going public · grief · health · ideas for change · Uncategorized

Shifting Strategies

What happens when an interruption goes on for a long period of time? I find myself thinking about this question from different angles, daily. For, while our current conditions of social or physical distancing, quarantine, and isolation are certainly unprecedented there are many ways that people’s lives have been and continue to be radically interrupted.

What happens when those interruptions go on and on and are global in their scale? What happens when there isn’t an end in sight?

While I don’t have answers to any of these questions, I am finding some comfort in writing them down.

When, a mere seven days ago, I wrote that this was not business as usual I was in a state I can only describe as high alert. My muscles were tensed. I couldn’t settle down. I wrote a million emails an hour. I drew family schedules. I woke up early to work out in the mornings, and went for a jog in the afternoon while our daughter napped. I did this not because I am having a physical transformation self-isolation moment (tho good on you if that gets you through). Nope. I was doing all this because I was in a panic. Adrenalized. Vibrating.

A few days into self-isolation, which, for clarity, I am doing with my partner, our four-year old, and our dog (whose mannerisms are, alas, much like mine) something shifted. I went for a walk and found myself crying. Then, I lay on the floor instead of going for walks. On social media it looked like people were developing home organization projects, or becoming Montessori teachers for their children, or writing their new projects. Not me. I couldn’t wait until 9pm when, almost certainly, I could watch television and zone out until I crawled upstairs to go to bed. Yes, I was still answering emails to students. Yes, I was getting the bare minimum done, but that frenetic energy that was so useful for multitasking and producing? That vanished. Poof! Gone.

I have conveyed some of my shifting feelings to my students as we correspond about final assignments. I do this in small ways, for while I think it might be useful for them to know I am struggling with this too, they don’t need to hold space for my grief. It is good, though, to acknowledge that this–our longue durée of interruption–is difficult. That it can teach us things. There is room, I am reminded, again and again, to meet each other in our shared humanity and to be kind. To recognize that this is a strange and particular moment of shared upheaval, and in that recognition, to look one another in the eye and say ” how are you doing?”

In that same spirit, and with Lily’s post in mind, I am working to notice, record, and remember how I am feeling and what I am thinking and doing now and in the coming days and weeks and months. As I make the shift from panic, to global grief, to something else–what is that something else?–I find my relationship to time is changing. There are some anchors in our household that mark the shape of a day, but on the whole I’ve noticed we’re moving to planning for an hour or a two at a time, rather than the whole day. This is good. It seems to suit three people’s needs and moods a bit more generously. And, as there is no space for the kinds of focussed deep scholarly work that my partner and I do in other contexts, it means we’re changing our daily practices too. I can’t write an article when our four year old needs companionship and conversation. I can, however, pay attention to what she is interested in. Usually, I rush us out the door. Now, as my body settles into the reality that there is simply nothing to rush for, some of my panic dissipates (sometimes). As my partner and I trade taking and hour here or there for reading, or emails, or grading, or a tiny bit of writing (or just the intent to write), we are learning new ways to communicate.

I stepped away from most social media several years ago. The current state of things has marked the first time in years I’ve thought about returning. But instead of that, which causes me a good deal of panic or FOMO or any other myriad crunchy affects, I have been sending texts and emails and DMs to check in on friends and acquaintances. Rather than wonder “does this person want to hear from me?” I’ve been thinking “would I appreciate a check in?” My answer is always yes, so I have been checking in. I let people know there’s no need to respond, and that I treat texts (etc) like post cards and just send them into the world. And I keep doing it, because it helps me feel connected.

I’ll keep sharing my coping strategies, and I’ll keep trying to mark the shifts in emotion. This kind of record keeping feels at once deeply personal, and perhaps one of the first instances in which I want to do that thinking in a kind of public space. There, that’s another shift, isn’t it?

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
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.
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.
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.
academy · advice · going public · outreach · work · writing

It would be an honour

Here’s an awkward conversation I had last week:

Him: “Yes, the talk you’ve outlined sounds perfect, and of course we’re looking forward to hearing it. But I’m calling to settle another matter with you. What’s your usual speaking fee?”

Me, after picking myself up off the floor from a dead faint: “Um, err, oh, it’s, I goes … zero? I’m an academic. I’m usually just glad someone has asked me to talk.”

Him: “Okay. No. How about $250?”

Me: “Of course. That sounds great. Thank you.”

Yes, it’s a post about honoraria. Honorariums? I don’t know. The money people pay you to talk about your research, money that’s not your salary. Money that’s not your travel or food expenses. Ideas money.

It’s all very awkward. No one ever told me about honoraria when I was a grad student, just like they never told me about negotiating for royalty payments for a textbook. And here I am with both issues somehow having become current in my life. The only thing I ever remember hearing about “speaking fees” was of a Famous Postmodernist who extorted a very large speaking fee from a university I attended, and then read to the eager crowd an excerpt from a book he’d published ten years earlier. The idea I gained from that anecdote and others was twofold. First, superstars get fees, and they’re big. Like prohibitively, we can’t afford her, four digits big. Second, there’s a whiff of jackassery and arrogance about the whole notion of charging money for talking about your research.

Okay, I guess it was threefold, because I also picked up the idea that writing and speaking that paid was not real research. You know that’s true: textbooks bring their authors lots of money and monographs are often subsidized by money the author somehow finds to give to the press. Which book earns the author a gold star at review time?

Last year, I was invited to another university to give a talk in a lecture series. They told me up front that they would pay all my travel and subsistence expenses. And they said there would be a modest honorarium, but they didn’t say how much. This year, I gave a plenary address to nearly 200 high school students at a symposium, and I had written the paper before I found out that there was going to be an honorarium, and how much. I gave a keynote to a small gathering of scholars and found out after the event was finished that there was going to be an honorarium. I won’t know how much until it arrives, I guess.

I have written about social media and the professoriate for a Reader’s Forum in a scholarly journal, gratis. I have written about collaboration and the humanities for University Affairs, with Heather and Erin, for a fee. It’s all a mystery, frankly. I am making, I discover, a gagillion dollars a year from the Canadian edition of the textbook I work on, but the American author makes several gagillion more, but exactly how much is a mystery to me.

We don’t, I guess I’m saying, talk in very clear or explicit ways about money in this business. Should we? Myself, I do a lot of knowledge dissemination work, which is to say, media and public talks and such. Some of it is paid and some of it isn’t, but we never talk about it beforehand. I have been recompensed along a sliding scale from nothing (local TV, talks at the library, most academic gigs), through logo-emblazoned coffee cups (The Current), to cash money plus a bottle of wine (private high school).

I am always honoured to be asked. The honorarium is never top of mind. Should it be? Or middle of mind? What do you think about the issue? I find it all terribly awkward and perplexing, but it is nice to be paid for things, sometimes at least. I don’t know, seriously, I just don’t know what I think about the issue. You?

appreciation · going public · possibility

Academic Travel

It’s that time of year when I begin to look longingly at the delicate contrails in the skies, and at the collapsible toothbrushes at Shoppers. It’s that time of year when this academic’s fancy turns to travel. I’ve got a conference at the University of Maryland in six weeks, and then six weeks after that I’ll be in Victoria. I might be going to England, but that wouldn’t be until October. I’m just beginning to buy plane tickets and book hotel rooms and organize to meet friends and colleagues. I’m getting nostalgic for the 10 Minute Manicure booth at Pearson’s Terminal Two. I can’t wait to get back to Rebar in Victoria, or have the wonderful bartender at UVic’s Faculty club make me my once-a-year martini, enjoyed with digital humanists and turtles on the patio. And, oh, the hotel rooms. Those blank, anonymous, heavy-blanketed, blackout-curtained, TV-in-bed, all-to-myself havens of quiet and solitude. I am looking forward to the hotel rooms.

Oh, and I guess I’m excited, too, about sharing my research about Facebook, about computer keyboards, about social media and the role of design in academic practice. I’ll write papers and curricula and it certainly always happens that the intellectual work of this travel both pushes me to produce something in the face of a real deadline and prompts a lot of new ideas in all the interaction. But honestly, I’m mostly thinking about the travel right now.

For me, this wanderlust is cyclical. It builds from the late winter and peaks in early summer. I do most of my traveling, and sometimes quite a lot of traveling, in the period between early March and early July. Last year, I did six trips in the eight weeks in that timeframe. When I got back, I swore that I was never getting on another plane ever again. (My husband made a similar vow, after a heroic run of solo-parenting while working his own full-time, demanding job. And then, don’t you know, all three of us made an unexpected family trip to Edmonton the very next month.) I was seriously jet lagged, feeling gross from travel food, had had my luggage lost once, had stayed in a terrible hotel during a children’s hockey tournament (tip! Don’t do that!), and flown through some gruesome weather. I missed my family a lot, my routines, our routines. My bed.

But those memories have receded now. And I’m looking forward to laying out outfits on the bed in the guest room, trying to game the weather while packing enough variety to give me stylish options that will, nevertheless, all fit in a carry-on (cf earlier discussion of lost luggage. I’m looking at you, Air Canada). I’m buying this year’s collapsible toothbrush, and sample sizes of my favourite Aveda hair products. My trusty Samsonite roly-bag is coming down from the attic, with my travel yoga mat already folded neatly within it. I’m cheerfully booking airport shuttles in other countries, and checking the exchange rates. It’s going to be great: I head out in the world by myself, my purse and my carry-on and my ideas, on an adventure to share my research and learn from others and eat the kinds of foods I like when I feel like eating them. I miss my family, really I do, when I’m gone, but it’s so nice to have these brief interludes of only thinking of myself. Of throwing myself right into it. Seeing old friends and making new ones. Learning stuff.

When I was a single graduate student, travel felt different. It felt like a brief entrée into a world of adulthood: wearing suits and eating in restaurants and explaining my work to customs agents as though I were a professional of some sort. Now it feels different, almost like a return to something less “grown-up,” freer, with fewer and more-focused responsibilities.

But always, from my staying in dorm days to the quiet hotel rooms now, the travel has been one of the perks of being an academic. I love it, this shift into new places with new people and new routines. (It’s always the same coffee and inedible honeydew melon slices, though …) What about you? How do you feel about academic travel?

change · going public · ideas for change · politics · popular culture · solidarity

The 51 of the 99

As faithful readers know, my colleagues and I recently published a book called Not Drowning but Waving: Women, Feminism and the Liberal Arts (UAP 2011): I blogged about it here if you want an overview. One of the questions that’s been nagging at me since NDBW came out is whether the book and its concerns might be belated. The occasion for the project was the career of the first woman Dean of Arts; since 2006, both the Interim Dean and the new Dean have been women. Some contributors wrote about how hard it is to be a mother and an academic; since then, conversations here at hook&eye – and here, and here – suggest things might be getting better. For my part, I was ground down and crazy in 2006; happily, I’m no longer as vulnerable as I once was to institutional bullshit. And so on.

I raised the question with my friend and collaborator JW: are we living the change we hoped to see? And she said yes, but only in small part, the part that is centered in the privileged classes which we tenured and tenure-track colleagues help comprise. She went on:

The gap between the rich and the poor has never been greater (except during the Gilded Age), and this is not even taking into account the conditions of women in many parts of the world. The equity audit of the universities is one thing, but all the big equity audits indicate that Canada has not come nearly far enough in closing the gap between men’s and women’s wages. And the very very wealthy are so unbelievably wealthy that some of them are embarrassed by it — admittedly not many, but some. And our governments won’t do anything about it. Even in the university the gap between the privileges of women academics and our mostly female support staff is massive.

Which brings me to where I am today, thanks to the magic of hotwire: a hotel on the corner of Wall St and William, two blocks from Occupy Wall Street.

Wed 12 Oct 4pm: the occupation began 17 Sept 2011

Confession: I was skeptical. Partly it’s because I’m old: I cut my political teeth defending abortion clinics in California, an action with a clear, pragmatic goal and a well defined ideology. Partly it’s because I’m an administrator: what’s a demonstration without a manifesto? what does “leaderless resistance movement” mean, and exactly how do these people think they’ll achieve whatever it is they want, without a clear go-forward plan and next steps? But partly it’s because I didn’t really think OWS had much to do with me. A belated response to the bailout debacle, I thought. An American issue in a city where unemployment approaches 10%, I thought. Not my issue, I thought.

Spending some time at OWS today has made me change my mind about that. It was exciting and fascinating and surprisingly inspiring to be in Zuccotti Park. Among the folks there on a rainy Wednesday nearly a month after the occupation began: librarians, anarchists, communists, atheists, christians, jews, muslims (conversation near me: is Wall Street a jewish conspiracy or a new victimization?), Tibetan monks, students, professors, journalists, trade unionists (I saw Teamsters, the Wobblies, and my friend Hector’s SEIU local, 32BJ), African Americans holding banners proclaiming debt as the new slavery, something called the Retail Action Project, guys looking for beer (“you know where I can get some? I’m really riled”), and a man who appeared so old that he may very well have marched against Wall Street back in 1929. 

As you might expect, that diverse a crowd makes for a certain diversity of concerns: a semiotic richness, an ideological slipperiness. Some people are angry at oil baronry:

 Some people want better working conditions:

Some people are voluble (the sign below quotes Henry Ford, “It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning”) and some are terse (one woman drew the invisible hand giving the finger):

I particularly loved the Granny Peace Brigade:

While it’s true that there is no single overarching position and no definitive action plan, there is a definite feel to the occupation. The feel is exasperation. It’s like a whole bunch of unrelated people got up one day and thought: are you fucking kidding me? It’s about 2008, and the big bank bailouts, and the debt ceiling; it’s the endlessness of underemployment, the Tea Party and Fox News. But mostly it feels like that dream you have where you simply cannot face one more email / student essay / scholarly rejection / committee meeting, and so you push back your chair, stand up, and walk away. That walk ends, I think, at Zuccotti Square.

People are fed up with the world we have. They are fed up with a system where it’s okay for some people to get obscenely rich and others to sell plasma. They are fed up with lily-livered politicians and their apologists; they are fed up with greed. While it may not be a terrifically nuanced analysis by academic standards, OWS offers one of the clearest anti-capitalist actions I’ve ever seen. Of course there’s no action plan, no manifesto, no list of demands: are you fucking kidding me?

The occupation opens up space for what Stuart Hall calls “articulation”: it’s an opportunity to connect events with meanings, to wrest a historical moment out of its given context and assert its significance and its importance in terms of an emergent (sometimes) discourse. Forgive my quoting from wikipedia, but I don’t have my books at hand:

[T]the relationship between actual culture…on the one hand, and economically determined factors such as class position, on the other, is always problematical, incomplete, and the object of ideological work and struggle….Cultural relationships and cultural change are thus not predetermined; rather they are the product of negotiation, imposition, resistance, transformation, and so on….

What I understand Hall to mean by this is that we don’t always have a preconceived idea for political struggle – we don’t always know exactly what we want in advance of wanting it (the vanguard is a bankrupt concept) – but meaning is forged in and through political struggle. Getting there is a matter of “negotiation, imposition, resistance, transformation, and so on.” 

This concept gives shape to what I’ve seen at Zuccotti Park: a group of people yearning toward something different. In a profound way, OWS calls on us to articulate our sense of the world in terms of the power relations its occupants have laid bare. In this sense, OWS belongs to all of us – the genius, obviously, of “we are the 99%”: OWS is an issue for women, for feminists, for academics, for teachers, for students, for parents.

And so OWS speaks to me, and perhaps to you, of the ways in which the academy is changing: the chronic underfunding of the system, references to students as clients or consumers, the speed-up and download of responsibilities that generate the need for more administrators, the crappy academic job market, the reliance on international registrations as revenue streams, public denunciations of the humanities, reductions in SSHRC funding, casual anti-intellectualism, even in the cities we rely on for the opposite (Rob Ford, I’m looking at you), the loss of the long-form census, three-job sessional commutes, instrumental learning, budget cuts, again: are you fucking kidding me?

The good news is you’re not alone. The OWS movement is growing, and it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon: cf “occupy,” verb. This Saturday there will be Occupy events going on all over the world, probably near you. (You can check here.) Perhaps you’ll be inspired to go and start articulating the change you wish to see in the world.

If you do, here’s a couple thoughts to bring with you. We – women – are 51% of the 99%. But we – TT academic women in Canada – are also the 1%. That’s worth thinking about.

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?
going public · openness · reflection · research · writing

Guest Post: Untold Stories

Here is a lovely post on blending a personal story into a research project, from Shannon Stunden Bower, a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta.


So I’ve just published a book. It’s not incredibly long, by the standards of my discipline, but it is long enough, I hope, to be respectable. It is a revised version of my dissertation. I started the PhD in September 2001 and the book was published in June 2011. Even considering I have taken two maternity leaves, each of over a year in length, it’s taken me a while.

So given the book is fairly long, and given I’ve taken the time to think about what’s in it, why do I feel that some things are missing? That some stories are in my head, still, rather than on the page?

There is one tale in particular I want to tell. It’s the story that started it all, really. My book is about flooding in southern Manitoba. I grew up in the City of Winnipeg, in a house along the Red River. Yup, that Red River – the one infamous for flooding. My interest in the history of flooding was piqued in 1997, when my family was evacuated during what was called ‘the flood of the century.’ Digging into my family’s history, I discovered this was in fact the second time my father had been forced out of his home. In 1950, during a previous large-scale flood, my grandparents’ house was inundated. My father has a vivid memory of following my strong-willed grandmother down the basement stairs. She took one look around, saw the liquefied coal-dust staining the sodden walls, and declared the family was moving abroad, back to where she was from. And move they did. A few decades later, my father would buy the house I grew up in – the second house he would abandon to floodwater.

In some sense, my book is an attempt to make sense of my father’s story, which is the story of so many Manitobans. Why have people settled a flood plain? What makes them stay? How have they changed the wet prairie, and how has the wet prairie changed them? But I’ve always shied away from including this personal story in my academic writing. It is not out of a need to protect family privacy. My parents have given me their blessing to write about these things. And it is not like there are no precedents in my disciplines (history and geography) or even in my specific subfields (environmental history and historical geography). For example, William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis, one of environmental history’s landmark works by one of the subfield’s most important scholars, includes an extensive meditation on the inspiration he took from his family experiences.

Now, I’m not deluded. I know I’m not Cronon. I suppose I fear what I find charming in the writings of others might come off as silly and self-indulgent in mine. Interestingly, I’ve also shied away from telling my family’s flood story in less formal venues. I am an occasional contributor to The Otter, a group blog in environmental history run by the Network in Canadian History and Environment. During the spring of 2011, which saw significant flooding throughout much of southern Manitoba, I was asked to focus a few posts on the water situation in the province. I had nearly completed a post dealing with my family history when I suddenly hit the brakes, pulled a high-speed u-turn, and generated a more traditional post from a less-personal perspective. I was more or less happy with the two flood-related posts (here and here) I ultimately submitted. But still, neither post was the story I’d been sitting on for so long.

And so now I’m wondering why I’m deliberately choosing not to tell my family story. By laying all of this before Hook and Eye, I suppose I’m hoping for thoughts on whether there are gendered elements to this issue. Are women scholars more or less likely to include their personal stories in their academic writing? What factors bear on decisions to tell such tales or to keep them quiet?

And thanks, by the way, for letting me tell my little family story. Finally.

Shannon Stunden Bower

going public · making friends · outreach

Materfamilias Writes. Under her own name.

From Frances Sprout! Who very kindly introduced herself to me at, yes, a panel on social media in higher ed, and who offered a post. Some great back-to-school musings on being personal, in public, as we all dust off our satchels and our lesson plans.

Ever since I first discovered Hook and Eye, I’ve wanted to comment on it: at first, simply to congratulate its collaborators on creating this welcome venue; regularly since then because some post has reflected my experience so brilliantly or another has galvanized me to protest or another has moved me to share a sexist moment in anticipation of some feminist solidarity. Yet I’ve always held back. Why? Because to do so, I would either have to hide – or own up to – my own blogs, signalled as soon as another reader clicks on the avatar marking my comment. Hiding (registering another name, keeping it separate from my Google/Blogger identity) felt cowardly, but I wasn’t ready to own my digital corpus yet. Instead, stalling has been my chosen response for the past year, while I regularly composed numerous imaginary posts and comments “outing” myself. And then I met Aimée at an ACCUTE panel in Fredericton. Only two months later, and here’s my submission for a potential guest post.

The irony about my continued reluctance to expose myself is that my blog, Materfamilias Writes, began from an impulse to integrate my academic life with the rest of it. As well, I hoped to free up my writing voice from the strangling effect of dissertation-writing, a hyper-awareness of my internal editor. And perhaps most honestly, I wanted to satisfy my urge to write without the demands of research, difficult to achieve with a 4/4 teaching schedule. (I’ve been pleased to discover that the habit of regular non-academic writing has, in fact, led to a small, but satisfying, file of research-based writing.) Writing about my quotidian pursuits satisfied these goals, but left me self-conscious – at least in academic venues – about my less-than-scholarly focus.

How much less scholarly, you ask? Well, let’s see. My most common tags are “shoes,” “knitting,” “what I wore,” “garden,” “Paris,” “food,” “family,” and, more recently, “granddaughter.” All those pieces of life (excepting family and granddaughter, I hope) most likely to be dismissed as superficial. Not particularly associated with “the life of the mind.”

As well, as my community of fellow bloggers has grown and coalesced, I write increasingly about life for women “of a certain age.” Not only write about it, but also share photos of myself in that genre some of you may know as What I Wore/What I’m Wearing. I know other academics do this – Audi at Fashion for Nerds is a great example, as are the collaborative blogs Academichic (sadly seemingly defunct! –ed.) and In Professorial Fashion – but these stylish academic bloggers are all considerably younger than I am. Besides vaulting the hurdles that separate the “life of the mind” from ornamentation of the body, I’m contending with a social expectation that women my age (58, since you’re asking) not draw attention to their dress. Claiming visibility is too often rewarded with that horrid butcher-derived label, “Mutton dressed as lamb.”

And visibility, of course, is a huge issue when one teaches 4 and 4. I’m up in front of that classroom for twelve hours each week, scrutinized by a tough crowd. Disgruntled at having to write about poetry when they only want a B.Comm ticket to ride, my students may well delight at the possibilities for ridicule inherent in a post with photos of me “restyling” an old pair of jeans, a vintage sweater, demonstrating the value of Fluevog heels for enlivening a ho-hum skirt. I believe in the politics of posting about my late-middle-age pursuit of personal style, but I’ve so far been relieved that Materfamilias and Frances Sprout have been distinct beings, occupying parallel, but mainly separate spheres. That relief is doubled when I picture my dissertation supervisor stumbling across my blog (my security is ensured by the unlikelihood of her wasting time as an internet flaneuse).

The panels on blogging I’ve attended at recent academic conferences haven’t made me feel any more comfortable – the blogs discussed are most often scholarly in focus, or occasionally creative, with an emphasis on experimentation. Even the name I chose just over four years ago sometimes embarrasses me: I wanted to signal the importance of my family life, the way my role – as mother of four grown children – acts as a balancing counterweight to the challenges of academe; instead, I worry that I appear to fetishize a retro-domesticity, never, ever part of my program. Even the gap between the name of my blog, Materfamilias Writes, and the key words of my URL, materfamiliasknits, seems to signal a gap between my claim to a writing (thus allied to academe in a small way) life and the reality of a domestic limitation. You might want to write, sweetie, but what you really should stick to is your knitting.

I’ve been taking some baby steps lately though, trying to own my digital corpus with something like the politics that propel me to own my physical body, to show photographs of what a late-middle-aged woman looks like in her jeans. The first baby step came involuntarily. I was pushed, in fact, by the Vancouver Opera when their Social Media Manager asked me to join the “live bloggers” during performances throughout 2009-10 and 2010-11. I had barely said “yes” to the opportunity when I realized my IRL name was being linked to my blog; googling it could show students a direct path to my blog. I gulped, thought about that reality, and carried on. Since most of them are more likely to click on Rate Your Professor than on a weird Latin name, I have not, so far, noticed any increase in classroom snickering. More recently, when signing up for a Twitter account, I used my real name on my profile, although I tweet as “Materfam” to continue building my blog readership. As well, using TweetDeck to send Twitter posts to Facebook means more colleagues may follow the breadcrumbs to my other side, and I’m trying to accept that this is an okay, if not definitively a good thing.

Because much of what I have to offer as a teacher, and even, I’d argue, as a scholar, was built in that other part of my life. I was in my early 40s, with four kids, before I completed my undergrad, over 50 when my PhD was finally done. I will never catch up to the scholarly research foundation built by those of you who have been immersed in academe from your 20s. But I have a wealth of life experience and tangible skills that I am convinced can – and really, must – be integrated with any scholarship and teaching that I do. So, whew!, here’s an attempt to do that, integrating my digital selves in a continuing effort to build an authentic life, in the classroom, in the library, and beyond, I’m finally free to comment as my “self” (however Judith Butler might problematize that notion) on future HookandEye posts.

conferences · faculty evaluation · going public · outreach · writing

Guest Post: Recycling is not a bad thing

Our first guest post of the ‘summer’! Jo Van Every had the classic experience of writing a humongous comment on a post here, and then watching it get eaten by Blogger. Luckily for us, she channeled her disappearing-comment energies into writing a full-fledged post, and it’s very topical: as conference season launches, it’s a good time to think about the “communication of scholarly results,” as our funders express it.



This post was inspired by Aimée’s post Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I have used examples from her post for the sake of convenience. Feel free to substitute names of journals and conferences in your field as you read.

I’ve written on my own blog about the tensions between publishing for validation and publishing for communication. While you will be judged (and validated as a scholar) based on your publications, the primary reason for publishing and presenting your work at conferences, public lectures, or wherever, should be to communicate.

If you have a communication orientation to your work, the recycling issue appears in a very different light.

Audience makes a difference

The list of occasions on which Aimée had presented similar work looked to me like it spanned a range of different audiences:

I’ve been joking that what I’ve been creating this week, in preparation, is a “Frankenpaper”: parts of Saturday’s 15 minute conference paper is built from text I created for a public talk in the Digital Media Series at Stratford, reworked for a lecture celebrating 50 years of the Faculty of Arts at UW, and then reframed in a minor way for an invited lecture hosted by the MA in Humanities at Laurentian University in Sudbury. Incidentally, those talks all revisited ideas and prose I first considered and wrote in 2005, for the Reader’s Forum of English Studies in Canada. Still with me? Okay. My conference paper is also built from an article I’ve recently submitted to Biography–which was written from the ideas I pulled together for a different conference paper for last summer’s International Auto/Biography Association conference in Sussex. Oops, I did pull stuff right from the conference paper, too, that I had removed from the article version of that research. The Keynote slides draw from the Stratford/Arts/Sudbury presentation, as well as from the IABA presentation.

The audiences for those various public talks are unlikely to overlap. Local events, like celebrations of 50 years of the Faculty of Arts, draw a local crowd. Public talks have a different audience from academic conferences. And different academic conferences have different groups of people. The Auto/Biography crowd are not the same as the English Studies crowd. (I know, for example, that there are sociologists in the former.)

The same can be said for different print (or online) publications. The people who read Biography are not the same as the people who read English Studies in Canada. And they certainly aren’t the same people who read journals in communication studies, digital media, or whatever.

The fact that you’ve heard it before doesn’t mean everyone in your audience has heard it before.

Audience also affects the content

In addition, each of those presentations/publications will not be exactly the same.

All research communication contributes to ongoing conversations. Those may be formal theoretical conversations happening in peer reviewed academic journals. Or they may be public debates taking place in the mainstream media and people’s living rooms. The general public are interested in your research in a different way than the students in an MA in Humanities, or your disciplinary colleagues at an academic conference. And you want to communicate something different to those different audiences, too. You will be engaging with them in different ways.

You will also contextualize your findings (empirical, conceptual, theoretical) in ways that are relevant to a particular audience. A paper for the International Auto/Biography Association will be different from a paper for English Studies in Canada because you have to make different assumptions about the audience’s familiarity with particular debates that you engage with, at the very least. A public presentation on Digital Media is more likely to be contextualized in public debates happening in mainstream media than theoretical debates happening in academic journals.

Chances are that you are publishing/presenting to those different audiences because you have contributions to make to different debates and those debates are happening in different places. Although the content overlaps, you have something slightly different to say about your research to those different audiences.

Again, just because you’ve said this before doesn’t mean you have. Or that you’ve said it in a way that this audience can engage with.

People need to hear what you have to say

Presenting/publishing in multiple venues is not “recycling” so much as giving people multiple opportunities to come across your work. If you only produce one publication/presentation from a given research project, you rely on the people that need to know what you’ve discovered/created finding that one place where you’ve told anyone about it.

It’s like the proverbial light under the bushel. It’s there. And if you know it’s there and lift up the bushel basket, you can see the light. But most people aren’t going to notice. If you have something worth saying, it’s worth saying in venues (live, online, in print) where the people who need to hear it can find it easily. You don’t need big gaudy neon signs but you need to be visible.

In doing this remember that any oral presentation is reaching a much smaller potential audience than a written publication. People are there to hear it or not. Whereas a print (including online) publication can be engaged with at another time, even years later. One reason to turn your academic conference papers into academic journal articles is to make them accessible to people that weren’t there, including people that won’t even be interested in your topic until 2 years from now. And if you want to reach people who don’t read academic journals, you need to also publish your work in venues they frequent — blogs, magazines, public talks, etc.

That ability to access the paper asynchronously (to use the fancy online learning jargon) also means that readers/listeners can refer others to your work. Maybe Jane heard your paper at that conference and thought it was really interesting. She knows people who could really use that knowledge. Is there a way for her to tell people about it and get them access to what you presented/published?

Validation is still important

The processes that validate your work as an academic only recognize some of those publications: the ones that communicate to audiences they value. If you want recognition and validation by peers in your discipline then presenting at conferences in your discipline and publishing in peer reviewed journals in your discipline is important. The fact that you also communicate to peers in cognate disciplines or interdisciplinary fields is likely to enhance your reputation in your field. Those publications will probably not substitute for publications in your discipline.

Communicating to non-academic audiences may also be valued in this additional way, though peers are likely to wonder what the time you spend on that is taking away from things they value more.

The question is, why are you writing/presenting? Who do you want to reach? What do you value? Organize your publication/presentation strategy accordingly.

In the end, you are probably more at risk of publishing too little than publishing too much. Stop worrying about recycling.