GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Author Archive

Public Engagement Under Attack

In Uncategorized on 2014/05/31 at 06:08

The latest post in our on-going Scholars Strike Back series comes from guest blogger Alison Piepmeier, Associate Professor at the College of Charleston. Piepmeier examines the link between challenges to academic freedom and academics’ engagement in the public sphere, especially when that engagement is deemed “controversial.”

On Monday, May 12, the interim Senior Vice Chancellor at the University of South Carolina Upstate informed Merri Lisa Johnson, faculty member and director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, that the school was closing the Center.  This incident seems like yet another painful piece of evidence that for many of us in Women’s and Gender Studies (and this spring particularly in South Carolina), the academic work we do intersects the public world, and vice versa.

In the fall USC Upstate offered the book Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, and in the spring semester the South Carolina House began the process of cutting the college’s budget (along with the budget of the College of Charleston, which had offered Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home to its incoming students).  South Carolina legislators expressed repeated, unapologetic homophobia in public statements, fundraising letters, and even informal emails and Twitter conversations with undergraduates.  As the semester progressed, things got worse:  the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies hired comedian Leslie Hendrix to perform her show How to Be a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less as evening entertainment at their annual Bodies of Knowledge Symposium.  At that point state legislators representing that part of the state became increasingly furious, which led to the administrators at the campus canceling the performance.  Then in May, the administration closed the Center.

These legislative attacks, and the responses of USC Upstate administrators, have demonstrated how powerfully public responses can affect academic decisions.  This has led to an environment in which Upstate faculty feel professionally threatened. The idea of USC Upstate being a hostile work environment was denied—with what seemed to be legitimate surprise—by Senior Vice Chancellor John Masterson, who had closed the Center, and Chancellor Tom Moore.  They truly seemed baffled that this would be a realistic description of their university.  And yet a number of the faculty I spoke with used that very term in describing their jobs at Upstate.

Almost every faculty member who talked with me had tenure, and tenure is supposed to be the ultimate form of protection, the security no other profession offers.  If you have tenure, you’re supposed to be free to say what needs to be said, no matter how controversial it is.  But this isn’t necessarily true, particularly if you’re a faculty member addressing and supporting marginalized populations.  In those cases, public engagement can be dangerous.

I broke the story of the Center’s closing on May 13 in the Charleston City Paper; USC Upstate didn’t offer its press release until the next day.  It’s entirely possible that I was able to get the information so quickly, and that I’ve been able to talk about these issues openly, because I’m connected to some of the faculty who are involved, and they know that I’m trustworthy.  They know that I won’t reveal their identities, nor will I make arguments that endorse the homophobia of our legislature and the potentially ignorant homophobia and sexism of the Upstate administration.

And this leads to another challenge of responding to and attempting to challenge some of the public intersections with the academy:  academics often aren’t comfortable writing for the public.  We’re generally trained to speak only to other scholars trained in our discipline. These elite voices don’t help us speak to the public. Although I was certainly trained that way, I’ve had the opportunity to become more of a public writer, starting with a personal blog, then with work with the OpEd Project that helped me to write op-eds and columns for online spaces like the NYTimes “Motherlode.”  My public pieces led to an invitation to become a columnist at the Charleston City Paper, and in these public venues I’ve had the opportunity to develop a broader voice.  Indeed, even my academic work these days is moving toward accessibility to a broader audience—a thoughtful mainstream audience interested in the issues I’m addressing.

In the wake of this spring’s public/academic debacles, I’ve been doing extensive (and let’s admit, exhausting) public writing.  Virtually every week—and sometimes twice a week—the offensiveness has become so visible and toxic that I’ve had to speak out.  This is part of my academic work, and the fact that administrators at my college have not challenged this writing is, of course, essential to my ability to keep doing it. I’ve never wanted to be a scholar who only spoke to the elite, and I don’t feel that I have to play that role.  I’m allowed to be a scholar whose scholarship connects with activism, whose feminist training provides very useful expertise, and whose attention to the public world may lead to meaningful change.

Alison Piepmeier directs the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at the College of Charleston. She is the author of several books, including Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism. You can read more of her work on her blog.

If you are interested in participating in our Scholars Strike Back series, please contact assistant editor, Gwendolyn Beetham.

 

Not A Hand Up

In Uncategorized on 2014/01/29 at 22:45

There’s a refrain we keep hearing in the current debate over MOOCs: people don’t complete. Only a small fraction finish. The dropout rate is enormous.

It’s all true. As illustrated in Katy Jordan’s excellent data visualization, released this spring, less than ten percent of registered students actually complete all their MOOC course requirements.

To which we tend to respond, Oh dear! MOOCs have a big problem. They aren’t serving their students sufficiently.

MOOCs may well not be serving their students sufficiently, and their non-completion rates may be highly informative in that regard. But the fact that our default approach is to assume that their purpose IS to serve students seems to me to be a symptom of a bigger problem.

We insist on thinking about educational ventures in institutional terms, even when those ventures are framed as direct assaults – erm, I mean “disruptions” – to institutionalized education as we know it.

This, people, is why higher education can’t have nice things.

Completion as Credentialing: the ‘Hand Up’

Non-completion is only a problem if we accept MOOCs as alternative revenue-generating credentialing system.

As a cultural institution, education has long served two relatively separate purposes. One of these is learning. The other is credentialing. Only one of these is reliant on course completion in order to have value.

Learning’s value is understood to be both individual and inherent. The credential, on the other hand, is a social signal: it is standardized, transferable, and earned by successful completion of a societally-agreed upon course of study. Unlike learning, it is meant to function as a currency which can be cashed in for specific societal opportunity.

Students implicitly understand this separation of credential and learning. When my college roommate and I took different sections of the same course, we often found ourselves with different textbooks and differing assignments, depending on our professors’ focus. What we each actually learned and retained from our respective endeavours was likely even more distinct.  But we each earned the same credit, the same prerequisite needed to move on to higher levels within the discipline, and ultimately, the same degree.

This was an institutional education system for an institutionally-structured society. It relied on public acceptance of the ceremonial legitimation of individualized learning into the currency of credentials. More broadly, it depended on the mythology of education as a means to individual betterment within the societal hierarchy: on the premise that if an individual learned enough to earn credentials, they would serve as a ‘hand up,’ a marker for entry into the professionalized institutional world.

This is the very premise of public education: learning transubstantiated to credential equals opportunity.

Thirty years of rising neoliberalism and globalization, however, have changed the reality of this social contract. We live in a time when educational institutions are beset from all sides, and expectations of their capacity to deliver success far outstrip society’s ability to offer meaningful opportunities even to those who meet the requirements. Decreased public funding of educational institutions, rising student debt, and labour precarity all combine to make the mythos of credentialing as a means to betterment a shaky one.

And make no mistake, MOOCs as credentials will topple it from within.

Completion as Myth

MOOCs started, in a sense, as a recognition that the credentialing equation was hollow. The early MOOCs were actually extra-institutional: they aimed to enable learning outside the system, focusing on generating and networking knowledge. They were learning for learning’s sake.

But credentialing is where the money lies. The mainstream thrust to position MOOCs as a disruptive replacement for conventional academia allows market forces to capitalize on the old mythology of institutionalized education and its ties to social mobility.

That myth hinges on completion. Institutions take the two separate acts of learning and credentialing, and marry them through the formalized process of completion. When a student completes a course, s/he is graded, accredited, and – when and where the mythology functions – accorded a level of public recognition in return. Stay in school, we tell our young. It’ll pay. And in spite of generationally-diminishing returns, it broadly has.

But the era of protected, bureaucratic jobs for the educated is over. At the individual level, there may still be opportunities, and some form of credential may still be better than no credential. The societal equation by which completion becomes credential becomes social mobility, though, increasingly fails to add up. Market forces have changed the game.

And if market forces open up cheap credentials to everybody in a society where even expensive credentials struggle to translate to opportunities, the whole currency will collapse.

Completion as False Promise

We need to understand this when we talk about MOOCs. MOOCs may be touted as a revolution in education, but they actually organize learning opportunities. The fact that they’re elbowing in on the ceremonial business of credentialing and therefore taking on both roles of a conventional education institution does not mean they can or will serve the societal function of educational institutions. Educational institutions have writing centres and Student Unions and myriad supports focused around helping students gain achieve the kinds of learning that count as currency and opportunity. Institutions explicitly serve the citizenry, not the market.

MOOCs offer organized, affordable learning opportunities at a mass scale, and that has a great deal of value. But MOOCs are not a system. They are not education for the masses.

We are accustomed, in our society, to understanding education in institutional terms, and to thinking of learning opportunities as tied to the mythos of betterment and mobility. We’ve been acculturated to this from childhood. But MOOCs are not the inheritors of our public education myth. They are, at least in some models, the inheritors of the forces that have gutted that myth.

Whether people complete their MOOCs or not, Coursera credentials will not bring back institutionalized, protected careers for the educated. So we need to be wary of bringing in MOOCs to prop up overstretched institutional systems, as California is doing. We particularly need to be wary of invoking MOOCs to deliver on the mythology of education as access to betterment; as a proverbial hand up.

If we don’t, we may find that MOOCs’ so-called free education costs a great deal to those in our society who depend most on that social contract of mobility, after all.

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Bonnie Stewart is a Ph.D. student at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. In higher ed since 1997, Bonnie has lived and taught on all three coasts of Canada and in Eastern Europe and Asia. Her research explores social media identity and its implications for higher education. Published at Salon.com and winner of the 2011 PEI Literary Award for creative non-fiction, Bonnie blogs ideas at http://theory.cribchronicles.com. Find her on Twitter at @bonstewart.

Fixing the Numbers (Well, Maybe)

In Uncategorized on 2014/01/28 at 22:14

Reprinted with permission of the author. Originally posted at Athene Donald’s blog at Occams Typewriter  on March, 19th, 2013.

This week I read that the Labour party was attempting to redress the lack of women candidates by using all-women shortlists, as women aren’t faring well in open competition to get selected as Parliamentary candidates. In Europe, meanwhile, we see the European Commission (EC) pushing for 40% of women on its advisory committees for Horizon 2020 (presumably once that problematical budget is agreed), so far only as a target not a formal quota. Is this sort of ‘social engineering’ the only way we are finally going to make significant progress in a reasonable time period? And if so, will there be unintended consequences? I am afraid I believe that the answer to the second question is yes, even if it isn’t obvious what the answer is to the first question; this isn’t necessarily very good news for men or women.

wrote before about my mixed views about quotas and the like; that post was actually provoked by a conversation with an EC official. Now I find myself writing this in Brussels, as a new member of the European Resarch Council’s (ERC) Scientific Council. Gender matters greatly to the ERC, which has been gathering statistics on relative success rates of men and women to its various schemes since its inception in 2007. But, as my fellow Council member Isabelle Vernos said in her Comment piece in Nature recently (£), ‘quotas might even make matters worse by overworking already-stretched female scientists.’

I agree wholeheartedly and one has to look carefully at what using more women on their committees might actually be expected to achieve, beyond sounding impressive.

The recent and much-cited PNAS paper by Moss-Racusin et al demonstrates that populating a committee with more women is not necessarily going to lead to more favourable outcomes for women applicants. The evidence from the ERC’s own statistics support that: there appears to be no correlation between the number of women on a committee (or whether the chair is male or female) and the success rate by women. That finding is healthy and as it should be. Women academics are thin on the ground, representing less than 20% of the professoriat globally across Europe, although that figure obviously varies significantly both between nations and disciplines. These women are likely to be already overworked (or at least worked disproportionately) locally on committees, distracted from pursuing their research in ways that might facilitate winning ERC funding themselves. So asking them to devote yet more time to sit on grant-giving committees, isn’t necessarily the best way to achieve better gender balance in success rates, however important, rewarding and stimulating such a task may be and however much there may be concomitant indirect benefits in experience gained and networking opportunities. Superficially seeking out women to sit on such committees looks attractive; in practice it may be a completely misguided and wasted effort.

That last paragraph encapsulates a depressing truth: statistically women are somewhat less successful in obtaining ERC grants than men, as Isabelle Vernos’ article pointed out. The ERC is not unusual in that respect: I wonder if there is any grant competition across Europe where that isn’t true. If it can’t be solved by a simple manipulation of committee make-up, what can be done (I refuse to accept the naïve argument that women are less good at science!)? I suspect the answer may lie in tackling deep-seated cultural issues. Just as men have traditionally been able to rely on (male) support systems to help them navigate their way through job opportunities, career progression and promotions, so I suspect this sort of networking may also have provided them with access to mentors and peers who can comment on early drafts of grant applications and share insight and tips from their own experiences. Do women automatically get this sort of support without asking? And if not how many of them feel comfortable asking for such advice? Possibly if this mentoring were provided as a norm throughout their careers, women would imbibe the tricks of the trade that help to transform a decent proposal into a stellar one.

One strategy my own department has recently introduced is to offer mock interviews for applicants for ERC Starter Grants who reach that stage. Automatically this is being offered to men and women, with senior staff making up the mock panel. It’s too early to say if this will make a difference but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. However, that is already fairly late in the process, when many individuals will already have failed to make the cut – I am suggesting that perhaps women are being disadvantaged by a lack of mentoring as they actually write the proposal in the first place. There are figures to show that some states in the EU are also under-represented, and the concern about them is that lack of expertise in these countries means applicants aren’t getting the insight and advice they need from their seniors to enable them to enter the process as effectively as, say, those from my own country which has been extremely successful in obtaining funding from the ERC (even if many of the successful applicants are not UK nationals). I can’t help feeling that the same may apply to women.

If this is true, then we should not be blindly moving to some quota of women on committees in a vain attempt to redress the imbalance. We should, in our own institutions be mentoring women as they set out and at every stage along the way. If women are reluctant to ask for help as they put an application together, we should make sure the help comes their way whether they actively seek it or not (or conversely creating an atmosphere in which asking for help comes more naturally to them).  Maybe some of the women who do make the grade of winning an ERC grant will willingly join a future panel for the experience and sense of returning something to the system. But if we insist that the few women who do succeed must disproportionately give up their time to fulfil an EC ambition of 40% female membership we will be doing them (and the ERC) a disservice in preventing them from benefitting from the money invested in them.  In my earlier blog when I wrote about quotas I had mixed feelings. In this particular instance I feel quite clear in my own mind that the plans are likely to backfire on the very people that they are meant to help.

Athene Donald is a professor of physics in the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge working on soft matter and biological physics. She has an active interest in issues around women in science within the university (WiSETI ) and outside (Athena Forum) and equality and diversity more generally; and a growing interest in education and science policy.  Her first degree and her Ph.D. are both in Physics from Cambridge University and she is  currently the University of Cambridge’sGender Equality Champion, and chairs the Royal Society’s Education Committee as well as sits on their Council.  Athene can be found on Twitter at @AtheneDonald

Sacrifices and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies in Academic Careers

In Uncategorized on 2014/01/28 at 00:29

By the time my third week of sitting on the floor came around, a simple realization had begun to torment me: It’s all come true.

Only a couple of months prior, I had, to my delight, been offered an academic job in London. However, because they wanted me to start as soon as possible and I needed to surrender my passport for a work visa application, I could not go home to the United States ahead of my start date. Instead, I sank two months’ worth of living expenses into moving south, and with me I brought the sum total of my worldly possessions in Cambridge, a modest three suitcases and three small boxes of books.

The North London apartment I’d found was lovely, blessedly quiet, full of natural light, and facing a river. It was only available for rent semi-furnished though, so until my furniture order was belatedly delivered, it was also looking pretty bare, and the only comfortable position I’d found to work was the floor. Whenever I took a break to stretch (which was often), I couldn’t help but brood. This place was to be my home, the very center of the life I’d built for myself thus far. Yet what did it make that life look like? From my vantage point on the proverbial inside, it looked awfully transient, isolated…and empty.

Slightly more than a decade ago, I had seen a place much like this one. That place was the on campus apartment of an advanced, but as of yet untenured, assistant professor at my undergraduate college. It was after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and my family had hit a rough patch. This professor, meaning to comfort me, invited me back to her apartment. If she reads this she will be appalled; she’s surely never thought she was doing more than stuffing me full of delivery pizza.

What actually filled me that evening was absolute horror. Her apartment? She was its sole occupant, and it almost looked like she was a squatter in there. Cardboard boxes lined one wall; there were hardly any furnishings. What few pieces of furniture she had might have been picked up at a yard sale or perhaps by the side of the road. Her television was so old I couldn’t believe it still worked. There was nothing of obvious sentimental value anywhere on display. True, she was not from the United States. But even so, my younger self wondered, how could a professor’s life be so desolate?!

By the time I returned to my dorm room, I was panicking. I’d dreamed of becoming a college professor since childhood, but how is a naïve kid to know what that life truly entails? Now I had an inkling, and who would want to make the sacrifice she’d so clearly made to be where she was? My roommate had already gone home for the holidays; my parents, with whom I had argued ferociously over the past few days, did not pick up the phone when I tried to call them. There was no one to talk to, and after much tossing and turning in my bed, I fell asleep.

When I awoke the next morning, I was resolved. If that is indeed the sacrifice required to pursue a successful academic career, I resolved to be open to making it. The one night I could have been persuaded to change course had passed, and though it has been a long and circuitous journey, it is the course I have chosen. It is the course that has brought me here—to the place where I have become just like my college professor. In all the relevant particulars.

Still, even when we know there is a price to be paid, we sometimes like to believe that we will never actually have to pay it. Maybe we’ll be able to cheat the piper. Though the troubling memory of my college professor’s apartment receded, it was never far from the back of my mind. But now that I had finally paid my dues, my back against the wall of my sunny apartment an ocean away from where I’d grown up, I had doubts. Was this really the sacrifice that was required to have a successful academic career, or did I somehow bring this isolation, this emptiness, upon myself?

My furniture was eventually delivered, of course, and nowadays I work at my desk, not on the floor. Earlier this month, I even had my first guest, an American colleague who, like me, had been on the academic job market this year. It was nice to finally be able to commiserate with someone in a similar position with similar career aspirations, and over the course of the afternoon hanging out at my new place, I told her the story of the professor and the empty apartment. I told her about the doubt gnawing at me, that maybe what I had thought was my sacrifice was really just a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“No,” said my colleague, reflecting, “I think it’s what’s required, and it’s something I only learned recently. You’re really lucky to have learned it that young.”

That much was true, at least. In the end, it’s impossible to know how much of the precariousness, the economic hardship, and the social estrangement I brought upon myself through the choices I made, and how much is a function of the structural dehumanization and everyday cruelties of modern academic careers. What I do know for sure, though, is that I have been very lucky to have had such a generous teacher. If I have, in a way, become her, it’s well worth remembering: Often we reveal far more about ourselves than we realize, and occasionally we teach our students far more than we know.

Cambridge, England in the United Kingdom

Casey Brienza joined City University London as Lecturer in Publishing and Digital Media in March 2013. She holds a first degree from Mount Holyoke College, an MA in Media, Culture, and Communication from New York University, and a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Cambridge, approved in 2013.

Gender Inclusive Policies Required for Advancement of Women in Academia

In Guest Blogger on 2013/06/29 at 01:03
Guest blogger, Cate Macinnis-Ng, writing from Auckland, New Zealand

An academic career is challenging for anyone, yet the gender gap suggests that the current system continues to favour men. There are a number of particular factors that women face and, late last year, I realised that these challenges fall into two main categories. I was fittingly sitting in the Federation of Graduate Women’s Suite in Old Government House listening to Professor Maureen Baker present highlights from her recent book Academic Careers and the Gender Gap to women from across The University of Auckland (UoA). It wasn’t uplifting. The message seemed to be that not a lot has changed for women since Professor Baker began her career in 1975. During question time, someone made the comment that most senior academic women did not have children. Decades ago, a woman left the workforce when she married; now, women often leave academia around the same time as they have children.

So, the first of my two categories of challenges women face are universal to all women. These include the fact that success rates for funding and publications are lower for females than males, and young girls are raised to be nurturing and compliant rather than competitive and assertive. These factors will impact the careers of all women at some stage, often in very subtle ways and throughout their working lives. The second category of challenges I will call ‘circumstantial’ because these depend on the situation a woman is in. These include career responsibilities, parental leave gaps, periods of part-time work. Women are more likely to suffer the bulk of the burden of caring for elderly or sick relatives and very young children. Within my circle, women in a relationship are also more likely to be the following partner when a couple or family moves overseas or interstate so their career opportunities are severely restricted. These circumstantial factors do not impact all women, but when they do, they can be catastrophic for a promising and even flourishing career.

If it is true that most women who make it towards the top do not have children, and it may be fair to assume that childless women are proportionally more likely to make it to associate professor and above, as they have avoided at least the main circumstantial challenges women face in caring for children. In order to increase numbers of women at senior levels in universities, women must find ways to sustain their careers through periods of disruption from family circumstances. Some universities have policies, programmes, and funds to address this issue, but the gender gap remains.

Last year I was a participant in the UoA Women in Leadership (WiL) programme. Academic and professional women with leadership potential from across the university attended a retreat and many workshops and seminars throughout the year as part of the programme. We were each carefully matched with a mentor for inspirational one-on-one coaching. What a hugely humbling and valuable experience it was. My networks ballooned, my career toolbox is stocked, I have some fabulous new friends and I’m informed of the policies I can call on to advance my career while caring for young children. Now that I’m out of that warm cozy cocoon, however, I’m struck by the mismatch between the policies and the culture. It seems to me that the UoA has some of the best policies to support women working through circumstantial factors. The merit relative to opportunity and the flexible work policies are particularly useful to me, but it is one thing to know those policies are there and another to know that others will apply the policies. Sly comments about part-time work and the expectation that revisions can be turned over in one night are just two examples of subtle indications that a tiny minority of people (often old timers) don’t really think these policies are valid.

As we were learning about the policies in the WiL programme, I did think that broader education on these policies was required. Sadly, it’s not just the contents of the policies that need to be publicised but also their value and importance, because a very small number of individuals don’t seem to grasp the need for a diverse workforce. We were informed that managers are educated on these policies; however, I think young men should also be informed. Not because they are the ones making the comments but because these policies apply to their partners and to them. In fact, I think men should have been included in many WiL sessions for their own benefit and that of women. Men as well as women benefit from more inclusive and thoughtful policies on childcare.

Excluding men from such activities can build resentment that women receive special treatment when men also face significant obstacles while building their careers, especially when a young family is involved. A group for early career women I used to attend was referred to as ‘secret women’s business’ by one of my male colleagues and while this was said in jest, I couldn’t help feel the divide between us when that was said because of the negative connotations of that expression. Funnily enough, this individual has been amongst the most supportive of my peers.

Support from peers is so important for career progression and sanity. One of the strongest recommendations to come out of Henry Etzkowitz’s (2000) work, Athena Unbound: The Advancement of Women in Science and Technology, was that individuals should build strong networks. Those women who were most successful worked in teams, especially during child-rearing years. I have certainly made this approach work in my own career. I would like to emphasise the importance of men who have supported me through collaborative work (for mutual benefit). Men are our allies, particularly when a woman is working in a field where there are few other women (or others on the team are on parental leave!).

However, it’s not just women who will benefit from the inclusion of men in such programmes and networks, men will also benefit. In the current academic culture, the circumstantial factors women face are more likely to have an impact on women’s careers. However, they are not exclusive to women. More and more men are taking extended periods of parental leave, and some men choose to work part-time. These situations need to be supported for men as much as they do for women and when men feel comfortable to do these things in significant numbers, there will have been a significant cultural shift which will benefit women, men, departments and families.

In practical terms, I’m not suggesting men should attend the whole WiL programme, and there certainly needs to be a space where women can openly discuss issues in academia relating to gender, but I do think men with families would benefit from formal mentoring and networking with women at similar career stages. Where funds are available to support conference attendance with a supplement for women with small children, this option should be open to men, too, because many fathers I know would also like to take their families with them. This type of inclusiveness is so important for real cultural change throughout the workforce.

The Australian Academy of Science Early and Mid Career Researcher Forum recently released their paper on Gender Equality: Current Issues, Best Practice and New Ideas (http://science.org.au/policy/documents/GenderEquityEMCRForum.pdf). The third section addresses women with young children. In the context of the policy document, referring to ‘mothers’ and ‘women with babies’ is appropriate but where possible, I think gender neutral terms should be used. Policies at the university or institution level should be written to include men and women, so the idea that either parent can be the primary caregiver is enforced.

However, the best bit of the document on is buried on page 8, in the section on people with carer duties and the importance of work culture:

Creating a work culture where spouses, especially men, are not adversely judged for choosing to take a primary carer role. For example, ensure that male researchers’ mentors are positive about men being primary carers and provide practical advice on how to balance being a primary carer with research. This is particularly important for single parents.

I believe that when the work culture of universities changes so that neither men nor women are adversely judged for being primary carer then the gender gap will close and men and women with and without children will be fairly represented at all levels of the academic scale. And when policy becomes culture, that is when the policy is no longer needed. What an exciting day that will be!

Cate Macinnis-Ng is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Environment at the University of Auckland. Her research involves quantifying impacts of climate change on carbon and water cycles of forests. Her work is particularly relevant given the current summer is the driest in 70 years and all of the North Island of New Zealand is in declared drought. Follow her on Twitter @LoraxCate

Gendered Innovations: Sparking New Ideas

In Guest Blogger on 2013/06/16 at 00:31
Guest blogger, Londa Schiebinger, writing from Stanford, California in the US.

What happens when you bring together sixty scientists, engineers, medical researchers, and gender experts in a series of international, collaborative workshops?  You get something radically new. That’s the goal of Gendered Innovations. A Stanford startup, Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, Engineering, and Environment adds value to science, medicine, and technology by deploying methods of sex and gender analysis.

Nowhere in U.S. engineering, science, or medical curricula are methods of gender analysis taught systematically to future researchers. This can produce costly and wasteful bias. For example, between 1997 and 2000, 10 drugs were withdrawn from the U.S. market because of life-threatening health effects. Eight of these posed greater health risks for women than for men. This is costly in terms of suffering and death, and in terms of economics. How can researchers avoid these mistakes and design the best research possible from the start?

The goal of the Gendered Innovations project is to provide scientists and engineers with a place to start. The peer-reviewed website offers twelve practical methods for sex and gender analysis. Analyzing sex and gender from the start can serve as a resource to stimulate new knowledge and technologies. Gender analysis acts as additional “controls” (or filters for bias) to provide excellence in science, health & medicine, and engineering research, policy, and practice. The methods of sex and gender analysis are one set of methods among many that researchers bring to a project.

Take stem cell research, for example. The sex of the cell matters. A researcher told me that he had done some experimental bone marrow transplants in rodents, and all of his male animals inexplicably died.  He had not considered the potential interactions between the sex of the donor cells, and the sex of the recipients. Therapeutic use of stem cells holds great hope, and we need to get it right. Important will be a few basic research steps, such as utilizing cells of both sexes in sufficient quantities to detect or rule out sex differences (not all sex differences will be significant). Simply reporting the sex of cells in experiments allows for systematic review and meta-analysis. Taking sex into account can advance basic knowledge regarding stem cells—but we need to get it right.

Or take osteoporosis, the weakening of bones with age that becomes significant as the population ages. Osteoporosis has long been defined as a disease of postmenopausal women. Why is this a problem?  Men account for a third of osteoporotic hip fractures after the age of 75—and when men break their hips, they die more often than women. We don’t know why. The gendered innovation in this case has been developing good diagnostics and treatments in men—across cultures.

Moving from basic science to engineering, consider models of the human body used for automobile safety. The European Commission asked us to review one of their projects that models the human thorax—that core of the body from the neck to the waist. The project uses cadavers and studies the force of impact on the body, for example on human ribs. How do they hold up under impact? This project, like many medical school anatomy classes, take the cadaver, discards the breasts, and get on with the study.  But 50 percent of the population has breasts, breasts can be damaged in accidents, and, perhaps more significantly, breasts may determine how the seat belt lies across the thorax to protect the body in an accident. The Gendered Innovations potential value added to this project is to ask the engineers to design the significance of breast tissue into their basic models.

We have case studies—concrete illustrations of how sex and gender analysis leads to new insights—treating video games, public transportation systems, climate change, the genetics of sex determination, natural language processing, assistive technology for the elderly, and more. While many of our case studies focus on the U.S. and Europe, several highlight gendered innovations in the developing world. One treats civil engineering and looks at water infrastructure. Nearly one billion people worldwide lack reliable access to improved water supplies. In sub-Saharan Africa, water-fetching (carrying water) is women’s work, and when villages lack water infrastructure, women and girls spend some 40 billion hours each year carrying water. Because water procurement is women’s work, many women have detailed knowledge of soils, and the water they yields. This knowledge is vital to civil engineering and development projects. Tapping into local women’s knowledge has improved the efficiency of well-placement projects—securing a better water supply for the community. When girls don’t have to carry water, they can attend school—providing a win-win for the community.

Gendered Innovations:

●     Add value to research and engineering by ensuring excellence and quality in outcomes and enhancing sustainability.

●     Add value to society by making research more responsive to social needs.

●     Add value to business by developing new ideas, patents, and technology.

Innovation is what makes the world tick. Gendered Innovations help to create gender equality; enhance creativity; stimulate economic and technological development; and to make research more responsive to society. As I hope I have begun to show here, gender analysis sparks creativity by offering new perspectives, posing new questions, and opening new areas to research. Can we afford to ignore such opportunities?

Londa Schiebinger is the John L. Hinds Professor of History of Science in the History Department at Stanford University and Director of the EU/US Gendered Innovations in Science, Medicine, and Engineering Project.

The Myth of Quicksand (or How I Escaped Some of the Anxiety of Tenure Track)

In Guest Blogger on 2013/06/10 at 23:32
Guest blogger, Natalie T. J. Tindall, writing from Atlanta, Georgia in the US.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines quicksand as “sand readily yielding to pressure; especially : a deep mass of loose sand mixed with water into which heavy objects readily sink.” In the movies, some horrid interloper or intrepid explorer ends up in quicksand and starts to sink fast in the murky mess. Panic sets in. Arms flail! Curses are said! Death is imminent. A welcome savior comes to rescue you. Or you die in the muck. The end.

In real life, no one comes to save you from the quicksand. It’s a cliched Hollywood gimmick of the 1960s, when 3% of U.S.-made films had someone performing the sisyphean task of getting out of the mud, sand, or clay quicksand bog. The author of a long-read Slate article on quicksand theorizes about why quicksand is so prevalent in the American literary and dramatic imagination:

quicksand had a way of showing up when we pushed our borders into the unknown. The more conspicuous the entanglement, the more likely we were to visualize it as a real-world danger: In the 19th century, sinkholes dotted the literature of manifest destiny and the untamed West; in the 20th century, quicksand took over at the movies while the nation fought a colonial war in a vine-filled jungle overseas.

I find it quite  fitting to use quicksand as a metaphor for the tenure process.

Tenure is the great unknown. For most of us who struggled with the expectations and hopes of the tenure-track life, we were entrapped and frustrated at the low moments. Even at the high points–the revise-and-resubmit decision on the journal article, the book publication, getting named to a high-profile service appointment with your professional organization, we still are dealing with the mental entanglements of worth, time, and effort.

I have tenure. Or, I should have it by the time you read this. A minor hiccup in the well-oiled machinery of my university administration pushed back the announcement date. However, I have sailed through the tenure process easily thus far. My chair tells me, “no news is good news,” and I cling to that statement the way a superstitious person clutches a rabbit’s foot, or a four-leaf clover.

During the process, I felt like I was overwhelmed by the quicksand of the perceptions of the tenure labyrinth. Tenure track can be full of anxieties and contradictions. Sometimes people are trying to help when they pour out the tales of woe about the last unfortunate candidate (who is always an anonymous soul in another department, never ours) who failed, or tales of supreme mastery of the page numbering process required by the college. Rather than helping with their words of encouragement and stories about their experiences, this advice can wrap around your chest and throat like a vice, sucking the air out of you. The desperation and flailing of colleagues who are grasping at tenure can serve to make you panic, and rush back to your desk to count your citations or running to the nearest bar/creperie/treadmill for relief.

An aphorism popped up as I started writing this article:  “never struggle if you’re caught in quicksand.” Struggle on the tenure track is what most people expect and want from those on it. Some people want you to believe that the quicksand is deadly, mercenary, and cannot be avoided. The bog can overtake you, but you can also escape the bog.
Escaping the Bog
If you happen to encounter quicksand as you walk across campus, cheer up. You will actually float in it. Getting out of quicksand is easy, says one researcher:

The way to do it is to wriggle your legs around. This creates a space between the legs and the quicksand through which water can flow down to dilate [loosen] the sand,” he explained. “You can get out using this technique, if you do it slowly and progressively.”

Getting out of the quicksand bog requires the same effort of getting out of the tenure-track mental bog. To keep myself from being fully immersed in the quicksand of it all, I decided to follow a few steps. Note: I am not ignoring the latent -isms that surround the tenure process or life in the academy (e.g., racism, sexism, heterosexims, abilism). These are just micro-tips and tools that I used and that others have used to get through the macro-hoops of tenure. Use and apply at your own benefit.

a. Develop mentors. As I mentioned in a blog post for the Public Relations Society of America,

Mentoring is a tricky and fuzzy concept that gets thrown around a lot. Mentoring has a lot of connotation. Talking to people about mentoring provides you with an assortment of definitions and descriptions. What we do know is that mentoring is a relationship between two people that will change over time. Sometimes it is formalized by organizations or associations. Sometimes it is an organic relationship that emerges out of a talk over coffee or bonding at a retreat.

With this in mind, find people who are in the same area as you, and ask them for help and guidance. Ask your mentors to review your research agenda and dossier. Tap your mentors for insight that you can not readily obtain from colleagues. If you don’t know where to find a mentor, look at the professors who have careers you admire and ask them. Many people are flattered when they are asked to serve as a mentor.

b. Rely on your selected academic and personal community. Community can be found online or in person. Have a support network of helpful colleagues, friends, family, and acquaintances that will allow you to air grievances as well as celebrate when the dossier is submitted. Vent to your colleagues, and use them as a sounding board and mastermind group. Use your community to get out of the house, your office and your thoughts. Join friends for dinner, go camping, try a new dance class, or develop a new knitting pattern.

c. At the same time as you develop mentors and find a community, avoid anxious people. You can’t become a hermit, but refrain from engaging in conversations about tenure with certain people. If you have to entertain them, keep the conversations to a minimum. You cannot afford to let the doubts, frustrations, and maladies of others take up space in your head as you confront this process. Ask questions to those with wise counsel and few tenure horror stories.

d. Read your promotion and tenure manual early and often. There is the temptation to avoid looking at the manual until the point when you must. Wrong move. To know your department, college and university’s expectations, read all the manuals early in your career and prepare accordingly. Don’t analyze to the point of paralysis. Ask your dean, director, and/or chair for clarity. Do not rely upon your own understanding.

e. Develop a clear plan for your career. Always have a plan. My parents taught me that early, and I had never applied this to my career until I started my first tenure-track job. At the start of your career, create a three-year plan with the goal being tenure. Take a sheet of paper and have three columns, one for service, teaching, and research. For each year, think about the big bricks of your career path:

What goals do you want to achieve?
What outcomes do you desire to have?
What are the things you need to do per your research, your P&T manual, your department’s expectations?
What research do you need to finish? what is in your research pipeline? what projects do you want to start?
What teaching innovations do you want to integrate into your classroom?
What are the things you want to do for your own career development, personal development, and teaching development?

This is your chance to shape your research agenda (which we talk about a lot in many graduate programs), but also gives you a method to shape your teaching and service goals. Reflect on this before and after you complete it. As you get things done on your lists, mark them off. As you change and grow in your career, some items may not be needed any more so delete or change. But at least create a plan (on your terms) for your own trajectory.

f. Write. As academics, we write syllabi, proposals, papers, book chapters, and textbooks. Even with all that writing, we forget or don’t consider that we are professional writers. This means we have to work continually to improve our craft. Improvement comes with practice so start writing. Do what you need and want to do when it comes to your writing. Read writers you admire. Read about the craft of writing. Write for fun. Join a writers group. Start a writers group with colleagues and use the agraphia group concept from Silvia’s How to Write A Lot.  Write for work and the places you frequent out of work (your friend’s business, your house of worship, your community group, your neighborhood association). But you need to write and practice often.

g. Protect your time. If you don’t protect your time, no one else will. Be honest and use the word “no” often.

These are the things that helped me stay out of the quicksand. Readers, what are the tips and strategies that you used to avoid major pitfalls of the tenure track?

Natalie T. J. Tindall is an assistant professor at Georgia State University, where she teaches courses in strategic communication and public relations. She is a fiction writer, knitter, community volunteer, and occasional half-marathoner between her academic writing, teaching, and service. She can be contacted via Twitter (@dr_tindall) and e-mail (drnatalietjtindall@gmail.com).

Taking time to think about expectations for women in undergraduate science

In Guest Blogger on 2013/03/21 at 01:15
Marie-Claire Shanahan, writing from Edmonton, Alberta in Canada.
 

Decades of research in higher education has sought to understand why students come to STEM fields and why they leave. This has been especially true for women in science degree programs. Efforts such as Sue Rosser’s 1990 Female Friendly Science sought to re-organize science and engineering programs and change teaching practices to attract and retain female students. Drawing on insights from women’s studies and cultural studies, she proposed that they put greater emphasis on cooperative work and practical applications and broaden curricula to include more opportunities to explore the history and culture of science. Decades later, there are still significant gaps in women’s participation and persistence, especially in physics and physics-related engineering disciplines such as mechanical and electrical, despite efforts to overcome preparation deficits, provide role models and mentoring, and build communities for women in sciences.

Accordingly, we must acknowledge this is a more complex problem. There are tangled webs of expectations that influence all students’ experiences in science degree programs. When students arrive on those very first days, they bring with them expectations of post-secondary science education handed down from their families and teachers, in addition to their own. They also run headlong into what their professors, lab instructors and peers expect of them. And sometimes the results are disheartening and hard to navigate.

The programs themselves sometimes create expectations for who students should be.  Lars Ulriksen from the University of Copenhagen has described this as ‘the implied student,’ inspired by the literary concept of the implied reader. This is a way of thinking about all of the assumptions that are embedded in any text about what the reader would and should think and feel. It describes what a reader must bring with them to the text to make sense of it. Analogically, the implied student is seen in the set of expectations placed on students by every element of their degree program, from the course outlines to teaching practices to what the professors, instructors, and peers say and do. All of these paint a picture for students of whether their science program is really for someone like them. And it’s here where many female students encounter difficulties in meeting the expectations.  Karen Tonso’s 2006 ethnography of undergraduate engineers, for example, illustrates several incidents where students struggle with the strongly masculine expectations associated with the implied student in their program.

In order to understand the challenges faced by women in science, I’ve followed the lead of others like Tonso and Heidi Carlone and thought of these expectations as part of an identity process. As students progress in their science studies, part of the learning process is developing an identity within a scientific community. This means seeing yourself as belonging in the community and, through your actions and abilities, receiving that same recognition from others.For example, Carlone and Johnson (2007) worked with 15 successful women of colour in science, meeting them first during their undergraduate studies and following up six years later when most had moved on to graduate studies or medical school. The ease or difficulty of that path from undergraduate studies to graduation and beyond was largely influenced by how much recognition they received from others, such as professors and peers, about meeting the expectations of being a science student. Those who held strong science identities received heartfelt and positive support and feedback from mentors and senior scientists. In contrast, there was another group of women who began their undergraduate studies with interest and motivation in science but became increasingly disillusioned and frustrated. Despite being strong students, their rocky experiences were reflected in the feedback they received from supervisors and professors suggesting that they shouldn’t be there or were not the right kind of science students.

Taking a similar approach, I had the opportunity to work with colleagues who had led the Persistence Research in Science and Engineering (PRiSE) project, where they surveyed college students nationally about their high school science experiences as well as their attitudes towards science in higher education. We looked in particular at students’ physics identities. Two of the main components were how strongly they felt they met the expectations of physics and how much recognition they received from others about meeting those expectations. Those with well-developed physics identities, and who had received important positive recognition, were at least three times more likely to want to pursue a physics degree. And what was single most important predictor of how strongly students held a physics identity? Their gender. Even when high school experiences, GPAs, and career orientations were taken into account, male students had significantly stronger identities, meaning that they saw themselves meeting the expectations of physics better and received more recognition from teacher, parents and peers. This is despite ongoing research showing that male and female students are not very different in the raw skills that they bring to physics programs (e.g.,Hyde & Linn, 2006). As Tonso’s engineering students found, gender expectations related to masculinity and femininity can’t be ignored when we think about what pushes and pulls students in and out of science degree programs.

These kinds of studies show that the constraints felt by female STEM students, and all students, go far beyond academic preparation and ability.  It’s sometimes hard to imagine how expectations like these that come not just from curricula and tests but from every interaction that students have with their professors and their peers can be changed. There are definitely no easy solutions, but it’s important to start thinking about things this way. For example, how can mentorship and development programs not only provide role models and skills but also help students navigate these expectations? How can program leaders and professors begin to ask if there is room to change the implied student that incoming registrants encounter? The first step, at least, is always asking the question.

Marie-Claire Shanahan is an Associate Professor of Science Education & Science Communication at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. When not writing at her blog, Boundary Vision, or hanging out with her students, Marie-Claire is a regular guest host on the science radio program Skeptically Speaking. She also writes about two of her favourite things, science and music, as DJ at the online science pub The Finch & Pea, where she squeezes in as much Canadian independent music as she thinks she can get away with. She tweets as @mcshanahan, can be found on Google+, and reached at mcshanahan at gmail.com.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

It’s your thing!: How the European Commission Is Trying to Attract More Women to Science

In Guest Blogger on 2013/02/12 at 08:47
Guest blogger, Curt Rice, writing from Tromsø in Norway.

Note from the editors: Today we start a new offering on our blog: every few months we will have a theme that we ask guest bloggers to write about for University of Venus. These themed blog posts will run month after month on the last Monday of the month. For January, February, and March, our guest bloggers will be writing about gender equality in science fields, and we’re kicking off our series with a post by Curt Rice, the Vice President for Research and Development at the University of Tromsø in Norway.

Dream jobs, 6 reasons science needs you and Profiles of women in science are three of the areas on a website launched last year by the European Commission to encourage teenage girls to consider science as a career—a website called Science: It’s a girl thing!

The EC’s campaign gave me the opportunity to try out an idea for making a so-called teaser clip that would attract attention to the site; I didn’t want to make the clip myself, but I wanted to see what would happen if I just announced a contest. What if I tried a crowdsourcing experiment?

The contest started when I wrote a piece about the campaign that was published at The Guardian. At the end of that article, I suggested a contest.

Maybe crowdsourcing the creation of a teaser – based on the campaign’s website – would be the best way to find out what could tempt teenage girls to study science. Let’s have a contest. Go to the campaign website and find your inspiration. Think about what could be a meaningful teaser video. And then make it! I’ll show the best one at the European Gender Summit 2012. For more details and the official rules for the contest, see The #ScienceGirlThing Contest.

The response was tremendous and the winners were announced in late November.

There were three crucial success factors, but before I tell you about them, enjoy one of the winning videos!

A few people criticized the crowdsourcing idea as a way to get professionals to do work for free. Even though I was thinking more about school kids making videos than professionals, I could understand this criticism. It was then fortuitous when Brian Schmidt, Nobel Prize laureate in Physics, read one of my tweets about the contest and replied that he would donate prize money. I didn’t know Brian then, but he thought the cause was important enough to support, and his contribution was crucial to the success of the contest. Thank you, Professor Schmidt!

Before I continue to the second important factor, enjoy another one of the three winning videos.

The second key development was when the European Science Foundation came onboard as a co-organizer of the contest. Even with something as anarchistic as a crowdsourcing contest, there is a lot of work to be done—setting up a good website, organizing the submissions, getting sensible materials to the jury members, and organizing the announcement of the winners. ESF took on these tasks and made the contest a much better experience than I ever could have done myself. ESF Chief Executive Martin Hynes also added considerable status to the event by joining the award ceremony and mentioning the contest in his remarks at the European Gender Summit.

The final thing that made a difference is coming below, but first, watch the third winner!

The contest received prize money, status, and excellent organizational support, but none of that would have mattered without the investment of the participants and other supporters. The decisions of many individuals to engage is the final crucial component.

There were tweeters and bloggers who publicized the contest, like Joanne Manaster, who put it on The Scientific American site, from which many others picked it up. There were jury members: the European Parliament was represented by member Antigoni Papadopoulou, the European Commission was represented by Laura Lauritsalo, science educators were represented by Cheryl Miller, who also gathered seven bright and influential girls who also judged the videos. The organizers of the European Gender Summit let us use their networking event to show the videos and announce the winners. To all of you I’ve mentioned here, I want to express my gratitude for making this contest a success.

But there’s one more group to mention—the most important one! The crowdsourcing contest generated about 40 submissions. Most of them can be viewed here; they are as varied and inspiring as the three winners and I encourage you to have a look.

This campaign is built on the premise that targeting teenagers is important for having more women at age 30 or 35 or 40 still in science careers. And while there are many women in medicine, veterinary sciences and biology, the situation in physics and chemistry and several branches of engineering is still quite bad. Indeed, we probably need to aim at even younger aged school children if we want the brainpower of the entire population brought to these fields. And that of course is a core issue in this movement. Drawing 90% of the physicists from 50% of the population means by definition that we’re drawing from the bottom half of the pool of men instead of the top half of the pool of women. It’s not an intelligent use of societies’ intellectual capital. This work is complicated by the increased skewing in school performance, to the favor of girls. So, on the one hand, we have work to do to keep boys in school; on the other hand, we want to break down the barriers in particular fields.

To those who participated by making a video, on behalf of myself and the European Science Foundation, as the two co-organizers of this event, please know that your efforts touched us all. You are the future of science and you let us know: Science: It’s your thing!

An earlier version of this post was published as Science: It’s your thing! 3 steps to a crowdsourcing success! at Curt Rice’s blog. To keep up with Curt’s writing on gender equality, open access and more, follow him on Twitter @curtrice.

This post was also published at Inside Higher Ed

“Deep Thinking”: If Not At the University, Then Where?

In Guest Blogger on 2013/02/12 at 08:44
Guest blogger, Polina Kroik, writing from Eugene, Oregon in the US.

When I decided to enter graduate school, I was attracted by the prospect of studying topics deeply and having the time and the space in which to do so. I wanted to read Kant, Hegel, Joyce’s Ulysses, and develop a mature and independent understanding of literary and philosophical subjects, an understanding that is so different from the superficial comprehension college students are usually asked to demonstrate at the end of the term.

I have gone through two immigrations and my school and college years were marked by financial insecurity. I studied hard, but found it difficult to focus on humanistic projects that, for me, require sustained attention and some confidence in the future. Though I was reluctant to leave the city where I’d gone to college, a graduate education was the only way to remain on the path that I’d chosen, and to become a mature, independent thinker. Having very little financial support to fall back on, the alternative was a taxing full-time job in the city that would have left me very little time for intellectual pursuits.

During my first few years in graduate school, I was indeed able to read extensively in literature and philosophy, and to develop a deeper understanding of a few of these subjects. Even then, though, I felt that I was somehow going against the grain. Students and some faculty regarded me as too serious, too studious. While I was trying to understand the difference between Benjamin’s and Derrida’s concepts of temporality, more worldly students were already developing their brands of academic criticism and networking with faculty. It took me a while to catch on.

I held on to the idea of developing a serious research project, even as I was learning to play the academic game: to vie for senior faculty’s attention; write conference abstracts that sounded “sexy.” I was never great at it, but I plodded along, keeping pace with most of my peers. The problem was that with all these activities, in addition to the responsibilities of teaching, time was becoming scarce. I was left with only a few hours a week that I could dedicate to research, and those hours were also often consumed by e-mail correspondence or anxiety about an upcoming presentation or application for funding.

In my fourth year, I decided to take my dissertation fellowship and move to Oregon, where my sister lived. I wrote almost all of my dissertation during that year, and remained in Oregon for my protracted job search. I have been teaching at a local community college for the past two years, with working conditions that resemble those of my graduate instruction and of many adjunct instructors. I have been lucky to have health insurance and to maintain a relatively light teaching schedule, leaving some time for research.

I realize that different people enter the academy for different reasons: some love to teach; others might prefer collaborative projects to individual essays; another group welcomes the use of technology in the humanities. I respect all these modes of intellectual work and have enjoyed taking part in them. Yet as I explore alternatives to the mythical tenure-track job—where, so I’d been told, some of the time is dedicated to research and thinking—I find no true alternatives. Apart from (some) graduate programs, there is no institutional framework that supports sustained, independent thinking, thinking that is tied neither to economic nor political considerations.

I would like to emphasize this point in light of a 2010 post by Mary Churchill, suggesting that this type of thinking is the legacy of male privilege. While the association with masculinity unfortunately still exists, there is nothing essentially gendered about sustained, deep thinking. Some of our foremost feminist theorists were and are such thinkers. We would not have the work of Simone de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray or Julia Kristeva had women summarily rejected deep thinking as a masculine activity.

While I support the struggle for better working conditions for non-tenure track faculty–recognizing also that the current conditions are often more onerous for women than men–I have begun to question my personal investment in an academic career. Despite some doubts, I often believed that one only had to work hard enough to be admitted into that privileged, hallowed space of academic research. Faculty still give me that sort of advice from time to time: publish more; apply for another post-doc; attend another conference. Yet I doubt now that after all the concessions and compromises, after all the competitive grasping, I will find support for anything that resembles the free and ethical academic research that I had hoped to undertake.

Polina Kroik received a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from UC Irvine in 2011. Her interests include gender and work in American literature, transnational literature, cultural studies, and critical theory. Kroik has guest-edited a special issue of WorkingUSA: The Journal of Labor and Society on the topic of “Contemporary Labor and Cultural Exchange.” She also teaches writing part-time at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon. 

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

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