Academic Introversion

I was chatting with a friend recently about what I see as “commentary culture.” I think that there is an emerging social imperative to commentate on everything, particularly online. Anyway, I made my friend laugh with the following: “Sometimes, I just want to think about systemic oppression… by myself.”
You see, I am quiet and introverted person.
Last summer, I read the book Quiet. While I’m not into the author holding up people like Bill Gates to say, “Look! Quiet people make great business leaders!”, I do think her history of the shift to an extrovert culture is a useful one, and that her discussion of the ways in which quiet folks bring different skill sets to the table is valuable.
What does it mean to be an introverted academic? While I can usually put on a good show in my lectures, I make decompression time for myself afterwards. This usually means sitting in my office for at least 20 minutes not interacting with others right after class. I need that downtime. Being an introverted academic also means that I might need a little more time than others to make a decision, but that I will likely have a well-thought-out rationale for that decision once it’s been made.
What accommodations, if any, are we making for quiet students? Do we assess participation in ways that acknowledge different ways of being in the classroom? Do we accept that there may be a variety of reasons why students might not wish to speak in a classroom, and that this silence may not be due to a lack of interest in the material?
I’m not advocating for leaving us quiet folks alone, but I also want to complicate the discourse of speaking up and speaking out, of commentating. Are there ways that we can talk about speaking up and out that acknowledge multiple ways of being in the world and that also acknowledge that speaking up and out can be done in a variety of different ways?

4 thoughts on “Academic Introversion

  1. I'm also an introvert, unsurprisingly, since lots of academics are, and I try to accommodate my students as I would like to be accommodated: I leave long silences so that people can think, rather than respond immediately; I tell extroverted students straight out that I will sometimes ask them to yield the floor to others; I give extremely shy students the option of submitting some written work as participation.

    But I also need to work harder on accommodating my own introversion: to wit, I already know that after Congress and DHSI back to back, where I will be rooming with three friends and socializing constantly, I will get sick. My body physically revolts against that much time repressing my introversion. And so I need to think about what to do differently this year–how to better manage my need for downtime with my desire to hang with people I adore and rarely see–so that I don't pay for it afterward. It's a tricky balance.


  2. I am also an introvert, but I am good at hiding it when I realize that performing my public academic persona is a necessity. I speak in class, I ask a lot of questions at guest lecture events or conferences, and I know how to handle delicate social situations, but I desperately long for alone time and will run away into my (shared, but usually empty) office to hide with the lights off during more stressful periods.

    In some environments speaking out as an introverted academic is further compounded by bulling, mobbing, and harassment which make doing the right thing even more difficult. We do seem to expect people to fit into nice little boxes wherein they stand up for themselves verbally or they express interest and enthusiasm verbally, but perhaps more attention should be given to written forms of communication or other strategies. Actually, I wonder if anyone here would address the issue of academic bullying?

    When dealing with students, I, like Melissa, will ask the more outspoken students to yield the floor, but I also do not use class participation as a serious measure of a students' interest or value (there are students who frequently say almost nothing but then produce great work–they are just introverted, usually). I am frequently surprised by the lack of attention given to differing modes of being in the world as an academic (the emphasis placed on public performance and social grace/emotional labor) when I would expect a higher than average rate of introversion in academe.


  3. I am an extreme extrovert but have also considered these issues because I KNOW most people are not like me. In addition to the decompression time, after your teaching, I know some introverts benefit greatly from 20 minutes alone BEFORE teaching. If this is how you charge your batteries, a top up before lecturing can be really helpful. Building those alone time breaks into conference plans are also a good idea.

    As for students, I once had a student who was painfully shy. She actually avoided small seminar groups because she feared being called on to speak in front of strangers. This meant she skipped a lot of classes. (She took responsibility for the consequences but it illustrated for me the problems with beliefs that small is better. It isn't for everyone.)

    I love you questions about how to make classrooms work for introverts. Keep asking those!


  4. In most of my smaller classes I require everyone to submit emailed reading responses at least an hour before class. That accomplishes a few things- it forces everyone to do the readings (or at least skim them); it lets me see who has questions about what; and it also gives quiet students an outlet to express questions, comments, and so on. I look at them before class to know who is reacting how, and can use that to guide discussion. It lets me know that even if someone is quiet, they have probably thought about the readings and have some interesting reactions to them.

    @Melissa- if getting sick is a common thing after staying with your friends, might it be worth the money (and your mental health!) to get your own hotel room?


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