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So You Want to Blog (Academic Edition)

In Uncategorized on 2014/01/31 at 01:12

When I was a Master’s student (almost a decade ago), I started blogging. It was a messy endeavor: a Blogger site with some random posts that didn’t amount to much. I worked more on the layout than the content. I didn’t get many page views, and I felt no motivation to continue working on it.

Years later, here I am, with a Ph.D. and years of experience behind me, writing regularly for three different blogs–one of them a blog of my own. I haven’t published a paper in an academic journal yet (for now, the standard currency for academic credibility), but I believe that my writing chops across genres have improved, my voice comes through my writing, and my awareness of audience is sharper. As a result, I am invested in my online presence as a blogger, and more broadly as a writer. Moreover, I  believe that blogs can help writers, especially academic writers, become better communicators.

As an editor for two academic blogs, I thrive off of helping writers hone their ideas, but more importantly helping them get their voices online, as clearly as possible. My years of experience working as an editor and at a University writing center have taught me that writers need not just someone to clean up their prose (which is the more common interpretation of editor) but also someone who can find the idea they are trying to convey. In other words, they need someone who can help make those ideas crystal clear. For academic writers, this can be tough because of the supposed conventions of academic writing (even though most of the scholars I know prefer the kind of writing that is clear, concise, and striking). For better or for worse, we learn how to write in our disciplines mostly through example, and the examples we are presented with are most often found in traditional academic journals.

Academic blogging can coexist with these academic journals and help writers develop their ideas by taking them for a trial run with readers before committing them to a journal article. However, traditional academic writing, with its lengthy paragraphs, heavy footnotes, and discipline-specific jargon, may not translate well to blogging. Here are some suggestions (which solely reflect my experience as a blogger and as an editor for blogs):

  • You don’t have to have an airtight argument. We’re taught to think in terms of arguments, of polished prose. But in blogging, you can explore a question, and not answer it. The conversation that arises in the comments section could help you get to an answer.
  • Think about the length. Technically, a blog post can be as long as you want it to be, but be aware of when you drone on and on about a subject. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Consider whether a post is better off broken up into two posts–or several. Moreover, some blogs have word limits: here at U Venus we aim for the 750 word range; at Sounding Out!  we tell writers to aim for 1500 words. Reading does not have to always be an endurance test–and length does not testify for the complexity of ideas.
  • Consider language. If you feel comfortable writing in a casual tone, that’s alright in a blog post, even if it is an academic topic. That adds to the voice of the piece. However, this also depends on the subject. Ultimately, don’t feel like your posts needs to be serious or stuffy because it is an academic topic.
  • Share your research interests. You don’t have to give everything away if you don’t want to. I know a lot of academics have a fear of being scooped, and their fears are not unfounded: it has happened. Publishing a blog post doesn’t have to lead to that. In fact, it could be a teaser of something you’re working on that could bring more readers to that finished product. It can also help you make your mark in your field. You don’t have to upload your whole dissertation on a website–if you don’t want to.
  • Ask for feedback. Unsure about the subject? Unsure about the tone? Ask your editor. Editors are here to help you; some may not have the time to answer. But some may be able to give you more focused feedback. At both of the blogs I work for we give different kinds of feedback, but we make sure to give writers feedback to help them take their writing to the next level. If you’re blogging at your own blog, ask your readers. Share the post with people you hope that give you feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask.
  • Last but not least, keep in mind the style of the genre. Headers are okay. Shorter, descriptive titles are allowed (they are preferable for tweeting and sharing). Not all of your sentences have to be long compound sentences. Bullet points work. Leave in the short paragraph; the long, 15-sentence paragraph may be more common in traditional academic publishing, but in blogging it is less so.

Ultimately, academic writers who are considering blogging about their research or about subjects they’re interested in should think of blogging as a different genre in a different medium. They must not fear that blogging will replace academic publications. However, I want blogging to be considered in scholarly conversations; blogs allow our research and ideas to get to readers faster, and force us to think about a broader audience.

I will end this post with a challenge: next time you read a blog post you like or that’s related to something you’ve been working on, consider writing a response. Better yet, see if you can send that response to that same blog. Be a part of the conversation.

Kansas City, Kansas in the US.

Liana is an Associate Editor at University of Venus. Follow her on Twitter@literarychica.

Attending a Conference: Altac Edition

In Liana's Posts on 2013/06/17 at 22:14
Liana Silva, writing from Kansas City, Kansas in the US. 

In early March 2013, I attended the 1st Biennial Latina/o Literary Theory and Criticism Conference at John Jay College in New York. I presented a selection from Chapter 2 of my dissertation (you can see an early draft of that here) and was very excited to share my work with other Latina/Latino studies scholars. It was the first time since I filed my dissertation that I had the chance to share my research with others in a conference setting; I thought of it as an opportunity to meet more scholars in my field of interest–considering that I work in an area that is unrelated to what I wrote my dissertation on, I often don’t have the opportunity to talk to others about this side of my research agenda. In other words, I invested my own money to attend this conference because I thought it would nurture the scholarly side of my soul and add to my visibility as an academic. (I am not saying that there are not other ways of doing this, but that this is why I chose to attend this conference.) Also, let me add that I have family in New York City, so I can offset the travel cost by staying with family.

My academic credentials confused some of the conference goers, at least those who directly asked me, “what do you teach?” I’m not surprised; many of the people there were professors and/or graduate students teaching Latino/a literature. However, conference registration pages ask what is your institutional affiliation, not “where are you teaching?” so it is possible for people who are not teaching or on the tenure track to attend these: folks like me, alternative academics. I heard several times that weekend “what do you teach?” (a lot more direct than “what department are you in?”) and I responded variations of “I don’t teach.” One time I answered, “I don’t teach, not like you think I do.”

I know that academic conference attendees are not used to seeing or hearing alternative academics at these places–in all honesty, alternative academics were not on my radar until I became one, so I understand. But, while sitting at one of the panels and listening to the brief bios of the panelists, I realized: am I the only one who is a staff member here? Why does that fact matter? Why am I here?

It matters because there are many academics who go into alternative academic careers (student support, administration, instructional design, among others) because they want to stay in this environment. Many #altac folks (altac being  the Twitter hashtag that several of us have adopted as shorthand for our professional identities) still consider themselves scholars, or at least want the opportunity to continue working on their research. Just because they are not tenure track does not mean that they have no desire to do research. My experience at the conference makes me think about who has the chance to continue researching. Attending an academic conference is rarely cheap, and many academic depend on their departments or universities to help with that.

But the bigger question that day was, “why am I here?” In a nutshell, I wanted to share my research with other Latina/o lit scholars. I wanted to talk to others who are writing and researching Latina/o literature. I want to be a part of this new conference. I want to stimulate my writing process by engaging in critical conversations about my work; just because I work in student services does not mean that part of my professional identity is dead, and I still represent my institution when I attend these conferences.

But this brings me back to an earlier problem that I have blogged about: is it sustainable to continue working on my areas of interest if I have to fund it with my money and my time outside of the 40-hour work week? This is not an isolated problem: there are many in academia who do research even when it is out of the purview of their job (interstitial scholars, indie scholars, altac scholars, adjuncts, teaching faculty, among others). Is love for the game and a line on our CV enough compensation? And if a university does not support our academic endeavors, should we continue to put that university down as our academic affiliation in registration forms?

This makes me wonder: Is the solution to go rogue and become independent scholars? Is that even feasible?

Kansas City, Kansas in the US.

Liana is an Associate Editor at University of Venus. Follow her on Twitter @literarychica.

 

Academic Writer’s Block: A Matter of Form?

In Liana's Posts on 2013/06/10 at 11:56
Liana Silva, writing from Kansas City, Kansas in the US.

I had some writer’s block recently, a particular kind of writer’s block: I was trying to revise a short section of my dissertation to present at a conference. I spent the whole month of February and part of March thinking about it, but it wasn’t until the conference was a week away, that I realized that I have a case of academic writer’s block.

Readers, you may have recognize the feeling: you think about the task nonstop, and so you spend your days in a perpetual state of nervousness. When you finally sit down to write, you find other things to do before opening that document. Somehow, checking Twitter feels like a pressing matter that must be tended to immediately. Eventually, you realize you’ve been staring at your feed (or email inbox or Facebook feed) waiting for something new to pop up, something new to click on and read, and you close the browser window with a hint of disappointment. “You have failed me, Twitter feed. FAIL.” Then you finally open up the document on your desktop, sort of read through it, and remember why you were dreading it in the first place: you don’t know what to do or where to start.

I may be making a mistake by posting this online for all to see, considering I am a writing specialist for graduate students and a writing coach. However, recently I was talking to a group of students about how often in academia we don’t know what the writing process of others looks like, as we often receive academic writing in the shape of polished published pieces. So this post is my attempt to make that messy writing process visible. (I want to take this moment to give a shout out Michelle Moravec’s project Writing In Public, where she works online in real time on her writing projects, because she got me thinking about this issue of visibility in the first place.)

On the other hand, I’ve been blogging more lately. In fact, when I am blogging I feel better about my abilities as a writer than when I am writing an academic paper. Blogging comes easy to me; academic writing is hard. “Hard” should not be a deterrent for not doing something or a signal that we’re not good at something, like Junot Diaz points out. So I reminded myself why I wanted to share this paper; it is part of a big project I have worked on for so long—and I remembered about how excited I was about having the opportunity to talk with others about my dissertation research and where to go from here.

Blogging comes naturally. The lack of deadlines helps, of course. I blog when I feel like it. However, imposing my own deadlines is not the only reason I’m attracted to blogging (I blog here and at Sounding Out!, in addition to writing guest posts for other blogs, so I do know how to work around blogging deadlines). I usually write about subjects I am interested in, and blogging allows me to either talk about them in general or zoom in on a very narrow aspect of a particular subject. Blogging, for me, is no excuse to not do research, so I try to add links to sources that influence my analysis and thoughts. However, I find the form of blogging comforting: it allows me to speak about subjects in media res—in the middle of my thought process—and to get an immediate response to my writing. Although I know that when I click “Publish” the post is out there for all to see, I have gotten to a point in my blogging where I don’t stress about whether my ideas have slightly changed from an earlier blog post to now. It’s okay if my ideas change; I can write another blog post. They can also be less than 500 words or more than 1000 (posts for Sounding Out! run the gamut of 1200 to 2000 words, whereas here at U Venus we try to stay around 750), but word limits are a challenge instead of an obstacle.  

I don’t feel as comfortable with academic writing. In fact, I’ve always been a little self-conscious about my academic writing. I think part of that stems from what I’ve heard about academic writing (needs to be absolutely polished, needs to be incredibly well-researched, needs to be argumentatively tight as a drum) and my limited experience in traditional academic writing. I’ve written a lot of papers but so far I have stayed away from sending stuff out for publication. I feel I have much writing and thinking to do before I can send something out—a symptom of imposter syndrome.

Perhaps these feelings are remnants from graduate school. Perhaps they arise because academic writing is hard. Perhaps it’s my status as an alternative academic: I don’t have the time to ruminate and work on my writing and research like I used to, whereas I still want to develop my identity as a scholar, as a researcher.

Perhaps my writer’s block was a matter of form instead of content. I find myself blogging more and more, and writing shorter thought pieces. I feel more comfortable in that genre. Perhaps blessays (penned by Dan Cohen) are more my speed. Maybe my academic voice lies in that kind of writing. Or maybe I am making the move to public intellectual more so than academic. Maybe my writing is scholarly more so than academic. Maybe it’s neither…maybe it’s something different altogether.

Kansas City, Kansas in the US.

Liana is an Associate Editor at University of Venus. Follow her on Twitter@literarychica.

The Writer Inside Me

In Liana's Posts on 2013/03/13 at 10:55
Liana Silva, writing from Kansas City, Kansas in the US. 

As I drove home from work a few weeks ago, I listened to a podcast episode of Writer’s Voice where the show’s producer Drew Adamek interviewed Junot Diaz. The focus of the interview was Diaz’s latest book, This Is How You Lose Her, and his process of writing the book. Anyone who knows me knows I am a big fan of Junot Diaz, and I recently finished This Is How You Lose Her. I also enjoy reading and hearing about the writing process of others, not just because of my job but because you can tell so much about a writer by how they approach their writing, and this particular podcast episode did not disappoint in that regard.

When Adamek asked Díaz about a comment he made regarding his writing process, Junot responds candidly:

“I guess I’m not one of these happily industrious writers who’s always writing and producing books all the time. I’m always working but I’m not always producing…I’ve had a lot of difficulties with my work …I’m one of those unfortunate souls who happens to be good at something they find incredibly difficult…and I think that could be a problem. I think many of us think that we can only be good at things we find easy….I continue to find my work and my writing a great challenge….It’s your persistence that defines you and not what you produce.”

When I heard this, my heart expanded with joy. The fact that Díaz, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author, described his writing process as difficult disrupts the common notion that writing comes easily to good writers. Oftentimes we focus on tips or strategies, but it can be even more useful to hear how other writers struggle.

Listening to this podcast made me think of how valuable it would be if there were frank conversations about the writing process with Ph.D. students, with graduate students, with junior faculty–and I only mention those because these are the groups I encounter in my job on a regular basis. It could also be useful for undergraduates. Some writing instructors have talked about the importance of writing with your students, or talking about yourself as a writer; I wonder if I have read in my research on graduate student writers that no one knows how to write a dissertation until they’ve written one, but we can still share that experience with other writers that we advise, keeping in mind that everyone’s process is different.

However, the biggest takeaway from this snippet of the podcast episode for me was the statement that writing is hard. Yup, it is. It’s one of the reasons why The Thesis Whisperer, Pat Thompson and I advocate for writing on a regular basis, if not every day. A Pulitzer Prize winner has trouble with writing–why wouldn’t I? This is a tough pill to swallow, I admit, especially when students have deadlines (I’m thinking especially of Ph.D. candidates who have dissertations to write and who have to balance research, writing, thinking, and reading with other responsibilities in their lives). Junot Diaz reminds me that good writing takes time, an idea that isn’t too popular in the academic culture of publish and perish. (In August of 2012, professor Imani Perry wrote a piece about the pros of taking your time with your writing, but hers is an exception.) This makes me wonder: how can we balance the amount of time that polished, good writing takes with the requirements of the academic life? On the flipside: how long is too long?

For me, writing has always come naturally. Putting my words down on paper feels like the right thing to do when something is on my mind. The fact that I do it regularly makes ideas come a little easier. But  had forgotten that big point that Diaz made in his podcast: writing is difficult. I had confused the amount of writing I do with ease. The truth is, some ideas need to marinate, need to be teased out, need to be carved out of stone and polished. But I like that Diaz adds that it’s persistence that makes him a writer.

 

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

What’s My Name?

In Liana's Posts on 2013/01/08 at 03:38
Liana Silva, writing from Kansas City, Kansas in the US.

I received an email from MLA recently addressed to “Professor Silva.” It made me smile, but immediately after that it made me furrow my brow. Professor Silva? Who is this Professor Silva? Nothing in my past emails indicated I was a professor. I put it away, thinking it may have just been a mistake. But it bothered me a little: I did not want to claim “Professor” when I am not one.

Weeks later, I walked into a classroom to talk about our writing center’s services for graduate students. I am often on a first-name basis with the faculty, but I was still taken aback when the instructor introduced me as Ms. Silva to the students. I used to introduce myself to such groups as Liana when I had not finished my Ph.D., but now I make a point to say “Dr.” And that’s what I did. “Hello everyone, I’m Dr. Silva.”  As I said it, I heard echoes of my mom: “You should introduce yourself as Doctor Silva! You worked damn hard for that Ph.D.!” I’d been waiting so long to finally call myself Dr. Silva.

I wonder what part of that has to do with me transitioning from student to alumna. The ink on my diploma is still fresh. Perhaps it also has to do with the fact that I am in a job where I am unsure of how people should refer to me. At our writing center, referring to people by their first name is common; it’s a way of establishing yourself as a peer with other writers. Therefore, I feel awkward telling students I am Dr. Silva…even though I am. On the flip side: I have lost count of the number of staff members who don’t know me and who email Mrs./Ms. Silva. I always go out of my way to make sure I refer to people I don’t know as “Professor” or “Doctor” if it applies.

Maybe I’m old school like that, but I learned early on in academia that titles matter.

In the past few months, the topic of being referred to according to one’s title has come up here at Inside Higher Ed and at The Chronicle of Higher Education. U Venus Blogger Sarah Emily Duff shared in “Who Do You Think You Are?” how she felt about using her title of Dr. Duff when she returned to her university in South Africa. Although she had grown accustomed to being referred to by her first name in London universities, she insisted that her students in South Africa refer to her as Dr. Duff; part of that was because at the campus this is a habit, and part of this was also because she wanted to give them a message about how the university works. However she also wanted to emphasize the point that she is as qualified as her male colleagues. At the Chronicle, Stacey Patton in “That’s Dr So-and-So to You” (behind a paywall) surveyed different professors to gauge their attitude about using their title or not. … Clearly this is not a conversation that has died, especially among women faculty—the Chronicle, in what I deem a controversial move, chose a picture of Dr. Julianne Malveaux in order to illustrate its point.

As someone who understood the profession of teaching at the collegiate level, I assumed that I would be using my title from Day One. That was the custom at both of my alma maters, and, frankly, that’s what I wanted to be called. However, now that I am a staff member at a doctoral granting institution I find myself feeling a bit more conflicted, especially when the office culture at large is to refer to staff members by their first names. This too is problematic: why do professors get to use “Doctor” while  staff are meant to be on a first name basis with students? The opposite could also be argued: why should there be a distinction if we all work with students and want to make ourselves more approachable? What are the consequences of having this unclear nomenclature? For one, it makes a false distinction that staff members do not have Ph.D.s, or that the Ph.D.s are only in the classroom.
Another aspect that should be included in the conversation is the aspect of class: for how many of us the Ph.D. is a symbol of the hard work we put in to earn our degrees? For my parents, being working class who made it into middle class (in a way), the “Dr.” for them is a sign that I’ve “made” it—never mind that making it required a heck of a lot of student loan debt. Gender also plays. Some readers may say that insisting on being called “Dr.” is petty, but I disagree: for many of us in the academy, we have little else to trade on other than the status of “Dr.” How else do we get “paid,” after years of debt and hard work? And compensation is such a dirty word in academia.

For academic women, the issue of nomenclature goes a step further: although academic men have the neutral Mr., for women Miss/Mrs./Ms. is never neutral. The use of any of those titles always hinges upon a woman’s marital status. Like Duff mentioned in her post, Doctor is a gender neutral term. For many academic women, being able to use Doctor instead of the confusing Miss/Mrs./Ms. can be a relief…until someone refers to you in an email or class as Mrs. Then you realize it can take forever to catch on.

I don’t have the answers; honestly, I’m still thinking through these questions. But one thing is for certain: nomenclature matters.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

Rethinking What “Academic” Means

In Liana's Posts on 2012/10/10 at 23:45

Liana Silva, writing from Kansas City, Kansas in the US.

In August, Amy Rubens (@ambulantscholar on Twitter) posted a thoughtful post on her personal blog about her plans for the semester and how to continue her research agenda while teaching (and also adjusting to a new town and new school). Amy and I met via Twitter some time in the past year when we were trying to finish our dissertations, balance work along with dissertating, and blogging about our phd exploits. We both graduated last May, and are embarking on new jobs this fall. In her post, Amy pointed out that in order to get her conference presentations done in time she will be blogging about her reading; it’s a way for her to stay accountable and to digest the information on a long-term. She also discussed how she thinks of her blogging as a form of public scholarship, an idea I sympathize with.

As I read her latest post, I felt she was articulating some of my own concerns as I posted earlier this summer at my personal blog: how will I keep an active research agenda while working at the writing center? This may be a little easier for instructors who teach one or two classes a semester or who are exclusively research-driven, but for those of us who balance different obligations (administrative, service, teaching, programming) and still want to do research, this can be a daunting task, especially if our job descriptions do not explicitly include research. Her concern about fitting research in when you no longer have the luxury to take chunks of time for writing, reading, research, and thinking is something I share. This summer, as I became full-time at my job, I lost the days where I could take my daughter to daycare and sit with a cup of coffee and read, write, and research for hours on end. Even though I am happy to be employed, I do miss those times. Now I am trying to find ways to bring my research interests into my work as a way to sustain a research agenda while working full-time.

But Amy’s post reminded me of a post I wrote last year for U Venus titled “How Do You Define an Academic,” where I talked about whether I was still an academic even though I was no longer teaching. At the time I had quit my teaching job, something I had been doing for years, and I felt being a college instructor was directly connected to my professional persona. I had moved into a staff position, one I now recognize as an alternative-academic position, and I was still unsure about where I was, career-wise. The comments sagely pointed out that we do not cease to be academics because we do not teach, and looking back at that post it seems obvious! One commenter pointed out that, if I consider myself an academic what does it matter if others do not see me as such? And I feel much more comfortable in that position. Being an academic is about your approach to questions, your desire to continue thinking about burning questions within your field.

More importantly, Amy made me think about how I could frame my research work as an alternative academic. She cited the U of Minnesota’s definition of public scholarship. Could my work contribute “to the intellectual and social capital of the university and state,” even if the public institution I work for sees my role as staff in a limited fashion? Surely. Maybe I need to start thinking about my work not just as an academic but as a public intellectual. I blog on issues pertinent to academia and to my areas of interest, I curate content at an academic blog that publishes cutting-edge scholarship and writing on sound studies on a regular basis (three years, going strong!), and I continue to work on research within my discipline and within my burgeoning career as a writing center professional (fodder for another U Venus post, I’m sure).

In sum, Amy made me think again about how to define being an academic. It’s not about what job we do, that much I’m sure, but the questions we ask and the approach we take. Maybe the better question is “what is academic?” Academic as adjective instead of noun. I wonder how this plays out for those who are not in traditional, tenure-track positions: is academic more of an adjective than a noun for them? And what are the pros and cons of thinking in those terms?

 

 

Considering the Allure of the Tenure Track

In Liana's Posts on 2012/08/15 at 08:05
Liana Silva, writing from Kansas City, Kansas in the US.

Last May, Inside Higher Ed reported that Russell Berman, past president of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and Stanford University professor, has put forth a proposal together with five other Stanford colleagues to rethink the humanities PhD there. They tackled the question of whether and how to make the humanities PhD relevant today. In order to accomplish this, they posit that time to degree must be reduced and students should be trained for a diversity of career tracks, not limited to the traditional tenure track career path. In the brief proposal Berman and his colleagues developed, they stipulate that students will have to choose what career track they would like to embark upon by the end of the second year of PhD work, so that they can focus the rest of their PhD work on preparing for that track.

I agree that the humanities PhD needs retooling and that time to degree is a problem, but I wonder about the proposal’s second objective to prepare students for different career paths. I think this is a great idea, especially as someone who “discovered” alternative academic careers outside of my academic training. However, I am aware that many students start (and end) their humanities PhDs thinking they wanted to become a tenure-track professor at a research-oriented, doctoral-granting institution. Granted, not all do (and I know of several PhDs and lamented that they were trained to become professors when they never wanted to teach), but many still see that as the big reward at the end of their graduate careers. I know I did. It’s the reason why we talk about a surplus of PhDs and why some like Leonard Cassuto worry that the answer does not lie in reducing time to degree because there are already so many PhDs and ABDs on the job market already. It is important to make humanities PhD students and PhDs aware of the range of career possibilities with a PhD. My concern is, will these parties be receptive? Or will they always see these options as second-best to the tenure-track? Even if later on they find themselves frustrated by the increasing demands on graduate students and tenure-track faculty, many who see the tenure track as their goal continue to flock to humanities graduate programs.

This leads me to wonder: what is the allure of the tenure track?

Last year I made a conscious decision not to apply for any teaching/tenure-track positions while I was finishing my PhD. I was focused on trying to finish and defend my dissertation, and in order to do that I had to put all my energy into that endeavor. Also, I didn’t feel the pressure to do so, not immediately; last summer I obtained an alternative academic job that I enjoy at a doctorate-granting institution, and even though it is part time it has allowed me to stay in academia and earn a living wage.

However, once I defended and Commencement was just around the corner, I faced a question I hadn’t heard in a while: “so, what are you going to do now?” I think having a job kept that question at bay–as did the fact that I was making progress on the dissertation. Once I made my way back to the East Coast for my hooding ceremony, this milestone opened up the door to the questions as well as to thinking about my academic future once again.

I found myself thinking about the plans I had when I first started my PhD. What about that tenure-track job I once wanted? Am I still in that frame of mind? As I move forward I have been thinking what stood out for me about becoming a professor. Was it the teaching? Was it the opportunity to research topics of my choosing? Was it being able to share my work with students? Was it the possibility of forming future scholars through my mentorship and research? Was it the guarantee of intellectual freedom as an academic? Now that I am in a better position academically and professionally, I wonder often: what is my track? In the meantime, as an alt-academic I find myself carving my own career track as I move forward.

I don’t think the tenure track is bad. I also don’t think all PhDs should run away from academia. Rather, my inclination as a scholar is to question the world around me. As such, I encourage PhD students to question the idea that the tenure track is the only place they can be employed and consider instead whether the tenure track is a good fit. Why do you want to be on the tenure track?

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Voices in Cyberspace

In Liana's Posts on 2012/05/22 at 09:49
Liana Silva, writing from Kansas City, Kansas in the US.
On April 30th, Naomi Schaefer Riley, a blogger for the Brainstorm blog on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s website, argued (and poorly) that Black Studies as a discipline should disappear; her argument was based solely on brief descriptions of three dissertations by three PhD candidates from Northwestern University’s first cohort of Black Studies doctoral program, as seen in an earlier article in The Chronicle. (On May 7, 2012 Brainstorm Editor Liz McMillen posted a note to readers stating that Schaefer Riley had been fired from the blog.) I am not going to argue with Schaefer Riley because several have already argued with her post better than I ever could (for example, Tressie MC‘s guest post on fellow University of Venus blogger Lee Skallerup‘s IHE blog College Ready Writing). However, the kerfuffle that ensued online in response to Schaefer Riley’s post hit close to home and made me think about my role as an academic who blogs.
Schaefer Riley is not an academic blogger, but many of the people blogging at The Chronicle of Higher Education and here at Inside Higher Ed (for example) are academics who blog and who, more importantly, see blogging as a worthwhile endeavor. We invest a lot of time and effort into what we do–for many of us, the care and attention we put into each of our blog posts reflects the attentiveness we have within our own research as a whole, and by extension reflects perhaps our training as scholars. (See Profhacker editors’ post on the ethics of academic blogging in response to the Schaefer Riley posts and the response from “Brainstorm” editors) When Chronicle Content Promotion Amy Alexander told Tressie Mc in a Twitter exchange that their bloggers, although published on The Chronicle’s website, are independent from The Chronicle (which she also sees as “not of” academia), that made me stop and think. Although it is true that blogs within The Chronicle and within IHE are overseen by individual blog editors, as academics and bloggers we should still be mindful of the importance of well-written prose to convey a point. My experience working with other academic bloggers is that none of us simply get on a soap box and let go whatever is on our mind. Blogging is different from journalism (to a certain extent) and is different from academic journals, but it still holds its own as a forum for ideas and for “civil discourse” among academics, like the Profhacker post argues.
Therefore, as I watched the debacle about Schaefer Riley’s post and Amy Alexander’s exchange with Tressie Mc days after NSR’s post went live, I thought to myself, how does this make other bloggers look? How does this affect our legitimacy? The online response to Schaefer Riley reminded me that our legitimacy lies in our writing: in our laptops, in our pens, in our smartphones. As Rohan Maitzen argues in her post on academic blogging, blogging is a way of continuing the conversations that are so important to keeping our fields and research alive. However, when she posits in her post “why should we blog?” it made me think about my concerns for academic minority scholars. Amidst the flurry of tweets about Schaefer Riley’s post, this tweet by Howard Rambsey II came across my feed: “Interesting: a negative blog entry about black studies solidifies my sense that we need more blogging from black studies scholars.” I knew that I was not alone in my concerns.
The post and the response that ensued afterwards reminded me of the importance of making the voices of minority scholars heard and, in a broader sense, the importance of writing as a way of making those voices heard and engaging detractors and supporters. The emergence of many minority academic programs and departments (African American Studies, Latino/a Studies, Women’s Studies, for example) is connected to a desire to make visible to others not just the work but also the culture of certain segments of the population that have been ignored, undervalued, oppressed. For minority scholars such as myself, blogging is not just a bullet point for a CV; it is an intrinsic part of what my research is about: a commitment to making the struggles and achievements and contradictions of African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Latin@s, Women visible to a broader population. I cannot afford silence. Blogging allows me a platform to talk about issues that may go unnoticed, or issues where the point of view of a person of color or of a woman have been left in the cold. Because it happens. A lot. Let us not forget that Tressie Mc’s post in response to Schaefer Riley first appeared on her blog.
Minority academics who blog must, now more than ever, be aware of how important it is to articulate their ideas and their knowledge outside of our departments, our journals, our conferences. Blogging is a space in which we can do that. Many are already doing it, but that does not mean we do not need more voices participating in the conversations.We must make our voices heard, especially when others do not want to hear us.

Eight Years Later

In Liana's Posts on 2012/04/15 at 21:28

Liana Silva, writing from Kansas City, Kansas in the US.

As I work on the last revisions to my dissertation (by the time this post goes live I will have mailed my dissertation draft to my committee), I oftentimes find myself thinking back to the long road that brought me to this moment. Eight years ago, around this time of year, I was accepted at an upstate New York university for my Master’s degree, and I knew this move would change me forever. In the summer of 2004, I would leave my little island, move to a town a few hours away from New York City, and spend the next five years reading, writing, and thinking deep thoughts in hopes of achieving a PhD in English.

One of the moments that remains vivid to me is one very cold Upstate New York day, over three years ago. I was writing my final PhD exam, on Cultural Studies. In my department we have 72 hours to write between 25 and 35 pages on a topic stemming from a list of readings. I had done all the reading, assembled all of my notes on my desktop, and spent that weekend typing feverishly for hours on end. I woke up early Saturday morning, day two of my exam weekend; it was cold outside but the strong wind made the temperature drop further, and our apartment was poorly heated. The corner where my desk was located was the coldest in the house, so I relocated to the living room couch to be closer to the radiator. My boyfriend was not up yet, so I had the couch all to myself. I propped my feet up on the ottoman, pulled a blanket onto my lap, and turned on my laptop. Still not fully awake, I wrote feverishly, and in between thoughts I stuck my hands under my blanket to warm them up. I wrote page after page after page that weekend. On Sunday evening, I exclaimed to my boyfriend that I had finished my draft (12 hours before it was due).

That weekend stands out in my mind as a good example of what my experience as a graduate student had been up until that point. I had been a full-time graduate student with no other obligations other than going to class, writing, and teaching one semester per academic year. I had dedicated almost five years of my life to formulating (and complicating) questions. I read, I thought, I talked, I wrote. I had the privilege of devoting my days to nothing but studying literature and culture. Once I received, months later, the official notification that I was ABD (All But Dissertation), I was elated to know I had made it to the last stage of my graduate education.

The three years after I became ABD have not been easy; for one, I no longer have a fellowship that allows me to just read and write every day. I live in a different location from my home campus. I balance a lot more obligations than I did when I was solely studying. Distance and time have provided me with some much-needed perspective on my experience as a Latina first-generation graduate student. (I have touched upon this in the cross-blog conversation that U Venus contributor Janni Aragon and I have had at each other’s blogs titled “Academics on Academia.”) However, I am certain that this is where I wanted to be. Even though it took me a little longer than I wanted to, and even though there were moments I was unsure I would make it to the other side, I am happy that I stayed the course and made it this far.

Even though graduate school may be problematic, graduate school nurtured my intellectual curiosity, and introduced me to great minds. Is it the only place where I could have done this? No, it is not. However, I felt at home in graduate school. Grad school and I were a nice fit. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to read and write at my leisure and share my thoughts with others. My experience as a humanities PhD has affected how I approach and think about the world around me.

Achieving this hard-fought goal means so much on an intellectual and emotional level, and as such moving on will be a tough transition. The well-worn question stands true: where do we go from here? I, for one, am looking forward to it.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Networking aka Getting Outside the Comfort Zone

In Liana's Posts on 2012/01/25 at 01:15

Liana Silva, writing from Kansas City, Kansas in the US.

This semester I signed up for the University of Venus Networking Challenge. The challenge asked readers to reach outside of their departments and meet people in other disciplines, in other institutions, and/or in other countries. Because of my current employment position, I find myself getting in touch with a lot of people from other departments. Thus, I thought it would be unfair to count that as part of the challenge. However, the U Venus challenge prompted me to think about my interactions with faculty and staff from other schools and offices differently.

As a teaching assistant and a graduate student, I met people mostly through classes or meetings. If we were taking a class together or worked for the same professor, chances are that we would eventually get to know each other. However, unless your department is an interdisciplinary one, or unless you work outside of the department or have connections with people outside of campus, it is possible that your experience as a graduate student is limited to the footprint of the school—and perhaps only to your department floor. In my case, I knew few people outside of campus until I met my significant other.

Once I was done with coursework, my interactions with my peers were even more limited. Field exams required me to immerse myself in reading, and the dissertation research was no different. Every new semester brought new students while old friends moved away. If I went to a department function I knew few of the students, and without the commonalities of sharing an office or taking classes together, we had little to go by—it got to the point where I had trouble remembering classes when new students would ask me about a professor. Hence, I retreated into my academic shell.

Adjunct teaching was no different; we all taught at different times and had different obligations that kept us away from the office. During that year I was an adjunct, I got to know well two other adjuncts in addition to two faculty members, and the only reason this happened was because we all spent so much time in the office. I would prep for my classes, then I would work on my dissertation, then I would pick up my daughter and drive home. However, this was not the case for most adjuncts.
These stories are not uncommon. We have been warned that our disciplines have become silos, and even with Twitter we might run the risk of listening only to the voices that sound like us or that think like us. It’s easy to follow someone on twitter, but how often do we follow someone from a different discipline or from a different career path?

In my new home town I have felt the urge to reach out and meet other fellow academics in part because I needed the scholarly interaction; the dissertation can become a black hole where you hear only yourself and forget what other voices sound like. In reaching out I have met some wonderful people from different universities (fortunately I live in a city that contains over a dozen universities and colleges within an hour of the city center), and this even helped me find my current job.

As part of the UVenus Challenge, I resolved not just to reach out to other academics but to keep alive the connections I already had. I made lunch appointments, I attended the TEDXWomen live streaming event in Kansas City, heard Gloria Steinem speak at UMKC—a highlight of my semester—and handed out my business card. (To think, I had to remind myself to hand out business cards! Something I had never done before.) But in the spirit of the challenge I pulled my gutsiest move yet: I contacted a Latino/Latina studies scholar whose work I admired and and who teaches where I work. We met for coffee in her office and talked about graduate school, my work, and academic writing. As I sat there, talking about my research and about the process of academic writing in general, I felt like I was shedding my graduate student shell.

As graduate students we immerse ourselves in our departments, and the deeper we go into our research, the less likely we are to connect with others. Making friends as an adult is hard enough without adding the layer of academia. It was not until I moved away from my school to a big city where I knew no one that I really reached out to people across departments and outside of my university. It gave me a real appreciation for the work others do at the same time that I developed new friendships and connections.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

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