academy · advice · DIY · going public · grad school · job market · syllabus

Graduate Professionalization Seminar

I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I teach PhD students, in a department that admits LOTS of them, and wants to admit more. I think a PhD is a great job to hold for five or six years, and I think it can prepare you for lots of different outcomes. I want our grads to be more prepared for the academic, post academic, and alternative academic careers they can move into next, and so does my department: so I’m teaching our new, required PhD milestone seminar in professionalization.

My feminist intervention here is to materialize the PhD: it’s not just about abstract smarts and it never was. It’s also about street smarts, people skills, time management, work/life balance, and questions of identity and culture. I want to make all that explicit.

And since a lot of you have been asking about this, here’s my syllabus. The readings are not 100% settled–I’ll update as we go, but the topics are set and the contours of each meeting are laid out in hwat I hope are bullshit-free terms. Eight of the ten weeks feature guest experts from inside and outside of the academy, from this institution and others, but I’m leaving them anonymous here.

Use what you can, but if you do, please link back. And let me know what you think!

Graduate Professionalization Course
Prof. Aimée Morrison
a h m [at] uwaterloo.ca
@digiwonk
Hagey Hall 269
Office hours: Monday and Wednesday, 2:00-3:00
The course addresses professionalization across a number of fronts: it will prepare you to complete your doctorate with grace, aplomb, and skill; it will allow you to prepare yourself for the job you will have after the degree, whether this job is inside the academy, or, more likely, without; it will suggest to you the skills required to do all this in relative calm and steady effort, and with a minimum of panic or maladaptive work habits or counterproductive coping strategies. 
The course is skill-based and culture-based. It is chock full of practical how-tos and opportunities to practice these skills. It also aims to explicitly describe what might seem to be hard-to-decode implicit rules by which the degree and the academy work, as well as the “real world” beyond.
We will learn how to write effectively, copiously, and professionally. We will learn to give conference papers, write abstracts, do peer reviews–and receive peer reviews. We will also learn how to master other oral presentation contexts. We will learn how to build and manage a dissertation committee with the aim of timely and stress-free dissertation writing and completion. We will learn how to locate, interview for, and succeed in such academic jobs as occasionally make themselves available. We will learn how to secure meaningful and interesting work in universities beyond the tenure-track or sessional streams. We will learn how to find meaningful and interesting work “post-academic” style, and how to translate all the hard-won academic skills for non-academic hiring managers.
Attendance
Class meets weekly, for ten weeks, Monday mornings from 9:30 until noon, in the department library. Bring coffee. Bring your readings. Bring your writing. Bring your laptop / tablet / really big-screened phone. Bring pens and paper. I expect you to have the assigned readings completed, and to be ready to engage in discussion and activity, in writing, in class.
This course is a degree milestone. By registering, you undertake the professional responsibility of attending diligently and participating fully. This is not a drop-in. Please take this course as seriously as you take the other elements of your degree and your future career.
Time management, goal-setting, and the determination of priorities are major topics in this course. The time you spend making this course a priority is going to pay vast dividends in time you no longer fritter away in the future. Commit.
Required Texts
Order these from Amazon or Chapters-Indigo or your favorite online retailer. You’ll be down about $30 if you buy them new, but they’re worth every penny. We’ll be reading these two books cover to cover.
  • Basalla, Susan and Maggie Debelius, So What Are You Going to Do with That? Finding Careers Outside Academia. Rev. Ed. Chicago: U Chicago P, 2007.
  • Bolker, Joan. Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 1998.
These texts will be supplemented with further required readings drawn from the web, as well as photocopies of chapters from other books, as made available in the dedicated mailbox in the department mailroom.
If you’re really super keen, and are looking for supplementary materials to read, the department has begun to amass and make available to graduate students a growing library of professionalization texts on writing, job hunting, time management, and more. These books are available to borrow from the graduate office.
Schedule
Careers Thinking (September 9)
Guest: Jen Woodside, Career Services
To read: Basalla and Debelius, chapters 1 and 2.
To do: Myers-Briggs Type Inventory
Jen Woodside (Career Services) and I have been consulting over the summer: she’s customized her careers for graduate students workshop for this group in particular, and she and I are going to get you to do some work right now today to advance your future career: what are your goals and aptitudes? how can you chart your course to happiness and solvency? if you’re an ENTJ, can you ever learn to stop trying to run the whole world? The upshot of today’s work is this: you have a lot of options. The main thing is to begin the process of planning the next stage of your life, through careful self-enquiry and a clear-eyed look at how the world of work actually functions.
Managing the PhD (September 16)
Special Guests: XXX
To read: Bolker, chapters 1, 2, and 6; Graduate Studies Office, “A Guide to Graduate Research and Supervision at the University of Waterloo”
To do: write out all your program milestones, find all the forms you need to graduate
I know someone whose supervisor died in a scuba accident a month before her defense. Three of my own committee members left the U of A while I was writing my dissertation. My dad died the day I won my SSHRC! One of my friends got married, another divorced. One friend had her supervisor stand up in the middle of her PhD oral exam and quit the committee in a huff. All of us finished, and not too terribly behind. The PhD is an endurance event: milestones, paperwork, balancing teaching and research, trying to get chapters written and then trying to get your committee to read them. Over and above subject area knowledge, it requires surprising amounts of people skills and political savvy, and sometimes more than a little strategy. Even though a whole university worth of bureaucracy and many, many authority figures structure your degree, ultimately, you are the only one who can move the ball forward. Meet your milestones, get your papers signed, create your own motivation to write. We’ll discuss how.
Grantsmanship and Other Professional Writing (September 23)
Special Guests: XXX
To read: SSHRC Web Site, description and instructions for Doctoral Fellowship Awards; Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities, description and instructions for Ontario Graduate Scholarships, Basalla and Debelius ch 4
To do: find another funding source you can apply to
You know what I hate? Applying for grants. Only six pages to describe my entire research? And what do they mean “methodology,” dammit, I’m a literary scholar?! Everyone knows it’s a total crapshoot, and I’m just wasting my time on this. The government should fund all research. Jerks. Except, when I took two tries in grad school, I won a doctoral fellowship that funded me for two years. And I got some travel funding, and tuition waivers, too. Then as a prof, I’ve won one internal grant. Then I got two “miss congeniality” also-ran awards at one SSHRC program before winning a Standard Research Grant for nearly $60,000. I am never going to prepare my own bibliographies again. Guess what? The rest of your life, inside the academy or out, is going to feature long-form bureaucratic writing like grant apps: budgets, rationales, descriptions, structured data like CVs, prescribed formatting, etc. Get good at this. It matters.
How to Read a Book: Learning Skills (September 30)
To read: Paul Edwards, “How to Read a Book”
To do: contact your exam committee; bring something to take notes from; find old exams; talk to past exam-takers
Enjoy studying for your Area Exams. You are never going to ever have this much time and scope again for “learning” as your number one task. Ever. Are you wondering how you can somehow accomplish the reading on the list with the six months you are allotted? Many students develop huge anxiety around THE EXAMS: we’ll work on how to get through this with style and verve, to make the process both useful, and enjoyable. True story: I did my PhD exams in 2000, and I’m still using notes from my readings in my teaching and research. Because it feels like nearly the last time I was able to read a whole academic book all the way through, just to hear what it had to say.
Networking (ALSO ON September 30)
Special guest: XXX
To read: me, Melonie Fullick, LSE Impact blog Twitter guide–will be posted, Basalla and Debelius ch 3
To do: identify members of your academic and extended public. 
If a dissertation lands on a library shelf, and no one ever picks it up, did any research get done? If a degree is conferred on a bright young scholar and no one tweets it, will she ever get a job? Here’s a truth: you have to do good work and be smart to succeed in life. But those things are not enough. People have to know about your good work, and know who you are, too. The work can only speak for itself if it lands in someone’s hands, and that person has somehow become disposed to consider it with his or her full attention amid myriad of other demands. Networking, in person and online, are increasingly important to all kinds of careers. Let’s think about how and why, and then let’s do it.
How to Write a Dissertation (October 7)
Special guest: XXX
To read: Lamott, “Shitty First Drafts,” “Perfectionism,” “Letter”; Bolker, chapter 3 and 4; Davis, Parker, and Straub, chapter 10
To do: read some dissertations; find some model proposals
Invariably, graduate students tell me, when they start the program, that they fully intend to finish in year 4. And yet hardly any of them do. Why? You’ve probably never been asked to write something so long, with such high stakes, of such originality, with so little direction, and so few meaningful deadlines or milestones. After you hand your proposal in in December of your 3rd year … you are apparently all on your own. You know, with your neuroses and your demons and your insecurities and your toilet that really needs scrubbing and your procrastination and your full-run of Breaking Bad / Gilmore Girls / Jersey Shore that ain’t gonna watch itself. Then your panic and your shame and your despair. Let’s just not go through that this time, okay?
Academic Identity (October 21)
Special guests: XXX
To read: stuff from Chronicle?  I’ll get back to you on that …
Most people are smart enough to get a PhD. But the degree and the profession are a culture as much as a big-brain competition: there are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways of doing and ways of knowing, mostly transmitted implicitly or by acculturation, that can make the difference between success and failure, between fit and alienation. It will probably not surprise you to discover that some aspirants fit themselves more or less easily, with more or less effort, with more or less emotional difficulty to the role of Graduate Student or Junior Professor. We will aim to uncover and name the ‘hidden’ or implicit rules that structure the academy, and consider the challenges of meeting / thwarting / changing /subverting these norms, as well as how our own racial, gender, national, family-status, and class identities complicate or ease our academic work.
Pedagogy / Writing Pedagogy (October 27)
Special guests: XXX
To read: find a Twitter hashtag for writing instructors; read stuff
To do: bring your syllabi, or someone else’s; bring some lesson plans; create a course!
It may seem natural to you by this point, but it is a profoundly unusual thing to spend so much of your work life standing at the front of a classroom teaching stuff to people. You have to master the content! Design syllabi! Do public speaking! Answer questions! Write lectures! Grade! Manage deadlines / personalities / people! It can be very easy to let the excitement of teaching overwhelm your whole work life–but you shouldn’t do this. It can be very easy to try to improve you teaching by spending more time on it–this is also dangerous. We will consider how to teach smarter, not harder, to secure better outcomes for both our students and our dissertations/books. And we will consider the “transferable skills” conferred by our teaching experiences in the academy, and how these can lead into other jobs. 
Conferencing (November 4)
To read: Paul Edwards, “How to Give an Academic Talk”
To do: write an abstract, dress for success, give the first page of a paper!
Pro tip: do not write the paper on the airplane! Conferences are an integral part of academic careers, and of grad school. Conferencing effectively involves many skills, most of which no one is going to teach you, except maybe the University of Tryandtryagain. But no one ever seems to graduate from there. We will consider: how to write an effective proposal, how to craft a compelling oral presentation, how to read like a movie star, how to use PowerPoint to save the world, and how to leverage the networking opportunities of travel, using the limited budget you have at your disposal. How many grad conferences should you go to? How many should you organize? Is the MLA worth it? Is midnight really the deadline for proposal or can it be tomorrow? Stay tuned …
Jobs in the academy (November 11)
Special guests: XXXX
To read: excerpts from terrifying books, and from Salon, and from Katina Rogers
To do: find jobs listings in your fields, and in the alt-academy
Have you heard? The academy is falling apart! Tenure track jobs are disappearing in the mass adjunctification of higher education! The whole thing is run on the ground-up dreams and aspirations of PhD candidates who take 11 years to finish their degrees while running up mortgage-level debt as their reproductive chances diminish and their number of cats increases. It’s bad, frankly. But not impossible, not in all ways, and not for everyone. When post-industrial capitalism closes a door, it opens a window. We will discuss the (very competitive, highly professionalized) tenure track job market in English, concentrating on Canada and the US. We will discuss job hunt and interview strategies and pragmatics. We will also enumerate and consider the various kinds of alt-academic jobs, of which many more are available: these are alternative academic jobs–that is, inside the university system, but off the tenure- or teaching track. These include work in administration, in communications, in libraries, in computing centres and research institution, in alumni relations, and in fundraising, particularly.
Writing an Article (November 18)
To read: de Silva, from how to write a lot, Bolker on writing articles
To do: investigate submission requirements from target journal, rewrite one intro paragraph
How is an article different from a dissertation chapter, or, God help me, a coursework paper? Reviewers can tell the difference right away, but it seems that junior authors cannot. I can and will happily let you in on the secret. And also show you how to go from idea to submission in about three months. Of course, submission of a proto-article for consideration by a journal involves inviting the dread Double-Blind Peer Review: everyone has some scary stories about that. We will investigate strategies for dealing effectively with peer reviews without turning to elaborate hexes or to alcohol, by looking at some of my first-attempt submissions, the peer reviews that resulted, and the subsequent chain of events leading to eventual (hooray!) publication.
collaboration · DIY

The Pros and Cons of Collaboration*

I was at another Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory event this week. The Canadian Women’s Writing Conference on Space/Place/Play was held at Ryerson University. Over the course of three and a half days the conference participants sat together in a room so filled with windows that felt a little as though we were perching above the city. We sat in this room for almost eight hours a day listening to papers and meeting each other over coffee. Many of us marvelled about the sheer number of papers that were collaborative projects or collaborative presentations. Seriously, so many of us were presenting with or on behalf of larger groups of people with whom we work. For those of you who don’t work in the humanities let me say that collaborative research isn’t the norm…yet.

Much of my work involves collaboration either directly or indirectly. Indeed when I was a graduate student I was so eager to collaborate that I sought out three partners in crime and together we hosted a conference panel thinking through the positives and negatives of collaboration called “Twice the Work for Half the Credit?” I’ve written collaboratively on several projects already, and I have two more in the works, so it is safe to say I really believe in the benefits of collaborative work in the humanities. 
But, as so many of the presentations this week attested collaboration is often uneven, and almost always hard work. So here are a few gems of wisdom gleaned from some of the mutual listening and discussion this weekend.
1. Think: Does the project warrant collaboration?
Not all projects actually benefit from having many people working on them. It is worth thinking through whether or not your project actually needs/would benefit from collaboration. File this suggestion under ‘avoid jumping on band wagons if you don’t want to play in the band.’ 

2. Say no
Not all of us are good/want to/should collaborate. Nor should we! Point one not withstanding, part of being a good collaborator is knowing your own limits. If collaborating is beyond your limits then don’t do it!
3. Say yes and figure out the details later
Collaboration is hard work, sure, but if you don’t try it you’ll never know how it may benefit your work and your thinking in ways you may not even be able to imagine.
4. Figure out the details
Once you’ve decided to collaborate it is incredibly important to set some ground rules for your group. Though I rather fancy the image of a wildly artistic melange of creative minds working side-by-each on radical, organic projects that just, I don’t know,  flow together the fact of the matter is that clear guidelines and expectations set the tone and help create a positive environment. It is worth remembering that the guidelines you begin with will likely need to change over time. 
What other advice do you have?
______________________
*The Pros and Cons of Collaboration is a fabulous album by Carolyn Mark. Check it out here, it could be your collaborative soundtrack.
DIY · going public · jet lag

Conferences: How Many? How Often?

In the last thirty-six hours I’ve flown from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Edmonton, Alberta and back. The trip out took me twelve hours (thanks to a four hour layover in Pearson Airport) and the trip back took eight hours. I left Alberta Saturday night and arrived home at 6am on Sunday. I’m jet lagged, a little behind on my work, and still have a lecture to write, but if you’re asking yourself ‘was it worth it?’ I can say that for me, this time, the answer is yes! 
The topic of conferences has cropped up here multiple times. We’ve considered why conferences are so bad and offered examples for how to make them better. There have been posts and responses that discuss the ethics and practicality of recycling conference papers. We’ve also written about the joys and complications of conference season. Lately, I have been wondering how many is too many? And, when you’re not on the tenure track and don’t have access to conference travel funds, how often should you pay out of pocket to attend a conference?
Like the author of this article and the author of this one I am of the mind that conferences are a great way to get a sense of your field, especially as a graduate student. I started attending conferences as a Masters student and throughout my degrees I went to LOTS. This was made possible both by my mentors who build conference travel funding into their RA budgets, as well as my choice to attend association conferences like ACCUTE which offer travel support for graduate students. But, if I really wanted to attend a conference and felt like it was going to be useful for my professional development I paid for it myself. Yes, even when I couldn’t really afford it (which was most of the time). Wise? I’m not sure, but I can say that attending conferences has been integral to building my confidence in my own work. Then again, it takes a looong time to pay off conference travel if you couldn’t really afford it in the first place.
I’m lucky right now. Though I am still in a contract position I am qualified to apply for some conference travel support through my university. This year all of my conference energy is focussed on the same project, meaning that unlike previous years when I’ve written papers that are conceived of specifically for the conference I want to attend, this year I am only submitting abstracts that come from or will turn into chapters in my manuscript project. This seems like an obvious tactic for the busy academic, but it has taken me years to realize that conferences can function as self-imposed writing deadlines for projects that extend beyond the twenty-minute presentation!
But not everyone is in a position to apply for travel funding, and in a job climate that seems to demand bigger! better! more! the pressure to attend as many conferences as possible and achieve Maximum Networking Time can be, well, daunting. While I’m no authority on the matter my feeling is that when funds and time are tight it is best to focus your energies on one significant conference in your field per year. Significant might mean big (lots of other interesting papers!) or small (no concurrent panels! sustained discussion over days!). That decision is ultimately up to you, you should decide what is best for you at this stage of your career and wallet. When you do choose a conference, ensure that you’ll make the best of your time and money by preparing a paper you’re proud to present
When they are well-curated and moderated conferences can be a wonderful way to network, to get a sense of your field, and to encounter emergent topics of study. Be realistic, do what is feasible for your schedule and your budget. 
What are your thoughts? How many conferences do you attend in a year?
advice · community · DIY · faster feminism · ideas for change · making friends · new year new plan · role models

Guest Post: How to start a professional development group for academic women

A very useful and inspiring guest post, from Bonnie Kaserman, on 10 Things to Consider when starting a professional development group for academic women. Who doesn’t love a neatly organized list at the beginning of term? Particularly one that helps us support one another more effectively?

(Also, I love the reminder that food motivates people. Oh, yes, it’s true! I’ll bring the bean dip!)

—————-

Have you been thinking about starting up a group to support the academic women on your campus?

Yes, you’ll be busy as the school year starts in earnest. Overwhelmed. But, at least in my experience, having a community to meet and talk about gender in the academy can be one of the most invigorating and sustaining aspects of academic life. Since the late 1990s, I’ve been involved in groups that support women in my discipline of Geography. (For example, see C-SWIG). Our monthly meetings are part-professional development and part emotional support. Here are a few tidbits that I’ve gleaned along the way to get a group going and keep it going:

  1. Start your group at the beginning of fall term. You think, “We’ll start something after the rush at the beginning of term.” But the truth is, life only gets more hectic. Get the ball rolling early and establish the group as part of everyone’s regular schedule.
  2. Decide on membership. Who will be in this group? Undergrads, graduate students, post-docs, faculty? Is your group exclusive to women? It’s important to have space exclusively for those who self-identify as women, but you must weigh the political ramifications of doing so. Also, with people coming and going from institutions, consider how the group’s membership will be sustained from year to year.
  3. Consider affiliating your group with your university. Funding may be sparse these days, but if your group can be considered an official student group, you may be able to apply for university funding. Use those dollars to fund guest speakers or to help fund members’ travel for conferences.
  4. Share the responsibilities. Women are often assigned time-sucking social responsibilities in their departments and at their institutions. Make an agreement about how responsibilities (facilitating a meeting, choosing readings, organizing an event, etc.) will be shared amongst group members.
  5. Establish a website and a listserv. Agree upon a mission statement and sets of goals. Also, when is your next meeting? What is the topic? What resources do you want to share? The website will serve as the group’s public face as well as the group’s archive of meetings and activities.
  6. Meet regularly and vary when you meet. Meeting once a month has worked well for our group, and, in order to accommodate so many schedules, we vary the weeknight when we meet. Keep meetings from being a burden by having a set meeting-end time. Be diligent and unapologetic about ending the meeting. Also, have each member bring a snack to share. Food = attendance.
  7. Have focused meeting topics and consider assigned readings. Have one topic per meeting and pair it with a short reading or two (as in: you can read them on the bus on the way to the meeting). Readings help to ground the group in that discussion and help to connect personal experiences to larger sets of practices. Read about academic mentoring, gender & race in academe, work-life, and classroom dynamics. Keep in mind that once the group gets going that returning members need new dialogue. Readings along with different topics help with keeping ideas and strategies fresh.
  8. Teach members about creating online presence and emerging online technologies. Remember: who learns new online technologies is uneven. Teach each other and seek out university resource staff who may be willing to guide your group in these endeavors. Also, share knowledge about appropriate software, such as Omeka and Zotero.
  9. Discuss confidentiality. Depending on the kinds of discussion your group is having, you may want to open your meetings with a reminder about building trust. “Safe” spaces and supportive environments are different.
  10. Activist activities. My group has primarily focused on small interventions in our everyday lives as academics. Small interventions can make a huge impact. At the same time, what about working together to influence a change in policy at the departmental or university level? Or making a change at the disciplinary level by connecting with other like-minded groups within your discipline’s national or international organization. Having formal impact can help to sustain a group.

Bonnie Kaserman

DIY · summer

On Reading

Yesterday, I read a book while sitting on my back porch.

This shouldn’t be particularly shocking given that I have a PhD in literature and that all of my teaching and research is about texts, if not the old school book. But reader, I tell you, sitting down and starting as well as finishing a book in a single day was a luxury. It also made me feel a little guilty.
I am a voracious reader at heart. When I was in elementary school I read and completed 100 book reports in a year simply because it was enjoyable. I loved reading and then telling someone why I liked–or didn’t–what I’d read. My parents took me to the library to get my own card when I was quite young because I read so quickly that buying books felt like a bit of an impossible investment (truth be told my dad cut a deal with himself: he’d buy me the classics but I’d take things like The Babysitters Club out of the library). I read a non-thesis or dissertation related book a week throughout the duration of my graduate work. Heck, I read War and Peace while taking trains across Europe, and when I had accumulated too many things in my knapsack to fit the tome I cut the chapters up and scattered them in bus stops. OK, a bit melodramatic, but you get the point: I love reading.
However, reading is something that seems to get pushed out of my everyday. A few weeks ago I posted about my summer research plan. I’ve been sticking to it, mostly. Some unforeseen things have popped up (more on those when I can write about them) but all in all I’m on schedule. So why did I feel *so* guilty yesterday as I sat happily in the sun reading a book?
Well, for one thing, even though I advocate and encourage others to take a vacation I am having a hard time doing it myself. Sure, I know it is necessary. Yes, I understand that I’ll be better rested and ready to do work, but gosh, the constant shadow of anxiety that hovers over we on the non-tenured track is a heavy, shady, and dogged thing.
I think, too, that for me research is always in service of production these days. This is related to the anxiety/guilt I mentioned a moment ago, certainly, and I wonder if others struggle with this? I find I’ve been giving myself little time to let my mind wander lately, and so that’s my task for myself in the following weeks: read, and read widely. Read for work, read for pleasure, and be ready to be surprised if the books/articles/etc. start to migrate from ‘pleasure’ to ‘work’. Following the lead of one of my favourite scholarly bloggers, I’ll end with a partial reading list. There’s no rhyme or reason to it (& I would love it if you all would post yours):
Commonwealth (Hardt & Negri)
Cree Narrative Memory (Neal McLeod)
something by Henning Mankell
Emotionally Weird (Kate Atkinson)
Exit Capitalism (Simon During)
best laid plans · DIY · mental health

Bouyant Plans: More Notes from the Non-Tenure Stream


One of my self-described roles here at Hook&Eye is to be a voice from the non-tenured stream. While I certainly don’t pretend to be the voice of or a voice for CLTAs, LTAs, and sessionals I did make a goal for myself to speak as frankly as possible about my life as a limited term appointment who is on the job market. As I discovered in one of my earliest posts, being frank–especially in public!– feels risky. Honestly, sometimes I worry that speaking as a non-tenured faculty member will pigeon hole me as the non-tenured faculty member… But I digress.

So let me fess up: in the last month or so my deliberately cultivated and self-preserving pluck has been worn a bit thin. I’ve been down, both bogged down and blue. Part of this is March, which is a notoriously difficult month for many of us. Part of this is the resounding number of rejections I’ve received in the last month (jobs, grants). Part of it is the ennui that comes with thinking “what has all this work accomplished?” And part of my pluck has been worn down by things I can’t write about on the blog despite the fact that they might well be the most informative and useful for others in a similar limited term position.

But, as my dear friend and mentor reminded me earlier this week, it gets better. As we head into the last week(s) of the term I find my spirits lifting, and part of that lifting is due to the “free time” that is factored into my current contract. I’m on a 10-month contract that ends next month, and while a new contract begins in August, for the months of June and July I am technically unemployed. Why “free”? Because in the meantime I’ll be busy working on the research and writing that is quite difficult to maintain when teaching an overload. In the coming months I’m aiming to revise and resubmit an article, write three (lengthy) book reviews, prepare a book proposal, and write three conference papers (one of which I intend to turn into an article). Oh yes, and plot out my lectures for fall. And have regular picnics at the lake. Ooh, and finally take a photography class so that I can take pictures like this one by Eric Johansson! Hmm. When typed out that looks like quite a bit.

Back in September I wrote a post about resolutions for the new school year. Most of these resolutions had to do with maintaining a a regular writing schedule (er…), keeping class preparation to a reasonable amount of time (hah!), and keeping myself healthful and active (not bad, actually). Readers, it is time for me to revisit those resolutions.

In the next several weeks I’ll be planing out my summer plans, the work as well as the play. I wonder if, like me, you have grand plans for both? How do you intend to both refuel and produce over the summer months? How do you manage your non-teaching time?

canada · change · DIY

Printed Matters

“It was sadly fitting that entrepreneur Harold Fenn announced the failure of his once-thriving family business, Canada’s largest independently owned book distributor, on the same day Bay Street cheered news that the bankruptcy rate in Canada had hit an all-time low. Whatever other opportunities might arise in a suddenly buoyant new economy, it seems clear that the business of making and selling paper books in Canada will not be among them.”

So begins the Globe and Mail article detailing Harper’s latest blow to Canadian publishing. I find the systematic attack on the production of print culture in Canada vexing to say the least.

Part of my vexation is certainly connected to the fact that I work in a literature department. My work focuses on Canadian women’s cultural production, predominantly poetry that crosses and complicates genre boundaries. In short, I need publishers who are willing and able to publish the work of women I study.

And of course there’s love. I love books. I love them in print form, I love them in digital form. I love them in forms I didn’t even know could exist (thanks, Bruce Peel Special Collections!) As an only child I spent such a huge amount of time reading that my mom had to sign me up for sports* so that I would put down my books from time to time. OK, maybe she was also trying to encourage me to socialize… But the point is simple. My relationship with books is the longest of my life. I doubt we’ll break up any time soon.

My love of small and independent publishers developed later. Simply put I didn’t really know they existed until well into my undergraduate degree. I’ve found myself talking about the import of Canadian publishing in almost all of my courses in the past few years. This comes up naturally, from the surveys of Canadian literature to the introduction to literature courses: students want to know about their reading material. Where does it come from? How does publishing work? What does the publishing industry tell us about our so-called national values?

There are dedicated bloggers out there who have been calling attention to Canadian publishing for a good long while now. Lemon Hound, (begun as/by poet critic and public intellectual Sina Queyras in 2005 as a venture for discussing literature, art, politics, and women and now run by a collective of bright young things) recently posted about related and equally as worrying point: According to Amy King and the fine folks at Vida, women are publishing into a critical vacuum. Still.

So rather than blaming ebooks or speculate on when my country people are going to wake up and demand an election I’m making a list. A list of amazing small presses and less small presses in Canada. Please add ones I’ve missed. The idea here is first to gather a critical mass–there are bound to be presses we’ve yet heard about–and then, if possible, to make concerted efforts to support these presses in any way we can. Here goes (in no particular order):


Tente An amazing chapbook press begun by poet Angela Carr

No Press The latest brainchild of the indefatigable derek beaulieu

Gaspereau Press No apologies for beautiful books!

Arsenal Pulp Press Started as a student run collective in the 70s

Talonbooks Published, among many many others, what I would consider one of the most important books in the last five years: Sachiko Murakami‘s Invisibility Exhibit

BookThug Amazing, beautiful, innovative work gets packaged beautifully and published here.

NeWest Publishing ‘radically rewarding literature’ since the 1970s

Invisible Publishing An innovative small press here in Hali!

New Star In addition to literature and social issues New Star runs Transmontanus, a series of short illustrated books about some of the more unusual aspects of life in a corner of the world currently known as British Columbia.

Cormorant Dedicated to new and emerging writers

Snare Books Started in 2006 by Montreal based John Paul Fiorentino and Robert Allen. Stellar emergent poet Helen Hajnoczky’s first collection Poets and Killers: A Life in Advertising was published by these fine folks.

Anvil Press Contemporary Canadian literature with an urban twist

Coach House Books The one & only

House of Anansi Publishing since 1967


Brick Books New and established voices in Canadian poetry since 1975


Pedlar Press Making no compromise with public taste!

Kegedonce We are a First Nations – owned and operated publisher committed to the development, promotion and publication of Indigenous Peoples. Our books are beautifully crafted and involve Indigenous Peoples at all levels of production. High quality design, materials and production are the cornerstone of our aesthetic approach to publishing.

Mercury Press Poetry, fiction, and culturally significant non-fiction


*Factoid: I spent several years of my youth as a competitive synchronized swimmer…!

academic reorganization · DIY · equity · slow academy · solidarity

Against Alienation

I’m hoping that my students skip class on February the second.

I’ll admit that this is an unusual statement for me, for though I don’t keep attendance sheets (too much work) I do notice when students aren’t in class. So help me, ill advised as it may be, I even take it personally sometimes. But Wednesday of this week will be an exception; Wednesday is the Nova Scotia-wide Student Day of Action to protest tuition hikes and looming budget cuts to education in this province.

I teach at a university that has the (somewhat misleading) reputation as one of the most expensive undergraduate degree in Canada. The pros and cons of tuition costs here at Dal were even addressed as a central portion of the new faculty orientation I attended last year. One of the central issues discussed was the declining number of Nova Scotians who are attending postsecondary schools. Now I’m no policy maker, and as I’ve mentioned numerous times I am relatively new to the region, so I can’t profess expertise in understanding long term goals of institutions, or even population trends. But I am deeply troubled by the O’Neill report.

There are a lot of problems with university systems in general, no surprise there. No surprise that there’s a disconnect between bureaucrats and educators, either. There are many of my colleagues working in administrative capacities to make the university a more equitable and accessible place, and there are many of us classrooms employing consciousness-raising techniques as tools for teaching literary and social analysis. Often though it seems like an uphill battle, like the chasm between policy and practice is, well, huge.

So what must it feel like for students? I find myself wondering about how many students will attend the day of action; I worry that they might already feel alienated from the institution to which they, their families, or their futures will pay so much money. Especially here in the Maritimes where student debt is the highest in the country. Moreover, while tuition in Canada does not yet guarantee the decades of debt that an American degree almost inevitably ensures so many, do we really want to use that as an excuse not to speak out?

I’m going to take some time to let my students know about the Day of Action and encourage them to speak up on their own behalf. It is too easy to feel as though change is inaccessible. Too often I find myself being subsumed by that very sense of alienation that Marx outlined more than a century and a half ago. And there’s certainly no lack of evidence that universities are more than kissing cousins with corporations. All the more reason to create space for positive, critically engaged discourse. All the more reason to peacefully demand that one space designated for this discourse—the university—is not rendered inaccessible or inoperable.

DIY · emotional labour · good attitudes about crappy possibilities · notes from the non-tenured-stream

Due to arctic weather conditions this blog post was almost delayed. Or, what do botched travel plans have in common with an academic profession?

As you know from last week’s post I’ve been on vacation…. And now my partner and I are two of the thousands and thousands of people who are trying desperately to get out of London’s Heathrow airport. We’re not traveling with children, we’re not sick, and though we don’t really have a whole ton of cash (& certainly not so much that we budgeted for this) we’re ok.

Great, right? So what am I all uptight about?

I mean, don’t get me started on the inanity of the fact that we’re grounded (for days or maybe a week) over 4 inches of snow. Or the frustration over the fact that even though we’re in a neat and fancy spot we’re not actually able to enjoy it because we’re with everyone else trying to find a place to pop our bags while we look for Internet and queue for customer service.

All this stress over travel plans is uncanny: the feeling of no control, the slow realization that we’re on our own, the realization that there might be ways to make things work if we’re willing to be flexible* and a little scrappy. Truth be told this stress has reminded me of the stresses I’ve written about on this blog. But this travel stress also has me thinking about the skills we have, hone, or forge as academic women. I fancy myself a semi-worldly and adaptable sort. For example, you’ve read my musing on the pros and cons of moving for the profession (mostly I like it) as well as my thoughts on the DIY Academic career.

Indeed, professing in the profession seems to require a certain kind of worldliness. Or awareness. Or self-reflexivity. Call it what you like, working in the academy means meeting such a wide variety of people with diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and, yes, holiday greetings. In fact, call me Pollyanna because I (usually) love what this requires of me. Mindfulness. Openness. And what I’m coming to understand as a kind of careful compassion. After all, we’re all in this hotel/terminal/concourse/classroom/job hunt together, right?

What I mean by this is not that working in the academy means being a push over (hah!) but rather that this kind of compassion is the stuff that travels, that discerns. It is an (unpaid, granted) emotion that is often for students, regularly for colleagues, and sometimes, increasingly, for me.

Compassion is often among the feminized emotions, and certainly would fall under the unpaid emotional work that needs further discussion and radical rethinking. But I think one of my resolutions is to pay it forward, carefully.

So while I’ll be saying happy holidays to the other stranded people I meet and keeping my eyes peeled for vegetarian food in the airports (even if it means another meal of bagels) I’ll be practicing compassion with my fellow travelers and myself…because I’m going to need it in January when a new term, a new year, and a new batch of fantastically and astoundingly diverse students show up in my classrooms.

Warmth to you all and apologies for the bleary prose.

*the willingness to be flexible may forever remind me of the infamous meme… even though I know being flexible doesn’t equal moving to nowheresville Canada/USA/UK I can’t help but hear that automated Dean’s voice…

Blogroll · DIY · learning · openness · possibility

Why I Write: A Response and a Meditation

I’m a regular reader of University of Venus. I like the mission statement, I love the variety of voices, and I appreciate the range of perspectives the writers offer. My post comes by way of a response to Mary Churchill’s post Why do Academics Write? from a few months ago. I guess you could say I’m a percolator: I think think think about something for quite some time before I formulate a response to it.


I’ve realized that one of the reasons this post has stuck with me is that it begins with a consideration of how the writing of blogs differs from the writing of academic, discipline-specific texts. Throughout this thoughtful piece Mary returns to a question which was both posed to her and which in turn she poses to her readers: why do you write?

Inevitably this question led me to thinking about why I felt so strongly about writing this blog with Heather and Aimée, which in turn led me to thinking about why I feel so strongly about collaborative writing. (& don’t forget the link in Aimée’s post that, as she discusses, is just one of many that suggests collaboration is detrimental)

Here’s what I’ve realized: regardless of the readership–be it small, large, or wholly imagined–I write because I love collaboration. Yes, I know that the single-authored manuscript is what might get me the interview for the tenure-track job. And I know that I can churn out a single-authored article over the holidays when I’ve a small break from lecture planning more quickly than I could draft a book proposal with a co-editor. But I can’t help myself. I love collaboration.
A few years ago when I was a graduate student I learned about a collaborative peer-editing and writing group happening between two universities. This program was organized by two senior female faculty members; it paired students from the two departments and they wrote and thought together. I was green with envy! Writing and thinking in collaboration was something that I dreamed would happen regularly at the graduate level. The reality, at least for me, was that it didn’t.

Later in my PhD I had the amazing good fortune of collaborating with several other graduate students to put together a panel on the pros and cons of collaboration for the annual ACCUTE meeting. When we first started writing and thinking together we were truly just acquaintances. Over the course of a year, after many long-distance phone calls, countless emails, and experimentation with digital-conversation platforms, we were definitely friends. While we didn’t get much more than a line on our CVs for the disproportionate amount of work we did, the experience of writing and thinking together was exhilarating.

Around the same time I began writing with a friend and a colleague. She was studying for her candidacy examinations, and I was writing my dissertation. She was in the creative writing stream I (obviously) was not. We started getting together at each other’s houses for writing sessions. Mostly these sessions took place in separate rooms at first, the idea being that we’d each write and then break every now and then for coffee and conversation. But eventually these conversations revealed the ways in which our scholarly thinking was in conversation as well. We started writing to and towards each other as a way of thinking through the relationship between the critic and the poet. We ended up publishing a section of our collaboration in the fabulous special issue of Matrix called New Feminisms, which was co-edited by the eminently talented Karis Shearer and Melanie Bell. Like the earlier collaboration this writing likely won’t earn me a job interview, but it feels as necessary as the academic writing that will might.
Which leads me, finally, back to this site: I write because I believe in collaboration, and I hope—however naively—that the writing we do does indeed foster some kind of collaborative thinking.

(More on specifically feminist collaboration next week…)
Why do you write, dear readers?