Featured in this week’s Between Classes is English professor Lauren Brown. Brown and I met after classes in her office on the fourth floor of Vulgamore. With organized shelves, colorful paintings and a comfy couch decorated with Albion themed throw pillows, Brown’s welcoming office was a great place for an easy conversation.
Jessica Behrman: Where did you start school and what field did you want to go into?
Lauren Brown: I am a New York state native, a couple hours south of Buffalo. I started out in community college, so not a traditional four year college. I did my two year degree in independent studies because I had no clue what I wanted to do.
JB: Going into the English field, did you plan on being a professor?
LB: Yes. The story I often tell is that I had one of those bizarre cartoon light bulb moments over the head. I was basically scrambling about a year or so into college, which I started a semester late, so I was taking around 22 credit hours a semester trying to play catch up. I was about a good semester in when the countdown clock started to kick in. I needed something to show for this time by the time I left. And I wasn’t thinking any way, shape or form about a long term degree. I was just thinking about this short term degree, my career sights at that point where I just didn’t want to do the kind of work my parents did. I wanted to have some sort of satisfaction and happiness in my job and in my life.
I often took more English and history classes than any other science classes. So, I was sitting in an English class, totally not listening to the professor and the brilliant stuff that she was spewing and doing what most students do and panicking about my life in the middle of class time. I remember watching her walk back and forth while I was internally panicking. I was thinking “I have very little time left. I have to figure out a job. I have to figure out a major.” I got to the panic moment, beautifully, where I decided that if I could do anything with my life, then I would just stay in college forever because I had already figured out how to do college really well. So, if I wanted to stay in college forever, which might be terrific or terrifying, where would I want to be? I was doing that self questioning.
So, I had this realization that I just wanted to sit in class and talk about books all day. So, I had that moment, almost comically, where I was watching my professor walk back and forth, when I realized that she was being paid to be here and I was paying to be here. So how do I flip that? How do I get paid to be here doing the things that she is doing?
JB: Are there parts about teaching English that didn’t appeal to you?
LB: For me, as much as I had a love hate relationship for things, the hate being Shakespeare, the love being the Shakespeare professor, I found that I loved learning more and more. I learned more about literary analysis, and the more I wrestled with it and learned it, well, the more I had fun doing it.
This is probably true of anything in life. Whatever we have a hard time doing, and we learn to do it well, we suddenly enjoy doing it. I started realizing I really enjoyed the intellectual work more than I ever thought I would, like the stuff when writing a paper. I had a sick moment when writing a paper, that in the middle of writing the paper I found out I was enjoying writing the paper for the first time ever. I found a sick, weird pleasure in learning how to master a thing. It was bizarre, and I freaked out. How do you possibly not despise writing a paper? All these were like little affirmation signs that I had bumbled onto the right path of doing what I should be doing.
JB: What brought you to Albion?
LB: This fantastic job. So, there was an opening for an Americanist that does the post Civil War and end of American literature. They wanted an person who had an investment in writers of color or racial ethic minority, which fits my wheelhouse. Also, when I looked at the ad, I was really excited to see the changes happening on Albion’s campus. That involved outreach with the community and trying to connect the campus with the community. It involved recruitment efforts to try and diversify the population and making changes with the curriculum. When I finally came for the campus visit, it felt comfortable, and it hit these psychic waves of belonging for me that made it feel like the right fit. It was that weird spidey sense kind of wave, and here we are.
JB: Once you figured out you wanted to be a professor, did you plan on coming to a liberal arts school?
LB: So, yes. At my community college, I got to know professors really well, and that’s how I got to figure all my shit out, so to speak. I also had a really great experience dorming and making a community on the campus, even as a transfer student into Binghamton University. And I think that was as crucial to my success as relationships with professors. So, yes, Albion was definitely the kind of place I was looking for.
JB: Do you have any advice for students at Albion?
LB: Yes, I do. Let’s move through the ranks. For new students I would strongly advise that you don’t have to have it figured out right away. The lightning bolt moment or light bulb moment will come for some people and not for other people. That is okay. Don’t hold your breath for this moment of truth where your whole future is outlined for you. While I had this moment where I could do a thing, it didn’t mean that I should do a thing. It wasn’t perfect and linear. You don’t have it all figured out.
Next, would be to try things that intimidate you, that scare you and that make you uncomfortable. You never know what thing is going to help you, and you never know how an entirely unrelated thing is going to help you. So, to the liberal arts mission, taking courses outside your major is extremely useful. Also, don’t hate the courses you are required to take, because there is probably something massive or super cool or surprising that is going to come back and haunt, inspire, or impact you.
For the middle career students, join things and talk to professors. All students should go to office hours. Don’t just go to required office hours or to the professors you think are cool. Go to all office hours. All of us are super nerdy and super cool in our own ways, and there is probably something really neat that we can share. Also, take the stuff that challenges you, do the FURSCA stuff, ask to get involved. Even if you never go to graduate school or use those resources, you will always appreciate and consider the experience cool.
To graduating students, let life unfold. Your career path might shock you. The thing you are so sure you are going to do might not be what you do. The path you take might zig-zag around. You have to trust that you can figure it out and that you’ll have the resources. Life is not linear, despite what we are told, and your career path does not have to be linear.