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.

Me, 30 years ago, eyes wide closed. Probably asleep while standing. Note the 3 stripes indicating a newly-minted sergeant 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.

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
This entry was posted in Education, research, science and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Professor

  1. cromercrox says:

    Well done Sir. Or, having had prior notice of some of these pointless military exercises thinly disguised as fiction, Welcome Home, Sir.

  2. Congratulations Steve!

    Your new duties should involve foisting off of teaching responsibilities on junior academic staff, delegation of manuscript reviews, and shirking as many institutional committee meetings as possible.

    Allegedly. 😉

  3. stephenemoss says:

    Steve – many congratulations! When I first entered academia here in the UK some 23 years ago, the title of Professor was held by relatively few, but there has been a dramatic lowering of the bar in recent years and new lecturers can easily now progress through Reader to full Professor in some five years, with little more than a few grants and a handful of decent papers to their name.

    We too also have a certain amount of box ticking to achieve Professorial rank, but instead of Research, Teaching and Service, we have Research, Teaching, Enabling and Knowledge Transfer. If you’re wondering what those last two mean, so do we. All part of the arcane terminology beloved of HR Departments.

  4. Congratulations! Have you sewn the leather patches onto your tweed jacket yet?

Comments are closed.