First a pitch and then a bootstrap. People, this is serious. There are not enough lady academics participating in the public conversation that happens in the news media. There are not enough lady academics on expert panels on current events shows. There are not enough female experts giving context on news stories. There are not enough smart women setting the agenda on issues through venues like the op-ed pages of newspapers.
On TV, on the radio, in the newspapers, it’s still 80% men appearing a pundits and experts, and 20% women.
Now, there are a lot of reasons for this including the usual old boys’ network, which I guess we continue to counter by putting together some binders full of women. But one big reason, that I keep hearing both from professionals working in the media and from academics seeking to increase women’s participation in same is this: the women get asked to participate, and they keep saying no.
Here are some reasons:
- I need more time to prepare notes and research if I want to do a good job.
- You want an expert in ABC(a), but I actually research ABC(b).
- Oh, I couldn’t possibly offer an opinion: my research is objective.
|It’s me! And Hayley Zimak of Rogers Talk Local Waterloo Region!|
|Google, google, think, think, scribble, scribble, DONE.|
People can see you when you’re on TV. There are some general guidelines to make you more successful in this regard.
- No skinny stripes on your shirt (mostly people only see your top half, sometimes only to your shoulders)
- You need to wear a lot of makeup on standard definition television. Like crazy amounts, or you’ll look like a squinty eyed puffball.
|“Homer! I think you left the makeup gun set to ‘whore’!”|
|“It’s not the Internet, actually, it’s sexism that’s the problem”|
- Try not to look at the camera
- Be animated–it’s okay to smile or vary your facial expression to show your own interest in the topic
- Remember you’re talking to the equivalent of curious undergrads: it’s not necessary to footnote your commentary
- It’s just a bunch of people sitting at a breakfast bar, chatting.
|“Please make sure your phones are turned off while we tape!”|
A few years ago my mentor and I were chatting over coffee. I was nearly finished my dissertation and was in what I can only describe as a state of heightened anxiety. In addition to worrying about finding a job I was feeling adrift. While I had made good friends in my PhD programme I did not have people who were working in similar areas to mine. When I looked to my peers at my own institution and elsewhere it seemed as though there were many people who were falling into natural intellectual communities. There were reading and writing groups being formed, conferences being organized or attended. I was talking with my mentor about this and she said something simple that has stuck with me. She was talking about her favourite annual conference–an international one–and said that practically all of her intellectual community was there. When I asked her what she meant she told me that she found her intellectual community–those people with whom she did her best and most generative thinking, writing, and imagining–by going to interdisciplinary conferences.
It had only occurred obliquely to me that I would have to search out an intellectual community beyond the borders of my own institution. Sure, I had friends and acquaintances elsewhere, but how is one to forge a functioning intellectual community with colleagues who are far-flung? Here are a few ideas based on my own trial and –often–error. (You can find additional suggestions at the University of Venus’s Networking Challenge):
1) Talk to your peers about their work. Tell them about your own!
After that first semester of the MA or PhD, or the orientation session for the new job how often do we really sit down and talk about our work with our most geographically close communities? There’s something to be said for proximity. Proximity affords the luxury of hanging out, of chatting, of slow thinking together. Is it possible there are people on your own hallway whose work might chime with yours? Besides, talking about your work puts your own trademark on it, in addition to the benefits you get from the input of others.
2) Proximity isn’t enough, you need structure.
Sure, there is something quite wonderful about serendipity, but we’ll get there in a moment. If you want to forge an intellectual community that is sustainable you need a plan and you need to delegate. First, the plan: do you want to read together? Talk? Write? Identify the aims of your group and set some parameters. How often will you meet? Who will facilitate? What is everyone responsible for when you do meet? What will people get out of it? This last question is kind of a doozy. I’ve spoken to several friends who have attempted to start writing groups at their own institutions with varying degrees of success. While it would be wonderful to believe that people want to get together for the love of the work that isn’t always the case. Start with a clear structure and aim and the cult following will come.
3) DIY is great, but don’t reinvent the wheel. Find a conference and commit.
I have a tendency to take things into my own hands, and that has its benefits for sure, but it is also tiring, often lonely, and it can be a real waste of energy. For those who are affiliated with major research projects the forging of an intellectual community is a bit more organic: network both within and outside your group! But if, like me, your work isn’t affiliated with a clear-cut community then try committing to an annual conference. I started attending Congress when I was an Masters student. I was overwhelmed and excited. I was also pretty lonely, but I kept going. It seemed as though there were so many exciting people doing incredible work. I just wanted to be around them. Stick with it and you’ll start to meet people.
4) Look beyond your horizons. Cold call someone whose work you admire.
This is tricky, I’ll admit. However, we all know the handful of people whose work we turn to again and again. Consider introducing yourself. Who knows, you might strike up a correspondence, or you might not. The only thing that is certain is the you wont know until you try.
Do you feel you have an intellectual community? How did you find or forge it? Do you have any advice for other readers?
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?
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.
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.
I’m in Maryland (well, when you read this I’ll be in Maryland. Right now I’m at the airport in Cincinnati, of course) for a conference. We’ll be Theorizing the Web all day on Saturday, and my contribution is a paper on the privacy practices of personal mommy bloggers.
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.
Basically, the only strictly-speaking new writing in Saturday’s conference paper is in the transition sentences between the ideas. (Although, arguably, those are the places that evidence is turned into argument.)
What I’ve been really thinking about lately is this: how much reusing and recycling of our work is appropriate here?
I used to build absolutely everything from scratch every time. Have a look at my CV: one article on 80s video game movies. One article on email in romantic comedy. One article on mid-1990s rhetorical posturings in Internet manifestos. One book chapter on blogging in literary studies. It is exhilarating and exhausting to write like that.
Lately, I’ve changed practice: I’ve got one article published, one forthcoming, and one submitted, all on personal mommy blogging. I’ve given three public lectures this year, on largely the same thing, but to very different audiences. I’m giving two conference papers reporting on one survey, to two different academic communities.
Is this ‘cheating’ somehow? Or is this what depth of engagement looks like? Is this purely strategic maximization of lines on the CV? Or is it better dissemination of research results in an interdisciplinary field?
Basically, is this reduce (effort), reuse (the same materials), recycle (my ideas)? Or is it, to switch metaphors, back to yoga, deepen (my knowledge by repeated trials), broaden (my scope by bringing different theories to bear on one set of practices), and open (by sharing my work more widely and frequently)?
How much reuse is good? Or is it all bad?
What do you do?
Today, the English Department celebrated the accomplishments of its students, in a ceremony with certificates and sandwiches and sunshine and applause. I had the opportunity both to judge entries in two categories and to present one award, with suitable encomiums for the lauded student. It was the best part of my week so far.
It was just so cheering to celebrate the accomplishments in our department. I’ve still got a real spring in my step (spring–ha! We got 26cm of snow yesterday) just from rubbing shoulders with these students.
So why don’t we do a Boast Post now, as term drains to its very dregs: are you pinned beneath towering piles of grading? Or are you producing towering piles of writing in your coursework or dissertation? Are you eagerly or cringe-ingly awaiting results from SSHRC Standard Research Grant, Doctoral Fellowship, Canada Graduate Scholarship, or Postdoctoral Fellowship competitions? Dragging yourself through to the end of the traditional ‘hiring season’ or wondering what happens after you graduate?
Pause. Centre yourself.
Now: tell me–tell us, readers and bloggers and all of us–one of your recent successes, big or small. A triumph personal or academic that makes you stand a little taller. Look us all right in the eye and say, in a clear voice, “Here is something that I accomplished. Yay for me!”
Perhaps ridiculously, I’m most cheered by the fact that this past weekend I managed King Pigeon Pose. Damnit, I’ve been working on this for years. I needed an assist, but I did it.
“People may smile, but I don’t mind …”
Bert starts dancing around 1:15 — it’ll get you in the mood for celebrating your own awesome self.
Yoga video with Sesame Street characters not sufficiently inspiring? Well, how about my friend Laura Davis, whose new course on Hockey in Canadian Literature is featured in Thursday’s Red Deer Advocate? AWESOME!
So let’s hear about you now!