On Wednesday, March 28, Judith Miller, associate professor of history and recipient of the Williams Award for Excellence in Teaching, allowed Emory Magazine to tag along and find out what the life of a college faculty member is really like. Forget romantic notions of professors who spend their days researching in dusty libraries, discussing theories over coffee, and composing brilliant lectures. Judith, it turns out, is part scholar, part caterer, part teacher, part event planner, part writer, and part counselor. After an energetic start, we were exhausted by 8 p.m., when we accompanied Judith back to her home—where the dining table is piled with papers on the French Revolution, her office is crammed with books, and her laptop seems permanently attached to her lap—to leave her where we found her, in her favorite corner of her living-room couch, surrounded by her work.
By Paige P. Parvin 96G / Photography by Bryan Meltz
Judith wakes up. As is her habit, she heads for her living room and tucks herself into a comfortable corner of her couch, turns on the morning news, and fires up her laptop. It’s clear this is her favorite spot: the area around the couch is strewn with papers and books.
A TV table is conveniently situated nearby.
A quick stroll through her backyard garden with a cup of tea allows Judith to take advantage of the balmy March day. “Gardening is my passion,” she says. A leukemia survivor, Judith tries to eat well and exercise.
Judith catches up on the reading for her graduate seminar class on the French Revolution; she's working on three conference papers on the topic. Since August, Judith also has devoted some twenty to thirty hours a week to chairing a search for a new associate professor of French history.
Judith has to print some documents for her one o’clock class. Her office at the back of the house is like a miniature library on French history, jammed with books and piled with papers. “It’s going to be a typical chaotic departure,” she says.
Time to catch the Cliff Shuttle from Atlanta’s North DeKalb Mall. Judith emerges with a purse, a laptop bag, a heavy tote bag bulging with books, and a plastic bag of dishes for the trip. (For the faculty search receptions, she decided to save her department money by providing all the food herself rather than hiring a caterer.)
Judith hurries to drop a few library books off on her way to her office in Bowden Hall. Greeting colleagues along the way, she pops into the department’s main office and pulls stacks of mail from her box.
Judith heads upstairs for her seminar class, a sunny room with an oval table and a generous arched window overlooking the Quad. She plugs in her laptop first thing as the eight students assemble, then kicks off with the requirements for their final papers—which are intended to “take you out of your comfort zones,” she adds.
The three-hour seminar class ends, and Judith rushes off to her next class, an undergraduate course on research techniques. Today they meet in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library (MARBL) of Woodruff Library. “I love getting the students really engaged in research,” she says,”and helping them find what they are passionate about.”
Judith, who has decided not to go to the gym this evening as she often does, walks wearily through her door, kicks off her shoes, and immediately puts water on the stove for making pasta. She has not eaten since breakfast. Tonight she will write three letters of recommendation for students and answer emails related to an upcoming conference.
Judith is tucked back into her cozy couch corner with her pasta, her laptop glowing and WABE playing softly. Later she will turn to her own writing, which she will likely work on until one or two in the morning. “It’s a long day,” she says. “But I love what I do.”