GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Author Archive

When Can You Call Yourself a Writer?

In Uncategorized on 2014/01/28 at 22:15

Whether you are applying for a job or you are trying to brand yourself, you should find yourself a certain qualification. This is more crucial than ever in Germany, where an academic title and a clear description of your job is very important. For instance, if your title is “Writer” on your business card, you should explain what your writing is about, how many books you wrote, and how many are ready to be published. And, more specifically, what is your expertise to cover such a variety of topics, from institutional communications to history and foreign affairs? In other words, did you get the proper qualifications – to be read as certificates and examination after classes at a recognized university – that will give you enough credibility to sell your book to your readers?

However, outside the German-speaking space, the designations are easier and less debatable. As long as you write well-written books that sell, the variety of topics approached are part of the outstanding qualities of the writer who is able to update his or her knowledge on a specific topic accordingly, and acquire enough information that may go beyond the classical reproduction of the sources. When you successfully sell more than 100 copies each week, you don’t need to be the successful graduate of a school of literature. Your novel was good enough to be appreciated by the readers.

In my broad acceptance of the term, everyone able to produce original and quality writing on a topic can be considered an author. He or she can publish regular blog posts or cook books or articles on home affairs; the quality of being an author applies to all cases. Alternatively, it can also be a journalist working as a freelance or regular contributor to a specific media institution or website of syndicated news.

On the other hand, I will keep the title of writer for someone with a serious record of publishing in the domain of human sciences. According to my romantic acceptance of the term, a writer needs to be someone with less connection to reality but with bold wings for flying high in the clouds of imagination. His or her work can cover history as well, at least under the genres of memoirs or biographies, but more specifically it should be work of free imagination, as it is the case of novels or poetry.

Can a writer be a blogger or a journalist too? Of course, and this happens regularly with many talented writers who also want to keep one foot strongly in the world of the 2.0 realities. But those contributions are done from the position of the writer descending into the public space. It does not mean that the writer has more experience than the average citizen in the life of the city and many examples from more recent history have proven the opposite. However, with the power of the words, a writer can shake unjust and corrupt governments better through the messages of the books than the public discourses. This is part of the magic art of the genuine writer.

Berlin, Germany

Ana Dinescu is a regular contributor to University of Venus and a journalist for ten years for Romanian daily newspapers and is currently a communications consultant, living in Berlin.

Can you give up your academic glamour?

In Ana's Posts on 2013/06/17 at 05:24
Ana Dinescu, writing from Berlin, Germany. 

Picture this: one day, after a morning when you desperately tried to cope with a schedule without anything related to your academic credentials, that continued with a less academic business meeting and an even less intellectual afternoon of careful family budget planning, you have a moment of truth. For almost ten years, or even more, you had had a hard time trying to get the best grades at the university and read all the complicated and sophisticated books included in the bibliography.

After you obtained your degree, you applied for grants while you continued reading, submitting proposals for articles in foreign languages, applying for jobs, and even adding teaching to your job experience. Your MA work went smoothly, but you also wanted to be one of the best students despite that the financial support was not enough, and you needed to work long hours for basic survival. Eventually, your professional achievements were impressive and you moved beyond the day-by-day subsistence. Happy to succeed, you considered that it would offer more freedom in pursuing your academic goals, buying more books and getting the independent funding for covering the participation at academic conferences all over the world.

And everything went so well that shortly after the MA was finished, you did not hesitate to enroll immediately in a Ph.D. program. Thus, you could keep yourself busy for another full 5-6 years, during which you learned how to juggle wearing different hats: your professional activities, the intense academic learning and, if time was left, a personal life. Preparing a Ph.D. means more than focusing on the exams and other bureaucratic aspects of the thesis. It means building a credible profile that spans collaboration to prestigious reviews, chapters included in serious academic volumes, and presentations at various conferences. Not to mention acquiring the proper academic skills and the never-ending work of editing and re-editing and editing again of your paper.

And suddenly, you are done. You may suffer for awhile because you don’t have too many things to do after you finish your regular 8-hours per day schedule. Or you may try to apply for a conference presentation, or write a book or maybe an article once in awhile. But as long as you are not directly and constantly connected to academic life, after a while you don’t mind if you have not read anything relevant to your topic of research for more than half a year. You may be happy now: you have an academic title, precious for your social recognition, and surprisingly many people may not have any idea of your previous unsuccessful struggle to balance the professional, personal and academic life. Your relatives will be proud or envious of you, and you may hear from time to time observations about your high IQ.

Otherwise, for the medium term, you may have in mind a very easy lifestyle, in which you will continue to read and also write, but when you need to do it without any pressure of the deadline and obligations to cope with various editorial observations and style requirements.

It is not fatigue or academic failure. It is simply the freedom to enjoy a temporary break that may last 5 months or 5 years or even more. The skills acquired during the long years of hard study are now part of your personality, so do not hurry to complain about the waste of time. Whatever you do, you will do it from the perspective of an intellectual-in-development. Don’t worry: you can’t stay out of the mind games for too long.

Berlin, Germany

Ana Dinescu is a regular contributor to University of Venus and a journalist for ten years for Romanian daily newspapers and is currently a communications consultant, living in Berlin.

Yet Another Plagiarism Scandal in Germany

In Ana's Posts on 2013/06/08 at 21:50
Ana Dinescu, writing from Berlin, Germany

Another German high-official was recently in the middle of a discussion about a supposedly problematic Ph.D. thesis. After the popular politician and defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the Education minister, Annette Schavan was accused of using other people’s works for her doctorate completed in 1980. Ironically enough, Schavan, a close collaborator of German chancellor Angela Merkel, had among other responsibilities, the duty to oversee the activity of universities, including those in relation to the awarding of doctoral degrees.

The question about the originality of Schavan’s thesis was opened by a blogger, but the ex-minister denied the accusations and threatened legal action. Heinrich Heine University of Dusseldorf, which awarded her the title in 1980, decided to revoke her doctorate, but Schavan did not agree with the decision announcing the possibility to request justice in the reestablishment of her academic rights. Thus, the decision to quit was rather aimed at avoiding the unpleasant situation of having a Minister of Education fighting against an institution in her direct responsibility.

As in the case of zu Guttenberg, there were speculations about political games involved in the revelation of the plagiarism, and the truth is somewhere in the middle. The process, if started, may last for a couple of months, if not years, and in terms of image prejudice, the damage is harder to correct than to prevent. Shortly after the decision of the University of Dusseldorf, Schavan’s honorary doctorate awarded by the University of Cairo in 2009 was retired as well. Most probably others will follow the example.

When an academic becomes a politician, the world may appear differently. First of all, he or she may not have too much time to update the bibliography, read and go to conferences. I often wonder if a Minister of Education with a strong academic background can be a better manager. Of course, it is important to have in this position a minister familiar with the educational system, and with university studies, but the qualities of a manager are acquired through a different type of training. Also, it is rather more important that the minister has around him or her good counsels with direct involvement in the academy who can provide the proper insights about the problems faced by the system.

As in other similar cases of doctoral plagiarism among German politicians, this latest case offers another perspective on the local academic life. In the whole German-speaking realm, the academic titles opened the door to high social prestige and appreciation. In a way, it is the normal reward after years of hard study and personal constraints. On the other hand, the titles – one or two or even more Ph.D.s and other honorary titles – are not a guarantee for moral accountability. There should be, and there are, high societal expectations for the holders of those titles. But I am not quite sure to what extent ethics are part of the compulsory curricula for Ph.D. candidates. Maybe the rush and pressure to become a doctor – for family, social, and even for financial reasons – leads one to ignore the human element of the title. Maybe it is lacking humility that the title is not the end of the journey, but the beginning of a new stage, when the new academic contributes with humility to the changing of his small academic domain.

Berlin, Germany

Ana Dinescu is a regular contributor to University of Venus and a journalist for ten years for Romanian daily newspapers and is currently a communications consultant, living in Berlin.


How and when do you plan your academic year?

In Ana's Posts on 2013/02/06 at 11:22

Ana Dinescu, writing from Berlin, Germany

This is the time when most of us with an active social and professional life are about to plan in detail the benchmarks of the next 12 months, and evaluate what has been working and what needs improvement. Some do this by themselves, and others use professional coaching experts and consultants that can help evaluate successes and failures.

Goals may vary. The aim may be to be as good as possible, to make the best deals for publishing our books, or to upgrade our career paths.

If you are looking for a serious and solid career, you can not avoid such moments of professional and personal introspection. On a human level, we often operate similarly to the banking system. We carefully calculate the value of our time and personal investments, and withdraw our involvements from projects and ideas deemed to fail.

The risk of such long-range perspective is that we forget sometimes to plan our daily present tasks with the same attention. For instance, we might want to write the greatest book of our life in the next five years, but this will not be possible if we only repeat this mantra each and every day. It means that we must learn a lot about publishing, develop a network of contacts in the academic domain of interest for our book, follow the latest trends in our topic, and improve our writing skills, among other things. If we focus most of our creative energies on the moment, at the end of the day, we will have a lot of lessons learned to think about and to further develop in our next professional adventures.

This is one of the reasons why, for me, more important than the long-term planning is how I succeed to get the best of each and every day. As I do have a quite busy professional schedule, my academic and overall writing plans are usually considered very early in the morning or late in the evening. Due to limited time, I must be careful and make the best choices and opportunities to learn what I need, and to stay updated with the best work in my domain of study.

Especially when life is split between professional, academic life, and family requirements, time is one of our most precious assets, and time management is an art that you should apply punctiliously. It may look like a very stressful daily landscape, but in fact, I feel that I can achieve more on all planes: I avoid the monomaniacal pursuit of the ‘big’ objective in my life, and I gather a lot of small, interesting opportunities that will help me to build the human dimension of my daily life. Thus, I avoid being a robot that is afraid of failures, because the failures are the end of its inner functioning mechanism. I need mistakes and errors as I need achievements, because they allow me to correct my vision and move on to a different path.

More important than the planning is the daily awareness of the need to evaluate each of our steps. You don’t need to wait for twelve months to pass to get the best life lessons. Try instead to use the best of each of the 24 hours of the day.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Crowdsourcing lessons for academics

In Ana's Posts on 2013/01/10 at 11:59
Ana Dinescu, writing from Berlin, Germany

Academics, mainly those from the domain of human sciences, do not like to be reminded too much about various economic and business-like terms. However, some business models and ideas from the world of economics will help not only greatly improve the financial situation, but will also give a new impetus to the quality of the academic work as such.

For instance, one of the first incentives for academics could be towards a more organized system when it comes to writing financial proposals for grants. With the help of a clear plan of objectives, evaluated regularly – weekly or monthly – the scholar(s) will improve to a great extent their chances of getting more funding in the near future. Moreover, it will add quality to new grants and thus create a more successful academic life. As the economic crisis diminished considerably the sources of funding for academic research, mainly in the human sciences, the donors are most likely ready to offer the their support only to those able to cope with the highest standards not only in terms of quality but also those who are able to report as competently as any financial department of a company. Even though it might be a bothersome task – and very often it is the last thing you want to do it after reading thousands of books and reading hundreds of pages of research – doing so it is a message of appreciation for the work behind the funding one receives.

Another important lesson that the academics need to consider when doing their research is the lesson offered by the crowdsourcing methods. The term, introduced relatively recently into business vocabulary, is not such a novelty; even though the core of a book or paper is an original and new angle, it could reveal new aspects of a certain issue. When crowdsourcing, the viability of research is done through a system when the ‘crowds’ (meaning various readerships) give their feedback. This is how the peer review works and this is how dictionaries and encyclopedic works were produced. An example of crowdsourcing is Wikipedia. Even though it is not recommended as an academic source, it involves a multiplicity of sources produced by various contributors. The academics themselves can contribute to increase the accuracy of the information posted there; it is very simple to set up an account and to post information or correct the errors. Some academics may consider such an approach as too futile for their high academic concerns, but being an intellectual means more than being proud of your best achievements and your new book: it means taking stances and sharing your knowledge with the world.

Crowdsourcing your knowledge means also the acknowledgement of the fact that, beyond the hard individual work that each graduate needs to do for his or her academic curriculum vitae, there are other elements that need to be added for a quality work. One of the most important is to rely on the power of the feedback and the need to learn together with others. We do not become scholars overnight, only by going to conferences or participating in different discussions. However, most of the work is done through collaborative efforts and open discussions. Your knowledge does not add any value if not shared, and through sharing, you can help others to have a better understanding. You can also correct and even change your own assumptions. Teaching and sharing knowledge, as a teacher or as a scholar, is more than presenting your conclusions, bibliography and waiting for the others to accept or reject it. It means also understanding that it is important to learn from others and give them the option to share their own opinions.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

The Risks of Being an Independent Researcher

In Ana's Posts on 2012/11/18 at 00:12
Ana Dinescu, writing from Berlin, Germany.

Initially, I wanted to write about ‘the benefits’ instead of mentioning a term with intrinsic conflicting, and not always positive, connotations. On the other hand, while trying to make a mental summary of my ideas, I discovered that, in fact, the option of being an independent researcher may present several serious challenges.

For someone – as me – not too keen on dedicating too much time and energy to the bureaucratic constraints of the normal academic life, being an independent researcher is the only possible option that allows me to continue my academic interests without being fully part of the academic system as such. It means, for instance, being able to do my own research for various books and academic articles and other research. In my ideal world, as long as I know what I am looking for and I am respecting the highest academic standards, I should not worry about developing any inferiority complex in comparison with my regular academic friends and competitors.

However, there is an important problem to consider when thinking of starting such an adventure: the money. Especially when you are at the very beginning, you will need to have serious credentials in order to get at least 25% of the usual funding dedicated to regular researchers. Your credentials might be perfect, with many published books and articles, but so are those of many of the academics teaching in universities. From a financial perspective, many organizations and institutions keen to sponsor research – fewer in the last 24 months for obvious reasons related to the financial crisis – would be happy to have a certain level of control over the ways in which the funds are used. Consequently, they could obviously prefer the classical type of academic and open their accounts to their needs.

Another aspect that does not have too much to do with the level of academic achievement as such is the time that you should dedicate to non-academic activities: you need to network more, spend more time blogging and following marketing and PR strategies aimed to reach your intended audience. And, very often, if you really want to have a constant source of revenue for a good life for you and your family, you must sometimes to play the practical card and use your brain and your time for non-academic activities, such as editing or journalism or PR. At least for a few months, you should put aside some free time for your academic adventures besides the usual time dedicated to your daily work.

Stereotypically speaking, any beginning is difficult and you should be optimistic enough to hope that every mistake and failure will help you to do better the next time. But, on the other hand, I do not see any way around it, and thus, I should organize my time to get the best start for a new academic adventure. I would rather take the risk than think that it will be too hard for me to wait until I will be ready to enter the classic academic market.

PS: Any suggestions and ideas are more than welcomed!

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

When your books are not enough

In Ana's Posts on 2012/10/09 at 06:40
Ana Dinescu, writing from Berlin, Germany. 

Let’s say that you have spent almost 20 years of your life learning and reading and writing and now it is about time to finally be on your own, outside the university gates. Your parents are proud of you, your neighbors and friends are envious of your achievements, even though you might have no idea what you want to say in your Ph.D. paper and know even less about how the Ph.D. graduate succeeds at buying his or her clothing and daily food. On various occasions, I am asked what the medical domain is that I am covering as long as I am a doctor. Then, I should answer embarrassed that I am not ‘that kind of doctor’ and that my doctoral knowledge won’t save any life at all.

You can consider yourself happy and proud of your work, but the hurry to enter the real world will diminish the enthusiasm a bit. This could be only the beginning of the new journey into a world where regardless of your impressive knowledge, you will need to pay bills, manage your online bank account and download your books ordered on the Internet onto your Kindle.

Very often, the financial pressure – mostly when you need to pay your loans – is what drives many Ph.D.s to go in the world of working at an age when you do not have much time to acquire new skills at the same pace as when you are 20 or 25. The expectations of the market are high, and if you want to have at least a survival salary you should get ready for disappointments.

Any highly educated graduate uses a computer regularly and even has a basic knowledge of social networks, but being able to use various Microsoft Word applications and editing software will help to improve the skills of a Ph.D. candidate for an editorial job, for instance. Learning how to write academic prose might be part of the basic schedule of any university, but it is more than desirable to cope with various writing styles and concision. It is true that a rich vocabulary denotes a high IQ, but it is not always the case to use long and complicated sentences when you are requested to write a grant application, a book, or an application for a scholarship.

Last but not least, a Ph.D. should have her own social network with people with whom she doesn’t necessarily need to share a discussion about phenomenology, but should, instead, be able to get some ideas about how the world outside the university looks, and to understand the basics of social, economic and political life.

I am convinced that I am exaggerating to a certain extent and there are more and more Ph.D. graduates have a deep knowledge of  social life, despite the high level of specialization of their studies. What is important, in my opinion, is that both worlds meet and exchange experiences. It is never enough to read books and publish regularly, but it is even more relevant to be able to share your experiences and knowledge and make change happen. I apologize for not being able to save lives, but at least I hope that my knowledge could help add a drop of better understanding.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Why do you write?

In Ana's Posts on 2012/09/05 at 02:37
Ana Dinescu, writing from Berlin, Germany. 

As a student, you need to learn how to write your papers properly in accordance with the highest academic standards. You write because you want to get good marks that will help you to find a well-paid job that eventually can help you to pay the debt contracted for affording your elitist university studies.

If you consider that it is not enough and you have enough financial possibilities for continuing your studies, you will enroll for some coursework as a post-graduate and even as a PhD candidate, and even more, in post PhD classes where your writing skills will be permanently needed. You should write and read continuously to prepare your papers, but also to submit articles to various academic publications. You need to get ready to write your dissertation and to also think about publishing your research in books.

Sometimes, you may even be requested to edit other people’s books. In order to expand your academic credentials and to win visibility among your academic peers, you should submit abstract after abstract for participating in conferences where, you guessed correctly, you will need to write papers intended to present your academic results to the noble audience.

I am not sure now if academic life requests more writing than reading skills, but in any case, writing could be considered the confirmation of the academic qualities of anyone aspiring to a prestigious position in the academia.

Writing is a noble activity and there are many people who cannot live without writing and sharing their ideas in words. On the other hand, you might have a reason for doing it, besides answering to the hard pressure of the academic life, right? I am not part of the academic establishment myself, but I can confirm that many of those I know who are there succeeded with tremendous effort and sacrifice. The quantity and quality of the academic writing – I avoid referring to academic production, but sometimes I feel that you should be like a machine producing ideas and words night and day – is a reliable business card for being accepted in the academia. When you introduce yourself you should necessarily mention, as in the case of many biographies of authors in publications such as The New York Review of Books, the last book edited or published. And if you did not produce one yet, at least you need to assure your audience that you have worked on the manuscripts of at least two amazing books.

I do not intend to present a cynical picture, but I suppose that in the middle of the fight for academic recognition, you might ask yourself at least once a day: why I am writing? What do I want to change through my work? What new things do I want to add to my academic domain and to what extent can I improve, correct and develop current studies in this field?

Only by having such questions in mind permanently can we give a sense to our temptation to write as much as possible. We should also assume that some articles are good, and some do not say anything interesting, and thus it is better to delay the publication. Sometimes it is too early to say something; sometimes it is better to invest more in refreshing your style. Take a break, enjoy the summer and relax because even though you did not write something in the last 12 months, it does not mean that you are an academic failure.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Who needs serious reading nowadays?

In Ana's Posts on 2012/08/25 at 04:38
Ana Dinescu, writing from Berlin, Germany. 
Inspired by this post by my virtual colleague at the University of Venus, I decided that once again I will address the issue of the importance of reading. At first glance, my statement sounds like an ’ideological’ statement, but it is far from being one. As someone used to reading as much as possible, regardless of the domain of study (but especially political science and history books), I find it very often painful to discover that books do not play an important role in the life and time management plans of many current students, future intellectuals and elites.

But, despite my opinion, the reality seems to send a different message from my wishes. Through my various contacts with former and current students – from the basic university level to the Ph.D. students – I have discovered that some prefer to find their inspiration in various abstracts of articles or books without being at least curious to explore the classical sources for their approach. Most likely, the bibliography includes many books published after the year 2000, but few from the beginning of the 20th  century, for instance. It is true that the rhythm of publishing is amazing and it is very difficult nowadays to cover all the classical sources needed, but on the other hand, without those sources you can hardly understand at times the base of the theoretical constructions. For example, you cannot write about leadership without mentioning the works of Max Weber whose perspectives were used for a long time in post-WWII studies about leadership and power. The examples could continue.

When it comes to writing as such, I can read between the lines that the time spent by putting words onto the paper was not the happiest experience of the student’s life. Instead of considering the challenge of using the opportunity of this student work as an occasion to improve the knowledge and the style, many young graduates-in-the making prefer to hire ghost writers that will write their papers. From the comfort of their big campus in North America or the UK, they can better spend their free time while a poor student  from South-East Asia or Africa, without too many chances to ever enroll in such a big academic centre, is doing the work for a remuneration of less than the daily salary of a cleaning lady in New York City. I am not approaching this issue from the perspective of social inequality, but from the problematic perspective of many middle-class elites that will soon enter the academic market, and who knows, one day they might be teachers too. A recent check on how often you can find the various freelancer writers’ network offers for Ph.D. ghost writers shows they can be had for as much as $800, with a delivery time in a maximum of 20 days.

But back to the problem of reading, I think that in many respects, in many classrooms, the teachers failed to make the connection from the books printed on paper to the e-book or Kindle-books. If you love to read, you will prefer to enjoy the pleasure of reading regardless of the technical support. If you do not know why you need to read, you will prefer to use the computer for chat and games.

However, it is never too late to start reading and summer time could be a good start for changing your daily habits. Let’s hope that the glass is half full, and the shelves of the libraries are full of enough books for anyone interested in somehow changing his or her academic life perspective.


This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Finding motivation in the most unexpected places

In Ana's Posts on 2012/06/21 at 21:23

Ana Dinescu, writing from Berlin, Germany

Summer time is almost here and it is time to take a good and relaxing book and forget about the usual busy schedule of a normal day during the academic semester. However, for some of us, with academic interests but non-academic jobs, summer is the best time of the year to revisit old projects, apply for new funding and, eventually, find an academic job that will put an end to this schizophrenic way of working.

But, the chances of good scholarships and decent funding for a decent life have diminished considerably in the last months, at least in Europe, where many academic positions and funding opportunities were the first victims of the shaking fluctuations of the Euro. Thus, if you still want to keep a foot in the world of ideas, you can find a job which will not completely erase the years spent in the library preparing your Ph.D. thesis, but will waste a lot of time and energy that you should dedicate to writing and documenting new books and articles. In the morning, you can edit another person’s writings or write content for technical websites, while in the evening until late in the night you can try to read and take notes for your academic ‘hobbies’.

With such a lifestyle, no wonder that sooner or later the fatigue will cut your enthusiasm to less than half and you will end up with a writer’s block that you can hardly cure. This is what happened to me recently and lasted for a couple of weeks. And it was not only the power to write which I needed, but also the inspiration to create the framework for writing. It did not happen before, or maybe if it did, it lasted for a couple of hours, not more.

For someone whose source of income is made by juggling well with words, such a situation could create various inconveniences, couldn’t it? Thus, I needed to find a do-it-yourself method to get back my enthusiasm and interest in getting back on the writing track.

The emergency measure was to suspend my daily schedule. I announced to my writers that there would be some small delays in delivering their editing requests, and took a big break. No computer, no social networks, no deadlines and pressure to finish in time. I took my camera and went out to take pictures for a couple of hours. My mind was immediately set in a different mood and the freedom of the day guaranteed that I should not worry if I stayed out too late. I continued with an exhibition, a coffee and a long discussion with an old friend. I enjoyed a long dinner and spend a couple of hours reading a novel without any interruption .

I continued the treatment for another two days and, relieved, I returned to the writing life gently and ready to continue the projects. As in many other serious circumstances, we are what we learn from our good or bad experiences. In this case, one of the lessons was that it is never late to find some time for yourself. It is always healthy to live according to a schedule – and I was educated to take care of how I use my time, and it is very hard to get rid of this good habit – but from time to time, a break will bring more creativity and clarity into your daily life. There is no chance that one day I will discover that I can live without writing, but at least I can find a fair balance between the pressure of a writing job and the pleasure of writing because nothing else is left.

Now, I think that this experience occurred exactly at the right moment when I needed more than ever to realize that it is about time to further my academic projects. Summer will bring me, for sure, more than the optimism of the sunny days.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed