I love the beaches of Cape Cod on which I learned to swim and now take my own children. I have friends, family, and history in the US. I'm a big fan of the public, underfunded school district south of Boston that I attended and credit for - against all financial and socioeconomic odds - giving me preparation for my life as an academic. Now I'm gratefully established here at Gotham U in Toronto.
I'm not alone. The Girl Guides of Canada have cancelled all travel to the US, citing concerns such that "no girl is left behind." Similarly, the Toronto District School Board announced that no student or staff trips to the US will be planned, and referenced travel restrictions to the US. My very own university requires that all faculty planning to go to the US for academic purposes apply to the faculty for approval.
There's already been a "Trump Slump" in American travel, and it's poised to cost the US more than $7 billion. The Financial Times reported that the US has "gone on sale," as the president has been deterring visitors with travel bans. I'm one of those deterred visitors, my friends. I'm entirely privileged; I have dual citizenship, and I'm not from one of the predominantly Muslim countries that are part of the travel ban. Yet I have a conscience, and I can't rightly contribute to the American economy at this time.
I had the good fortune to meet the wonderfully positive Rissa Sorenson-Unruh via Twitter. We've struck up a collaboration and I had the opportunity to go to a conference to finally meet this lovely colleague f2f. I explained my decision to abandon US conferences and to her credit, she supported my convictions completely. Similarly, every November I attend the National Communication Association convention; in the last month, have backed out of submitting 4 panel presentations with trusted colleagues. Instead of attending conferences, I will be writing papers with feminist and social justice aims.
And this is a tough one. I grew up on Cape Cod, and since moving to Canada, I've gone home every summer for 17 years. My kids catch crabs in the jetty with twine and clothespins in the summer -- good old fashioned fun. I'll miss that, and I'll miss my friends and family back home. And yet, everyone is welcome to our place to sit by the fire in the back yard and drink some of my favourite Canadian microbrews. Because I need to stay here.
I've planned a week in Tobermory, and another week at a remote cottage on a lake. There are beautiful places here in Canada, and we will take the summer to explore the natural beauty north of the 49th Parallel. In four years, the NCA conference will still be running, the beaches will be in working order, and good old fashioned fishing will still be do-able. I'm holding out hope that the Statue of Liberty will still be standing.
I've been told that my decision not to patronize the US is not going to make a difference. I've been told that this is a snub to my country, and I've been told that by making this decision, I'm selling out. With due respect, I am living my life with conviction and in truth. I can't support or patronize a country that intentionally restricts women's health, discriminates on the basis of religion and ethnicity, is building a colossal military, and whose leader is lying, cheating, misogynistic, and outright bigoted. For an informative and beautifully argued essay, see Shaun King's piece about Trump being unfit to be in office.
A new academic friend sent me a copy of Heather Havrilesky's How to Be A Person in the World. Havrilesky writes, "I am doing my best to build a better world around me... I will resist this crack-infused world and do my best to make things that matter to me. I will not lose myself" (p. 23). I'm resisting the inanity, the oppression, and the backward political rhetoric in the US. I don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars (yet!) to spend in the US, and my economic withdrawal for the next four years won't make a huge difference. Yet my conscience will be clear.
Or, November is a hard month, but whatever.
#AcWriMo starts on November 1.
Academic Writing Month, or for us Twitter folk, #AcWriMo, is a movement started by PhD2Published which helps academics to stay motivated and accountable to their writing. Obviously, we should be writing, like, all the time. All. The. Time. But, teaching happens, sleep happens, and so do necessary things like walking the dog and eating pizza. We academics need each other - yes, even (and sometimes especially) online presence helps productivity.
Why I'm doing it.
While #AcWriMo is pitched by PhD2Published, it's for all academics at all stages -- from undergraduate to "the most distinguished of professors." While I still think of myself as an undergraduate at times (imposter syndrome and an occasional loathing of adulting will do that), I'm a senior faculty member. I have a full teaching load (because I'm not ridiculous enough to be an @AssDean). I've got grants, book chapters, conference presentations, and full-on manuscripts to write. However...
I have empathy for my students.
My undergraduate students are awesome. And they deserve the best of my academic life. I'm at a research university, so not everyone shares this sentiment. I believe that my research informs my teaching. So I see writing as an investment in my teaching for many reasons. One of the most important is that I sit and write just like my students do (or, just like they should). It's simply a challenge to write, no matter what one's academic rank.
Stuff is going on.
So, #AcWriMo starts on November 1 and I hereby commit myself to writing a book chapter. This includes lit review, rationale, methods, results, discussion, conclusion, references, formatting, and all the requisite APA stuff. Now, this coming weekend, I will be at my eldest kid's hockey tournament, which is a nice way of saying that I will be (happily, mind you) freezing my Yankee ass off in a variety of ice arenas here in the Great White North. The following weekend I will be at an academic conference. However, I'm going to be writing every day. If that means it's early in the morning, for 30 min at a coffee shop, or on a piece of paper, well, it's getting done. Now I'm changing topics before I change my mind about this whole thing.
Being a flexible writer.
Writing every day isn't easy. I mean, there's always pizza to be eaten, dogs to walk, and ice arenas in which to freeze. I find that it's easier to write every day because I save everything to Google Drive or Dropbox. In this case, I can revise documents on my phone or iPad if I don't have access to my computer. I realize that this sounds like it's taken from a page in the Universal Guide to Nerdhood, though it does maintain my ability to be flexible and to adhere to the discipline of writing every day.
Trying vs. doing
As the great sage Yoda says, "There is no try..." In other words, you're either doing it or you're not. That's some slap-in-the-face accountability. I'm doing it.
On Collaboration, Cooperation, and Competition in the Academy.
I'm currently serving on my department's Tenure and Promotion Committee. An interesting conversation came from all the tenure and third-year review files that we reviewed last week: The desirable balance between single-authored and multi-authored publications.
What to do? Collaborate and have more publications? Have a few less sole authored papers/chapters/books?
I qualify this post: I'm in social science. I'm also at a research-intensive university. Folks in psychology, sociology, and the like may find these behind-the-curtain musings at a research institution helpful. If you're in engineering, law, natural/life science, or at a teaching college, you're likely to march to a different tune, though here's what the fly on the wall observed in our closed-door discussions.
Social Science Likes Collaboration.
It reflects positively on scholars at all levels to have peer-reviewed articles, edited volumes, or book chapters with others. It shows that you can work as a team member, collaborate with others, and take turns in the sandbox. Anyone without collaborative publications would be very suspect indeed.
Find Your Own Voice.
Our committee discussed the need for early career scholars to cut the proverbial cord from their doctoral supervisors. One third year review candidate had five publications (on target), though all of them were coauthored with the doctoral supervisor (ooh, not good). While the influence of expertise, theory, and methodology of a supervisor is helpful, it's essential for scholars to find their own voices in publications. As we learned from Mr. Trump this week, no one likes a puppet.
Have Some Sole-Authored Publications.
The majority of one's research dossier (again, in social science) is likely to be co- or multi-authored publications. For us, that means 2-5 authors. (I've seen 15 authors on engineering papers, and that's a different deal.) However, having sole-authored papers is essential to a sound third-year review and tenure dossier. If all you've done is collaborative work, you risk being "the data one" or "the one who writes lit reviews". Sole authored publications are important in social science to demonstrate your mastery of the holistic research process from idea to data analysis to writing up.
Find Your Squad.
The best thing about research collaboration, in my humble superhero opinion, is that it's fun. I am a gigantic nerd and I love research (if you're reading this, you probably are, too). While I am still buddies with my grad school squad, I've moved on to collaborate with many other cool folks. I have met enthusiastic, talented research collaborators on #AcademicTwitter. This week I submitted a SSHRC application with a scholar I met at a very un-academic party. I once answered a completely cold listserv Call for Papers from someone I didn't know and she's since become a beautifully close friend. We need collaborators. We also need trusted, academically-minded folks to read sole-authored manuscripts or offer advice. The squad is key. And it is always growing.
Tenure Is Not A Zero-Sum Game.
However, it's a fuzzy, nebulous endeavour. When I went for tenure, no one told me how many articles I needed. All I was told was, "It depends." It depends upon in which journals your articles are published, with whom, and the reputed rigour of the peer review process. I began to know my ceiling very well, for I spent many a night staring at it in lack of sleep.
What I have learned is that tenure and promotion is not a zero-sum game. Just because your next-office-door colleague got tenure doesn't mean that you can't. The key is to have a diversified dossier which includes both collaborative and sole-authored works. It's also key to have support, collaborators, and advisors. If you have cool people to talk nerdy with, if you can delegate work and rotate responsibilities in collaborative endeavours, and if someone's there to share your wine/coffee/kombucha/tea, then the academic sandbox is a very fine place indeed.
1. It all started with a friend...
Well, a couple of different friends, actually. My buddy Raul Pacheco-Vega is the king of early mornings. When we started our Academic Twitter friendship, I got to thinking that this early morning stuff might work. Then, nearly simultaneously, the universe presented to me another friend. This friend wears a suit, wheels and deals, and commutes across Toronto so he LEAVES HIS HOUSE AT 5AM (yeah, he is questionably sane and gets up even before 5am). I thought, well heck, if he can do it, so can I. So I did. And...
2. It Works.
Word up, people, no one is texting me at 5am. No one is ringing the Bat Phone. No one is even twitter messaging me. Heck, my dog even stays in bed at that hour. So, there's no interruptions, which is gold.
3. I Have Batlings.
When I first started my tenure-track job, my Dean told me (I swear I'm quoting exact words), "Well, you've made your decision. You have two kids. I only have one, and that's even too much for an academic sometimes." Spoiler alert: I disproved said Dean. And guess what -- I like taking my kids to hockey, dance, and whatever else they're doing. So there. I get up early and accomplish academic-ness so at 5pm I can drive all over creation for everyone's activities (which keep them fit and social, to boot). Maybe that makes me a cool mom, or maybe it just makes me a busy one.
4. I'm a Single Batgirl.
Mr. Business Markie notwithstanding (because we are legit just friends), I am on my own with the Batlings. This leaves me exactly eff-all time to do much besides the essentials. I suppose I could have stayed with my cheating ex-husband and had more support around the house. I would rather get up at 4.30 a.m., thank you very much.
I am healthy. I have an iPhone with an alarm app that can wake me up. I have a nice kettle to make caffeinated beverages. I can physically get myself out of bed to make research contributions, give students detailed feedback, and work on grant applications. I have running water, heat for when it's cold here in Canada, and lots of friends and colleagues who ask, "So what are you working on?" That's worth getting up for.
Most of us academics have deep and meaningful experience in matters of commitment. I mean heck, doing a Ph.D. is arguably commitment of the highest order. Then there's getting tenure (did that, thank the gods and the universe and all good things). I also separated from a repeatedly unfaithful husband (while I was still untenured). Yup, I get commitment. So what about this meme, then?
New research projects are just so darn tempting. Maybe it's a colleague's proposal to join a project or a team. For me, it's reading the news and seeing a pressing issue of some wild importance and becoming convinced that the research I've been doing for the last 10 years is meaningless in relation to this fleeting news story. Alas. Everyone's time will come.
Academics are clever folk. We get bored easily. In my case, once I draft out a paper, I feel like I'm "done" with it. My mind is purged, I've said what I want to say, and I'm finished. Sometimes I even feel this way after I collect data. I've got it, I know what it means, and okay, done. Hey, what? Now I've gotta write this stuff up? Revisions? Save me. I've talked to my aca-twitter pal @johncarter about this, and he has assured me that I'm a normal academic (ish).
One of the best pieces of advice that a colleague gave me years ago was to make a list of my research projects, and finish the one I'm closest to finishing. How simple. Yet how difficult. Because the vast landscape of summer is ahead, and if i just start on this new one, I'll have something exciting going on this fall! I have to remind myself to park that new idea(s) and keep pushing on the one that's nearly out the door.
Of course, multiple research projects are a necessity. No academic can work on one paper, finish it, and then start anew with the next. Still, managing multiple research projects isn't easy. It's especially not easy if you don't have a lab manager or a lab full of grad students who are plugging away at your future publications (I have neither such blessing/curse). I make a list of my research projects and then work on the one I'm closest to finishing. I can certainly allocate time to additional data collection and projects in the works. However, my main focus is to follow the sage words of Van Halen and finish what ya started.
I've got my list of papers, list of deadlines, list of tasks, and list of lists. In my case, I've got one more paper to draft out before I park myself on a Cape Cod beach. Sure, I'd like to have collected the data for a new project. And I will. However, the fireworks on the Fourth of July will be all the more enjoyable because I know that my paper is under review while I've got salt in my hair and I'm sipping a Cape Cod beer.
Including How Not To Make An A$$ Of Yourself A La Kim Kardashian
Prince's passing caught me by surprise, not least because of the "swirling purple cloud of nostalgia and grief" (Elliott, 2016) of the past few days.
Back in the 80's, I got in some serious trouble for sneaking the Purple Rain tape into the VCR. (Growing up in my Boston neighbourhood meant that your family and mine were Puritan immigrants in modern disguise.) Since that episode of sneakiness and discovery, Prince has represented to me curiosity, creativity, and daring.
To that end, Prince's top 5 tips for academics:
"That's what you want. Transcendence. When that happens... Oh, boy." Prince, in an interview with The Guardian, 2015
Prince was quiet, elusive, and nonconformist. So, too, are many academics (myself included). He described experiences of transcendence while he played his music alone, "in the zone," and lost track of time. That happens in academic terms, too. Maybe you write/go to the lab/grade papers early in the morning (Raul Pacheco-style) or at night (everyone-else-style), get in the zone, and realize that hours have passed. It's otherwise known as "flow," though I prefer Prince's "transcendence." As Prince said, "That's what you want."
And if the elevator tries to bring you down/ Go crazy, punch a higher floor" - Let's Go Crazy, 1984
When I was in grad school (also known as the place where one's soul is attempted to be obliterated) one horrible senior faculty member told me that another student would probably succeed as an academic and I wouldn't. What a wonderful mentor! I decided that this assessment was entirely uninformed. I am now a tenured professor... I punched the higher floor and what do you know, the elevator went there, and I gott off (pun and spelling intended).
"Cause I felt a little ill/ When I saw all the pictures/ Of the jockeys that were there before me" - Little Red Corvette, 1983
Okay, so Prince is talking about a sexual encounter with a much more experienced woman. Let's swiftly transfer this concept to the Ivory Tower, shall we? There will always be other academics/writers/artists before you. Goffman, Darwin, Hawking, Goodall. As our colleague Eric Grollman argues, not everyone is going to be the Lady Gaga of Academia. And that's ok. You're here in the academy, and you're further than you ever were. Bam!
"If you didn't come to party, don't bother knocking on my door" - 1999, 1983
So we have a 40/40/20 (or whatever it is at your university) split of academic time, which we all know ends up looking something like 60/70/30. The message: Keep your priorities. Finish the paper that's been languishing (ahem, #getyourmanuscriptout), enjoy your teaching, spend time with your family, friends, and/or pet. If that makes you an enigma and you don't answer the door, then awesome.
"Dance [your] life away" - 1999, 1983
Whatever you do, don't EVER pull a selfish Kim Kardashian and epically fail to dance (if only metaphorically). In this case, as Prince told Kimmy, "Get off the stage." Prince's message: when we have chances, take them. As Goffman (1959) debated with The Bard, "All the world is not, of course, a stage, but the crucial ways in which it isn't are not easy to specify."
Or, Why I Made This Meme (Part 1).
Disclaimer 1: I realize that this meme uses the singular "they." I wanted to recast the singular/plural to agree, though it just wouldn't have been as effective to use "intelligent people." So I defend myself.
Disclaimer 2: It's end of term, and I'm saying goodbye to an outstanding squad of fourth year students. This makes me rather nostalgic. However, end of semester is a time to reflect (or, at least we should, during or after all of the grading that we do). What worked (or not)? What should I change for next year? It is therefore my responsibility to be nostalgic.
Mercifully, my students consistently report that I am knowledgeable, helpful, I know my topics, and the courses that I teach contribute to their program of study. These are all good things. And still. Teaching makes me realize how much I don't know.
A strong young woman in my fourth year class has been in treatment for cancer over the last 6 months. I have the good fortune of knowing exactly jack sh*t about having cancer. From this young woman I have learned more about resilience, strength, commitment, and a whole bunch of other words that wouldn't do justice to what she's going through. There's no way on this green earth I'm anywhere near as smart as she is.
This term I learned that one of my strongest fourth year students - wonderful writer, deep thinker, shrewd analyst - suffers extreme anxiety. I wouldn't have known this from his work or his conduct in class. I learned because he trusted me enough to tell me. From this I was reminded not to jump to my own anxious conclusions (for a moment I decided that I was a terrible professor and this is why he always sat in the back row) and to continue to create an atmosphere of trust in the classroom and as the leader in this environment.
Just weeks ago, a first year student's mother moved in with her so that my student can look after her while she's getting cancer treatment. While this young woman's friends are out drinking pints, she's at home preparing healthy meals for her mother. From her I am reminded of priorities. And making priorities takes a special kind of intelligence.
On a lighter note, I consistently learn all sorts of new technology tips from my students. These include the fact that I really need a Casetify cover for my phone (because I dropped it in front of everyone), and how cool Powtoon is to create fun presentations.
All students have their own unique experiences, and all such experiences add to the canon of education. My students have more knowledge than I do about more things than I could possibly list. That's because they are all real people living real lives. I hope that in the courses that I teach, students learn program-specific information and skills. And more. I want to show up with humility, and in doing so I intend to inspire my students to learn with me -- and with one another.
Spoiler Alert: It'll make you smart(er) and you'll have more friends.
I am preaching to the virtual choir. But alas. If you find yourself needing to speak in defense of academics on Twitter, you can keep this in your back pocket:
Got a rejection? EVERY ACADEMIC has been rejected (by reviewers and potential publishers). Academic Twitter is a community where you can get advice or commiserate. (If you haven't been academically rejected yet, you need to #GetYourManuscriptOut so that you can join the club!)
Published a paper? A book? Tweet that $^*% out, brothers and sisters! Your aca-friends want to know! Heck, a revise and resubmit is cause for celebration!
Not all of us know or have real-life, prize-worthy mentors like Raul Pacheco-Vega, Nathan Hall, Inger Mewburn, WomenEd and Steve Shaw. These folks generously and tirelessly give advice and support to grad students and early career researchers. Spy on what they say and either be like them (if you're senior faculty) or take on their suggestions (if you're a grad student, ECR, or anyone who has the good sense to be productive).
3. Get Better News.
This weekend, the Panama Papers almost broke the Internet and Trump was up to his predictable misogynistic and racist tomfoolery. I looked to #AcademicTwitter friends to get more than traditional news sites could provide. For example, Steve Saideman dishes sophisticated info on Trump (he is the only one I know who can deliver on this oxymoron, and he also provides helpful political info that I wouldn't otherwise study or know about).
4. Have A Laugh Because You're Not Alone.
Everyone has that friend who tells it like it is and helps you to take things less seriously. In #AcademicTwitter, you can have more than one. Find yourself in ShitAcademicsSay. Swoon over my meme-making buddy ResearchMark. For weird and wonderful academic news topped off with cat pics, visit AcademiaObscura. Geniuses such as AcademicPain, SnarkyMinion, Professor Snarky, and TheLitCritGuy say what you need to hear, I promise. And it's all funny stuff guaranteed to stop even the worst impostor syndrome from escalating. Anyone who pooh-poohs the value of humour can take a long walk off a short tenure track.
5. Be A Mind-Blowingly Interesting Scholar.
Not only at dinner parties. I'm a social scientist, yet I follow intelligent people who study wolves, botany, and volcanoes. I follow surgeons, palliative care physicians, and leaders in queer culture. I have no training in these areas and I don't publish in the journals that they do. I follow these folks because they are good people doing meaningful research, and learning is a good thing.
Scholar Nation, this defense is done. Go #GetYourManuscriptOut, and share your suggestions on #ScholarSunday. Collectively, we can make academia great again!
Sometimes The Joker Wears A Tweed Suit.
Some pretty freaking famous profs use Twitter, and a few awesome academics even get famous online. Twitter is quick, fun, and creative (being witty and interesting in 140 characters is cooler than a lumbersexual beard, come on).
It was 2014 and my online avatar @AcademicBatgirl made her debut. When I first joined Twitter, there were no female academic meme-makers (and to my knowledge, there are no others besides Yours Truly). Bam!
Batgirl was the obvious choice. Librarian/scholar by day, badass crime fightin' ass kicker by night.
@AcademicBatgirl is an academic superhero in two places where gender is a big deal: the Ivory Tower and the jungles of social media. For &^%$ sake, full-time male faculty members still outnumber women by nearly 20 percent, and among other inane gaps, gender biases have been shown to exist in the perception of quality in scientific studies.
So @AcademicBatgirl became a thing. Between April 2014 and May 2015, she gained 5,236 followers, was a member of 38 lists, and sent 417 tweets. These tweets were retweeted a total of 3,582 times, and favourited 3,983 times. She offered support to early career academics, advice to writers, and contributed to fostering a sense of community.
And then she disappeared.
Being a woman and being a professor ain't no easy game. It's a complicated gig, and there's redonkulous things to navigate, such as what female professors should (and should not) wear. Online trolling aside, challenges irl affect both online and academic identity.
Enter The Joker.
Full professor. Razor-sharp mind. Enviable intellect. Remarkable ability to quantify any data by any means possible.
He was perfect. Except when he wasn’t. A few imperfect quotes (consider it academic data):
“I feel bad for your daughters because you have this Twitter account. This @AcademicBatgirl thing is nothing that I would even want my adult [child] to see.”
“This Twitter account is nothing to be proud of.”
“You want me to tell people that you run this @AcademicBatgirl account? That’s embarrassing.”
“No real academic would need Twitter to help with his or her career.”
“People who use social media are less trustworthy.”
“I would be a lot happier if you just quit this whole Twitter thing.”
And so, foolishly, she did. And (almost) all 5,236 of her online aca-Twitter friends disappeared.
The need for academic superheroes is very real. So real, in fact, that I couldn't even satisfy the need in my own offline academic life.
But all was not lost. The aca-Twitter community called me back to my senses and back to Twitter. It took guts to tell this critical male where to go. It was like Indiana Jones's student telling him off instead of batting her eyelashes. And it was so right (cue the music).
Zap, Zowie! Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, @AcademicBatgirl is back! She's supporting academics everywhere to superhero up on campus and get down on #ScholarSunday. Find her in her Twitter BatCave.
3. Compilation from stills, American Broadcast Corporation
5. Mauricio Hunt, DeviantArt
6: DC Comics, Batgirl, Vol 4, Issue 34, Crash & Burn
7: Warner Bros/Interactive Entertainment
8: Still from Batman, 1966, TVLand via American Broadcast Corporation
9: DC Comics, Batgirl, Vol 4, Issue 1, The Darkest Reflection
This entry was submitted in response to Buzzademia's CFP.
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