On the “Personal Statement”

I’m a little flat today, and unlikely to find the inspiration I need for a properly ponderable post. The flatness has something to do with the heat here, which has ratcheted back up to the usual August/September levels of misery, bringing along with it nasty levels of smog and general sinus headache-inducing crud in the air. But the flatness also has something to do with the project I’ve been embarked upon for the last two days: writing the personal statement for my imminent tenure review.

The personal statement is a peculiar genre — neither particularly personal nor particularly constative; forced and artificial while demanding fluidity and naturalness; ostensibly intended to show off the best of your work but aimed at an audience of non-specialists. This is the third such review narrative I’ve had to write since arriving here at the College Just South of the Hill, and I’m afraid I haven’t gotten any better at it. The form brings out my defensiveness, and thus the statement reads as though I’m having to justify my existence to a hostile board of examiners.

So that’s where I’m at — feeling testy and defensive as I work on the statement, and then whiny as I complain about it (because we should all have such problems, to have gotten to the end of a successful assistant professorship at a generous institution with wonderful students). Any advice, encouragement, or inspiration would be much appreciated. I’ll hope to be back in working form tomorrow.

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