advice · collaboration · community · good things · openness

Early-career Academics, unite! Or, a plug for social media


Hello Readers! My name is Margrit Talpalaru. I am a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta, and an early-career researcher on my own time. I am delighted and honoured to join the regular cast of H&E writers.

Being a PhD graduate without an immediate permanent prospect can feel alienating. After all, in a system which thrives on categorization and taxonomy, you’re suddenly in limbo. For me it felt abrupt, like I no longer belonged to the clear nomenclature of my department [where do I even heat my lunch now that I’ve graduated from the grad lounge?]. My OneCard was trying to persuade me I was “staff,” but then it turned cruel on me, and suspended my library privileges for getting pregnant and not having a teaching contract. Don’t get me wrong, my department didn’t quite let me fend for myself: PhD graduates are given two years of part-time teaching (2+2 courses). But the trick of the part-time status is that you don’t qualify for parental leave. Basically, it felt like my department was ready for me to spread my wings and go out into the world, but the latter would have none of it or of me.
So, I took Erin’s advice to find my own community, and I found a very supportive one on Twitter. After lurking there for a few months, in which I was convincing myself Twitter was a procrastination tool for reading the news—international and academic alike—I started interacting with people. Timidly, at first. What would I have to say to people who had never heard of me? Why would they—seasoned academics, twitterers, bloggers, journalists—want to talk to me? It turns out some of them do, and most are welcoming, generous, and engaging conversationalists. After years of lurking on favourite blogs, I was dumbfounded: so that’s why people come back, that’s why they write, that’s why they bare it (all). Sure, there are also the broadcasters, disinterested in engaging or measuring their self-esteem by the numbers in the “followers” section. The important thing I discovered, though? You can find your community, too.
I know social media inveterates do a face-palm right now. To them I say, please avert your eyes for a second, or just bear with me, because I can bet there are many other PhD students and early-career researchers out there feeling as lost as I was, and thinking they’re the only ones experiencing it. Well, I’m not here to tell them what to do, but just to point out that it worked for me. That I had no idea Twitter, whom we academics all like to bash [“140 characters? Only a chipmunk would find that satisfactory! I prefer to express my complex thoughts in 5,000-word essays, thank you!”=134 characters!] can be such a supportive environment, if you only spent time to discover the innards of chats and hashtags. Between #PhDchat, #PhDadvice, #ECRchat, #acwri, #ECRbook, #FYCchat, and many others, I’m sure you can find something to alleviate that dreaded prisoner-in-the-ivory-tower feeling.
And, how about you, Reader? Are you on Twitter? Do you have an online community? Care to share?

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

feminist win · openness · resolution · sexist fail

The Month in Review

If I recall what I learned in elementary school March is fabled to come in like a lion and out like a lamb. While I have vaguely fond memories of making construction paper lions and cotton ball covered lambs to adorn our class bulletin board, I also remember fretting: what if March came in like a lamb and left like a lion? Worse, what if March came in like a lion and left like one too?


Perhaps my grade-four self was already preparing for the academic life, where March in Canada equals not March break but mid-terms, final papers, and the downhill screaming roller coaster ride that takes us to the end of the semester. Or, possibly, I was just showing early signs of being a worry-wart.

March makes big, lovely promises. One step forward into spring. But March is difficult. Two steps back. Today’s post is a partial review of the month of March.

Last week ended on a high note. It is no secret that Stephen Harper has been no ally of the women of Canada. Among his administrations most egregious actions is the attempt to silence Sisters in Spirit. Inform yourself, and make the effort to get out and vote.

Mid-month we had a guest post by Shannon Dea that was picked up by jezebel.com and garnered Shannon’s post and this site more than 10,000 views in a day. Unfortunately Shannon’s post is about the lack of institutional attention given to a hate campaign that is being waged agains the women of U Waterloo.

There’ve been submissions to This Month In Sexism’s email account as well. Here are some of them:

-Recently the University Librarian at McMaster organized an important agenda setting symposium on the “Future of Academic Libraries.” Of a possible 21 speakers, in the initial lineup 3 were women – the rest men. Egregious in any context, but particularly insulting given that, according to CAUT statistics, a walloping 73% of Canadian academic librarians are women. Adding insult to injury, librarian bloggers who called out the organizers on the omission were accused of being disingenuous, “rattling the cage” and reverse sexism. You can read blog entries about it here and here (note the comments).

At a required professional development conference, one of our reader watched a male administrator cut off, completely misunderstand, and then talk over a female instructor who was trying to ask a legitimate question. The morning of the conference thing was devoted to administrators (predominantly male) telling us about their jobs and what they are doing to supposedly help us (but really, it was about how we needed to do better), and then the afternoon was devoted to the (mostly) female instructors (all instructors, not one of us on the tenure-track) talking about what we did in the classroom. Not one administrator stayed for our presentations. Not. One.

On the other hand, Heather has been writing about her experience of applying for promotion on the basis of teaching excellence. Read her posts closely, they offer templates for crucial, positive institutional change.

Further, some readers have found a moment to share some really positive personal accomplishments!

But then, as guest poster Katherine Binhammer documents, some things haven’t changed.

So where does that leave us? Putting one foot in front of the other purposefully, I’d say. Onward with a roar!
faster feminism · making friends · openness

Making Connections

Sometimes I’m shy. I find it hard to advertise myself and my work. Sometimes I even find it difficult too post status updates. In part this is due to only beginning to learn to toot my own horn, but it is also partly due to my reluctance to network. Until relatively recently “networking” has been a term that has me thinking of suits, firm handshakes, and back room deals. But seriously, networking is an important part of what we do.

Recently one of my colleagues and blogging mentors noted that she’d finally watched The Social Network. I had twitter updates and RSS feeds on my mind when I came across the fact that Tenured Radical has also recently mentioned social networking. Specifically, Tenured Radical thinks through the dictum that networking is a crucial part of the academic’s job.


I’ve been thinking about networking as the crocuses outside peek through the detritus of winter. Conference season is nearly upon us here in Canada, and as a voice from the un-tenured stream the pros (networking! paper writing! public presentation of self!) and cons (cost! cost! cost!) of conference travel weight heavily on my mind. Furthermore, I’ve had some former students contact me lately asking about how to network which I suspect means 1) how do I do it? and 2) does it really matter?

So, following TR’s lead I’d like to think through some of my own networking in the past several years. It hasn’t landed me a tenure-track job (yet) but what has it accomplished?

Fall of 2006: I attend a conference at the other large university in the province where I was completing my PhD. I give a paper which was…poorly received (to say the least!) and am shaken. This isn’t my first conference, but it is early in my PhD programme. I leave, convinced my career is ruined.

Spring 2006: I attend the annual ACCUTE conference at York University where my dear friend is the President of the Graduate Student Caucus. I tag along with him to the meeting because I hardly ever get to see him. I wind up volunteering to co-steer the GSC for the following year and to take over the year after that. Enter my first experience of being involved in a national committee. Invaluable!

Spring 2007: I return to the same aforementioned university to give another paper. I am chatting with a friend who introduces me to her supervisor, the incomparable Susan Brown. Susan introduces me to Heather Zwicker (the very same!) and they tell me they’d like for me to write a reflective piece on my hard conference experience for an anthology they are co-editing. You can read about it here. This was my first invited piece of academic writing.

Spring 2008: I head once more to the close-by university where my PhD supervisor had been invited to join a discussion for a new project. The project was being initiated by Susan Brown and the weekend was co-facilitated by Heather. I was the only graduate student in attendance. I was able to sit in a room full of my now colleagues, then mentors, and watch a project be planned from the ground up. That project is now the path-breaking CWRC. If you’re interested in seeing what it is all about you can send in a conference paper proposal, they are due March 31st.

Spring 2010: I am at the ACCUTE conference in Montreal where I am chairing a roundtable for CWRC and giving a paper called “Hopelessly Witty or Witless Hope: Notes from LTA-Land” for the Committee for Professional Concerns. Heather is in the audience and we reintroduce ourselves. She has an idea for a feminist academic blog. We talk about it, she introduces me to Aimée, we start planning for what is now Hook & Eye.

Fall 2010: Hook & Eye is launched. I feel I am able/responsible/willing to speak about my experience as a woman in the non-tenured stream (trying to get into that other stream) and that I have a productive and receptive space in which to do this.

Granted this is an abbreviated list of networking moments, and I’ve presented one branch of my career that follows a somewhat straightforward pathway. Would I have started a blog about my experience of this profession otherwise? Who knows. Will blogging count as public intellectual work to a SSHRC committee? I couldn’t say. Do I know exactly what the quantitative benefits of networking have been in my career thus far? No, but I can make some educated guesses.

It can be easy to feel jaded, or even intimidated by networking. Its hard to know how many conferences are enough, or when you’ve over-introduced yourself, but I can say that I’m consistently surprised by the ways in which moments of networking (or moments that didn’t even seem like networking but did require me putting myself and my work out in the world) have come back in exciting ways.

I’ll leave Tenured Radical with the (second) last work on this:

“The ability to get things done not only makes life more pleasant, and far richer when you consider time consuming projects like program development and the hiring of new colleagues, but it frees up time to write. It also brings interesting and novel projects — book series, journal articles, special issues, conferences, and Internet-based exchanges — to fruition. This, I think, reveals the basic value of networking: when it works, it isn’t about you. It’s about you in relation to others. Scholarship, at its most effective, is about exchange, not about the grandiosity of one person.”

Yes!

What about you, dear readers? Have you any surprising networking successes?
day in the life · good things · mental health · openness · you're awesome

Release, Slacken, Relax

I like the verb ‘se détendre’ in French, which has the various translations noted above in the title. I like the idea even better: me détendre, to release, to slacken, to relax. Let go. Calm down.

Have you noticed that a lot of academics do yoga? I’ve noticed. And I do yoga. A lot of yoga.

Yoga is hard but relaxing: the hardest part for me is the meditation, the mindfulnes, the being-in-the-moment, the observing my thoughts without becoming attached to them. Man. I can’t do that. Ask my teacher: I couldn’t keep my eyes closed in savasana for TWO YEARS. I’m a chronic insomniac, a champion worrier.

(“Hold on — is the plaster cracking on the ceiling? Is that just along the lathe, or is that along a joist line? Omigod, is my house structurally unsound? IS THE SECOND FLOOR GOING TO CAVE IN? Ommmmm.”)

(“Furthermore, what does interdisciplinarity really mean? Does it mean a work meets the standards of no disciplines? Or must meet the standards of several, simultaneously? If the former, how can we call this scholarship? If the latter, who can work hard enough to get it done? But it must! Think of the terrible warning of the geneticists and the evolutionary biologists!!!”)

I’m a little hepped up. A lot of academics are a little hepped up.

Over the course of many of my sleepless nights, I’ve given the matter some consideration. It seems to me that to think for a living–worse, to engage professionally in critical thinking–means carrying your work around with you everywhere. It’s hard to stop thinking. Or at least, to stop thinking about things that prevent you from sleeping / enjoying your leisure time / not boring your relatives with disquisitions on usage based billing and moral imperative of net neutrality.

Yeesh, self, give it a break until 9am tomorrow, okay?

Hence, my theory on why a lot of academics drink, quite heavily: it slows your thinking down. Personally, I like martinis.

My husband made me this one, and he put a straw in it so I could drink it in bed, while reading a yoga philosophy book. Double calm!

My other best way to calm down (when I’m not drinking or doing yoga, I guess) is comedy: I like to watch America’s Funniest Home Videos reruns every night on CMT. People falling down make me laugh, and laughing makes me calm.

So none of this has much to do with who I am as an academic. But. I’m a person too, right? And it’s good to remember that, to celebrate that, in its boozy zen chuckling quirkiness. And you’re people too, outside of your academic or para-academic or post-academic or supra-academic daytime identity.

So in the spirit of Friday, I ask: What do you do, when you’re not at work, to calm down, to let go, to slacken, to relax … pour te détendre?

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?

canada · faculty evaluation · openness · reform · slow academy

Thinking about what I need: Notes on the concept of ‘Slow Academy’

About a week ago we as an editorial collective wondered to one another whether or not we should worry about the slowing number of comments. Is this a dark portents? we asked each other, Or is it October? My vote was for October. (Though I did think, lord, just wait for February, that “month with rue at its heart,” as an old mentor of mine once wrote).

On Friday Aimée asked readers to think about what we need now that we’re here in the “trough of the semester” (awesome phrase! I’m co-opting it).

No one answered. Too busy? Too Friday? Too difficult, wishful, naive, hopeful, fearful, to write a list of needs?

So today I find myself reflecting on what I need, and especially what I need from this blog.

When Heather and I first spoke about her idea for a feminist academic blog based in the Canadian context she mentioned ‘slow academy.’
“As in Carlo Petrini?!” I exclaimed
Now I have to admit that my memory for exact details starts to falter here, but I’m fairly certain her reply was in the affirmative.

If you’re not familiar with Petrini, your might be familiar with his Slow Food movement. Here’s an excerpt from the book:
“Slow food seeks to catalyze a broad cultural shift away from the destructive efforts of an industrial food system and fast life; toward the regenerative cultural, ecological, social, and economic benefits of a sustainable food system, regional food traditions, the pleasures of the table, and a slower and more harmonious rhythm of life.”

When my co-conspirator mentioned slow academy I immediately started to imagine what that might mean, and I have to admit, I didn’t really get very far. But as I return to Petrini’s book in an attempt at nighttime reading that has nothing to do with last minute lecture prep (the result of which, for me, is almost always anxiety dreams involving missing class or showing up without some item of clothing or some equally transparent-yet-unnerving scenario) I find myself reinvigorated by the movement’s aim.

Notice that while the lynchpin is food, the aim is cultural change. While I would like to believe that those of us working in the academy at all levels are doing so because we want to effect some kind of positive cultural change, the fact is that is really, really difficult to feel, see, and…maybe…accomplish. You’ll notice that one of the most oft-used tags in our posts is ‘turgid institution.’ Le sigh.

So, using Petrini’s text as inspiration, here’s my attempt to start imagining what a slow academy might be trying to do; I’ve replaced ‘food’ (& a few others) with ‘academy’ (or the like):

Slow Academy seeks to catalyze a broad cultural shift away from the destructive effects of an industrial education system and fast life; toward a regenerative cultural, ecological, social, and economic benefits of a sustainable education system, regional education traditions, the pleasures of the university environment, and a slower and more harmonious rhythm of discourse.

Hmm. Not bad. What would ‘sustainable education systems’ that are built on both ‘regional education traditions’ and the ‘pleasures of the university environment’ (which I read as a site of potential multiplicitous engagement) look like?

They would certainly need reflect the people that make up this country. To do this they would also need to take into account various kinds of epistemologies, languages, learning practices, and traditions. Sustainable education systems would need to think through how the classroom is constructed, how work is evaluated, how labour is valued and remunerated. They would have to rethink hiring practices and curriculum…

In case you’re wondering, here’s how my musing about Slow Academy fits into my opening observations: despite being busy and in spite of the potential of being branded a Pollyanna writing for this blog has become a way of opening space, of creating the possibility of engaged encounter without expecting that invitation will be accepted (or, if accepted, that it will be accepted in good spirit).

Which is to say: I need the possibility of change, and a place to imagine how to effect that change (however slow, however wishful).

I need the possibility of a Slow Academy.
best laid plans · kid stuff · openness · saving my sanity

The Personal is the Professional

The student who had an appointment was waiting outside my open office door as I came back from the mailroom.

“I would have gone in,” she said, “but …” She gestured towards the minefield of unsteady book towers blocking off the door from the chairs, one sideways glance away from toppling. And toward the chairs, one spilling over with rogue transparencies, the other covered in dirty tupperware, my wallet, a child’s leotard, and other personal effects I had dumped out of my purse while looking for a (lost) flash drive. A laundry basket by the window overflowed with computer cables of all kinds, and yellowing newspapers.

“I’m so sorry,” I apologized, shepherding her through the maze and clearing her a seat. “My daughter is just starting junior kindergarten and we’ve had no daytime child care for three weeks. So my husband and I have been taking care of her while still working full time, and this is the kind of office you get when that happens. Now! Let’s talk about your plans for grad school … I’ve read the documents you sent me and here’s some feedback I have for you …”

And so on. Looking back later on the interaction, I was appalled that I had talked about my personal life in that professional context. Am I making excuses for poor performance? Am I oversharing? Am I having boundary issues? Am I being, in short, unprofessional?

I have always imagined that being a professional means being competent and impersonal, manifesting that kind of demeanor, focus, and restraint called to mind by the phrase “she is a real professional” or “she acted very professionally.” But who exactly was it that decided that being a professional means omitting all traces of the rest of life from the workday?

To return to the theme of mentoring, I think that drawing down an iron curtain between what happens At The Office and At Home can be artificial, misleading, demoralizing, and crazy-making for both professors and students. First, if I remove all traces of my outside life (I’m married! I have a kid! My pipes are frozen and I have to wait for the plumber! I went to school thousands of kilometers away from my family!) from my interactions within the university I risk setting myself up as some kind of model of superhuman perfection and accomplishment: a featureless fembrainbot with obviously very nice hair asserting frictionless agency on the world. Ooooh. Not true. Second, sometimes a car accident, or lactation, or a move, or a spouse’s job change, or a death in the family, or a yoga injury can materially impact anyone’s capacity to do her (or his) job: why not be up-front about it, seek a reasonable and temporary accommodation, and model for everyone the practice of muddling through a tough bit only to shine all the brighter once the crisis passes? Life isn’t always a bowl of cherries; what’s the harm in acknowledging the pits?

If I admit that trying to be a stay-at-home mom (with equal help from dad) for three weeks means I haven’t been able to do my job optimally, am I  setting the sisterhood back? I don’t think so. It’s not like I’m canceling classes or ducking out of reference letters or student meetings or peer review. I’m just having a harder time answering emails quickly, or cleaning my office, or getting November’s readings up on the website. I’ll get there, I want you to know, but I’m having a bit of a struggle now.

What might happen if I bring a little bit of my personal life into my work, asserting my competence and my challenges all at once? Maybe incorporating the personal into the professional in this way might be a feminist act: I am a fully-fleshed-out human being, just like anyone, and a pretty good professor, at the same time. Shit happens, even to female professors, and so long as the challenge isn’t fatal, I have the will and the capacity to get on with the shoveling. Maybe to get ahead a woman, I might no longer have to pretend I’m not a real person. Hm.

One of my colleagues, popping her head through my door earlier this week, said sympathetically, “This is not the office of the Aimée I know.” And it’s not. Next week, it will be neat as a pin again. This week, I’m asking for a little indulgence as I burrow into the piles, trying to find that extra handout for you, okay?

making friends · openness · positive thoughts as I fill out grant applications

Mentorship as Responsible Engagement, or, why I do make friend with (some of) my students

This post comes to you by way of a bit of a syllogism:

In a recent post at the fabulous University of Venus, Denise Horn wrote about becoming Facebook friends with one’s students. She suggests, and I agree, that part of the professorial job is mentorship, and that often that mentorship starts first through friendship.

I am currently in a (not so) unusual position of applying for both postdoctoral fellowships and—why not?—faculty research grants. This has me contacting former supervisors and committee members, as well as colleagues for letters of advice and support. I am lucky to say that all of these people who were initially my mentors and professors are now also my friends.

Which leads me to the following conclusion: mentorship is a form of friendship, and like it or not, we’ve all signed up for this. Working in the Academy means encountering undergraduate and graduate students in all phases of their lives, as well as their work, and while the life aspect of these encounters can indeed have the potential to cause complications, this is the emotional geography in which we work.

I will never forget the first time a professor and I got together for coffee and discussion. I had a good sense of how taxed her time was, and I was incredibly appreciative of her willingness to talk with me about my work. As it turns out, we got along incredibly well. Her willingness to be friends with me—which amounted to getting together for coffee every couple of weeks, both on campus and off, as well as exchanging informal emails and periodically getting together for a meal—had an insurmountable impact on me. She made me feel like being an academic didn’t have to mean hiding my personality and, even more so, she made me feel like my perspectives mattered outside the classroom as well as inside it.

When I transitioned to the other side of the podium as a teacher I found myself strangely reticent to become friends with my students. I worried that my age was (for, well, approximately five minutes) too close to theirs, that I would be misinterpreted somehow. But without quite realizing it—until, that is, I read Denise’s post in the same week I was contacting reference writers—I have discovered that reticence has changed. No, I do not make friend requests willy-nilly to my class lists, nor to I accept friend requests with abandon. But I do try to take time to talk to the students who want to chat, and I do suggest going for coffee sometimes. After all, in addition to the promises of fame and fortune I got into this profession because I love talking with others. The privilege of inter-generational discursive engagement is just that: a privilege.

And so, in this harried month of class list changes, grant writing, and general insanity I’d like to say thank you to the professors and colleagues who have mentored me. And to my students, thank you for reminding me that mentorship is a kind of friendship, and that both require responsible engagement.

Let’s have it: do you make friends with your students/professors? Or have I just been quite lucky?