Is It Bad That I Am an Extrovert and Going into Academics?

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So I decided to take a break from my series on women in Church History in order to write this post about the field that I am hoping to get into. I am about halfway done with my PhD in Church History at Fuller Theological Seminary, so now is a great time to question whether or not I should be going into this field. Maybe it’s the location of Fuller’s School of Theology just down the street from the School of Psychology. Maybe it’s the fact that I am presenting a paper at the American Academy of Religion this weekend. Either way, I have been thinking about this time and again for the last few years, so I figured posting it online for anyone who wants to see it is a good way to perform a self-evaluation.

Academics is a tight field to get into. There are no shortage of articles chronicling the difficulty of the job market. It often rewards those who are already a part of the guild while sometimes resisting the influx of new individuals who have no credentials behind them. After all, if requirement #1 is experience, how do you get the experience (an age old question for job seekers across multiple fields)? But I digress…

I have often heard professors and other colleagues of mine speak of the hilarious social experiment that is academic conferences. Often the dialogue will go in some way like this: “It’s so funny how they put all these introverts into a room and force them to network and talk to each other…” I have honestly heard some version of this statement several times over the last few years. I always hold my response in for their sake, but my natural reaction is: “I love talking to other people! This is fun!” Such an attitude comes from the fact that I am an extrovert, through and through.

My wife and I often joke about the need for introverts to take all these Myers-Briggs personality tests and analyze why they act the way they do. To this day, I have taken several of these tests and have no idea what letter combination I am (other than that it starts with an “E”). Now, I appreciate that there are those out there who want to know how/ why they act and think the way that they do. I am just not one of those people. This brings me to my main question: Can/should extroverts work in the academy?

I have often seriously considered this, seeing how everyone around me has the ability to study/ read sources from sunrise to sunset (often later than that) without talking or interacting with anyone. I simply cannot do this. I need to talk to my wife when she comes home. My working hours usually end when she walks in the door, because as an extrovert, I need interaction with other people to be energized. My introverted colleagues don’t need this boost. They can study for 18 hours straight (and like it!?), and this scares me a little. I am often worried that I can never keep up with people like that. Introverts are the norm in the academy possibly because of their ability to devote countless hours to reading/ writing.

This brings me to my conclusion on the matter: extroverts have a huge place in the academy, teaching. I have heard many people who are established professors/ scholars say that teaching annoys them. It gets in the way of their true passion: writing (as do all the meetings and committees they have to be a part of). I find hope for myself in this fact. I pursued a PhD because I wanted to teach. I find it invigorating to help others deepen their understanding of their faith and their faith traditions. I get energized by helping to lead discussion groups and even lecturing (the few times that I have done it). I think this is where extroverts can really shine. Some of my favorite teachers I have ever had were the loudest, most passionate people about their jobs. My math teacher from high school was just like this, and I loved going to that class. The love for the job really comes through with people like this.

The academy has plenty of introverts and will continue to see a steady influx of them for years to come. I think more extroverts need to consider this field. Not only is our voice not common (and can provide a new perspective on certain topics), but we can really find a niche in teaching. After all, I think that extroverted teachers are the best, but I might be a little biased.

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2 thoughts on “Is It Bad That I Am an Extrovert and Going into Academics?

  1. I also wonder if introverts are drawn to different sorts of theologies and extroverts. Maybe grad schools should make a quota system on psych profiles. Problem is, Myers-Briggs and such are very unreliable tests (attacked as pseudo science by many, if I remember correctly). But like you, I love mingling with folks — but my wife does not. So I have learned to get out on my own rather than staying locked up with her. It took us a while to figure out this trick. It seems our genes spit out certain combos of intro-vs-extro folks and maybe for the benefit of the total population. So maybe quota systems should follow that. Heck, what about left-handers too?

    • I like the idea of a quota for grad schools. I think that introverts are naturally drawn into PhD studies precisely because much of the job of an academic is isolated research/ writing. I think that introverts bring a lot to the table, but so do extroverts. As in many other disciplines, embracing the different perspectives of individuals results in a much more fruitful field.

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