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...
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.
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.
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 good (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.
PS: @AcademicBatgirl has over 24,000 followers as at October, 2018. Pow!
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