Providential

Hallelujah – my son Nathaniel Erb-Satullo has got a job!  A recently-minted Ph.D in archaeology at Harvard, he has just come through an utterly uncharacteristic twenty months in the desert of rejection, and some eighty fruitless job applications, experiencing the downside of academia’s over-production of doctoral fellows, as its way to keep up a steady supply of cheap teachers.

But as Shakespeare reminds us, “all’s well that ends well,” and that’s why I can only look at his recent three-year appointment as a lecturer at Oxford University in the UK as “providential.”  The one meaning of the term that I do not intend is perhaps the first to come to mind – I don’t truly believe that any divine intervention was involved.  (Though my English mother certainly looks on approvingly from beyond.)

All the other synonyms, however, apply:  fortunate, favorable, felicitous, opportune, advantageous, auspicious, welcome, timely, serendipitous.

As do the terms for Nat’s own provident behavior during his travail:  prudent, farsighted, judicious, shrewd, sensible, sagacious, thrifty.  And he definitely met this definition:  “possessing, exercising, or demonstrating quiet care and consideration for the future.”

It was a terrible wait, but just the right job came along, with Nat returning to Oxford to teach a course he took as a M.Sc. student there ten years ago.  And at the right time ultimately, as another, much less suitable college, where he was in line for a tenure-track job, delayed their decision so long that he never had to make the tough decision to settle for a far from ideal situation.

During his long dry spell, Nat was disadvantaged as a straight white male at time when universities are trying to compensate for past discriminations, but extremely lucky to have his wife Nicole, for advice and support of all kinds.  (As well as a mother proof-reading all those applications.)

I gave some thought to advising Nat to look outside of academia, for someplace that would welcome all his estimable skills, but after his luck had turned – with his digging permit for this summer’s archaeological field season in the Republic of Georgia arriving at the same time as the Oxford offer – there arrived the section leader evaluations from his Harvard students this past semester.  How wrong I was to think there was anything Nat should be other than a professor!

The words most often used were “enthusiastic” and “fantastic” and “best teaching fellow I ever had,” but the comment I liked best referred to him as “insanely knowledgeable.”  Thankfully, he now has a sane opportunity to pass that knowledge along.