I work at Hogwarts

You know how there’s all those jokes about trying to get on the tenure track, trying to stay on it and actually making it through review? You know, all those stories about the hell that is trying to survive and get by in academia where some of it seems like an undocumented feature? Well, this week I had a day where I felt like I was acting out a metaphor for academic life. All I had to do was find a room.

There was a seminar. A networking session. Free pizza. An opportunity to meet new drinking buddies peers who could assist my slow climb to world domination the next boulder up the academic mountain. The instructions were simple enough; go to room 747, in the Health Sciences building, at 12. Simples. The building is logical enough (I thought), rooms number 100 – 199 are on the first floor, rooms 200+ on the second, etc. Pretty straight forward. I’ve never been to the 700s before though, so I go early incase I happen to get lost.

I get to the building excited at the possibility of meeting more like-minded people and I find there are only 6 floors. It’s either the 6th floor or the roof. I pick 6th. This is when I learn that rabbit warrens have been built within our university buildings. There are corridors hidden within corridors. Some seem to shut themselves off from others once you are in them. Some corridors look like you shouldn’t be there, either that or they ran out of money for paint and adequate lighting.

I figure I’ll handle this logically. If there is no 7th floor then the 700s should be somewhere here, a split level floor perhaps? So I start walking in the direction where the 600 numbers increase. I trudge onwards, turning corners into more corners. No one else appeared to be here. I saw cadavers. No seminar room. Still alone. Is the 6th floor out of bounds and no one told me? The 600s started decreasing. I took a door that linked me to more corridors that enclosed the corridors I’d been wandering down. Numbers started increasing and then I found the 700s… they increased, for a bit. Then they stopped. The 600s started again. This madness continues for a while as the inclination to keep looking over my shoulder grows. I start to wonder if this is some hidden camera show for tenured faculty to watch. There is no room 747. Tenured faculty send out those emails and then watch the rest of us come and visit their maze of hell.

But, I did check… and there was a room 747 listed on the university webpage. Having met professors who have eschewed excel files for a print out of a graph so they can check a line of fit is straight or asked me to weigh cutouts of my peaks instead of using a computer to integrate them – talk about old school –  I can’t imagine tenured professors would have the know how to hack the university web just for a joke.

Then it dawned on me. These corridors don’t lead to room 747. It was obvious. I work at Hogwarts! I’ve overlooked the possibility that the staircases change! It’s just a matter of waiting for the staircase to move so I can gain access to room 747. But then… which staircase? It appears this may be a group only for those fledgling faculty who are in “the know”. If you can find it, you can move your piece forward in the game of tenure. I have not yet received the staircase knowledge. Must I go back to “Go”? Do I collect $200?

Or, is it like the room of requirement? Where, if I had wanted it hard enough, the magical room 747 would have appeared to serve my needs. I thought I really wanted this career, but the door didn’t appear when I hovered by the other 700s. Maybe I don’t want to be a professor as much as I thought? But then, they did have free pizza. And, I really did want that pizza.

I’m an academic. In search of a room.

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