This 4th of July marks almost 10 years of my life in Omaha, Nebraska, and in addition to celebrating Independence Day, I am also personally celebrating my new title: Professor. Well, sort of. Because it’s not exactly a time for celebration among scientists in the academic community. Researchers are losing their long-term personnel, their labs, and even their jobs. I’ve been extremely fortunate in the midst of this turmoil, but I am making huge efforts to avoid any downsizing of my own lab, and my luck might not hold out indefinitely.
But for now, it’s important to celebrate any victories, and rising to the ultimate academic rank as professor is surely a cause to feel some satisfaction. In my institute, and many others in this country, this is an earned rank that many do not reach. It does not depend on nobility or birthright, as do titles of earls and dukes, and the process of promotion is tightly regulated through a variety of committees, beginning in my own department and on through the medical school. There are 3 general areas in which one must show evidence of high levels of international or national recognition, and these are: Research, Service and Teaching.
For me, oddly enough, this whole issue of academic rank reminds me very much of my service in the military, all those years ago. When as a private I was selected to attend crew commander training course in artillery, it was known that all of the surviving recruits after the 3 months intensive course would be promoted to corporal (2 stripes; skipping private-first-class at one stripe). A handful of the excelling graduates would immediately become sergeants (3 stripes)—which was a big honor, but entirely meaningless from a practical standpoint. I somehow managed to emerge with the 3 stripes (I’ve always been good at meaningless and pointless exercises)—and almost see myself now as having made the sergeant—or in the officer class—captain—rank.
So now having reached my exalted new rank, what new duties and responsibilities await me in the future? I don’t know; like everyone else right now, I’m focused on survival mode. But hey, I may take a day to celebrate.