GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

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I Am in the Teaching Business and It Shows

In Uncategorized on 2014/02/02 at 04:32

During spring break, my boyfriend and I took one week of vacation and went to the Turkish Mediterranean Coast. We went on a daily boat tour with a bunch of tourists from Ukraine. Some of them were young professionals, and as the boat had not more than 15 passengers, we engaged in a chat. My boyfriend, wondering about the young post-Soviet Ukrainians who can now afford holidays abroad, asked them what their professions were. After we got the answers, of course, we were asked what we did for a living. Before we could answer one of them asked “Professors?”. You should have seen how happy he was to have found out that his guess was the right one and that he had been able to figure us out.

This event led me to go back to similar experiences in my life. Recently, I started to exercise in a new gym. Since the machines on which one exercises change slightly from gym to gym, during the first week the director assigned me a trainer to show me how to use them. As the guy was helping me understand what to do on these machines, he popped the unexpected question: “Are you an academic?”. Yes, I answered. As I was reading a book while fast walking on the treadmill, and as the gym is close to my University, I thought probably these were the reasons why he reached that conclusion.  I said in a joking tone “Do I look well read?”. “Well,” he answered, “ it is in the way you talk.” He did not need to be more precise, as I already knew what I had done to make him figure out that I was an academic: I remembered how I instructed him to teach me to program the treadmill instead of just listening to what he had to say.

Although it may sound like these are coincidental events, I have to tell you that this has been happening too often to call coincidence. As early as 2006, while I was still a Ph.D candidate but already teaching as an instructor, I went into a store to try on a pair of shoes one day, and the salesperson there asked me if I were a teacher. I said yes, without specifying that I was teaching at a university and asked him “How did you know?”. He was less specific than the above examples and just uttered something about how shoe salespeople, meet hundreds of people every day and therefore learned the ways of telling one person from the other in specific ways.

It is a fact of life that our professional identities shape our habits, attitudes and behaviors and that goes without saying for almost all professions. Looking from outside, I can confidently say that the behavior of some of my friends could give away their professions easily. However, the recent two incidents made me wonder: what would give us away, those in teaching and academia?

I would say it has to be some kind of a didactic attitude first of all. No matter how inclusive and flat-hierarchical one would try to be as a professor in the classroom, still what we do is to teach and often includes normative sentences. Then maybe our speech is a little bit too sophisticated from time to time, when we use uncommon concepts or expressions. Also, we often travel with books and notebooks in our bags or in our hands. Moreover, we tend to ask questions more than the average person, since our curious brains are geared towards finding out details and we may also be very articulate with details when it comes to describing things ourselves. Oftentimes, we act very self-confidently, and we know very well how to portray self-confidence, even when we are not. I am sure the several pen marks on my hands, especially during the grading periods when I use a red pen, are good enough clues for guessing that I teach. A know-it-all approach to life could also be the basis for raising someone’s suspicions that one may be in academia.

What do you think would give you away and let people figure out your profession?

Istanbul, Turkey

Itir is a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.


The Wandering Mind of an Academic

In Under the Rain With No Umbrella on 2013/06/16 at 00:33
Itir Toksöz, writing from Istanbul, Turkey. 

It happened…

No, I actually should say “it happened again”…

I was sitting at my desk in the late hours of the night, trying to write a paper and I was absolutely where I did not want to be at that moment. Instead of having to write that paper, I would have preferred to have spent these hours watching a good film,or listening to some music while I read a good book. Yet I was already late in getting this paper ready for a conference I would be attending soon; I had to write as much as possible. But then,  all of a sudden, a melody, accompanied by words filled into my mind. In less than 30 seconds, I was writing a song.

Then I realized a pattern. Just like the above example, suppose I am doing some stressful academic work. I may be grading exams where lots of students did poorly, I may be writing a paper where my progress is very slow, or I may be trying to meet deadlines for projects, reports, or  a call for papers. The result is the same. My mind’s most powerful defense mechanism becomes active, and it is called creativity. I start writing a poem, composing a song, setting up a tale in the busiest moments of a time of work.  Once I realized this, it struck me that this is not a defense mechanism that I developed as part of my professional self, it has been there all along. When I was a student in high school, the same pattern showed itself on the nights when I was getting ready for an exam the next day.

When this urge to create something takes over, oftentimes there is no stopping it, and I have to drop everything and let out whatever it is that is coming out of my system before I can continue. Most of the time, the end result of the creativity is an idea, a thought, a melody that I did not even know was there. It emerges at that moment and it is born without much deliberation, effort or pain.

Of course it is not surprising that this happens when I am doing academic work. It is then that I am the closest to the computer, to the paper, to pen and since most of my creativity is about the written word, my stressed mind resorts to a solution that is readily available in the environment of the moment.

One might think that this defense-mechanism is self-destructive, for it takes away from the academic task that I have at hand; however, I choose not to see it this way. Actually, it gives me a breath of fresh air in a moment when I need it the most, it takes my mind off a spot where I feel blocked, takes me on a ride with myself and then allows me to continue with a refreshed mind. Moreover, since the boredom of the task at hand is diminished, it allows me to avoid disliking my job. I think it also adds to my overall skills of multitasking and flexibility, although it probably would not qualify me among the best for time management.

I would probably finish tasks at hand a lot faster if I had a mind which could focus even during times of stress, yet I do not have such a mind and I must say I feel that I am lucky, as my mind chooses to become productive in an artistic way when it cannot become productive in an academic way. This creativity is something that reconnects me with life and makes me feel alive, and I believe in the long run it is positive for me. First, it is good for me professionally because it boosts my affinity with my profession by easing my stressful moments, and second, it is good for me personally because it reminds me that I have a personality beyond that of an academic and saves me from becoming a dry scholar, someone who is sharp about her work but has little connection with life beyond that.

Istanbul, Turkey

Itir is a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.

An Academic in Cyberia

In Under the Rain With No Umbrella on 2013/03/15 at 12:07
Itir Toksöz, writing from Istanbul, Turkey

I am not one of those people who looks down on technology in general, or the internet in particular, because of what it has taken away from us, like enjoying nature, being with family and friends, and reading actual books. I still try to do these “natural” things (as opposed to the artificial cyber world) that are part of life, but I must admit that I love technology. I acknowledge that using technologies has now become an essential part of life as well.

I got my first computer in 1997 when I was a senior at the University. Previously, I was truly afraid of computers; I thought I would do something wrong and crash them. I bought the computer because I had to write a Graduation Project (a sort of thesis) to graduate from college, and I needed a PC to write it. Soon after I bought my computer, I also subscribed to a dial-up connection to get on the internet. During the same time period, I was getting ready to compete in Concours Pictet (a simulation and  pleadings contest in international humanitarian law) to be held in Malta and I spent my first days on the internet chatting with people in a chatroom called Pentagon on Geocities about different things I was reading on international humanitarian law.  I also had to get the internet to do better research on my graduation project. My acquaintance with the cyber world was based on academic grounds and motivations.

Today I live in the cyber world on a part-time basis, and I think it has brought  many good things to my life. Yes, of course it takes a lot of my time; however, I feel that if it were not for the internet, I would never be able to keep myself up to date with the current issues in the world (which is vital for me, given the fact that I work in the field of International relations), and also maintain my international friendships and networks, and that alone is enough for me to like this technology. Of course there is still the “conventional” me inside as well, as I was not born into the world of technology. I still prefer to read things from a printed, hard-copy version rather than from the page of a screen.  Or when I email, I still write long and structured, mostly letter-like emails, but I think that strikes quite a good balance.

The internet provides me good opportunities to improve myself in my own profession.  Not only I read the news in several different languages from different parts of the world, but I also watch videos and documentaries that add to my knowledge of the issues I am interested in. Internet and electronic databases provide good resources for my research and my teaching as well. I try to improve my foreign languages through online language learning websites.

As for the many tools on the internet to keep contact with people, I use my Gmail and its chat features for instant messaging, I use Skype for conference calls and my Facebook account the most. Although I firstly and mostly used Facebook to find old friends and catch up with them, now, more and more, I use it for learning new things as well. For example, ever since I started teaching Science, Technology and International Relations, I have been exploring pages on basic science and sharing those with friends, which must kind of look awkward on the page of a social scientist. Facebook also allows me to follow trends, looking at what people post and what the community pages I like, and  post as well. I do the same when I read newspapers online, because I not only read the news but also the comments made about the news, which reflects at least a part of the public opinion on a topic.

Of course, ever since I started writing with UVenus 3 years ago (wow, it has been 3 years!!!), I also use the internet to share my academic experiences with a wider audience. The blogging experience has made me think more about my experiences in academia, because now I have to write about them. It also has allowed me to read extensively about the experiences of other people.

Last November, I was elected as the President of the European Peace Research Association (EuPRA) during the general conference of International Peace Research Association (IPRA). My first task as EuPRA President will be to establish a credible website for the organization. This will be my next challenge on the internet as an academic.


This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Teaching an Unmotivated Audience

In Under the Rain With No Umbrella on 2013/01/23 at 04:19
Itir Toksöz, writing from Istanbul, Turkey

In Turkey, students are admitted into universities through a nationwide test. After the students take the test and receive their scores, they submit a list of choices of the institutions and programs they want to attend to a nationwide center which places them to one of their choices. This placement is a result of not only the test score of the student but also the relative scores of all other students who made the same choice across the country.

Getting into a university programme is a highly competitive process, often called a race, which requires a high investment on all fronts, in terms of the hours students spend studying after school and taking practice tests to prepare for this one big exam; in terms of the money spent on the part of the families since the students often attend extra courses at the weekends or take private lessons to do better on the exam, and in terms of the focus in the classroom in high schools since all the attention is geared towards getting the students better prepared for this exam during their last year.

The result is generally twofold: a tired student body entering into university life and a considerable number of students who are placed into programmes, and therefore into professions and futures, that they do not like to begin with.

The tired student body entering into university life is a factor which reduces the quality of higher education when students get into university after one or two years of intense, non-stop studying. Especially if they come to study in a city where they won’t live with their families for the first time, they often end up going out and enjoying life without enjoying the educational experience that they have worked so hard to attain. They mostly study just to pass exams; although they are clever and can do better, they have high rates of inattendance and read almost nothing outside of the minimum assigned for their class.

Of course this cannot be said for every university student. There are some very motivated students in higher education. As I don’t have statistics, I cannot give an exact number about the rate of students who are placed into programmes they don’t like. However, from the informal conversations I have had with students over the course of the years, I know that the number is far greater than many academics would like to admit. The number is also enough to make teaching a challenge.

In the short term, this process results in an unmotivated student body, disconnected from the classroom, uninterested in the topic they study. In the medium term, it creates a body of fresh graduates out of higher education who don’t know what to do in life. In the long-term, it causes a part of the population being unhappy with their jobs and their lives.

Since changing departments or universities is very difficult (which means either you have to retake the test or you try to get a good GPA to qualify for a transfer to another department, which in itself is difficult since the process is only open to students with a good GPA, something a student is not likely to have when he/she does not like his/her department or if a student applies for a double major which again has the GPA requirement) and since the investment to start over is too high, the students are stuck in their majors.

Teaching intensively in the classroom, it’s been a huge problem for me trying to reach out to these students, engage them, attract their interests and feel that I am able to teach them something about the substance. I am not in a position to suggest solutions to this nationwide problem. However, I must find ways of reviving my class atmosphere when I have such a group of students.

Linking topics with the everyday lives of the students is one way of engaging them. Group work asking students to deal with the topics among their peers and using teaching methods which include material such as films, cartoons, and songs which the students find easier to relate to is also important.

Since I teach international relations, doing the above is not difficult, as events of international politics are on the news everyday. I wouldn’t know what to do if I were teaching a different topic not so closely related with our everyday lives.

Any other suggestions would surely be welcome…

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Learning Failure

In Under the Rain With No Umbrella on 2012/09/24 at 01:37

Itir Toksöz, writing from Istanbul, Turkey

I have a confession to make: Until recently, I have not known how to ride a bike. Some 6 years ago when a Belgian friend of mine found out that I did not know to ride a bike, he asked me the following question in shock: “OK, so you did not ride a bike, but then what did you do as a child?”

Excellent question indeed! Until that moment I probably had never asked myself how I spent my childhood. Seriously, what did I do as a child? Surely I did a lot of what the average kids my age living in my area did: I played with dolls, played hide and seek, watched TV, went swimming, attended a course to play the flute and played in the school marching band, sang in school choir, then I collected stamps, pencils and paper napkins, I raised silkworms, I flew kites. Surprisingly I never dreamt about becoming what the average kid would want to become like a doctor or a teacher. I dreamt that I would become an astronaut or a veterinarian. Although I never dreamt of becoming a professor or a teacher, unlike many other kids I read a lot of books and even started writing my stories using the kind of imagination which wanted to launch me to the outer space or put me to live in a circus with animals.

So yes, I did not have a bike, but I had my books for reading and my notebooks and pens for writing. And that must have been one of the factors to have led me to academic life.

As a student, I was never a nerd. I used to enjoy my time doing things other than studying and people would actually be surprised at how well I managed to do many activities (like theater, music etc.) and still be very successful at school. I remember having had a distinct answer: “I try to do what I can do best and I do not try to get involved in areas where I am not sure I can succeed.” At that time, I thought that was a very clever answer.

However upon hearing my friend’s question , I realized it probably was not. As I grew older I realized how limiting this seemingly realistic “only do the things that you really can” approach really is. I probably was not taught how people could excel later in something that they did not do well to begin with if they tried hard, practiced often and persevered. Like biking…

The first time I rode a bike was 6 years ago. During that summer when I was asked the above question, I decided to learn how to bike and I somewhat did. I could ride on a road which did not have any curves and which did not have any moving objects such as people or vehicles other than my bike. This summer, since I was spending a week in the Netherlands with my Dutch boyfriend, it seemed like a good opportunity to improve my biking. We rented a bike and I had the embarrassment of my life while trying to learn how to bike as an adult in the middle of all the Dutch people who most probably learned cycling in their mummy’s tummy. Having been someone who raised herself with the “only do the things that you really can” approach, it has been very rare that I ever thought of myself as a failure, but this definitely was one of these times.

Proudly, I can say that at the end of a two day crash-course, I am now able to ride in the presence of other bikers and people and I can take curves on the road. I need some improvement in getting off the bike and while driving in traffic. Thanks to this experience, I have come to see that experiencing failure is also a part of success. That could not have been something that academic life could have taught me, since I was already good at academic things. But learning is not confined to academic life and I am glad that I now know that I can do not only the things that I am already good at but also things that I start out by failing.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

A Lesson of Letting Go

In Under the Rain With No Umbrella on 2012/08/24 at 06:03
Itir Toksöz, writing from Istanbul, Turkey

A few years ago, I was walking down the streets of my hometown trying to picture places of my childhood to make an archive. When I came in front of the house I lived in as a child and compared my life then and now, I asked myself the question: “How the hell did you get to where you are, Itır?”

Don’t get me wrong: My hometown, Edremit, is one of the major towns on the Aegean Coast. However, when I was a kid, it lacked many of the opportunities for young people. For example, there was no proper movie theater. I moved to Çanakkale (a slighly larger city on the Dardanelles) at age 11 to attend to the Anatolian High School there, a school for bright students selected through a nationwide test, but not much changed given the fact that Çanakkale was also a limited city in what it could offer to people with multiple interests like me.

Still, in high school, I was able to take part in plays, take stage as the lead vocal of the high school rock band, profiting from my already strong English, and enjoy my time socializing with the many tourists visiting the city. At the end of the 7 years of my junior and senior high school education, having enjoyed the gorgeous nature and historical sites (Gallipoli and Troy) around Çanakkale, having pampered myself in the friendships of the best high school buddies and having read a lot (both as a result of good education and of a personal love for the books), I was happy to leave Çanakkale behind and start a new adventure in my dream city of Istanbul, studying at the Departement Francophone des Sciences Politiques et Administratives of Marmara University.

Istanbul and my university education truly gave a boost to my life and brought me closer to who I wanted to become. I spent university years at an old Pavillion on the Bosphorus, named as the Tarabya Unit of the University which hosted only our Department. Ever since I graduated, I have rarely had a chance to revisit my old school. The building was only 2 metres from the sea; all the classrooms had a sea view and the professors would at times interrupt their lectures to show us the tankers and freighters passing through the Strait of Istanbul. It was a place where the best student garden parties were thrown, where we were a small but closely knit group trying to create our own social activities, where there was less of a hierarchy between the professors and the students and where, as I realized years later while going over my old class notes which I still keep, the level of education was better than I thought it was while I was a student there.

Last Saturday, I attended a party there for the last time, the Department will move to a bigger campus next year. As I gave a tour of the building to my boyfriend, telling him stories of my college years, as well as my activities as actress and singer on the stage again during university years and how my years there contributed to my (still) amateur spirit of literary writing, I remembered the distinct culture of the Department which educated us as open-minded, self-learning and entrepreneurial intellectuals who also knew the value of relaxing and having fun.

Then the answer to the question “How the hell did you get to where you are, Itır?” became crystal clear. It was firstly a result of good education which started in my family and which was strengthened by attending good schools, but it was also the ambiance of this education where I enjoyed being a part of the academic life and learning. My modest conclusion is that there were probably better schools where I could have ended up, but I am not sure if I would have had so much fun in these places. Throughout my life, where I learnt the most were the places where I also had the most fun. I should never forget: a fun and good education is always better than a good but boring education. (I hope to come back to this theme soon.)

I have to let Tarabya go with this final lesson. Thank you my dear Department and everybody (professors, friends, administrators, the building, the trees and the Bosphorus) who were a part of it and made it what it is.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

How Far (Out of Your Own Discipline) Can You Go?

In Under the Rain With No Umbrella on 2012/06/11 at 23:58

Itir Toksoz, writing from Istanbul, Turkey.

I finally could offer my course “Science, Technology and International Relations” this past semester. The course had been on the elective courses list for the last three Spring semesters, but  enough students did not register before this year.  My guess was that the course topic was the deterrent: it obviously required being interested in science and technology, not a general characteristic of the average social sciences student. However, somehow the tides have turned this year and I found myself with nine students in the classroom.

This course brought me some positive results. I enjoyed a sense of pride since, to my knowledge, I am the first person in my country to teach such a course in an International Relations Department. I had taken similar courses when I was a graduate student in France and in the US and I felt like offering this course was a real contribution to the IR field in Turkey. It had been some time since I had taken these courses, so I had to look for new resources, study them and spend hours preparing to teach for my 3-hour class each week.  The resources I found were not often easy reads for a social science professor like myself and I had to rethink  and try to improve my own science and technology literacy. I enjoyed my teaching-oriented research so much that it had a spill-over effect on my research agenda and I decided to explore topics in Science, Technology and International Relations for future publications.

With this in mind, I decided to talk to one of the Physicists at my University, Prof. Dr. Serkant Ali Çetin who is also an active researcher at CERN. I was curious about Turkey’s march towards CERN membership and how the international cooperation among scientists worked in this field. Our first talk lasted for about an hour and a half. He answered some of my questions , gave me resources to read, but more importantly he told me the history of what I had read in theory and as case studies on paper. Through his vivid examples and anecdotes, I could see some of what I know on the theoretical level materialize before my eyes.

This led me to think seriously about our borders in academic disciplines.  Normally one would think that Physics and IR are light years apart from one another in academia. It’s expected that an IR scholar would be interested in History, Sociology, Economics, Psychology etc. and cooperation among such fields is necessary. However, my meeting with Prof. Çetin on CERN was probably one of the most fruitful and engaging meetings I ever had. I believe in interdisciplinary research; I feel I have no other choice. I am curious about things outside my own field, but I would hardly think that I’d find myself in a great academic communication with a Physicist (especially when I recall what a terrible student I was in Physics during high school).

A similar thing happened when my boyfriend introduced me to Evolutionary Institutionalism which can be oversimplified as the application of evolutionary theory to social sciences. Biology sounds like another field unrelated to IR; however, I found the approach very interesting and decided to apply it to my ongoing research on civil-military relations which let me discover new horizons in my understanding of my own field.

Now I’m convinced that you can go as far away as possible from your own academic field, yet if your goal is scientific research, exploring new frontiers, making sense of the world we live in and feeding curious brains (our own as well as our students’), no Faculty or Department in academic life is far. We are all neighbors who sometimes get bored within our own communities thinking and talking about the same issues over and over, and we are refreshed when we meet with the scholars from other fields.

I’m sorry for those scholars who lock themselves into their own narrow research area and miss the great minds, experiences and ideas that surround them. I hereby promise myself: I will never be one of them, and just as I try to meet with people from different parts of the world and cooperate with them in my field of International Relations, also as a citizen of the land of Academia, I will always make an effort to meet with people from the different regions of the scientific world.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

I Am an Academic’s Computer

In Under the Rain With No Umbrella on 2012/05/05 at 03:11

Itir Toksoz, writing from Istanbul, Turkey

I hate it when she does that.

Why does she have to hit my keys so hard and so fast? It’s as if her brain is running to break the Olympic record in Academic Writing, or as if she would forget her next thought if she waited one more second to write the last one (to be honest from the way she looks so blankly at my screen from time to time, I sometimes think this is the case; she forgets what she’s going to write because obviously her brain is faster than her fingers).

I am an academic’s computer. My job is not easy. You may think that it is fun to accompany the intellectual journey of an academic. From one side, you are right. Although I don’t have direct access to her mind and cannot read minds, I am the closest thing there is to know how her brain works. But I swear that sometimes, I just wish I belonged to some kid who would endlessly use me for playing games. That would be boring, yes, but would be an easier life for a computer!

Normally, as a machine, I am supposed to work in an organized fashion.  Files, folders, categories, tabs, they are all invented to make life easier for my users. But nooooo, she is determined to confuse that system.  She’s interested in too many topics at the same time. She thinks it’s important, as she values interdisciplinary research. Then she creates files here and there, leaves them in unrelated folders, replicates them under different names such as “last version, final version, final-final version”. She uses the desktop as if it is some kind of a staging area where the files have to wait for a certain time until they can be properly (I wish) categorized under sections where they belong to.

Then, when she’s surfing on the internet,  how many tabs can one open on one browser at the same time on average? I am confident that there as well, she is after another Olympic record, this time in Academic Surfing.  Yet her surfing is not always academic; since she wants to keep up with the modern times, social media is also on oftentimes.  Her favourites is a long list. There one can see the variety of things she is interested in which she never has the time for, as she spends most of her time with me!

She often eats and drinks as she works. She’s generally good at keeping the drinks away from me. So far I have not had a flood over my keyboard, but I cannot say the same thing for food crumbs. Although she tries to keep me clean, I could occasionally use a more aggressive cleaning procedure on my keyboard , something like the back scrub you would get if you ever went to a Turkish bath!

Emailing is another issue. She keeps two email accounts: one personal and one professional,  trying to separate these two spheres of her life. But from the amount of emails she forwards from one address to the other, one can see that she’s not very successful at that. The amount of emails she receives from her contacts, groups, listservs, etc. is enormous.  She hardly reads them but she doesn’t delete them either, for who knows why!

As if the people at her university and in her own country are not enough, she’s so enthusiastic about making foreign contacts and being a part of transnational academic networks that her sleeping routine is oftentimes disrupted and along with hers, mine. As she waits online to chat or Skype with a colleague in Sweden, USA, Japan, Australia or Argentina, of course I am working overtime again. And don’t even get me started with all this traveling involved where I must accompany her to countries she goes to and conferences she attends!

The worst is, as she is no businesswoman, nor does she have a rich husband, she cannot always afford to update her technologies. Once you become her computer, you have to stay with her at least for the next 4-5 years. You cannot retire as easily as other computers, your memory becomes insufficient for the new generation programs, your hard-drive is always full, she can only support you with external hard-drives where she copies many documents and then spends hours figuring out which one was the latest.

Actually, she is not all bad. At least she likes technology in general and computers in particular and values the work the we do.  But if I wanted more information about her, I would also consult her cell phone and see what it has to say!

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

The University Diploma: Is it Enough for a Young Woman? Or Man?

In Under the Rain With No Umbrella on 2012/04/10 at 02:33

Itir Toksoz, writing from Istanbul, Turkey.

I am writing this blog piece on March 8th, Women’s Day.  I started the day by a very meaningful message which was sent by the President of my University. In her message, Prof. Dr. Elif Çepni of Doğuş University stated how proud she was to be at a University where the majority of high administrative positions were held by women: The President of the University is a woman, there are 5 faculties and 4 of them are led by Deans that are women. There are also 4 women Vice Deans in the University, since in 4 of the 5 Faculties, one of the 2 Vice Deans is also a woman. Moreover, the Dean of Students is also a woman. The head of the Foreign Languages School, the Secretary General, the Director of Student Affairs, the Director of the IT department and the Director of Purchasing department are also all women. There is a considerable number of Department Chairs or Academic Unit Heads who are female as well. In my faculty, which is the Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, 62% of all faculty members are women.

This is an exceptional performance even in the Turkish higher education system where women are considered to be well represented with a figure of 38.7% of all academic personnel. Unfortunately one cannot say the same for higher positions: only 5.2% of University Presidents and 15.3% of Faculty Deans are women across the country.[1]

In the young Turkish Republic, established in 1923, women were granted their political rights between 1924-1934, earlier than in many Western democracies. Inclusion of women in all aspects of life was an important part of the modernization project of the country and the high overall percentage of women in academia in Turkey is a result of the efforts sown during the early Republican period. Since then, women have been active members of professional life, although considerable improvement is needed in the number of women members of the Parliament. So the same pattern exists here, women are everywhere but hardly in high positions.

On the domestic level, it is another story. From one side, during recent years there has been some considerable reform for bringing the Turkish Civil Code in line with the internationally accepted women’s rights. Since 1985 Turkey is a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  Both the CEDAW and the Turkey’s candidate status to the EU may have helped the legislators in Turkey to do the necessary reforms in that area.

Yet the improvements seem to be only on paper when one looks at the newspaper every day; the news is filled left and right with violations of women’s rights. From honor killings to domestic violence, from lack of education to lack of access to a professional life, women are discriminated against, mostly by a patriarchal culture and a societal structure which cannot fully grasp the significance of women’s rights for a healthy society.

One way towards women’s emancipation is through higher education.  The rationale goes that when women are educated, they can earn a livelihood and do not have to depend on a father or a husband to sustain their lives. As an academic today, I find myself in a position to ask if giving a diploma to young women is enough to consider them ready for the life ahead of them. Some women use their education to land a good husband and that is not a very bright prospect from a social point of view. Moreover when the society in which the educated young women live does not know how to handle them, one needs to ask what skills we need to provide to our female students other than a diploma.

Yet the emancipation of women cannot be only fostered through the education of women, education of men is also crucial. Then I find myself with a second question of asking if giving a diploma to young men is enough to consider them ready for life which they will need to share with emancipated women in a country like mine, between the East and the West.

Today is Women’s Day and I am wondering what I should be teaching to my students beyond International Relations…

[1]For figures see Status of Women in Turkey Report published by the Prime Ministry Women’s Status General Directorate in July 2011, accessible online in Turkish at

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed


In Under the Rain With No Umbrella on 2012/02/28 at 03:45

Itir Toksoz, writing from Istanbul in Turkey

Last November, I briefly visited Boston to give a lecture at Northeastern University, my alma mater where I got my Ph.D. degree. The last time I was there was four and a half years ago to defend my dissertation. It felt like “Homecoming” for me this time, when I visited my old university after such a long time.

Upon arrival, I realized that the University actually did not get older in a sense, but got younger with a fast-developing campus. I also knew beforehand that it was in an era of upward mobility when it came to the national university rankings. I had never thought that having an academic degree from a University was like buying shares in the stock market, and that my diploma would become more valuable over such a short time but it did.  I was glad to be going back firstly to take a look at my University after four years, but also to take a look at my academic self and the road I have travelled so far since getting my Ph.D.

Observing the campus impressed me, but I was prepared for that already. I enjoyed walking through the old and unchanged areas as much as I enjoyed walking the new parts of campus, trying to go back in my mind and remember what used to be in their place when I was a student there. If there was one thing I was not quite prepared for, that was observing my academic self in the midst of that campus where I used to walk in sneakers and with a backpack, now standing as an assistant professor in my high heels.

There were also a few things I wanted to do while on campus. Firstly, I wanted to attend some graduate classes. I was longing for the state of my graduate student curious mind, and I wanted to get back in those shoes especially after the last 16 months or so where I have both taught and worked in an administrative role. Due to conflicts of schedules, I was not able to fulfill my wish, but facing the need to feel like a graduate student again made me realize my long-time overlooked need to learn instead of just to teach and thus to revive my neglected research agenda.

Then, I wanted to see as many of my old professors as I could and I was able to realize this. While I would often be in my professors’ offices during their office hours when I was a student there, asking for feedback on class assignments or reporting on my TA duties, and also often complaining about what the University did or did not do for the students, this time I was role sharing with them and talking about more professional issues. It suddenly dawned on me that it was not them but it was me who had changed and who was walking in different shoes today.

Of course I also still had friends back in Boston and at Northeastern. My quest for rejoining with them was overshadowed by one very classical trait of the American society, which I had forgotten but which was actually one of the reasons why I did not seek to stay in the US upon completion of my Ph.D. degree: not having space for spontaneity and not having time for people in the midst of crazy schedules.  With a few exceptions, almost all my friends, (who are mostly academics or non-academic working people with Ph.D.s) were extra busy and unavailable for an evening out. I, who was there for such a short time had to juggle my very limited schedule to be able to meet with them and settle for a coffee break of half an hour (which by my Mediterranean cultural –specific standards is not enough to even answer the question “How have you been?”). Yet, I actually was not upset about that, as I know this is not something personal, this is how the system works there. I saw those people whom I could see and listened to their academic stories with curiosity.

At that point, I actually realized three things.  One: I did not regret leaving Boston because I never wanted my life to be all consumed in a professional self. Two: Hearing difficulties faced by my academic friends in the US and drawing similarities in between made it easier for me to face the academic difficulties in my country. Three: When homecoming is a success, you can cherish your way back.
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.