Turtling on

When I was at the University of Cincinnati, the professional writing program used the flamingo as a kind of a mascot. We used it for all sorts of things as a community builder. We had napkins at our yearly party, and we had buttons made.

The story as it was told to me was that way back in the early 1980’s when Cincinnati had hired some writing faculty on the tenure track they, and other colleagues, used to inspire one another by sharing a yard flamingo. When someone had a big thing to get done, the others would bring and put the flamingo in their yard. I loved this idea of supporting each other with something that was clever and fun.

Since I’ve been at USF, we’ve been trying to settle on a mascot for the R&C graduate program.* During the pandemic, we finally hit upon it.

The turtle.

The tiny turtles we give to graduate students.

It seemed to resonate with many of the students and some of the faculty, as we all embraced slow, steady process on all things work related. The turtle brings to ind Bennett’s “thing-power,” which has the “curious ability of inanimate things to animate, to act, to produce effects dramatic and subtle” (6). Or to inspire things like continuous progress.

The turtle is an industrious animal that keeps plodding forward until it wins the race. There’s parallel between the old fable about the turtle and the hare and the process of getting through grad school with your mental and physical health intact.

As new grad students come in, they are given a tiny turtle. They really are tiny, but that’s my own affinity and love of a miniature. No matter the size, the hope is that the students know they are part of something bigger and that they are never alone in this journey.

The turtle is also a great reminder that the work we do–in research, in teaching and in service–does not need to be frantic or fast. The best work is thoughtful and deliberate, which often takes steady, and slow, progress.

And that’s my wish for others as well—no matter the stage of your career—to always know that you are never alone.

Keep turtling on.


*There will always be fond memories of the shrimp. And there is photographic evidence of a presentation in shrimp hats. But it was first try that didn’t stick.