I'm an academic woman but I want to be a cop

Would a petite, left-leaning professorial type be taken seriously on the streets?

Published April 15, 2009 10:15AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am a woman in my early 30s with undergraduate and graduate degrees in liberal arts and humanities-related subjects. I excelled academically but never found much satisfaction in academia or the usual places of employment that academics end up. For the most part, I found the work boring and routine and the people pretentious, with very different personal and professional priorities than my own. I want to help people and I didn't feel that I was achieving that in the work environments where I was "supposed" to be.

It comes down to this: With my limited time on Earth, I want to do more than go through the motions. As far as I know, I  have only one chance to put my talents and abilities to the best use and hopefully make things a little better. I have been doing some soul-searching and, though I have gone through some serious denial about it, I'm now pretty sure that I want to pursue a career in law enforcement. I think I want to become a police officer.

However, this goes against what I've been taught my entire life to think about the police, what they stand for and the work that they do. I worry that someone like me may not have the instincts, right kind of life experience or intestinal fortitude to be successful. Can an approaching-middle age, petite, left-leaning former academic possibly be taken seriously as a cop?

I would appreciate your input as my family and friends are not able to provide objective advice on this matter.

Just call me ...

Dr. "Can You Show Me Some ID Please," Ph.D.

Dear Dr. "Can You Show Me Some ID Please," Ph.D.,

Of course you can be taken seriously as a cop. At least in my town you can (I live in San Francisco, where Heather Fong is chief of police).

I think it's a marvelous idea. We'd all like to see more highly educated cops out there. (I'd like to see more cops teaching Shakespeare too, but social change can move only so fast.)

And let me clarify something, too, while we're at it, about the relationship between the academic world and the military/police world. A few weeks back a fellow who had always wanted his whole life to be a professor wrote and said he'd been having thoughts lately about joining the military. He thought it would be a good thing to serve the country, of course, but mainly he was concerned about his student loans and the state of the economy. Those reasons did not seem to be sufficient for him to abandon his lifelong calling. It seemed that out of fear he was looking for permission to abandon his true calling. I could be wrong, but I advised him to stick with his academic ambitions.

At pivotal moments in our lives, we must determine if we are acting with integrity to fulfill our deepest potential or if we are responding with fear based on changeable external conditions. In your case, it sounds like you are looking for the courage to pursue your true calling. In the case of the gifted high achiever who wanted to become a flight attendant, I also felt that she really wanted to be a flight attendant, and was trying to act authentically against the grain of external expectations.

So it can go either way when we try to play against type. Public opinion may hold that being a professor is a better job than being a flight attendant or a cop, but job satisfaction depends on who's doing the job.

Some days I'd rather be a bike messenger.

We balance our gifts, the expectations of others, our true wishes and the benefits of the job itself. It's not just about what you want to do; the notion of obligation also enters into the picture. Talent is a gift; when we are gifted with talent, it can be argued that we owe the world something. But what, exactly? How far does that obligation extend? Do we owe the world our own unhappiness? For those gifted few who have been told all their lives that they must "live up to their potential," talent can be a prison.

So we must make choices and at times we must act against type, against expectation, against our own "potential."

It sounds like you are making a sound, well-thought-out decision to play against type. I say, more power to you! We need more good, dedicated, well-educated cops out there, especially from underrepresented populations.


What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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