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Monday, July 25, 2005
Brief History of A Little Professor

When I was 16, I started working at a bookstore in my hometown called "The Little Professor." It was a tiny bookstore tucked into a tiny space in the mall, jam-packed with magazines, trashy romance novels, books by moderately-famous midwesterners, foreign language dictionaries, and messy tables of bargain books no one really wanted. I remember filling out the application and typing up my resume (including, naturally, all of the courses I'd taken in high school as well as references from families whose kids I'd watched -- very impressive stuff). I remember the interview, when Wayne, the manager, said that my application stood out because it was typed. He wanted someone who could type. I got the job and soon knew everything in that store, top to bottom. I loved that place; I cried when I had to leave.

When I was 19 and in college, I worked at a Barnes and Noble Bookstore. I helped set the new store up before the grand opening, I mastered the art of the staff recommendation, I learned clever ways to help customers search for the latest books featured on "Oprah." I loved working at the store's Information Desk -- I loved having the ability to find whatever people wanted, to be able to deliver something wonderful to them, something they really wanted. I loved being able to tell people, "Well, that book went out of print in 1985... but I know a little place that might be able to find you a copy." Or, "That book was published by a small press in Nova Scotia... let me call them and see if they have any left, OK?" It was a satisfying feeling of power and customer service. I just loved knowing things. I loved having answers and making people happy.

Having answers is what my life has been about.

From the time I was in high school (even before I worked at The Little Professor), I wanted to be a professor. Of something. I remember sitting in Dave LaShomb's AP Comparative Government course in 11th grade, and he was relaying a story about a man who was pursuing his Ph.D. in physics and became so frustrated and depressed that he flung his entire incomplete dissertation off a bridge and quit the university. That appealed to me -- that weird sense that I should try it, that I should drive myself to that brink. At that time, I wasn't even quite sure what getting a Ph.D. entailed, but I was sure that I wanted one. I was sure that I loved to study, loved to read, and mostly loved to write. I wrote all the time, and I was always told that I was good at it. It made sense.

So, I began. I went to college, received my B.A. (double major, of course). Studied abroad in Europe. Moved out west, studied for my Master's degree. Got married to the love of my life. Moved back to the Midwest to begin my Ph.D. Bought a house. Had a baby. The only thing that is missing is the very point of the entire journey: the doctorate, that pinnacle of "knowledge."

I know a lot of things. I can tell you a bunch of things that you might not want to know; I can cite books and articles. I can do some statistics, although I'm very slow at it, even with the computer's help. I can string together coherent sentences that sound beautiful and sometimes even have a point. I can pass any exam you put in front of me. I can even pass an exam in German.

Funny thing is this: despite the fact that I have a million years of education behind me, finishing this dissertation has made me feel like I know nothing.

I have never felt so ignorant in my life.

Now, with three chapters behind me and a fourth coming along, I am approaching the final stretch. In just a year's time, this dissertation will be done, all nine glorious chapters. By then, I should have finally learned something.
Posted with care by Prof. Me @ 7/25/2005 05:51:00 PM  
3 Words of Wisdom:
  • At 7:46 PM, Blogger Demetri said…

    Just in time to go get that MLS degree...(yes I am kidding - but that is the first thing that came into my mind as I was reading about the Little Prof. and the B & N info desk).

    So did you go into polisci b/c of Wellstone? I only ask because I'm a Minnesotan.

  • At 10:04 PM, Blogger Prof. Me said…

    Hi, Demetri!

    Nope, not because of Wellstone, but because of a few fantastic high school teachers in German and comparative government. I've had a fascination with Europe, European history, and European culture as long as I can remember, and political science seemed to be a perfect way to blend them all.

    To be perfectly honest, in Wellstone's heyday I was (wait for it!) a confused College Republican (gasp!). My, how times have changed...

  • At 5:59 AM, Anonymous John said…

    VERY interesting blog... I dare to request a response from "Prof. Me" since I have not been able to figure out how to communicate directly with you - THE BLOGGER. I know Dave LaShomb. JWEyster ( - PLEASE!

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