Professor Mum: On being raised by an academic

How is it like to grow up with Professor Mum? And what if you decide to study in the same area and end up seeing your mum on campus and have to dodge being her student? This is my experience of growing up with an academic at home.

I am aware of how privileged I sound. Most of my friends back home were the first ones in their family to go to university, as this is the reality for most people. I come from an extremely overachieving family, especially in intellectual terms. My dad did three undergraduate courses. My mother was a professor of Linguistics. All of her six siblings graduated university, 3 have PhDs, and two are full-on professors. My grandmother actually studied at the same university I went to, a feat that can make my academic achievements small in comparison. I grew up surrounded by professors; I went to their birthday parties, weddings, only to years later have them teaching me in a university classroom. Sounds fun? It can be, but it can also be a lot of pressure.

A child at conferences

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My childhood was pretty chill, but as my imagination was wild, I liked to lie to people that my horrible parents took me to conferences and concerts (my dad is a musician), and had me out all night, making me sleep inside the instruments’ cases or in the middle of a viva (vivas in Brazil are public events). Since both my parents worked full time, by going to conferences since the age of five, or to choir concerts since I was a baby, I learned how to be a good audience member. I learned that children can belong in the adult world without needing to be the centre of attention. I learned that these events that so many people dread and get nervous about are regular happenings. I also learned to see people being questioned on their beliefs, their results, their skills, and I saw them defend themselves. I have experienced many scholarly discussions, what is it like to be surrounded by your peers. This was extremely important for my life now as a PhD student. It influenced my choices in life, and it also made me less fearful of hierarchy, of approaching professors. I see them as people, not Gods. 

Of course, I wasn’t paying attention all of the time. To distract me, my mother would give me books. Why do you think I am currently pursuing a PhD in literary translation?

The impostor syndrome

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my mother writing her thesis

My mother was by far the smartest person I ever knew. Not only intellectually smart, she was wise, sensible, empathetic. I know I am biased, but ask anyone who knew her and they would confirm this. My mom was also plagued by self-doubt. I grew up watching my mom call herself an idiot, and kept thinking “Why, oh why?”. Now I understand. Not that I think she actually was, but I know how it feels to think you’ve tricked your way somewhere. Women suffer so much more from impostor syndrome, and in my case, having chosen a similar path to my mother, I constantly doubted my own abilities, as separate from my mother’s figure. Well, I studied in the same university and course she taught in, and I did my master’s degree in the same place too. Then, right at the middle of my two years’ master, my mother passed away from breast cancer. It’s safe to say this changes everything. My professors knew her, and I had a support network that many people do not have. I managed to finish my dissertation and a 300-page translation after this happened. BUT, I still thought “What if they are only being nice to me because of her?”. Then, I got a scholarship to do my PhD at Warwick, where no one knew who my mother was. I am finally getting better with my impostor syndrome, because now I have real evidence that my mom did not directly open this door for me. Of course, she did open all the others which led me to it. 

But to those who knew my mom well, I say, if she thought I was not good enough for the task, she would have told me so. She was that honest. And that professional too. Being raised by a strong woman, an honest and incredibly fair and ethical professional, and an empathetic person who, a week before she died, tried to brush up on her very basic French to make the Haitian refugee who was cleaning her hospital room feel welcome, made me the woman and the academic I am. I wouldn’t change this for the world. 

I hope she is somewhere, proud of me, but also saying “that is the least Lúcia could have done”.

How about you? Did you ever have your parent teaching you? Can you imagine what that would be like? Let us know! Comment below, tweet us at @warwicklibrary or email us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk!

by Lúcia

Lúcia Collischonn is a second-year PhD student in Translation Studies at the Warwick Writing Programme. She is the editor of the library blogs, Study Blog and PhD Life. Lúcia is an award-losing literary translator, writer and language nerd. Her translation of Yoko Tawada’s Etüden im Schnee was published last year in Brazil. You can find her ramblings on twitter @lucycolli. 

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