copper-bottomed bitch · popular culture · role models

Women in the Other Academy

First, an apology to Erin’s fans, since it’s Monday and this is Heather writing. We switched days so that I could rant rave write about women in that other academy, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, aka the Oscars.

Yeah, that’s right, there were some women this year, though you’d be forgiven for feeling skeptical. Even in the Year of the Maimed Man  – “best pictures” showed a man without an eye, a man without a hand, a man without a voice, a man with a crack addiction, and a man who’s dead for the entire movie (still feeling battered by that recession, boys?) – it was hard to find the women. But they were there, mostly standing right by their men.

So here’s a few feminist awards that didn’t get handed out last night. Oh, I should say that there are no spoilers for Rabbit Hole or Blue Valentine since I didn’t manage to see them. Everything else is liberally referenced in what follows, though. You have been warned.

The GOOD WIFE award: Amy Adams in The Fighter. No, Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech. No, America Ferrera in How to Train Your Dragon. No, maybe Mrs Potato Head – or Barbie – or Jessie (the cowgirl to Tom Hanks’s Woody – yeah, you read that right) in Toy Story 3? Wait, wait, what am I thinking: the award goes to Julianne Moore, hands down (hands down Mark Ruffalo’s pants, that is).

REAL WIFE moment: When Gary Rizzo (Inception) accepted the sound mixing award for himself, Ed Novick and Lora Hirschberg, he thanked “our wives,” and named three women. So if you were thinking Hirschberg looked a little butch for her gown….

For HEAVY-HANDED METAPHOR: the black swan. C’mon, a psychotic ballerina? That didn’t strike anybody on the writing team as redundant?

Best INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY DRAMA: Forget what you learned in Women’s Studies 101, and ditch the creative commons, too. In 2010 the movies argued that an idea is a form of personal property. Given a choice between The Social Network (you took my idea!) and Inception (you took my idea!), I’m gonna have to go with Exit Through the Gift Shop in this category.

MOST ENIGMATIC BOY NAMES: 1) Woody; 2) Dicky; 3) Rooster; 4) LaBoeuf (hint: it’s French).

EMPLOYER OF THE YEAR: the New York ballet. Dude, maybe a little less sexual harassment and a little more clozapine?

DUMBEST BLONDE:  So many contenders. Will the award go to Megan and Kristie in 127 Hours (“We can’t read our map!”)? Girl at Phoenix Club in The Social Network (“You have a big brain!”)? Nina-Pretty-Ballerina in Black Swan (“You have a big ego!”)? Careful, though. This is a trick category, ’cause none of the girls are actually blonde!

BEST ACTION: Who doesn’t like seeing Natalie Portman get off? But unless you count the birds and the bees in I Am Love, which you probably should given how …. long …. that scene was, that’s about it for sex in the big nominees this year. (Weird, given how big the familes are.) Silver lining: for the most part this year women characters were not subject to sexual violence. Even in the scenes where you thought you saw it coming – Pope and Nicky in Animal Kingdom, Rooster watching Mattie sleep in True Grit, every scene for the first 90 minutes of Winter’s Bone – the threat, so to speak, petered out.

For TRUE GRIT, a concept we feminists ought to appropriate (thanks, Mary Churchill!), Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is the obvious choice, and I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of Alice Ward (Melissa Leo) or the Ward sisters, but I vote for Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) and all her relations, especially Connie (with or without the chainsaw). Hey, Winter’s Bone women, I got some folks you can put the hurt on.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE EVENING: I Am Love should have won for costumes. Tilda Swinton was so stunning in those sheath dresses, carrying her five-thousand-dollar handbags, that I almost didn’t want her to get undressed. Anybody know where I can pick up some paprika cigarette pants and a pale blue shirt? I feel the need for consolation.

appreciation · paying it forward · positive thoughts as I fill out grant applications

Sharing; or, I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends

Much of the frustration, work, and anxiety of the trough of the J Curve relates to paperwork.

Induction into the Great Paperwork Nightmare arrives with the crafting of The Job Letter, which is unlike anything you’ve ever written before and for which the only instruction seems to be “make sure it’s perfect.” If one of your (hundreds? of) letters is, in fact, somehow perfect, you will have to fill out more bureaucratic forms than you knew existed, because you will become a faculty member.

Let’s see: there’s internal funding applications, annual activity reports, applications for different internal funds, SSHRC Standard Research Grants (if you’re in the social sciences or humanities … oh wait! They’ve changed all the programs and now the forms, too!), a variety of other SSHRC grants, sabbatical applications, convert-your-salary-to-research-funds forms, research ethics forms, graduate dissertation / research project/ Master’s thesis / reading course forms, reference letters, reports to journal editors on revisions attempted or rejected, and the mother of all of them (at least from where I’m sitting), the tenure application.

Mostly, you stare at these form-fillable but not saveable PDF, these table-based Word docs with crazy formatting, these spreadsheets that won’t run on your Mac, slack-jawed, writing and creativity alike locked up. Cue the  whining, complaining, defeatism, procrastination, and, if you’re me, drinking.

Well. Thank God for my friends, I say.

When I went on the job market, Heather vetted my letters for me, giving me concrete feedback and advice like “this is too timid,” or “you need a longer paragraph saying what your dissertation is about.” The research office here collects winning SSHRC apps from researcher volunteers, and puts them in a binder for us to consult. When I was trying to write my tenure dossier, three colleagues who’d come up in the three years before me sent me all their material to use as examples. Immeasurably helpful. This week, I sent my tenure dossier to a friend in the US who wondered how to write up her technical work in new media. I sent an internal award application to a friend here who’s junior to me and has never yet applied for one. I sent my salary-conversion application to a colleague in my department who wanted a model of what kinds of things she might budget for and how to justify them.

Of course, when I send you that stuff, you’ll see what my research is. You’ll see my reference lists. My CV and all the things I’ve done or not done so far in my career. You’ll see my budgets, my five year research plan, how I allot work to graduate students, where I’ve applied for jobs, what kind of funding I had in grad school. You might see my big idea, even. But that’s okay: I don’t think you intend me any harm, and I don’t know why that information has to be so closely guarded. Are you going to steal my ideas? Judge my career? Decide you want to apply for the same fellowship as me?

Okay–once in grad school I was in this seminar where we had to workshop our annotated bibliographies, and the next day a classmate RECALLED ALL MY BOOKS. But that’s the only bad thing I’ve ever had happen. I guess it comes with the digital media research area: I’m all about transparency and disclosure, baby.

So to everyone who has ever sent me their own material to save me some stress preparing mine, I thank you from the very deepest part of my heart. I will never recall your books, I promise.

And to anyone who might like to have a look at something I’ve written, to use as a model (or a terrible warning; I don’t know), you’re welcome to it. Just ask.

What about you? Do you share? Have others shared with you? Why? Why not? What are we hiding?

body · day in the life · grad school · health · positive thoughts as I fill out grant applications · possibility

Guest Post: A Day in the Life of a Grad Student

Let me start by saying that I am thoroughly delighted to be doing a guest post for Hook & Eye. I am a first year grad student in Concordia’s Creative Writing program and am finding the transition from student to teacher quite challenging but thoroughly fascinating. I am exactly where I want to be: I will graduate next year with a Master’s in Creative Writing and a written novel, my thesis. I will be twenty-six. I am excited to be approaching a life in the academy and was thrilled when my professor assigned the Hook & Eye blog for our “Pedagogy in and of Canadian Literature” course. As a result of my research over the last month, my rose-tinted glasses have slipped down my nose a little and I have glimpsed the realities that await me as a woman entering the academy. I have been compiling my musings in a blog I created for the project which you are all welcome to read here if you like. For the moment, however, I offer you a glimpse into my life as a first year grad student.

Friday 18th February 2011
I wake to my cellphone’s horrifying alarm (the phone vaguely resembles a car and therefore my alarm resembles race track sounds) at 7:00am. I am still riding the high of pride and pleasant surprise from last night. I had a symposium presentation that went very well, a poetry/fiction reading with most of Concordia’s English department immediately after that was a total delight and an e-mail from Heather Zwicker in my inbox upon arriving home filled with such lovely compliments that I went to sleep smiling. This morning, it’s back to business. I have to write my letter of intent for my TA application, which is due later on today. I’ve done everything else for it: my letters of reference were sent directly, the English admin takes care of our transcripts and all we have to do is explain why we want to teach, what our areas of interest are, a brief word on any awards, publications or relevant experience we have with teaching, any ideas for classes etc.

Now, I should interject here. No one tells us what precisely the letter should include. I asked my classmates and friends in second year and the answers I received were varied: “it’s a formality”, “it’s a summary of you”, “it’s an advertisement”, “an elaboration on your resume” and so on. Cover letters are bloody hard: I hate promoting myself. It makes me feel sick if I do it in a way that comes off as arrogant or desperate. So, I find that if I can now write a letter of intent without sounding saccharine, self-aggrandizing or cocky, and make it somehow filled with personality instead, then I’m happy, or at least a little more comfortable with it. And I would like to think that is what might get me the grants and jobs that will prove necessary this new academic life of mine: personality and honesty.

I am out of bed by 7:30 and in work-mode by 8:00 with a mug of jasmine green tea and toast at hand. My little downtown apartment is quiet in the mornings and being on the ninth floor means it is flooded with sunlight. I spend twenty minutes responding to e-mails about Headlight, the magazine I am an editor for, about my sister’s wedding and about my potential summer job. That done, I open my application Word document and spend the next hour and fifteen minutes letting my tea go cold and the page fill up with my reasons for applying. Influential teachers, my love of communication and creative exploration. It comes slowly.

I would love an extra day or two to work on this. I turned twenty-five on Valentine’s Day and the weekend prior was thoroughly unproductive. Today is going to be busy for a Friday; no classes but we have a meeting for the Colloquium I am helping to organize and my boyfriend has to have an X-ray done. I recently started writing what is turning into a novella about voodoo and the secret lives of names and I would love to work on it at some point today, but I am not optimistic. My boyfriend wakes and joins me at 9: 20, makes more tea and struggles with his own application for a while. We eat granola and brood. Neither of us has teaching experience or much that we feel is relevant to a Teaching Assistantship and we contemplate our CVs of summer jobs and slender editing positions. He leaves for his X-ray at 10:00, in pain and annoyed. This has been a year of unprecedented medical drama for us. Long story short: damaged tongue, excruciating sciatica and issues with scoliosis for him while I have been having recurring back and hip issues from the two car accidents I was in a few years ago. I also may or may not have Crohn’s Disease. Eight pills a day and more visits to the hospital than I care for, no alcohol or coffee and frequent nausea and pain. Not how I wanted to enter grad school.

While my boyfriend is at the doctor’s office I eat a cold slice of vegan pizza from the night before as I complete my application. The pizza is succulent. My application isn’t. I’m not thrilled with the results but before I know it, my boyfriend arrives and brings 2:30 with him. I want tea but there isn’t time. We head to the Library building and spend the next few hours narrowing the Colloquium abstracts down from thirty-three to eighteen. The program lineup is going to be awesome but many of the choices are brutal and I can’t help but notice that things are going to get very busy, very soon. We manage to whittle it down to twenty-one and agree to read them over at home and decide on panels and line-up and such over the weekend. I meet with one of the Colloquium’s head organizers after the meeting has adjourned to discuss the poetry/fiction reading that I am co-planning that will be the conference’s big finish. I am blown away with how much I am responsible for and I feel a twinge of panic. I add that to-do list to my other ones.

It is 5:30 by the time we get back home, and I’m starving and sleepy. Our applications are in. We make a delicious pesto-pasta-tofu-swiss-chard dish and write for a while, me checking and writing email in regard to my job this summer, both of us picking away at essays-in-progress and drafts of our theses. I have yet to meet with my adviser this semester and I’m worried. I’ve barely managed to get submissions that I’m not ashamed of in on time for my fiction workshop, much less add to and work on the lone chapter that is my thesis project. Two friends of mine from the CW undergrad have been boasting via Facebook statuses that they’re half-way done of their novels so far. Christ. HOW? I close my windows and work for another hour or so.

I have to remind myself that I have written a few stories this year that I’m quite proud of and I’ve been published in two different Concordia publications. I’ve celebrated two and a half years with a man that I am more in love with than I ever thought possible, I’ve got a 3.8 GPA and still manage to see friends and maintain relationships. I’m getting my disease under control. This, I think, is massively important: to put the effort into making a life out of what you love, but also not treating every occurrence of pleasure as an indulgence, something to feel guilty for. For these reasons I let my boyfriend convince me to watch “Back to the Future” instead of delving into my “Reading Week To Do” list that will dominate the upcoming seven class-free days. Life is too short not to cuddle with the man you love and count how many times Michael J. Fox says “That’s heavy” or runs his hand through his hair. At 1:15 I curl up with the only book I am reading for pleasure this semester. I started it over Christmas and am only half way through, averaging two or three pages a week, if I’m lucky. I get through two before I feel the book slip through my hands and I give in to the compelling arguments of sleep. My alarm is set for 7:00. I’ll tackle those to do lists tomorrow.

Kathryn Pobjoy
Montreal, Quebec

emotional labour · job notes · saving my sanity · time crunch

The J Curve

About eight years into my job as a professor, I realized that although I hadn’t yet done everything there is to do at a university, I’d done enough that I could more or less figure out whatever came my way. I called that stage “inevitable competence.” I realize that sounds at once grandiose and pitiful, but at the time it gave me an enormous sense of relief.

I’m reminded of that because the last few posts and comments here at Hook & Eye, particularly Aimee’s Friday missive, emphasize how hard this job can be, particularly with a young family.

This job is hard.

But it gets easier.

The getting-easier is what this post is about. One of the worst parts of being in a difficult place is not recognizing your experience as part of a specific and temporary phenomenon, and so I want to lay out here some of the things that made the job easier for me, over time. The transition from grad school to tenure is a kind of J-curve. You graduate elated with your success (I’m finished!!) and then each year gets a little harder and a little worse until, little by little, it turns around, and you find yourself on an upward trajectory. Everybody’s different, of course, but here are some of the good things I’ve noticed, and that you might experience or anticipate, too.

  1. You get a job. It may not be the job of your dreams. It may not be in the city you always fancied. It may not be in the same place as your partner’s job, which really bites, and maybe it’s not an academic job at all. The job comes through or you move on (even if “moving on” = “settling”). The holding pattern Erin described does not last forever, I promise.
  2. You learn how to teach. You figure out who you really are as a teacher – not just when you’re TAing or teaching that one class while you tidy up your dissertation, but who you are as a person who heads into the classroom three or six or nine or twelve times a week, addressing students at different levels and on different topics. You become more comfortable in your teacherly persona. You develop course materials and teaching strategies you can reuse. You tolerate less bullshit, or maybe more, but you spend less energy setting boundaries and more time existing within them. Best of all, grading gets easier (not “easy,” but “easier”!).
  3. Research comes to you. When you first start out, everything is a cold call. You submit abstracts to conferences, some of which turn you down. You submit articles to journals, some of which turn you down. But some things come through. And as you start putting your work out there in the world, opportunities approach you. People invite you to participate in symposia, on roundtables, in working groups. Colleagues seek out your opinion (is there anything sweeter than the first time you’re asked to review a paper for publication?). You get asked to give keynotes, essays are solicited. I think you’re never free of the courage-screwing obligation to send your vulnerable ideas out into the chill academic air, but after a while that’s not all you do.
  4. Administrative service gives you knowledge. As Jo-Ann blogged last fall, “you know stuff.” By working on committees, you learn the acronyms, the unofficial rules, the loopholes, the perils and the benefits that not even the most well-meaning institutions ever spell out. You figure out how your institution really works. You meet people who model the kind of academic you want to be; as importantly, you figure out who you don’t want to be! And by building your reputation in administrative service, you set yourself up for recognition and opportunities down the road. 
  5. Your family grows up. Admittedly, I’m treading on thin (i.e., non-experiential) ice here, but everybody I know says that taking care of pre-school kids is the hardest. Once your kids are sleeping through the night and spending days in school, family life is easier. For one thing, you don’t have to pay (as much) for daycare. For another, you and your partner, if you have one, will have worked out how to co-parent, and you will have established some network or support system. As with grading, I’m not sure family life ever gets “easy” – isn’t that the joy of it? – but it does get easier. At least until they’re teenagers.
  6. You make more money. Buy more space, hire a housecleaner, get a(nother) vehicle, eat out more often – some problems really can be solved by throwing money at them.
  7. You start saying no by saying yes. What I mean by this puzzling turn of phrase is that by accumulating things you want to do, you have a legitimate way of turning down the things you don’t so much want to do. This is an important variation on the “just say no” theme, advice that I find suspect for many reasons (see future post?). For now, suffice it to say that work is easier when you like what you’re doing. Do more of that.
  8. The “firsts” get fewer and farther between. First graduate seminar? First university-level meeting? First semester juggling multiple expectations? First supervisory obligation? First kid? Check, check, check and check. With each tick of the box, you acquire experience. And with more experience, things take less time and – this is key, especially for women, I believe – carry fewer emotional vicissitudes. You’re more confident, less subject to doubt. Bad weeks come around, and you never actually cure yourself of anxiety (or at least I never have): there is always more work to do than the time available to do it and the inbox will never be empty. But living in a state of perpetual behindness becomes a fact of life rather than an acutely perilous condition.

Welcome to the glorious plateau of inevitable competence!

academy · best laid plans · Blogroll · women · work

Making Lists, Making Suggestions

Since our linked series of posts last week that covered the Heliopause (that is being a woman and being promoted to full professorship early in one’s career), the standing-still issue (namely the MLA’s good advice… though I didn’t see any how to implement suggestions in the MLA’s publication), and the complexities of being a full-time academic and full-time mother/partner/autonomous individual without a time machine I’ve found myself thinking in bullet points.

My desire to organize into lists may well be due to the fact that I am about to embark on the holiest of mid-winter grails: reading week. Now’s the time when academics across the nation look over our to-do lists with feverish eyes and over-achievement in our hearts and think ‘I shall accomplish all of these tasks!’ Or maybe that’s just me.

Nonetheless I’m big into lists these days. I find I want to think not only about what I need to get done, but how I am going to do it, and what steps it make take to get it done. You might be asking yourselves what this love of lists has to do with the posts of last week. First and foremost it has to do with my desire to get involved in making this profession (and, by proxy, my life) a more equitable and enjoyable and functional space. I’m no where near tenure or promotion (one would need a tenure-track job for that), nor am I a chair of a department, programme, committee, working group, or advisory team through which I could advocate for changing the way we do the dossier (again, there’s that bit about needing a permanent job first). And I’m not a parent, so while I do agonize over whether I spend enough quality time with my partner, my friends, and (frankly) me, I do not have the added real time and emotional pressures and privileges of caring for a wee one.

What I can do, though, is make some lists!

Lee Skallerup Bessette, one of the regular bloggers for our friend over at University of Venus and blogger and pedagog in her own right, has recently reminded me once again why it is so important to blog as a woman in higher education. For Bessette blogging is a way of combating bullying, “that’s what the media, the politicians, administrators, and even a number of academics are, bullies.” Indeed, that’s what I mean for this list to do.

I’m not the first to make lists, obviously. About three years ago University Affairs ran a series on women in higher education in Canada. (This was around the same time that Inside Higher Ed ran a post on the ‘quiet desperation’ of women academics) Two of the UA posts were entitled “A Challenging Landscape” and “Women Academics Five Strategies for Success.” While I applaud the focus, what frustrates me is the onus that is put entirely on the woman academic navigating that challenging landscape. So I’m going to start my own list, and I’d love for you to add to it. This list is first and foremost for the graduate students and newly minted PhDs among our readership. Why? Because I have no experience beyond the limited term appointment…yet.

So here we go. Three suggestions to begin:

1. Don’t become isolated: read blogs, form reading and writing support groups, make regular meetings with your supervisor, mentor or peers.

2. Do make space for your research. See Aimee’s post on studying for candidacies and adapt those strategies to work for writing the dissertation, writing articles, spending time searching job lists, and writing conference abstract.

3. Do one thing a day that is just for you. Take 15 minutes to look at the Fluevog sale site and droool, go to a yoga class, read a poem, walk outside, write a postcard, make some music Brian Eno style, hug your dog (or mine, see above. Isn’t he huggable?) Whatever. Just make sure you don’t forget that this is your life and you need taking care of too.

Now, back to my epic reading break to do list. Right after I walk the dog.
emotional labour · having it all · kid stuff · new year new plan · saving my sanity · time crunch

The irony is that a lot of my research is about mothering, actually …

Have you read that Tina Fey essay from the New Yorker, that’s making the rounds as an email attachment? It’s about that elusive work / life balance issue. She writes, compellingly, I think, that “[t]he topic of working moms is a tap-dance recital in a minefield. It is less dangerous to draw a cartoon of Allah French-kissing Uncle Sam […] than it is to speak honestly about this topic.”

(pause to strap on tap shoes)

My life is fantastic! Most days, here’s what happens: we get up, as a family, around 7:20. My hubs goes downstairs to eat breakfast; Daughter and I join him after we have a bed snug, go to the bathroom (like girls, in a group), and I get her dressed. She chats up her dad, or her My Little Ponys, and I make her breakfast. After, she watches Mickey Mouse Clubhouse while I make her lunch and pack her bag. I bring her to the bus stop and we play in the snow. I blow her kisses, and sometimes we wave at Dad as he drives past on the way to work.

I go home, make beds, clean up the breakfast messes, have a shower.

I work. I do some laundry. I work. I do some yoga. I go to Starbucks and work. I’m writing / researching about three hours a day. That’s pretty sweet.

I make something from scratch for dinner, and wait for Husband to bring daughter home. We hang out, eat supper, he baths her, I put her to bed. Unless I’m gone to yoga, in which case he does it all.

Sounds balanced and pretty much idyllic, right? Yeah. It’s totally an artificial, once-in-a-century, stars-aligned kind of thing. All this work / life balance is made possible by my ‘pre-tenure course release’–I’m not teaching a damn thing this semester. That’s 40% of my work life, just taken right off my plate.

Basically, that 40% is being used to salvage my family life, a family life that has been buckling under the increasing weight of my tenure application and all the work and stress and heavy expectation that goes along with being a junior faculty member. I have spent the better part of the last 18 months angry and stressed and anxious and insomniac and guilty and heartsore about being torn in twelve directions at once. When I came to grips, in September, with the idea that, unlike at daycare, junior kindergarden required me to pack my girl a lunch from home every day, I cried with frustration: I really didn’t feel I had it in me to make lunches, on top of everything else.

I love my job. Maybe it’s not writing and starring in 30 Rock, but I love it. I love the writing, and the teaching, and sometimes even the meetings (mostly the ones where I get to wield the whiteboard markers …). It’s just that, even with all my freedom and autonomy and benefits and salary and security and short commute, it’s still too much.

It’s too much. At least for now.

And so, when I handed in my grades in December, and contemplated all the free time that comes with not teaching again until September, I snuggled on the couch with my husband and squealed with excitement … about homemade spaghetti sauce, home made by me! About crawling into bed with my girl every morning so she can tell me her dreams while she sticks her bare feet against my belly. About waiting to have the house to myself so I could have the whole thing tidy and organized before 10am, instead of after 10pm. About him maybe getting to work on time more than once a month.

I’m writing a lot, but if I can be perfectly frank, it’s not my number one priority this term. I want to, as we say in yoga, align with my intention. My intention has always been to pursue my career passionately and competently, but within the boundaries of maintaining and nurturing my family, and me within it. It’s so very easy to lose sight of that in the race for tenure, where great is never good enough, and there’s always more you can do, always more you’ll be asked to do. Now that I’m home in my pyjamas scraping peanut butter off the baseboard while I wait for my Writing Coffee to finish brewing, I’m just a lot happier. I’m more patient. Less bitchy. More relaxed. Less … overscheduled.

I like how this feels. I wonder how I can keep this up once that 40% of my job I’m supposed to devote to teaching makes its way back into my life. My family has made a lot of sacrifices for me, and while I want to give some of that back, mostly I just really miss them. I’ve been overwhelmed, and I have overwhelmed them, and I didn’t realize how I was suffocating until the life-giving air of time and simplicity blew back into my life. What happens in September?

equity · job notes · promotion

How to solve the problem of women "standing still"

I sat down to key the solution to the gender inequity in promotion that Julie so eloquently blogged about yesterday – and to refresh my mind about the issues, I revisited the Modern Language Association’s report “Standing Still.” On rereading, I couldn’t help thinking that if we implemented just some of the following, we’d be making progress.

Here are the MLA’s recommendations.

  1. Colleges and universities should establish clear guidelines and paths for promotion from associate professor to professor in alignment with their institutional mission. With the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion, the committee recommends that colleges and universities adopt a more expansive conception of scholarship, research, and publication; rethink the dominance of the monograph; and consider work produced and disseminated in new media. The committee also recommends public scholarship as an important avenue of research.
  2. Colleges and universities should offer substantial increases in salary when a faculty member is promoted from associate professor to professor. At institutions of higher education across the country, the increase in salary at promotion generally offers little incentive to aspire to and strive for promotion.
  3. Colleges and universities should create programs for mentoring associate professors. At its best, such mentoring inspires a sense of responsibility across ranks and a sense of intergenerational connection and reciprocity.
  4. Colleges and universities should establish leadership training explicitly for newly tenured women faculty members in the recognition that promotion to associate professor often entails appointment to leadership positions.
  5. Colleges and universities should sponsor training and development sessions for their
    department chairs on key matters:
    • the importance of the ongoing development of associate professors, with an emphasis on long-range planning over a period of at least five years and on encouraging the continued scholarly progress of faculty members at the rank of associate professor from the time they are promoted
    • the assessment of the allocation of responsibilities of faculty members to ensure that they are equitably and appropriately distributed across the ranks of probationary and tenured faculty members
    • the monitoring of how long associate professors have been in rank in relation to the mission of the institution. Nine years might be used as a metric for measuring an institution’s progress in promoting associate professors.
  6. Colleges and universities should devote specific resources, in addition to leaves for
    research, to support associate professors’ scholarship. They have the obligation not only to require and encourage but also to help underwrite the scholarship of faculty members at all ranks and across the span of their careers. Scholarship is a public good and should be supported.
    equity · job notes · promotion

    Guest Post: Heliopause: Becoming a Female Full Professor

    In 2007, I received the Letter from my Dean. Like my favourite spacecraft of all time, Voyagers I and II, I was approaching the equivalent of the Heliopause. I think that Heliopause fits the problem of promotion in the academy better than the idea of the Glass Ceiling. The Heliopause marks the very edge of our solar system, the place where the magnetic field generated by the sun declines, and magnetic fields coming from beyond the solar system become stronger. Beyond the Heliopause, there is interstellar space. Nothing made by human beings has ever travelled so far and no one thought that it was possible to approach this boundary. And even Voyagers I and II weren’t built to travel there. They were supposed to break down after their missions to the outer planets in the 1980s, but they did not. Their intelligent design meant that ten years into the millenium, decades after they transmitted the most beautiful pictures ever made of the planets Saturn, Neptune and Uranus, they are still out there, providing new data about what is largely unknown.

    Okay, back to the letter from the Dean. It told me that I qualified for promotion to Full Professor and it invited me to apply for promotion. After more than a decade at my university, I knew what the letter really meant: I was approaching the end of the pay scale for Associate Professor and was being “invited” to make the jump to Full. Like the Voyagers, I wasn’t “supposed” to get this letter this early in my career. But there I was, staring at my the evidence of my own Heliopause, a magnetic field I couldn’t see but which nevertheless powerfully determines the direction in which I move.

    Like magnetic fields, lines of power and authority are hard to detect, but they move through everything we do. This is particularly evident in the mysteries of tenure and promotion, processes which affect everyone who has a permanent position in the professoriat but which are little understood. For example, it is not a given that every professor becomes a full professor in the Canadian system. In my institutions, there are few overt benefits: our pay incrementation does rise, but only for a few years and the standards for getting increments rises too. And there isn’t a bonus for getting promoted. But the hidden benefits are considerable. Even though the criteria for promotion primarily are based on research record, it is tacitly assumed that full professors can take up all kinds of leadership roles in the university. This isn’t actually true, because I know a lot of Associate Professors who are better at administration and teaching than many Full Professors. But it’s a common assumption, and so in the academy it takes on the force of truth. Becoming a Full Professor is a personal milestone, but it also brings cultural capital with it. Cultural capital is what guarantees other kinds of capital in the academic world.

    So, I knew that I was being “invited” to apply for promotion, but the invitation was not really all that open. I didn’t have to apply. If I did, there is no measurable way to ensure that I would be successful. Like everything else in the academy, getting a promotion depends on the evaluations of my colleagues in my department, my faculty and my field. I would be judged and hopfully not found wanting. It was scary just thinking about what being turned down would mean, professionally and personally. I asked myself: “is my record good enough?” I didn’t know.

    Many academic women answer this question by not going for promotion. Fewer women than men apply for promotion to full professor. Of those who pass through the Heliopause of promotion, most are men: in 2007, the Canadian Equity Audit reported that only 20% of Full Professors in Canadian postsecondary education were women. Compare that to the level of Associate Professor where 35.8% were female, and Assistant Professor, where the figure was 42.9%. The figures are only slightly better in English, my area. The Modern Language Association found out in 2009 that only 32% of Full Professors in their membership were female, but almost half of the Associate Professors were (49%). That survey also reported that on average, women take between one to three and a half years longer than men to apply for promotion. In research-intensive institutions, that figure jumps to more than eight years longer.

    It’s clear from these figures that there is a significant gender gap in the professoriate, and that women wait longer than men to make that trip through the Heliopause. There are a lot of reasons why this might be true. The magnetic lines of force in the academy can make the idea of promotion unthinkable for those women who have to juggle more responsibilities at home than some men do, and who spend more time teaching than doing research, the thing which–like it or not–is the key factor to getting a promotion. It’s also about self-confidence and time: women in the MLA survey reported that with collegial colleagues and mentorship, release time for research, a clear system for promotion and the confidence they gained from going to conferences, it was easier to believe that they could apply for promotion and be successful.

    Meanwhile, back at my institution, I wondered what to do. I knew about the Equity Audit statistics. So I asked the last woman in my department who became a full professor to visit my office and talk to me about whether I should go for promotion or not. We got out a list of faculty in my department and counted the number of full professors who were women. Guess what: in 2007, there were twenty-two male full professors, and only six female full professors. Only six! My colleague and I looked at each other. “Okay,” she said, “you had better do it.” I thought so too. Another colleague told me that about fifteen years before, the number had actually been higher because there had been eight women.

    So I applied, and I got the promotion. Even though it was “early” for a woman like me to apply, I decided to buck the statistics and show other women that we didn’t have to wait until we were in our 50s to become full professors. Although I don’t think that there were immediate benefits other than the temporary increase in salary incrementation, I’d say that the supportive letters in my file from my referees and the fact that my junior female colleagues have said that they can see that it’s possible made it worth it. On a personal level, I’m glad that I took this step because I proved something to myself. Now I evaluate tenure cases, and I recently had the satisfaction of fighting for one woman in another institution who almost didn’t get tenure because the criteria for her were made much harder than for her male colleagues. I know that I got to weigh in on that issue because I’m a full professor, and I got to make a difference.

    What lies beyond the Heliopause? I’m only beginning to find out. But I know as my junior female colleagues and all of my colleagues who belong to minority groups join me out there, I’ll be in good company as we make that journey together.

    – Julie Rak
    University of Alberta

    emotional labour · mental health · slow academy · teaching · women · you're awesome

    A different kind of love letter

    When I was little my parents made a big deal about it because it was the day before my birthday. Valentine’s Day = pre-birthday. They made me cards and I usually got a few small things: some candy to be sure, and maybe a pair of funny socks of something.

    These days I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day, not really. Now that I’m an adult I find this holiday particularly cumbersome. There’s a lot of expectation, and I’m obviously not the first one to observe this fact. It seems to be one of the most gratuitous holidays on the calendar, at least in the ways that it is marketed. But I’ve been trying to train myself to be an optimist (ahem, emphasis on the trying! for those of you who may have just spat your coffee out).

    So in the name of positivity I want to give a shout out to all the people who make my experience—as a woman working in the academy—a wonderfully rich thing. There is so much that can get me down about working in this profession. Lack of job security, the seemingly omnipresent glass ceiling, the unpaid emotional work that wears me down sometimes, all of this and more can start to cloud my vision and have me feeling (justifiably most of the time) like Snoopy when he’s feeling vulture-y. But today I want to cast a warm huzzah! out to some of the aspects of what Heather has so aptly named the beautiful job.

    That’s right y’all; this is a love letter.

    I love the amazing women in the English Department’s main office. They deal with everything to sewage leaks in my office (again), to frantic students, to impossible scheduling conflicts, to welcome committee, to administrative mavens, to who knows what else because they do it all and make it look easy. Thank you MB, thank you CP.

    I love my colleagues. I really do. The ones here in Halifax and the ones far away. There are some many amazingly smart, committed, compelling people doing incredible game-changing work in our profession. I am especially grateful to the ones (and they know who they are) who have taken it upon themselves to mentor me since I’ve arrived here. I appreciate you, I see the work you do, I’m grateful.

    I love that I don’t always love my job. I love that I work in a profession that keeps me critically attentive to the why in ‘why am I doing this?’ I love that the strangest, smallest, or most unexpected things can make my entire month. Case in point, a few weeks ago I received an email from a (famous!!) poet I greatly admire but have never met. She wants to come here to do a reading. Someone in the profession—a colleague several provinces away whom I’ve also never met—recommended that the poet get in touch with me. How very cool is that?

    I love that this job let’s me imagine ways of collaborating with my friends and colleagues. (Hi Heather! Hi Aimée! Hi TVM! KM! Hi ECK! Hi RC, RZ, TC! Hi KS, db, I’m so excited!) I love too that it allows me to keep in touch with my mentors and far-flung friends. See you in Fredericton!

    I love the students. Mostly. I love that from time to time I get an email out of the blue from a student who has read a book she thought I might like, or who wants to tell me she’s just received an interview. I love that I get to work with students and that more than sometimes I feel like we’re all learning.

    I love my partner ME and our fabulous dog Felix. Both of these big hearted, wise entities keep me grounded and help to remind me that there is indeed a big(ger) picture. ME moved his whole life to Halifax to give me a shot at the beautiful job. That’s pretty bloody awesome, isn’t it? Thank you, love. (Felix the Dog came along. He’s a team player.)

    I love my partner in crime MC without whom I would not make it to yoga each weekday, or have regular conversations deconstructing patriarchal paradigms, and spend a good deal of time making each other laugh.

    Oh yes, and I love you dear readers. It is quite a thing to know you’re out there agreeing, disagreeing, reading, thinking, and doing.

    OK, this is fun. Your turn.

    advice · bad academics · saving my sanity · writing

    Essential supports

    I am a writer.

    Phew, that’s hard to say! I write it down up there and I still experience cognitive dissonance. I mean, a ‘writer’ is someone who spends a lot of time alone, thinking. Always scribbling (or typing) stuff down. Someone who writes constantly, who chooses writing over stuff like reruns of Holmes on Homes or a yoga blog. Someone serious.

    Someone, that is, totally unlike me. The idea of starting a nice fresh article draft from my own idea file literally makes me itchy. Sometimes, it takes me three hours of pfaffing around to settle in for 20 minutes of writing. I like to be around people. I find writing really hard and annoying. I am not at all confident about what I write down. It takes time and time and time and time and time for anything I write down to look like anything worth reading, and even longer for it to be apparent that what has been written might have any value to anyone.

    As it turns out, a lot of successful writers look a lot more like me than like the vision of that imaginary writer I’ve always compared myself so unfavourably to.


    You know how I have finally (well, functionally) overcome the cognitive dissonance that for years kept me anxious and guilty? I played to my strengths. For me, being a real writer means setting the iPhone timer for 40 minute stretches of nothing-but-writing-seriously-now-leave-your-email-alone, then giggling over Go Fug Yourself for 10 minutes with one friend, or swapping grading and syllabus tips with another friend, topping up our lattes, and setting the timer again. Being a real writer for me means shitty first drafts, really, really shitty first drafts. It means posting daily updates about how many words written and how long, and writing little comments for 10 or 12 other members in the same boat as me. Being a writer means a weekly drinks date with my lady colleagues as a reward. It’s calling my husband up when I get blocked, and telling him my ideas verbally until I get it sorted out. It’s cupcakes and new pens and other daily rewards.

    Since I’ve decided to just accept the kind of writer I actually am, rather than beating myself up every day for not being how I thought a real writer should be, I’m writing a lot more. Every day. And it’s easier. I mean, I still hate it, but that’s my process. That’s who I am as a writer. My essential supports are cupcakes, friends, Internet breaks, daily accountability to other writers, permission to write really awful prose that I rework, sometimes with a peer editor, and near-daily verbal processing of ideas with someone married to me.

    What are your essential supports for writing? Does it match your idea of what a real writer needs? What if who you are is what a real writer is?