best laid plans · feminism · politics · winter

Planning for the Holidays, Holidays for Planning

I’m seven working days away from my first vacation in a year and a half. All of my time off from work in 2016 was used to go to the MLA, teach at DHSI, and finish and defend my dissertation. All good things, but none of them a vacation. And I’m tired. Bring on the holidays.

But I’m also mad and scared and sad. I’m not terribly good at being mad and scared and sad. I grew up in a family with only two emotional temperatures–everything is great, or nuclear. I love my family dearly, but being raised by them has left me with, as Hermione Granger would say,  the emotional range of a teaspoon when it comes to the less cheery feelings. And so my natural tendency is to shy away from strong negative feelings because my body and mind don’t quite know how to distinguish between “kinda, and justifiably, angry” and the nuclear option of my childhood and adolescence. But I’m learning. (Guts’ new “In the Cards: Ask a Feelings-Witch” column was super on point this week–subject: anger–and super helpful). I’m furious about a lot, including how little the Canadian government is doing, diplomatically and otherwise, to intervene in Syria, and so I spent last night in a righteous rage, calling and tweeting and pulling out my credit card. It turns out that I’m pretty okay with being angry when the alternative is feeling impotent and helpless

What does all of this have to do with the holidays, you might ask? I love a good plan–see, as evidence, the fact that I never go anywhere without my Hobonichi Techo planner, or my way over-the-top first week post-PhD schedule–and while I’m planning for the holidays, I’m also going to use my holidays for planning. I’ve got a long list of things I want to do, for fun and self-care. I want to finish reading all of the Miss Fisher novels. I want to work on my novel every day. I want to go shopping in Kensington Market and cook an amazing anniversary dinner with my partner. I want to finally figure out what the hell to do with that stupid corner cabinet in the kitchen. I want to finish crocheting the giant blanket I’ve been working on. I want to go to the movies. I want to take my godson on his first trip to the art gallery. I want to spend time feeding and hugging and listening to my people. I want to sit in front of the fire.

But I also want to use my holidays to do some research and learning and planning toward a more sustainable approach to anger and advocacy next year. I’m pretty sure–Rebecca Solnit’s hope for a miracle aside–that 2017 is going to be a crappy, crappy year. It’s going to be full of all of that fear and rage and sadness that I’m working hard to get good at. And I need to figure out the most useful and sensible ways to channel those feelings into sustainable, mindful, planned action. And so I’m going spend part of my holidays planning for 2017. What local organizations can I get involved or more involved in that support the work of intersectional feminist joy-killing, combatting climate change, helping refugees? What organizations, local and international, most deserve my money and do the most impactful work with donations? What and who should I add to my reading list to help me be a better advocate and ally? What’s the contact information for the most powerful and responsive people in local, provincial, and federal governments? How can I better connect and collaborate with the amazing people in my life who share my concerns and goals? What does sustainable activism–a steady blaze, not a flash fire–look like for me, in good balance with work, research, creative, and family life?

Obviously, I’m not going to be able to do all of things I want to over the holidays, but in planning for both self-care and activism, I’m hoping to head into 2017 feeling recharged and ready to keep working and fighting. This is likely our last post of 2016 on Hook & Eye, and so from all of us, wishing you a restful and rage-filled winter break. Let’s burn down the worst parts of the world and make s’mores while we’re at it.


Take care, take time

Radical thought, oh my academic friends: take at least a week off this holiday break. Like, off off: don’t check your work email, don’t work on your syllabus, don’t try to revise that article. If you are someone’s supervisor or someone’s boss, for goodness sake, be explicit that you hope those who report to you do not work or check email or ‘get ahead’ or ‘work on a project’ over the break.

I hear the howls of protest already: but I’m so behind! It’s my only chance to not be interrupted! I need to get ahead! I have all these loose ends! Everything is on fire!  But I like working every day of the year!

No. I mean, let me try to be empathetic here: I know you feel a lot of pressure, but working straight through the holiday is only going to make it worse. Worse right away because you will feel lousy and exhausted and exploited. Worse later because people will expect you to be always working. Worse for everyone else who would really like work life balance because you are setting a precedent for not needing it. So, no.

Are you tired? Has the term been tough? Have you studied / taught / researched / served with all your might, juggled too many things at once, set lofty goals and not quite reached them, dropped a couple of things? Me too. Also, everyone else. Take a break, soften, rest.

Do you have a big term coming up at the start of January? Writing deadlines, new prep, admissions season, lofty goals you’re not quite sure you can reach? Me too. Also, everyone else. Take a break, build up a little cushion of restedness to be ready to tackle January when it comes.

The longer I do this the more I understand the values of boundaries. This job will take any amount of time you throw at it, and ask for more, and the work will still never be done. So I set boundaries: this amount of time for course prep and no more. A dedicated writing appointment every time for 60 minutes. No work emails after 5 pm (and if I write them after that, I wait until morning to send them). Take the weekends off (unless I am overcome by an urge to write). This makes me more productive and more relaxed–it’s true.

And I’m setting boundaries not just on a daily or a weekly basis: I’m setting semester boundaries. This means, particularly between Fall and Winter semesters, when my family celebrates Christmas, I take a break. Don’t work. Sleep in. Read novels. Go sledding. Drink mimosas at 10am. Hit the Boxing Day sales. Hang out with friends and family.

The best part is digging out my office keys on the first day back, walking down the hallway to my office, and seeing everything with fresh eyes. It feels like I’ve been away. It’s fresh, a little strange. I’m ready to go.

Everyone deserves this feeling.

When I was a grad student I used to fly home for the holiday with half a suitcase full of books. I never read them. They were heavy to carry. I felt an ambient looming guilt over not reading them when I was out walking in the snow or sipping egg nog. I felt regret when I dragged them all back to Edmonton unread, starting the semester feeling like a failure.

As as prof, I’m very, very careful to not give my own students anything to do over the break. No really late paper submission deadlines so that they write all through the holiday, no pre-semester reading list or assignments. No chapter revisions for my supervisees. Nothing.

You need a break. I need a break. I assure that I myself take one every year at this time and I’m still employed and relatively successful. And happy.

So my holiday wish for you is: visions of sugarplums, and not Zizek, dancing in your head, for at least a week. You can do it. You deserve it.

feminism · personal narrative · shifting perspectives · women and violence

My radically sexist father

Disclaimer: this is a very personal post, and sort of breaks with our normal format here at Hook & Eye. Trying out something new before breaking for the holidays. Hopefully you’ll get something out of it anyway. Thanks for reading! xx

Anyone who knows me well knows that I had a very complicated relationship with my father, who died suddenly of cardiac arrest in 2006. Memories of him have been resurfacing for me recently, partly because of Trump (more on that below), partly because the holiday season often has me sorting through old papers and feeling nostalgic. A text conversation prompted me to search for his name through the Fordham library databases website, and the articles that produced were like slaps in the face, serving as stark reminders of the childhood he had made so difficult for me. 

From Alberta Report, Nov. 22, 1999
I had posted these on Facebook but removed them after becoming frustrated at the expressions of sympathy in response, which seemed so inadequately linked with the complicated reality of my memories. How could people know, without any context, what these fragments really represent? 
My dad was a self-proclaimed radical environmentalist, and fought for a number of important local causes, such as clean air and sacred land rights. But he also believed that all of Alberta was going to be wiped out in a flash flood originating from the Bennett Dam a few hours northwest in British Columbia, and his conviction that the oil & gas industry in Alberta was destroying the local ecosystem transcended peaceful protest and dissent. He would charge into my junior high school and remove me from class because he’d determined that the local oil & gas flare was particularly bad that day. He routinely posted signs on our lawn expressing incendiary statements in support of Wiebo Ludwig, the cultish local rabblerouser who was associated with vandalizing oil rigs and on whose property the sixteen-year-old girl mentioned in the article was killed. Dad had a fierce case of bipolar I disorder which he refused to treat, and would stay up all hours of the night sending alarmist faxes about pressing but sometimes invented environmental issues to local, provincial, and federal politicians and allies. The small, rural community where I’m from did not like his inflammatory rhetoric and the affiliation with the Ludwigs which he actively maintained (as seen above: “Long Live the Ludwigs!”), and on two different occasions, strangers threw rocks through our windows, once above the bed where my younger sister was sleeping. In response, he boarded up the windows of our house, rendering ever more visible the divide between our family and our town, and consequently spurring more fear and distrust from both sides. That was a horrible year for me, in 9th grade and thirteen years old, dealing with the aftereffects of puberty and just starting out on teenage life–and my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer the same year. My schoolmates were acutely aware that my dad didn’t like their dads’ occupations, and were sometimes not allowed to spend time with me. 
Dad was a source of humiliation and shame for so much of my childhood, and his sudden departure one morning in the spring of 2000, ostensibly as a result of growing antipathy between him and the community, had a positive impact on my family. My mom, with whom he had not slept in the same room for years, seemed to grow younger over the next six months.
I didn’t see him too often over the final few years of his life. My attitude toward him in those years oscillated between pity and revulsion: penniless and destitute, he had retreated into the forest as is befitting someone who devoted twenty years of his life to environmentalist causes, living out of a Boler trailer on his friend’s property. Rarely he would call, more frequently he would mail me conspiratorial articles from questionable publications with scrawled notes at the bottom. Once he resigned himself to the fact that I was pursuing an English degree in university rather than physics or engineering, he gifted me a charming copy of W.W. Skeat’s Etymological Dictionary of the English Language which he must have picked up at some local thrift store. During this time I could see him reaching out in what can be understood as oblique acts of affection to close relatives (such as me and my sister, and children from his first wife) whom he hadn’t treated well when it really mattered. Yet his paranoid interventions occasionally resurfaced: during my first year in college, when I played piano on the worship team for a local church, my dad replicated his old routine of showing up to organizations I was a part of and dragging me out of them, humiliating me further by accusing the youth pastor of having an inappropriately intimate relationship with me. 
Moving to New York has gotten me away from this past in many ways. Ten years after his death, I have enough distance to begin to see him more as a flawed, bitter man who led a complicated and sometimes destructive life, and whose primary mistake may have been his persistent refusal to medicate his serious mental disease. His life and his legacy are becoming important for me to process from a more distanced stance– in this post-election world, it seems more important than ever to think through what it means to espouse radical beliefs in a healthy, productive way, rather than a way that incites fear and violence from all sides. I’m haunted by the thought that the #noDAPL protests at Standing Rock are very much in line with much of what he stood for, but my father would also, in all likelihood, have greatly admired and celebrated the rise of Donald Trump. 
Indeed, the two men are not unlike each other. Like Trump, my dad was a man of contradictions–a performer, trained in provocation and wild bandying about of contradictory ideas, an “entertainer” as the article above claims. He believed the world was rigged against him, a product of his deeply ingrained victim complex. He sometimes displayed horrifying racism and applauded Wiebo for shaving his daughters’ and wives’ heads as a visible sign of their inferiority  (though, to his credit, he did try to convert my sister and I to his causes and encourage us to follow ‘manly’ career paths). He liked to lord his power over people close to him, to make incendiary remarks based on negligible evidence, to recklessly ally himself with anyone who was nice to him and uncritically reject anyone who wasn’t. He probably would have seen in Trump someone who stands up to the respectable decorum of the political establishment, isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and caters to populist concerns. My dad didn’t care about business ventures or money-making, but devoted himself to overturning existing structures and stirring shit up. 
Perhaps my reflections on his story have no place in an academic blog. All I know is that for a long time, academia helped me get away from anything that reminded me of him, and now I’m becoming pushed back, through the ghosts stirred up by the election and the ensuing environmental catastrophe it might engender, and the dire current need for as many modes of anti-Trump activism as possible. So I guess I’m here to reassert my dedication to activism, to environmentalism, but also to feminism and other anti-oppression -isms–to the things my dad fought for as well as the things he couldn’t see his patriarchal ideology was working to unravel.  
#alt-ac · #alt-ac 101 · #post-ac · careers · community · networking

#altac 101: Building New Professional Communities

One of the scariest parts of choosing to pursue a non-faculty career was the idea of leaving behind my academic communities. I spent my PhD immersed in engaged, supportive, and mind-opening communities, ones that formed on the picket line at York, in my long-running writing group, and through a national digital humanities consortium that brought together Canadianists from all over the country. Those people made me and my work better, and even as I knew that some of the friendships engendered by those academic working relationships would change when I stopped being a full-time academic, I really hoped that my existing communities would continue to sustain me even as I moved into a new career.

Inevitably, what I’d hoped would happen both has and hasn’t. The people who meant the most to me in my academic communities are still in my life in meaningful ways, and I love how our relationships have deepened and changed. But now that I’m in my fourth year of my academic administrative career, and especially now that I’m done my PhD, those communities aren’t sustaining me professionally the way they once did. Networking with other humanities academics isn’t going to help me further my career goals in the way I need to, and these aren’t the people any more with whom I need to talk and share about current research, trends, and best practices.

Happily, however, I’ve managed to find and build a new professional community that meets my new needs as someone who works in graduate professional development and research administration. It took a little work, a little digging, and a little waiting for the community to build itself up around a fairly new career path, but I’ve now got an awesome group of people in my corner, and my inbox, who make me feel supported in my work, who help me be better at my job, and with whom I’m excited to collaborate. If you’re also embarking on a non-faculty career, or you’re someone considering it but fearful of giving up the kind of community you found and built as an academic, I’ve got some advice:

1) If there’s a career, there is probably a professional society for it, although figuring out which one is the best fit for your need and goals can take a bit of work. In my case, it took asking colleagues, talking to people in similar positions, and keeping an eye in the agendas of upcoming events. In the end, I figured out that if I need to talk graduate funding administration, I go to the Ontario Universities Graduate Awards Forum. If I want to connect with my fellow postdoc coordinators, I go to the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Administrators conference. Grad professional development? That happens at the annual meetings of the Graduate Career Consortium and the Canadian Consortium of Graduate Student Professional Development Administrators (CCGSPDA). These are the places where my people are now, and those people and places are awesome.

2) If there isn’t a professional society, you can make one happen. The CCGSPDA used to be just a small group of people who did graduate and postdoctoral professional development and had a LinkedIn group and semi-regular web calls. But then we got a name, and a Listserv, and an annual meeting, and official recognition by the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies, and an official mandate, and a whole bunch of new members. We’re a proper professional association now, and the CCGSPDA has become the primary place where I network, share ideas, learn about what’s new and find collaborators.

3) Find the people like you outside of formal contexts. I run a centre called the Research Training Centre within a hospital-based research institute, at which about 1,200 graduate students and postdocs work, and there are at least a half-dozen research institutes in Toronto alone. And guess what? Almost all of them have some version of my Centre, and some version of me. We’ve all recently connected for the first time, and we’re going to start meeting in the new year to collaborate, share ideas, and trade war stories.

4) Don’t forget about Twitter, and find your hashtags. If you can find the accounts and hashtags people in your profession use, you’ve tapped into a broad and useful professional community that extends beyond the walls of your organization. Via hashtags like #altac, #postac, #withaphd, I can tap into a North America-wide community of people interested in graduate professional and career development in all kinds of contexts, and that diversity of ideas and perspectives makes me so much better at my job.


Open Letters and Commitments to Equity

I was honoured over the last week or so to work with my colleagues Frankie Condon, Jay Dolmage, Jennifer Harris, Heather Smyth, and Vinh Nguyen to craft an open letter–as so many others have done!–expressing our disavowal of the politics of hate and division the recent US election seems to portend. We wanted to stake a claim for justice. And we wanted it to be local, and we wanted it to do something rather than just say something. So there are action items in here, that I am going to post on my office door for all to see, and on my office bulletin board to guide my actions every day.

Our letter, because we want it to be impactful, has to be local. If you are a UW staff, faculty, or alumni and want your name added, leave you name in the comments, or send me an email and I’ll add it.

If you like the letter but are not at the University of Waterloo, take what you will from it, and start a letter for your own institution.

Beliefs that are not voice have no impact; but statements without action are just as bad. We will hold ourselves to this, and try to make our little corner of the world a better place. We would love you to join us.

Please share widely.

Open letter to the University of Waterloo

We recognize that our feelings of anger, grief, and fear in response to the recent U.S. election are shared by many of our colleagues and students at the University of Waterloo. We condemn the hate crimes, hate speech, and everyday appeals to racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, misogyny, ableism, and trans- and homophobia across North America and abroad that have so marred our collective hope for more fully realized global social justice.

We are committed to racial justice, religious freedom, and social equality. We stand in solidarity with colleagues and students whose well-being is threatened in the current political climate especially with those who are racialized Others, who are LGBTQ2, who are Muslims and Jews, immigrants and refugees, Indigenous, or disabled. We acknowledge and accept our right and our responsibility to act on this commitment to solidarity in our classrooms, our offices, our meeting rooms, and in our research, as well as in our communities beyond the bounds of our universities.

We are committed to the work of creating a just future in which Othered and dissenting perspectives and voices are acknowledged and respected, in which the rights of all peoples to full economic and political empowerment are recognized, and in which rights to religious freedom are honoured. We stand together against the politics of racism, white supremacy, hatred, and misogyny. We call on our institutional leaders and our colleagues to join with us in challenging and dismantling hate in all its forms on our campus, in our communities, our province, and our nation.

We, the undersigned, commit to the following actions:

  • We will foster and sustain equitable spaces for discussion in the classroom 
  • We will craft inclusive syllabi that recognize the plurality of voices, traditions, and perspectives in academic work, as well as in our student body 
  • We refuse to ignore, normalize, or explain away overt racism, homo- and transphobia, misogyny and xenophobia in our teaching, service, research, or public work for any reason, including undue deference to position or institution 
  • We will work to create a more just, equitable, supportive, and inclusive university, from our classrooms, to our offices, to our faculties and the broader institution, through policy initiatives and daily action 

We call on our university to:

  • Indigenize, by taking the following steps: 
    • Prioritize and follow through on the hiring of indigenous scholars in every faculty and discipline 
    • Include territorial acknowledgement prominently on all public documents and public relations materials as well as on syllabi and online course materials
    • Create conduits for indigenous students at all levels of study to attend the University of Waterloo 
    • Encourage and support University initiatives that particularly focus on innovation that works WITH indigenous communities to address inequalities, injustices, environmental, economic, and political problems that particularly impact on indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world. 
  • Work harder and more visibly to create and sustain a university environment that is fair, equitable, and welcoming for students, faculty, and staff of all faiths, gender identities, abilities, ethnicities, races, and nationalities paying particular attention to and with particular care for the needs and interests of those most likely to face discrimination 
  • Publicly recognize and dedicate the university’s care and attention to the arts and humanities where the values of justice, equality, fairness, and inclusion, where the histories, philosophical and spiritual traditions, arts and cultures of diverse peoples are studied and told 
  • Publicly recognize and support public intellectualism across all faculties and disciplines; that is, value and support faculty and student engagement beyond the bounds of the university with social, cultural, political, and economic reform or transformation toward the goal of social justice 

Dr. Carol Acton, Department of English Language and Literature, St. Jerome’s University, University of Waterloo
Dr. Lamees Al Ethari, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo
Dr. Alicia Batten, Department of Religious Studies & Theological Studies, Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo
Dr. Lizbeth Berbary-Mohamed, Recreation and Leisure Studies, University of Waterloo
Dr. Kate Rybczynski, Department of Economics, University of Waterloo
Dr. Frankie Condon, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo
Dr. Bruce Dadey, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo
Dr. Jay Dolmage, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo
Dr. Marlene Epp, Departments of History and Peace & Conflict Studies, Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo
Dr. Robert Gorbet, Department of Knowledge Integration, University of Waterloo
Dr. Dorothy Hadfield, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo
Dr. Jennifer Harris, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo
Dr. Ken Hirschkop, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo
Dr. Sara Humphreys, St. Jerome’s University
Dr. Corey W. Johnson, Recreation and Leisure Studies, Applied Health Sciences, University of Waterloo
Dr. Ashley Kelly, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo
Dr. Victoria Lamont, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo
Dr. Shana MacDonald, Department of Drama and Speech Communication, University of Waterloo
Dr. John McLevey, Department of Knowledge Integration, University of Waterloo
Dr. Andrew McMurry, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo
Dr. Aimée Morrison, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo
Dr. Vinh Nguyen, Renison College, University of Waterloo
Dr. Jane Nicholas, Departments of History and Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Studies, St. Jerome’s University, University of Waterloo
Dr. Kathryn Plaisance, Department of Knowledge Integration, University of Waterloo
Lorna Rourke, Librarian, St. Jerome’s University, University of Waterloo
Dr. Vanessa Schweizer, Department of Knowledge Integration, University of Waterloo
Dr. Gordon Slethaug, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo
Dr. Heather Smyth, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo
Dr. Linda Warley, Associate Dean, Graduate Studies, Faculty of Arts
Dr. Vershawn Young, Department of Drama and Speech Communication, University of Waterloo

#alt-ac · #post-ac · good attitudes about crappy possibilities · grad school · job market · mentoring · openness · PhD · reform · student engagement · students · transition

From the Archives: Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me During My PhD

The new school year is well underway, and so is the work I do with our Career Development Committee, a group of graduate students, postdocs, and research associates (who are very much like the STEM world’s version of contract academic faculty). The CDC’s mandate is to provide career development education that helps students and fellows find awesome non-academic careers, and they’re very good at it.

Their big fall event, Career Night, is happening tonight. They bring in 10 alumni or other graduate-trained people in their networks and then do what is in essence a series of short informational interviews. This time, we have everyone from an assistant provost to an academic acquisitions editor, with people from regulatory affairs, government policy, small-business ownership, research administration, and industry science also in the mix. A small group of students and fellows chat with one of the invitees for 25 minutes about their graduate training, their career path to the present, and what advice they have for others looking to move into a non-academic careers, and then they switch, and switch again.

By the end of the night, each person has had a chance to talk with three professionals, and to mingle and network with as many more as they want during the open part of the event. I wish I had access to a similar event during my PhD, and that I had gotten some of the good advice I know my students and fellows are going to get during Career Night. I know I’m not the only one, so here’s what I hope people learn tonight that might also be useful to you, or your students.


1. Be Realistic, and Open, About What Comes After Grad School

In the recent America-wide survey by Duke University graduate student Gregory Brennen, the data showed that 83% of graduate students started their PhD expecting to become a tenure-track professor. This is in stark contrast with the current data on how many PhDs actually end up in tenure track jobs—most estimates suggest that fewer than 50% of PhDs end up in any kind of academic job (that includes contract teaching) and that only between 15% and 25% ever secure tenure track jobs. Given this reality, graduate students need to prepare for, and embrace, the multitude of possibilities open to them after they complete their degrees. And they need to remember that being an academic is just a job, and that the are tons of interesting, fulfilling jobs doing other things. Mine is a good example.

2. Make Strategic Decisions About What You Do During Your Degree


As a friend kindly reminded me after I kept claiming that I got lucky in ending up in my job, we make our own luck. What seems random is actually, when you look back, a series of strategic decisions that lead to a whole host of post-degree opportunities. In my case, that strategic decision was to take a research assistantship in lieu of teaching during the fourth year of my PhD. While many PhD students fund their studies by teaching, and that’s a wonderful opportunity for people who are looking for careers in education, that may not be the best choice for people who are looking to do other things and need a different set of skills. These other opportunities are also extremely useful academically. Research or graduate assistantships are a big one to consider, as is doing an industry-partnered internship with Mitacs. So might be going on an international exchange, or selecting a graduate co-op program (which UBC now has in English, and Aimee tells me Waterloo is going to develop.) In my case, the research assistantship, researching graduate student professional development programs, let me develop the skills, knowledge, and experience that got me my job as a Research Officer.

3. Take Advantage of the Resources Available on Campus

As grad students, it’s easy to believe that most of the student support services available on campus are there for undergraduates, but that is emphatically not the case. There are a myriad of resources available on most campuses to help graduate students make the most of their degrees, to help them navigate the academic job market, or to help them transition out of academia or into an #alt-ac or #post-ac career. The Career Centre is a great place to start, and they can provide assistance with academic and non-academic job searches; Advancement can often connect grads with alumni in the fields they’re interested in; most Canadian universities now have graduate student professional development programs that offer a whole host of workshops and seminars; Mitacs offers a full suite of free transferable skills workshops; and many faculty members can, sometimes surprisingly, provide guidance and support in the search for jobs in and outside of the academy. It can be scary talking to faculty about plans to abandon the tenure track–believe me, I know–but the culture of silence around #alt-ac and #post-ac transition isn’t going to disappear until we all start talking about it.

4. Consider Creating A Shadow C.V.

One of the most important things graduate students can do to demonstrate to people outside of the academy that they have the needed skills is to have evidence that you’re capable of working outside of the academy. Especially for PhDs, the assumption that we’re overeducated and lacking in practical skills can be hard to overcome without demonstrated outside experience, and having at least one example of non-academic work experience to put in a resume can go a long way toward helping graduate students mentally connect the skills they’ve honed as a graduate students with those that crop up on job postings, and to help overcome the feeling that there’s nothing they’re qualified to do but be a professor. People have started calling experience developed alongside academic work, but not included in academic documents, a “shadow C.V.” In my case, I took a year off between my Master’s and my PhD to work in publishing and continued tutoring and editing throughout my degree. Other people I know have done summer placements, taken part-time jobs, done industry-partnered internships, or created web-based consulting and writing firms that allow them to work on their own time.

6. Learn How to Talk About Your Skills and Research to People Outside of Academia

Academese and English can sometimes seem like two different languages, and this is a major barrier to people with graduate degrees trying to make their qualifications and research make sense in contexts outside of the academy. It’s only natural. Communicating highly specialized research to non-academics isn’t a skill that most academics at any level practice all that much, other than the inevitable attempts to explain your work to your mother, or to someone you meet at a party. This is certainly changing, though. But opportunities to practice do exist, and graduate students should take advantage of them: compete in the Three Minute Thesis; take workshops on clear language writing; practice translating research into non-specialist language. Doing this can seem very non-intuitive for grad students, especially for those who have been academe for a long time, but once they learn how to do it, the relationship between what they do as academics and what shows up in job postings often becomes painfully obvious, as does the potential impact of their work outside the academy. This is, as a side benefit, and increasingly strong focus for many granting agencies, a number of which also now require clear-language or lay research summaries.

7. Think About What You Really Want to Do

Many PhD students are committed to being professors without actually knowing what the life, and the job, of a professor is really like. Our archives here at Hook & Eye can be pretty illuminating. Parts of it match up closely with the starry-eyed dream, but others definitely don’t. Meetings are endless and often frustrating. Grading is a slog. The pressure to publish and get stellar teaching evaluations can be debilitating. Students are disengaged. Service takes up far more time that people realize, and there’s never enough time for research and reflection. Graduate students should be figuring out what it is they really love about academia, and thinking about other jobs that might let them do those things more. The book So What Are You Going to Do with That? includes some fantastic exercises, ones that helped me realize that the things I love to do and am good at doing–coordinating, facilitating other people’s work and success, communications, writing, mentorship–are key components of all sorts of #alt-ac and #post-ac jobs, including my current one.

8. Think About What You Really Don’t Want to Do

As PhDs, we’re indoctrinated to believe that we should be willing to give up everything for a tenure track job. At some point, I shrugged that indoctrination off and made a list of the things that were more important to me than tenure: I didn’t want to move, wait until I was 40 to have kids, spend most of my life grading papers, spend multiple years as a contract professor, or write things that no one would ever read. For me, those were pretty convincing reasons to give up on the idea of becoming a professor, which requires total mobility, limits reproductive choices, requires far more teaching than research for most people, and mostly values journal and book publications that most people won’t read. The most important thing I had to convince myself of–and that we must tell graduate students, over and over–is that choosing where to live, desiring to have a child without worrying about compromising doctoral work or chances at tenure, refusing precarious employment, are totally legitimate life choices that are okay to voice aloud, despite the tendency of academia to suggest that if you aren’t willing to sacrifice your whole life, even your whole identity, to being an academic, you’re a second-class citizen. It broke my heart, in a good way, to have a whole gaggle of female Queen’s students come up to me after my talk and thank me for saying out loud that my desire to have kids before I was 35 was a factor in my decision making. It is for many people, and that’s something that should be discussed openly.

The other important part of this equation is to get graduate students talking to people they know in academia and outside, and find out from them what their jobs are really like. So long as we perpetuate the belief that academia is the only worthy place of employment, and that a professorship is the only truly fulfulling and engaging job, graduate students will ignore a whole host of career possibilities that might be a much better personal and professional fit.

9. Don’t Conflate Who You Are With What You Do

This is an obvious one, and a hard one to avoid–but if graduate students can avoid the trap of believing that they are academics, and that if they don’t get to continue to be academics they’ll be nothing, they’ll save themselves a horrible and painful identity crisis if the time comes that the professoriate becomes an unobtainable dream. A professorship is just a job. It is not a vocation, or an identity, and graduate students are so much more than the single career option the academy tells them is worthy.

10. Enjoy the Ride

Getting paid to read for comps. Taking classes totally outside of your area because you can. Auditing things purely for interest. Debating theory over far too much wine. Style-stalking your favourite professor. Choosing conferences based purely on location. These are some of the best parts of grad school, and they should be relished, and they often aren’t because PhDs are too busy conferencing and publishing and professionalizing and shadow-CVing and comparing themselves to all of the other PhDs they know. Yes, those things need to get done (minus the last one) but statistically speaking, the chances of getting to stay in academia on a permanent basis are slim. Enjoy the ride while it lasts.


So, dear readers, what do you think? What advice would you give to current graduate students facing the reality of a terrible academic job market? What advice do you wish you had gotten during your PhD?


Curriculum design for well-being

It’s late November, and final papers are coming due in graduate and undergraduate classes. Advanced doctoral and masters students are confronting the natural deadline of another term’s end–and the reminders and obligations to pay fees again. This time of year brings self-reflection, self-recrimination, stress, and, often, panic. Many are full of anticipatory regrets, some are in full avoidance mode, others are just trying to work harder and harder to meet impossible standards. Many become dramatically unwell from chronic or new mental illnesses: insomnia, anxiety, depression, and psychosis.

There’s been a lot of attention paid recently to the dire mental health issues facing students generally, and graduate students particularly. Here, have a look:

The Other Mental Health Crisis
Graduate School and Mental Illness: Is there a link?
The Mental Health Care Crisis on Campus
There’s an Awful Cost to Getting a PhD That No One Talks About

The most recent Berkeley study outlines 10 factors contributing to (or declining from) graduate students’ sense of well-being and mental health:

  1. career prospects
  2. overall health
  3. living conditions
  4. academic engagement
  5. social support
  6. financial confidence
  7. academic progress and preparation
  8. sleep
  9. feeling valued and included
  10. adviser relationship

This is a lot. Many of these factors, I would like to point out, affect everyone‘s mental health, no matter their career, not just that of students–but that many factors are artificially and/or structurally more awful for students, as a group: grad school is framed as career suicide, stipends are generally terrible, there is no possibility of security for the duration of training, and poor wages often lead to limited choice in living arrangements. We can and we should think more systematically about how grad school seems to be set up from the get-go to minimize students’ chances of maintaining well-being, and even to trigger mental illness.

I can’t fix that today, or by myself. However, as an adviser and instructor of graduate students, there are things I can do today, right now, by myself to address some of the issues, the ones I’ve highlighted above: academic engagement, social support, academic progress and preparation, and sleep.

I can do this through my syllabus design. And so can you. Let’s think about how. I think grad courses in general, at least in my discipline (English), tend to assign more reading than one human can do, set ambiguous or paradoxial expectations about what the course requirements actual are, clump the preponderance of course weight on an overly large capstone project or paper, and fail to give meaningful feedback when it is need (much earlier in the term, and more frequently). Oh, and when we design syllabi with reading lists still very heavily skewed to Dead White Guys, we are surely sending a message to students about whose voices matter and who is a proper academic subject.

A modest proposal, then, for discussion:

1. Be realistic about how much people can actually read. Here, students work 10 hours a week at a TA-ship or independent teaching. They take two or three courses per term. If I assume a work week of 40 hours, after the TA work, that’s 30 hours left. That would be 10 hours each to devote to three classes, and since three of those hours are the seminar itself, that leaves seven hours for work outside the class. That time will be for any reading, library and online research, writing, and office visits. If I use a course reading workload calculator, I can easily see that assigning a book of theory, even a slim one, and asking for a 2 page report, is going to take waaaaaaaaayyyy longer than 7 hours. This can address the question of academic preparation, in that students assigned a manageable workload can actually feel like they’re learning, and not like they’re drowning. And it can address sleep.

2. Short assignments, early and often, with meaningful and timely feedback. We grade students. They want to know what we want. We want them to develop as writers and thinkers and we need to know their strengths and weaknesses to help with that. Tell me again how having a 30 page final paper worth 60% of the grade is good pedagogy? If students only have a participation grade and maybe an oral presentation grade heading into it? In my classes, I assign response papers of 400 words in the first couple of weeks. I grade it and return it within a week–students get meaningful feedback on writing and argumentation and comprehension. Then they do two more, and they tend to get both better and more confident. And the final paper is broken into stages, with feedback and a grade on each. Heading into the end of term, the paper is already half written, and is probably not going to be worth more than 25% of the grade, because of the shorter assignments, and the proposal / bibliography / workshop stages. This fosters engagement (we are all writing and reading each other from the very beginning of term), preparation (students get explicit guidance and help throughout paper writing), and sleep (no last minute binge writing), and social support (these types of assignments draw a LOT of office visits, and we build relationships of trust that way.)

3. #inclusivesyllabus. Did you know that this year’s grad cohort in my program is 16 women and 2 men? And that we still run courses with 16 things written by men and 2 by women? Ask yourself what message that sends. Never mind the internationalization, queering, and un-whitenening of our students: this is not reflected in our syllabi either, often. I ask you please to consider what gates you are keeping, what exclusions you are (unwittingly) recreating when your reading lists are whiter, straighter, and duder than that world you live in, or the classrooms you teach in. Yeah, I know, the canon. But we are lifelong learners. Reach. I’ll be honest, it’s not easy for me to find new things to assign to read always. But it’s important that I try. This helps with social support, with engagement, and my own capacity to sleep at night.

Grad students are suffering, they really are. There are easy things we can do to help make this better, that in no way reduce the intellectual rigor of our programs, but might stop people from becoming ill, dropping out, suffering through it. Add your thoughts below, and please share: let’s work together.

adjuncts · inequality · pedagogy · student engagement · teaching

Students Respond to the Adjunct Crisis

Adjunct professors have been described as part of the “working poor”: the highest educated and lowest paid workers in the United States. They are group of contingent labourers who work at poverty-level rates, shuttle between multiple campuses, have little to no job security, and struggle to climb themselves out once they enter the sessional circuit. Critiques of the increasing “adjunctification” of universities usually focus on the plight of the adjuncts themselves, collecting stories of overwork, despair, and uncertainty. But the undergraduate students for whose education these adjuncts are responsible are often left completely ignorant of the hierarchical system, assuming all professors are paid relatively the same amount, a sustainable and permanent salary. Why keep them out of the loop when the crisis has such an indelible affect on them, their education, and their futures? 
My two current Composition II classes read and discussed this Atlantic article about the issue, and most were shocked. Here are some of the tweets that emerged from that discussion (remember, my class tweets). 
(Siiiiighhhhh to that last one…)

// addition to tweeting, some students compiled this collective statement including a few personal anecdotes: 

As undergraduate students, we are very concerned with how the increasing reliance on temporary workers, who are paid per course and granted no financial security, is affecting our education, especially since we pay an exorbitant amount in tuition dollars.
Professors and adjuncts are the backbone of secondary education, but full-time professors should not be treated better than adjuncts. University students pay an incredible amount to attend private schools such as Fordham and adjuncts should be earning more out of that tuition. 
Adrianna Kezar, head of the University of Southern California’s Delphi Project, stated that “institutions that have large numbers of adjuncts or students that take lots of classes with adjuncts have lower graduation rates.” This is a one way that the adjunct crisis is affecting us as students, and how it could potentially affect our futures. What could be the possible reason for this? 
In addition, as a student paying a considerable amount for my education, it pains me to see that the school I chose and attend treats its employees with such unfairness. How can some faculty make a six-figure income, while some adjuncts are earning a salary of $20,000? Ultimately, I’m supporting an institution that is capable of fixing this crisis, yet chooses not to.
“One of my favorite professors this semester revealed to us that he is an adjunct.  He always goes out of his way to keep class interesting and even planned a class trip to the New York Philharmonic.  When describing being an adjunct, it was evident that he was discouraged with his current situation, for he has an Ivy League education and it seems that he is/was hoping for more permanency in his occupation.”
“I was recently talking to one of my friends about the adjunct crisis. As a chemistry major, she told me she was interested in doing research with her chemistry professor this year. However, when she asked her professor if there were any opportunities available, he told her since he is an adjunct professor, he does not have a lab to work in and therefore cannot allow students to conduct research under him. This situation shows that hiring professors as adjuncts ultimately leaves students at a disadvantage, as students are deprived of opportunities to learn and research due to the lack of resources given to adjuncts.” 
According to BBC, Uber drivers in the United Kingdom are entitled to holiday pay, rest breaks, and the National Living Wage. Uber drivers are entitled to benefits, but the professors and educators teaching the next generation are not? 
As students at a University it can often seem like the adjunct crisis is out of our control. The grand structure and distribution of jobs and wealth come from the control of a higher power. But these are our professors, and this is our education. As a student body we should stand in solidarity with adjuncts and work together to make our voices heard.


Let’s keep talking with our students, listening to our students, and as they themselves have said, building broader solidarity with each other and with staff and faculty at all levels of higher education–across Canada and the US alike. 


How to Resist: A Spatial Theory

Last week’s US presidential election foregrounded an always-there undercurrent of white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, queer- and transphobia, and ableism. With each new bit of news–troll-in-chief Breitbart new head Steve Bannon as chief advisor????–things seem to keep on getting more scary.

Like many people, I have been overwhelmed by my own feelings of sadness, fear, anger, and worry. I have felt selfish for being overwhelmed from my position of relative privilege, but I’m not able to reason or push these feelings away. I have been terribly worried for people I know and people I love who may suffer this régime much more directly than I can. I have felt guilty and culpable, particularly when I read that this travesty of an outcome is attributable not just to white people, but to white women, who voted in a majority for Donald Trump.

I have been paralysed. A deer in the headlights of history. I want to feel better so I can stop waking up with nightmares and insomnia. I want to act better so I can support others concretely. I want to act better so that I can push back this no-longer-sleeping giant of backlash against the gains of progressive politics over my lifetime.

Today I have an idea, a spatial theory of resistance. It starts to address all these questions for me, lifts my paralysis, assuages my feelings, connects me to others. Maybe it will help you too.

It’s a four point plan: give space, hold space, make space, and take space. I begin from the “ring theory” based on the premise of “comfort in, dump out” which describes a way of managing terrible events while recognizing that some people need more comfort and how it is appropriate to support everyone. Basically, you don’t make people worse off than you make you feel better about anything.

Got that? Okay. Let’s go.

Give Space

I was a wreck last Wednesday, crying and nauseated. My dear husband suggested I stay home and give myself space to grieve, turn myself over to it. That was a really weird day that saw me cleaning windows and then sobbing, baking cookies and then raging, raking leaves and then trying not to vomit. When I would start crying he would hold me, or he would let me talk, and he would just listen. Look, my husband doesn’t really follow American politics. He asked me about the Electoral College and what it was, he doesn’t really know much about Rudy Guiliani or Steve Bannon. But he held my hand and listened to me. He validated my feelings. He didn’t make jokes to make me feel better. He didn’t ask me to explain things to him. He didn’t want to ‘reason’ with me. He let me cry, and he offered me unconditional love.

Giving space to someone is an act of love and generosity that allows them to express big and scary and vulnerable and ugly feelings in a safe environment. It’s important.

Can someone do this for you? Can you do it for someone? Remember; comfort in, dump out. If someone is emotionally or practically or in any way suffering more directly from this, give them space. If someone is better off than you, maybe they can give you space.

Hold Space

Many Americans are worried about Thanksgiving, about what to do when that one relative, or all those relatives, starts talking about the glories of a Trump win. People don’t know what to do. They don’t know what to do when the barista is like “Oh, the election? It’s not going to be that bad, it’s just talk.” They don’t know what to do when they overhear a person approve of Trump’s immigration plans.

This is very important: if you have any kind of identity privilege at all, if you’re white, if you’re male, if you are educated or have money, you need to hold this space open for resistance. Because if you stay quiet, you tacitly condone the racist and sexist and other hate speech. You normalise it. Holding space means making it awkward: you do not let this kind of statement go unremarked. You remark on it. You say, “I reject white supremacy,” or, “I am afraid women’s rights will move backwards,” or “My queer friends are scared for their families and their rights,” or “I support liberal immigration policies.”

You hold open a space for progressive politics and social justice. This is crucial if you are walking around with identity privilege. It will be way too easy to normalise the politics that created this mess, if we don’t just keep being that burr in the side of hate. Trump’s win made white supremacy leap out into the open. We need to keep saying that’s not okay. People with less identity privilege can’t do this work: they are tired and they are scared. The privileged in those demographics that went for Trump? It’s our responsibility to push back, to leave less space for white supremacy, to hold more space for progressive and loving agendas. Push back.

Make Space

All over the internet, my friends report the heaviness of teaching the morning after the election. Even here in Canada, students were shaken and scared or nervous. Nearly everyone I know ditched their lesson plan and held an impromptu support session or debrief. Many report hearing thanks from students afterwards for this act. These teachers made space for people to express their ideas and their feelings, and to discuss these with others, in a supportive and structured environment. They modeled respect and love.

In my own work on campus this week, I have been deliberate in answering the question “How are you?” I answer, seriously, “I’m not well. This election scares me, and enrages me, and I feel very sad. I don’t know what to do to make sure life stays livable for people who aren’t white men.” When I do this, I notice, people kind of release a big puff of air and drop their shoulders. It turns out in speaking my truth, I am making space for my colleagues and my students to express their fears too, and we brainstorm how to keep working for the world we want, how to keep our friends safe.

This has been emotionally grueling, but incredibly rewarding. I have had so many rewarding conversations, generated new ideas and strategies, and given and received more hugs than I thought were possible. I needed all of it, and so did my friends and students and colleagues.

Again, to make space we have to be careful about relative privilege: do not ask for emotional or practical support from someone who suffers this outrage more heavily than you. But make space to support them. Be very wary of not exploiting people inadvertently: some dude last week asked me about my feelings about the election, but out of the blue, and in such a way that it felt like he wanted to see how miserable I was and what it felt like to be a woman on the cusp of the repeal of Roe v. Wade. That felt gross. Don’t do that to people. Make space by expressing your truth, and let people respond or not.

Take Space

It’s not enough to just try to keep the walls from closing in further on an interpersonal level. Something structural is required. The social justice and rights agenda must be enlarged, and not just defended, if we are to have any hope in the future. How?

Here again, relative privilege and power is key. In those areas you can act in, act. Are you a swim coach? Is your club disproportionately white? Ask why, and start an outreach. Keep fighting the All Male Panel at conferences. Demand that Twitter do something about blocking hate speech instead of just beefing up the ways you can choose to just not look at it. On your curriculum committee, keep pushing for the inclusive syllabus. In your classroom, foster equitable spaces and call out mansplainers, shut down stereotyped characterizations of marginalized groups.

I just got an email from my university yesterday, reporting on its strategic plan of ‘disruptive innovation,’ which to me reads like so much tech-bro nonsense whereby all the profits are skimmed from existing industries and labour protections and regulatory frames disappear. Disruptive Innovation makes Facebook the largest media company in the world that has no journalists or editors or professional standards. My university also has equity goals. I think I’m going to start making even more noise about how maybe these two goals are in conflict. I’m going to take some space back from the “burn it down” camp that I see putting tech companies and angry white American voters in the same ideological position of calling everything broken and using anarchy as a tool to make things better. It won’t. I’m going to take some space to let people work on that.

I can do that because of my own relative power in these structures. You might take space differently.

I send you all my love, Hook and Eye readers. If you need a hug, I will give it to you. We can and we will make this world a better place.


Reflections on the End of the World

The night It happened, I was at a party. We had the TV on in the background but were mostly just drinking and chatting in a circle, all confident that even if there were some unnerving flashes of red across the screen, those were just temporary early results, and blue would soon pull through. We had the bottles of champagne all ready in the fridge once the first female president was announced. Personally, I was mostly ready to celebrate the election cycle being over. Over the months it had caused me deep anxiety, occasionally threatened to damage friendships, supplied immense distraction from work.  

It scarcely needs to be said that the party did not end well. By the end, we were drunk and in panic-stricken tears, hugging each other and making slightly incongruous comments about how it was a pleasure to survive the apocalypse together. My phone was blowing up with incredulous, terrified texts, with pleas from Canadians to come home. The days immediately following would feel like a long fever dream, a cycle of laying awake at night in a shaky cold sweat, waking up in the morning believing, for a moment, everything is fine, then feeling the physical impact of reality striking again in a nauseating scourge of red. Previously, I had no idea what a plastic, disingenuous, and almost threatening character normal everyday greetings like “how are you” and “I hope you’re okay” can take on during such times of emergency. I and many close to me have all experienced physical symptoms of illness. 
In March, my amazing radical partner had organized a rally against Trump at Columbus Circle, right outside the Trump International Hotel. Thousands of people came, and we thought we were fighting more broadly against the misogyny and xenophobia that Trumpism espoused, because surely he could not actually become president. Today (I am writing this on Sat., Nov. 12), I see that a year ago in my Facebook Memories, we had cheered on a black woman defiantly reading a book during a Trump rally. Her resistance mattered, we thought. In the months and weeks leading up to Nov. 8, already a time when I felt physical revulsion whenever I saw his face or his name on my computer screen, the New York Times and all major media polls were still predicting a Clinton presidency, even as high as 95% just days before. 
You know all this. But the facts—that the polls had all pointed to Hillary, that all in my circles had succumbed to the collective delusion of a female president–still confound me. On election day I was excitedly composing in my mind the leftist articulations of critique against the Democrats I would post on social media after she won, when it felt safe to do so again. 
I thought I was miserable and anxious a week ago; now there is a new order of misery. One that is spreading aftershocks of hate and racism and fear across the country and the world. One that is leading my students to break down crying in class and bring in books to read under the table because they needed to emotionally dissociate from the election conversation. One that is making misogyny, white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and perhaps above all Islamophobia a routine and energizing function of the dominant political powers. One that is fracturing families, already causing people I know to cut ties with their loved ones and cancel holiday plans. I myself am very angry at white evangelicals.
Over the past few days, I’ve attended protests, I’ve cried, I’ve screamed, I’ve hugged, I’ve marched for hours, I’ve waved my fist in angry defiance at the Trump Tower alongside a crowd of thousands, enjoying a few brief moments of solidarity and hope. Not My President, we chanted, and Black Lives Matter, Pussy Grabs Back, The People United Will Never Be Defeated, My Body My Choice. Protesters waved signs that said things like “My Rapist Voted for Trump.” I have also given a talk on a medieval poem, The Isle of Ladies, that displays the necessity of feminized resistance to the dominant male regime, even when such resistance is materially futile. I’ve seen formerly apathetic liberals commit themselves to action, and academics awaken to the insufficiency of critical theory as opening avenues of possibility. I have found my only solace in unexpected hugs, caring and compassionate and unexpected texts and gestures from friends, and my students who are confused and scared yet desperately seeking answers and committed to act for change.
I’ve also seen the same people comparing Trump to Hitler on Monday claiming on Thursday that we must be acceding to work with him. I’ve started to glimpse how quickly normalization can happen, how once the rhinoceros storms through the city enough times, it becomes a part of the terrain. I can feel it happening within myself on an emotional level—because how else can one go on? But I resolve not to weaken my commitment to collective justice and working toward new possibilities for change in the coming years. Things are not okay, but within this not-okay-ness, perhaps other good things will emerge.

I mean, if these girls exist, there’s got to be some hope, right? (Taken/posted with permission)