turbulence rocks the journey. (To anyone struggling with this challenging academic job market, my advice is to stay hopeful and keep trying.) I was a first-generation college student who grew up next to a steel mill graveyard. Now, I'm working in a position that I absolutely love. I do not know if this feeling constitutes being "at center," but it feels pretty close.
To honor the opportunities before me, I continue to focus on the philosophical notion of "becoming." I also focus on the act of service in very intentional ways. Additionally, despite the restrictions due to the pandemic, I have continued to connect with academics from places near and far through collaborations on academic work. I do not know precisely what the future holds as I turn the corners ahead of me, but I remain hopeful that there are new 'magical' moments on the horizon. Through it all, the concept of "persistence" that my father-in-law lovingly reminded me to tap into will always remain in my heart.