GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

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Scholars at Risk Network

In Uncategorized on 2014/01/29 at 22:46

I do not know how many of you, readers of this blog, know about Scholars at Risk. It is a global network of universities that has as its main purpose providing safe havens for those scholars who are persecuted in their home countries. Persecution can be understood as anything from prohibiting access to information, to limiting contact to the (inter)national scientific community,  to losing one’s job or even being sent to prison because of one’s research and teaching.

Two success stories are highlighted on the web page of Scholars at Risk. One is Felix Kaputu, a former professor of literature in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who was accused of participating in a separatist movement and then deposed from his university chair and sent to prison in solitary confinement, condemned for life. Another example is Abdul Sattar Jawad, a professor of Comparative Literature and later on Dean of an Iraqi university, who received numerous death threats and who eventually fled the country to save his and his family’s life. Both scholars found a refuge at two universities who invited them, respectively, for two-year temporary teaching positions. They were able to establish a legal residence in the host country, and to continue their academic work. Both of them were able to find positions at other universities after the initial two years in the Scholars at Risk program, escaping the threat of maltreatment in their respective home countries.

The Scholars at Risk network builds on the idea of universities as refuges for threatened scholars. The universities involved in the network promise to provide to the scholars under threat a visiting teaching or research position together with a place to live for a period of two years, during which the scholars would have the chance to develop personal contacts opening the door for other positions at the end of the two-years’ time. The same principle is used by other networks for the protection of political activists whose lives are endangered, such as the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), where writers and activists are hosted by individual cities at the expense of the local government.

It is hard for me, writing from the comfort of my office at a peaceful and rich university in Sweden, to imagine what it is like to wake up and go to bed, day after day, with the feeling that one is a criminal just because one teaches or does research on a topic that some government does not agree with. Or even worse, to wake up knowing that every day may be the last day in the office, in the classroom. I do remember reading the memoirs of public intellectuals active in Eastern Europe during the Communist period. I remember their stories of being sent to long prison sentences involving heavy labor, or being kicked out of the university and prevented from getting a job, any job. Stories of how these dissidents’ relatives could not go to college because of the wrong last name.

This is the reason why initiatives such as Scholars at Risk appeal to my sense of justice and to my belief in academic freedom. The annual prize given to a person with an outstanding contribution to the protection of the public intellectual is named “Courage to Think”. I find that this title says it all.

Anamaria writes from Lund, Sweden. She is one of the founding members of the editorial collective at University of Venus.

Publishing Your Ph.D. Dissertation: Differences in Sweden, UK, and US

In Anamaria's Posts on 2013/06/29 at 00:58
Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund, Sweden

There was a time when university presses, defined not as enterprises but as simple printing facilities, had as primary function the publication/diffusion of research texts produced at the university with which they were affiliated. One of the primary text forms to be published was the doctoral or magisterial dissertation.

The range of readers and buyers of dissertations and other such academic texts has never been very wide, and that posed a series of problems for these academic labels. Should they be self-sustaining and thus work commercially, or should they be financed by the universities themselves? If the latter, should they only publish works produced at the respective “mother” university, or should they be open to research coming from outside? If the former, how can they find a market that would make the publishing profitable?

Looking at the situation today, it comes out clearly that the British and American university presses have chosen the path of the markets, whereas the Swedish ones have remained connected to the university milieu. Let me give you an example. As a Ph.D. graduate from an American university, I know that in order to see one’s dissertation published in book form and not just as an electronic document available through libraries or databases, the fresh Ph.D. must find a publisher oneself. The process is strenuous, and includes revising the text into a more reader-friendly format, pitching the book to publishers, and in case they take the bait, waiting and waiting and waiting for the peer review process to return the manuscript with further changes.

In Sweden the doctor of philosophy does not face the same challenge. The academic writing follows the same standards and the same high demands as elsewhere, with the manuscript being critically evaluated several times and by several readers before being approved. Once the thesis is deemed ready, the doctoral student sends it for publication at the university printing facility, which does not carry the name “university press” but the name of the institution where the dissertation belongs. Every dissertation gets to be published as a book (according to all the standards of the trade). The costs of the publication are covered by the university – in other words, the scholarship that every Ph.D. student in Sweden receives includes a special sum reserved for the thesis publication at the university printing facility.

The Swedish universities have thus the obligation of publishing and distributing the research produced at their departments and colleges but, for the most part, do not have their own publication strategies or thematic series. They most often publish doctoral dissertations, which are then distributed within the national library system. However, this is not a disadvantage in terms of domestic publicity around university research. The Swedish mass media is also often paying attention to new dissertations that get space in national newspapers and radio stations.

The Anglo-Saxon university tradition points to competition as the best way to ensure the quality of academic publications. Not all dissertations get to be books; it is assumed that only the best (or those among the best that have the potential of a wider readership) will be published by academic presses. However, as far as I know, the attention that Ph.D. theses get in the American and British media is bordering on null. I also am left to wonder if there is still a link between a university and its press. Is it so, for example, that researchers based at Cornell University publish their work via Cornell University Press, scholars from the University of Manchester choose (and are chosen by) the University of Manchester Press and so on? My feeling is that this link is very weak.

As a conclusion, the Swedish publication strategy for Ph.D. dissertations is egalitarian and inclusive. Universities here do not have a well-established and separate entity called university press. This can be partly explained by the small market, whose dimensions are restricted by the Swedish language (although this has changed radically since the 1990s, with nine out of ten dissertations at Swedish universities being written in English). English as a global lingua franca for academic research strengthens the market position of American and British university presses, able to attract qualified scholarship from all over the world. Not all Ph.D. theses get published, but those do obtain access to a large number of readers.

Anamaria writes from Lund, Sweden. She is one of the founding members of the editorial collective at University of Venus.

Academics on film: Heroes, Visionaries, Eccentrics

In Anamaria's Posts on 2013/06/10 at 11:58
Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund, Sweden.

I was recently at the cinema and watched a new production based on the biography of political theorist Hannah Arendt. The film portrays Arendt primarily as the author of the controversial book Eichmann in Jerusalem, a book that provoked a wide debate about the nature of evil, responsibility, and nationalism, and nearly cost her her university position. In the culminating scene of the film, Arendt holds an open lecture in the university auditorium in front of a large audience of students, colleagues and (former) friends. In it, she is portrayed as an astute speaker, a convinced and convincing teacher, passionate, articulate and inspiring.

I take with me that picture, and perhaps another one, a short scene preceding the grand finale of the lecture, when Arendt is pressured by the university leadership to give up teaching and she finds support not in her colleagues but in her students. I was inspired and moved by those scenes, and I secretly wished that I would also enjoy the same type of support and special bond with my students.

I recognized suddenly that the image of the good teacher awakened in me by the Arendt film is partly shaped by my previous experiences at the movies. Everyone remembers Robin Williams as the charming, passionate but also naïve and somewhat odd John Keating, teaching English in the “Dead Poets Society” (1989). The image of Robin Williams is complemented by the charming Julia Roberts as Katherine Ann Watson, the art history teacher in “Mona Lisa’s Smile” (2003), a non-conformist, free-thinking person who wants to challenge the conservative conventions of her time (1950s) and to open the lives of her female students to more  options than was acceptable then.
What image of the teacher do these films project? The obvious shared feature is the non-conformist streak. The teacher/professor fights against the norms of her/his institutions, and is progressive, almost a visionary. The teachers on film are heroes of reform, free thinkers, unfettered by the old-fashioned university/college/school rules. This non-conformist attitude is reflected also in their personal style: Arendt chain smokes during her lectures, John Keating the English teacher, walks around campus whistling classical music, and Katherine Ann Watson is unmarried despite being 30 years old.

Secondly these teachers are very adept at establishing good contact with their students. Despite their oddities and idiosyncrasies, they are touching the lives of their students in a more personal and direct way in comparison with colleagues at the same institutions. Students, simply put, love these teachers, and are devoted to them; the emotional bonds between teacher and student are strong, and when the conservative educational structures want to punish the visionary teacher, the students show solidarity, affection and care.

Thirdly, the films present the teachers as somewhat eccentric, living outside the “real world”, not completely isolated but in a bubble of their own. The world of ideas is where they belong, and even though they are inspiring and motivating and even loved by students, they are not made of the same material. To some extent, their non-conformism is both their charm and their failure, as they do not integrate in the “normalcy” of the everyday life.
The image that emerges from these films (and others, surely) is both inspiring and scary. Cinema sets a measuring stick for teachers – the inspiration, the vision, and the student contact. At the same time, it describes them as a minority of eccentrics, whose free-thinking is acceptable as long as their numbers are low. I must confess that I do not approve of this image. Good teachers are not outside the society, but belong right in its middle.

Anamaria writes from Lund, Sweden. She is one of the founding members of the editorial collective at University of Venus.

What makes an academic leader?

In Anamaria's Posts on 2013/03/13 at 10:57
Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund, Sweden. 

In comparison with business and political leaders, leaders in academia appear different (and I use mostly the Swedish/European case as example for my ideas). At least in Swedish universities, academic leadership is collegial and limited in time.

Collegial leadership means that the administrative responsibilities are taken over by one member of the faculty at a time, who becomes a sort of “primus inter pares”. This has consequences for the job criteria: not only must the proposed leader demonstrate managerial capacities (flexible, adaptable, strategic and most of all effective), but she or he must also be a resourceful scholar with a good publication record and deserving academic performance. One obvious problem is that there is no transfer of merits between research and administration. A very good researcher does not automatically make a good academic leader. But since the principle of collegiality must be enforced, the academic performance criterion must be always included, despite its probable lack of relevance, for the sake of legitimacy in the eyes of the other members of the faculty.

The second feature that is particular to the academic leadership is its time-restricted mandate. None of the positions in the administrative hierarchy is permanent; after usually two mandates, the chair/dean/president returns to her/his original position as university teacher. This poses a challenge typical for all limited positions, namely the difficulty of formulating and implementing long-term goals and far reaching transformations.

Moreover, in combination with the collegial idea, the fact that the administrative mandate is time-limited makes highly unlikely the inclination for dealing with deep-seated problems within the institution as well as long-term change. No one would like to take some unpopular decisions during one’s administrative mandate knowing that someday, sooner or later, they will return and be depending on coworkers’ support and collegiality.

A final component of the academic leadership conundrum is the normative component of the academic culture. Traditionally, a “good academic” is a person whose merits fall primarily in the scientific/research areas. Innovative research resulting in new knowledge is the apogee of academic achievement. Taking on an administrative duty means reducing the time left for research; thus administration and leadership are valued not as high as scientific achievements. Because of the necessity of collegial leadership most Swedish academics accept the leadership role, but often their perception of it is that of a “necessary evil”. They see themselves primarily as scholars who temporarily fulfill an administrative role, as persons who have a leadership position, but who are not academic leaders (Rowley & Sherman, 2003).

So, what is your opinion? Who makes a good academic leader? Is it better to be led by “one of us”, who takes by rotation the steering wheel of the institution or better to have a professional manager? Does it make a difference if we think about the chair of a department or the dean of a faculty? And what are the reasons that motivate you to seek positions of academic leadership.


This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Thinking about Academic Tribes

In Anamaria's Posts on 2013/01/20 at 04:36
Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund in Sweden. 
I recently read for the first time a book that for many (most?) is a classic: Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Culture of Disciplines, in its revised edition (2001). I admit that the idea of an ethnography of academic disciplines and their internal codes is a bit narcissistic in the sense that it belongs to the genre of academics studying and writing about academia, but then so is this blog and all the writing about the theories of pedagogy and the analyses of higher education. We as academics have a duty to critically examine our own practices, so that is enough of an argument to read the book and take part in the discussions about the delimitations we tend to draw between our tribes and territories, the two key terms used by the authors  Tony Becher and Paul R. Trowler.

“Academic tribes”, or “small worlds” or “microcultures” as they are variously called, are groupings that take place based on disciplinary boundaries. They are based on the subject and the method of academic investigation within that discipline. They are supposed to be more or less internally coherent and to be governed, however informally, by norms and values developed and internalized over time.

That these tribes exist is now commonplace. What I find interesting are two questions:

1. How widespread or broad are they?

2. How powerful are they to guard access to and the future development of any given discipline?

Academic Tribes: how broad?

The distinction between disciplines is as old as the attempt to study and think about the world. Becher and Trowler distinguish between several dichotomies based on epistemological dimensions: hard vs soft sciences, theoretical vs. applied knowledge. They also identify differences in the practice of the discipline, with variations in research styles, publishing traditions and career paths.

I find these distinctions applicable in my known universe, but also perhaps, too applicable. For example, the hard vs. soft approach to the nature of knowledge can describe the difference between natural sciences and social sciences, but also the one between ethnography and political science, both fields within the social science discipline. Moreover, political science is also divided between a more quantitative and a more qualitative methodological position. And to go to the microlevel, there are universities where political science departments are known to specialize in either the “harder” or the “softer” variant.

This has the consequence that we cannot generalize very much when we discuss “higher education” as a whole. The discussion on the future of the humanities, or their usefulness that has been quite present in the news on higher ed around the world is based on the assumption that there is a unit defined as the “humanities”. But according to the thinking behind the academic microcultures literature, the field is too fragmented to be described (and governed) as one.

The general and global trend has been towards fragmentation/interdisciplinarity and a flourishing of disciplines. There are now very specific fields of inquiry that did not exist 25 years ago, from my own area of specialization, “European Studies”, to “Queer Studies” or “Visual Cultures” or you name it – whichever specific domain that is entitled to define a territory of knowledge with its own boundaries. So, how can we have a discussion about the social sciences or the humanities or about engineering, when we see the growth of new disciplines that mix and match in a multi- or inter- or transdisciplinary fashion?

Academic Tribes: how powerful?

The other aspect I wanted to bring up here is the power of these academic tribes. Are the rules and values and practices valid within a given academic tribe so clearly implemented so that the boundaries of the tribal territory are safeguarded from “unfitting” guests?

If the ethnographic section of Becher and Trowler’s book is to be taken seriously (and I think that it should), then the answer is yes, academic tribes do guard their territories quite fiercely. The upside of this is that disciplines and various professional environments at a smaller scale are kept updated because of the constant knock at the door from new generations of scholars who want to join the tribe.

The downside of this may be the generation of very unitary departments, where hiring policies implicitly follow the principle of the goodness of fit between prospective candidates and the already existing academic culture. “If you are a qualitative political scientist do not even consider applying for a job at university X because they only do quantitative stuff” – this is the line of reasoning one can hear during a job search. Or even worse, if one’s ideological position does not fit with the tribe’s (if you are a feminist in a conservatives’ den or the other way around), the chances of getting a job there are minimal, despite one’s academic merits.

My final thought on this is that one should get to know (or define) one’s academic tribe quite early. It may help in the job search.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Evaluate the Evaluation: Course Evaluations and External Biases

In Anamaria's Posts on 2012/12/02 at 00:08
Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund, Sweden.

Course evaluations: everyone knows them and uses them, but does everyone know what are they good for? Opinions are very much split on how to evaluate the evaluation. University teachers differ from university administrators, for example, when they assign importance to the results of course evaluations. Whereas faculty are more skeptical, administrators rather confidently believe that the responses to end-of-course assessments represent an accurate description of teacher effectiveness (Morgan, Sneed and Swinney 2003).

The truth of the matter is that we do not know for sure what the impact of these evaluations is. Do they really help improve teaching? Do they help improve learning? And perhaps most interestingly, are course evaluations true? I would like to discuss here this last point, and to rephrase it in a milder form: Do course evaluations deliver the answers expected by teachers and administrators? Or do students respond based on assumptions outside the scope of the course?

Research done in several academic environments points out that the students’ answers cannot be taken as facts, but are raw data in need of interpretation and contextualization. In a study performed at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Kwan (1999) reaches the conclusion that students base their answers on factors external to the course. This is reflected in the following four observations:

1. Humanities courses tend to get better evaluations than science courses, regardless of the variation within the respective curricula;

2. Courses  with fewer students (the borderline is at around 20) get much more positive evaluations than large courses;

3. Courses at the advanced level get slightly better evals than those at the basic level;

4. Optional courses are better appreciated than obligatory ones.

I do not wish to engage here with the possible explanations of these results, even though, of course, it is very interesting to investigate why these phenomena happen,  I concern myself here with the accuracy of course evaluations. If a teacher is assigned a mandatory first-year course with one hundred students, she is very likely to get poorer results on the course evaluations than a colleague teaching a smaller, optional course for the third-year students. And this is regardless of the actual pedagogical skills and competence of the persons in question!

In another very recent study, this time on Swedish students active on a site equivalent to the US “Rate My Professor”, Karlsson and Lundberg (2012) analyze 98 assessments of faculty from across the universities in Sweden. They come to the conclusion that there is a clear gender and age bias in the ratings provided on the site. Younger teachers tend to obtain lower marks in comparison with more senior faculty. Women teachers also consistently receive poorer ratings in comparison with their male counterparts. The effects are worse if the two negative factors are combined: if you are a young female teacher your evaluations are likely to be significantly below those of a senior male teacher at the same institution.

The Swedish study corroborates with the earlier investigation on students at US universities by Sprague and Massoni (2005). They asked almost 300 students the decievingly simple question “who was the best respectively the worst teacher you have ever had?”.  The answers reveal, among other things, the “Ginger Rogers effect”: in order for a women teacher to obtain the same level of recognition they need to invest more energy and emotional commitment in their students in comparison with a male teacher. Or, as one of my colleagues put it, as a women faculty member “one has to do the same dance steps, but in high heels”.

As we have seen, factors extrinsic to the course affect the evaluation results and do not provide an accurate description of the teacher’s effectiveness. Moreover, evaluations need to be properly situated in their cultural and social context, as students who respond to them often share the general prejudices and stereotypes that are the norm in a given society. Before judging teacher performance, tenure assessment committees should certainly evaluate the course evaluation.

Karlsson, Martin och Erik Lundberg. 2012. “I betraktarens ögon – Betydelsen av kön och ålder för studenters läraromdömen.”  Högre utbildning 2:1, 19-32.

Kwan, Kam‐por. 1999. ” How Fair are Student Ratings in Assessing the Teaching Performance of University Teachers?”. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 24:2

Morgan, Donald A., John Sneed and Laura Swinney. 2003. “Are student evaluations a valid measure of teaching effectiveness: perceptions of accounting faculty members and administrators”, Management Research News, 26 (7): 17-32.

Sprague, Joey and Kelley Massoni. 2005. “Student Evaluations And Gendered Expectations: What We Can’t Count Can Hurt Us.” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research 53, 11‐12: 779‐793.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

The More Education, The Better

In Anamaria's Posts on 2012/10/20 at 00:29

Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund, Sweden. 

The more education the better for each and all. So why are there not enough resources?

Just this past week the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released its annual report, Education at a Glance. In a comparative fashion the study provides the most recent statistical data, country by country for all the 34 members of the organization, about the number of students, the type of education they follow and what they do after they graduate. Other measurements included in the report are education spending (public and private), teachers’ workload, teachers’ tasks and teachers’ salaries, as well as the gender gap, the social mobility and the accessibility of education to different groups in the society. A special section is dedicated to the analysis of economic and social benefits of education, measuring the extent to which having an education translates into economic gains for individuals, as well as the social impact of having a population with a large percentage of educated people.

This report is very timely, since only at the beginning of September 2012 the European Commission (EC) and its special expert group published a report on literacy in Europe, showing some alarming numbers. Even if the EC has a special campaign on improving literacy (“Europe Loves Reading”), the numbers do not show this love being spread in the general public. In concordance with earlier published numbers, 20% of the adults in Europe lack the necessary literacy skills to propel them on the job market, and 20% of the European 15-year olds did not possess sufficient reading skills in 2009, a number that stagnated until today.

Both the OECD and the High-level expert group of the European Commission concur. Poor literacy and from there insufficient education has a negative social impact on pretty much all accounts as it is connected to unemployment, social exclusion, criminality, political absenteeism. Low literacy and low education levels are also connected to widening the gender gap as well as the gap between migrants and the local population.

The numbers are clear. In the OECD population, those with a university degree tended to earn more than those without it, up to 55% more. On the contrary, those at the lowest end of the education echelon, who lacked a high school degree, were likely to earn up to 23% less than their co-generationals who graduated from secondary education. Getting a university degree makes one more likely not only to earn more but to secure a job more easily. Among those with higher education diplomas, only 17% are unemployed, in comparison with 44% of those without high school education. Finally, having a university degree improves the overall quality of life: university graduates tend to live longer, to express a higher satisfaction with life in general, and to participate more actively in politics and civil society activities.

This information is not new. The most recent reports confirm earlier trends. So the only wonder I am left to have is: how come we do not do more for education, for literacy? For governments it would be an investment in the future of their country. What can be wrong with a well-educated population that is prosperous, healthy, and takes part in politics and civic life? What can be wrong with a population that is able to read and write in a time where literacy (and especially computer literacy) is the key to having a job? This would decrease the costs of unemployment and the associated social unrest and would raise the amount of money circulating in the economy, thus making the economy grow and generating a virtuous circle (provided that some of the surplus is reinvested in education). Even for the private education providers, making education more accessible and of better quality would increase the total amount of money going back into teaching and research, as it is also demonstrated that educated people tend to invest in the education of their children or support research through donations and funds.

How come we do not do more for education? Yes, in order to answer this question one almost feels prone to believe in conspiracy theories. Or in politicians working from the assumption that voters do not care about education and can be fooled with cheap tricks like talking to empty chairs.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

The Perils and Temptations of Plagiarism

In Anamaria's Posts on 2012/09/22 at 05:15
Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund, Sweden.  

I remember that, as a child, I loved to copy in a notebook the best parts of the literature I was reading.  I would taste the words in my mouth as I was transferring them from the page of the book and jotting them on my little pad, thus enjoying them even more. I must admit that secretly, I wished it were I who authored those pretty phrases, I who had found those brilliant and unexpected pairings between adjectives and nouns. But even if I was just the scribe taking down the notes of the divine inspiration of others, the activity of repeating the path of their pen was pleasurable and, later on, inspirational.

In some non-Western traditions, to reproduce faithfully the words of canonical authors is considered not a crime, but an  homage. It is as if these great writers have succeeded in putting into words the essence of an idea. To try to change anything in their expressions, in the turn of their phrases, would be to insult their craftsmanship, to put into question their talent. The pupil can only hope to copy the words of the master, in the hope that they will serve as medium for inspiration.

I have noted this trend when grading the papers of those of my students coming from outside the Western world. More than once I was met in the pages of the exams by words that sounded very familiar, too familiar: my own words that the students carefully took down during the lectures and that now returned to me as the embodiment of the best, or at least most correct, of the answers to the exam questions. When I confronted them with the accusation of plagiarism, they did not understand. Was it not the purpose of the exam to answer the question correctly? They thought that those words, my words, carried the seal of legitimacy, sanctioned as they were by me, the teacher.

In order to explain that what they have done was wrong, I had to go back and clarify that the point of the exam was not just to answer the questions correctly, but to do so with their own words, in their own way, bringing up their own examples. Only this would be proof that they understood the lectures, the course literature and the theories presented therein and that they could independently apply the abstract notions introduced earlier in the course to specific situations that they themselves chose as appropriate.

Plagiarism is not a crime unless originality, individuality and authorship have the weight of legal and social norms. Our love of the “original” as in the primary/unique version of a work of creation is not necessarily shared by other cultures. In other parts of the world, the social norm says that the value of something is not diminished by its reproduction in millions of copies. On the contrary, it increases: the more copied, thus the more famous, and ultimately the better the product.

Ideas, like products, are likely to spread widely if they are deemed to be good. The key here is acknowledging the sources. Quoting and making explicit one’s sources is to admit their importance – if not more, at least for provoking a reaction. Not referencing is a mark of dishonesty, and implies that one doing so lacks the capacity to reformulate or critically assess previous works.

For the sake of the argument though, let us also admit that sometimes our greatest inspirational sources remain unknown even to ourselves.  Perhaps those notebooks of quotes that I put together as a child are still somewhere in the cellars of my literary memory and that they emerge from there unacknowledged. If all creativity is combinatorial, then the plagiarism of ideas (omitting the parenthood of an idea) is more of a crime of inspiration and a fault of the imagination.  To use an oft cited quip, “all ideas are second-hand”, but some of their combinations may be entirely novel.

Additional references:

Harvard Guide to Using Sources: A Publication of the Harvard College Writing Program. What Constitutes Plagiarism?

Maria Popova (2011). “Networked Knowledge and Combinatorial Creativity”. Brain Pickings.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

How to remain productive over the summer

In Anamaria's Posts on 2012/08/28 at 04:49
Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund, Sweden. 

Summer is here, and for most of us it is also spelled as v-a-c-a-t-i-o-n: sunny days, ice cream, mint juleps, children at play, and long family evenings. But this is not all there is to it…

In a recent post, I was writing about the constraints that internationalization imposes on the academic schedule even during the summer. This year, I am concerned with how I can remain productive while enjoying some relaxed days away from office.

The first dilemma I face is whether or not I should have my computer with me during the vacation weeks. Most of the time I hesitate to carry it around.  It is heavy and when computing in the weight of my carry-on luggage, I do not feel that its added value really amounts to that much. On the other hand, can I be entirely disconnected from the world? Do I want to be out of reach? And how about the key word here, productivity?
I argue that there are ways to be productive without a computer on board. In terms of communication and email, a smart phone is enough to keep in touch with what is going on with one’s students or with other relevant news and activities from the academic world. Checking the Internet once a day or every other day should satisfy most needs and, with WiFi increasingly available in hotels and restaurants, this process is convenient in almost every country.

Productivity is not measured in the number of pages written. So one can travel without a computer and focus not on writing but on reading and/or sorting out gathered research material. I see the summer vacation as a great opportunity to read, and after the first (or second) novel, I feel ready to dive into the academic book pile I gather during the semester. I find reading academic books and articles to be quite relaxing; reading them gives me inspiration and excitement, it stimulates my imagination and gives me new ideas for my courses or for my research. Even if I do take notes when I read these books, I prefer more often than not to keep their main ideas in my memory, sort of “baking” slowly at the back of my mind.

Depending on the type of work that one is involved with, one can also use the holiday weeks as a time to go through their research material. I am currently working on a project that uses photographs of Eurosymbols as one type of empirical material. I find the sorting of pictures, their categorization and mapping, a pleasant activity that is not categorized as “work”. Once this groundwork is completed I can proceed to the write-up of my findings in the shape of articles and conference papers, which I save for my active work days. Summer, however, gives me that time to put order to the data and into my own thoughts.

Finally, since the word “conference” has slipped into my post, one can consider combining business and pleasure and use the destination of a conference as a starting point of holiday travel. Most of the time, the cities hosting conferences are interesting to explore in themselves. If this is not the case, or if they are already well-known destinations, one can use them as departures for a larger exploration of a region or a country. For example last year, several colleagues enjoyed the amazing landscape of Iceland after having participated at a conference in that country’s capital, Reykjavik.

I wish you all a pleasant and productive summer

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Life After Ph.D.: How to retain capacity in academia

In Anamaria's Posts on 2012/07/04 at 07:58

Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund, Sweden.

We have recently learned that many women choose to leave academia after getting their doctoral degree, and women are not the only ones deciding against a career in higher education. Especially in the hard sciences, many researchers prefer to work in their respective industries or in special research institutes. More money, a shorter path between the project stage and the practical implementation, and more effective administration are some of the reasons why this is the case.

Universities are concerned with this flight of research and teaching capacity, and rightfully so. If the most talented and driven scholars choose to move outside the academia, then the universities will no longer fulfill their goal to be at the forefront of the production of new knowledge. Besides the loss of prestige and regress in scientific results, universities would then be at risk of losing important financial support both from companies and donors.

In order to increase the capacity to retain scholars with a record of excellence in academia, and in particular those that have benefited from the support of the universities during their Ph.D., universities need to develop special programs aimed at junior scholars. Lund University (LU), the place where I work, is one of the schools where such a program has been developed.

Under the name luPOD (abbreviation for Lund University Post-Doctoral course), the university designed a one year program destined to increase the marketable skills of the junior scholars working at LU. (It is interesting that luPOD is born out of another, earlier, initiative targeting the group of junior women scholars. Since then LU decided that not only women but all researchers at the beginning of their careers are in need of support and expanded the program to include both genders).

  • Mentorship
  • Some of the strategies used during luPOD are familiar matter to University of Venus readers . One of them is mentorship (discussed also here), where junior and senior scholars are paired with the help of a database constructed on the basis of recommendations and of previous experience. One can choose a mentor from one’s own discipline if one judges that it is the academic research that needs more support. Or one could choose a mentor from the administrative side of university life, or from one with high pedagogical skills or another with a good record of attracting external funding. No matter what, the mentors are there to help, guide, and inspire the more junior scholars.
  • Networking
  • Another strategy is to create networks both horizontally and vertically (and here the University of Venus Networking Challenge comes easily to mind as a similar attempt). Vertically, through the mentorship initiative, younger and more senior higher education professionals get in touch and learn to know each other. The more experienced scholars roll the ball further by inviting their mentees to relevant reunions and conferences where they are likely to meet like-minded people. Horizontally, each luPOD group has one year of joint work and meetings at least once a month (including two overnight stays) to build connections with each other. In the future, when these young scholars will step up in the hierarchy, they will have each other’s support and perhaps would continue to “give forward”.
  • Improved skills
  • Thirdly, the luPOD participants will be improving their pedagogical skills through special workshops. They will also benefit from career advice on how to present themselves and their research in a more convincing fashion, how to write better grant applications, and how to start their own businesses. Not everyone will be interested in all of the things above, but the hope is that everyone will find at least something of relevance to their own career.

Since I myself have started luPOD this year (the first get-to-know-each-other meeting took place in May) I will have the chance to report from the field, so to speak, about the transposition of these goals into practice. For now, the least that can be said is that I am very glad this initiative exists and that, on paper, it bids well for the future.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.