GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘Action’

Taking it to the Academic Whiteboard: From Great Idea to Winning Idea

In Happy Mondays on 2010/07/09 at 09:00

Mary Churchill, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA

A great idea is only five percent of what ends up being a “winning” idea.

Graduate training is all about coming up with good ideas – the best ideas possible. You read, read, read everyone’s great ideas. You write to distill the best of the best. You create a research plan to test the best ideas and to come back from the field with brand new great ideas. You are rewarded for the quality of your thinking, your ideas. There is a bit of politicking – picking the right committee members, making sure they play nice, etc.  For the most part we bemoan the politics and complain that they detract from the real work of academia – thinking big thoughts and being brilliant.

And then we enter the real world.

In the real world, there are lots of great ideas – millions every day. A good conversation or a productive meeting can generate a hundred ideas. They flit out of your mouth, bounce around a room, perhaps they even make it up to the whiteboard. If you have done the necessary groundwork, your idea might just remain on the whiteboard – surviving the meeting and being circled rather than crossed out.

What necessary groundwork? Don’t great ideas stand on their own? No.

The necessary groundwork is the social and cultural labor you extend in getting the group in that conference room to buy in to your great idea.  This is particularly crucial for women and members of groups that are not normally represented at the head of the conference table. In the USA, if you are not an older white man, then this means you. People are accustomed to receiving leadership from older white men. When a man in a meeting speaks, most of us will stop and listen. The rest of us have to work much harder to get the attention of the folks in the room.

Fair?   Not at all. True?    Definitely so.

When you send your great idea from your brain to your mouth and into the chaos of the social space that is this meeting, it is received by others who may or may not know you. If you have built relationships of mutual respect and you have done the necessary groundwork, those who know you and respect your work will support your “great idea”. Those who do not yet know you or your work will listen to those who choose to “sponsor” you. It is important to develop strategic alliances with powerful “sponsors” – people in power who support you and your ideas.

It is both what you know and who you know.

When you walk into that conference room, you bring your social and cultural capital to the meeting.

Additionally, it is crucial that when you present your idea, you present it as a contribution that invites collaboration and input. People want to be part of a “winning” idea. When you present your idea to your colleagues, you are selling it. Plain and simple. If you cannot show them how they are crucial to the success of the project, they will tune out and start answering e-mail on their iPhones and Blackberrys. If your idea does not “need” them to be successful and does not “invite” them to collaborate, it will get less support.

Your idea can be anything from developing a new academic program to re-thinking the way your department delivers its fall orientation.  To make your “great idea” stick: think it through, gather your supporters, and present it well. This is not an oral defense of your dissertation. This is team work. You are no longer a lone academic in an ivory tower. You are part of a larger whole and communication is key.

Once your great idea passes the initial whiteboard test, it is up to you to make sure that the idea stays alive, gets publicity, is successfully implemented and goes down in history as a “winning” idea.

Good luck at your annual retreat!

Mary Churchill

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Why I am still away from academia

In Guest Blogger on 2010/06/23 at 09:00

Guest blogger, Ana Dinescu, writing from Berlin, Germany.

For a long time now, I have chosen to stay away from academia. It is neither a confession nor an excuse. It went simply like this: even though I continue to have a strong interest in everything related to intellectual activities of any kind, I decided a long time ago, that  becoming a full part of the academic establishment was never the first, second, or even third or fourth option for my professional career.  And this was and is a decision I will most likely continue observing.

One of the first things I became aware of when my capacity of social understanding was surfacing and expanding was my wish for a job where my joy of reading and spending hours in theoretical discussions of any kind, would happily meet with my sense of reality and aspiration for change. My idea of change – mentalities, ideas, people – was still vague, but I was very much aware of the need to go beyond the strict theoretical ruminations. In this case, what else could be more advisable than an academic career? Before taking into consideration this alternative, I knew that I wanted to become a journalist above all else. It was probably a sense of adventure, another kind of daily challenge and, at the time, a huge potential for change in a country such as Romania. I continued to follow my academic interests, with university and after a period, MA studies, while continuing to write about Romanian politics. School was offering me the analytical tools for better understanding and addressing the reality around me. Not always successfully, I must confess. Meanwhile, I remained attached to the academy, starting PhD studies, while making various career shifts in the middle of shifts in Romanian politics. At every decision point in my professional career, academia, again, was left far behind from the list of potential future plans.

As the daughter of a teacher, I am familiar with the pedagogical process, the tremendous work you have ahead of you every day and, not less important, the terrible bureaucratic and administrative challenges. From my friends and acquaintances active in academia, as well as from my direct professional contacts, I was aware of the hours spent dealing with time-consuming procedures, financial pressures and, in some cases, political mismanagement.

Far from being a garden of pleasures of the knowledge and thinking, academia is nowadays, in my perception, less about freedom and more about survival. Not a liberal career, but a professional plan restricted and limited by the demands of the market, as with any other job, independent of the level of one’s education. I am able to understand the mechanisms, but the more I am aware of them, the more I prefer to use my understanding and my energies for independent writing,   thinking on my own and discovering the world through written words. Most probably, being a part of the academic establishment will not be part of my plans in the next professional decade.

Ana Dinescu

Ana is a PhD candidate in history at the Faculty of History, University of Bucharest, with a background in Political Science.  She has been a journalist for ten years for Romanian daily newspapers and is currently a communications consultant, living in Berlin.

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Social Distortion: Blurring the Professional and the Personal on Twitter

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/05/14 at 09:18

One of the most memorable applications I have ever reviewed was submitted from  a student from China who was the owner of a small chain of shops that sold scarves and accessories.  Included with her application was a glossy brochure that she had had professionally printed in full color.  It showed photos of her in her shops, photos from her vacations, and photos of her with her friends and family.  It also included her biography, a history of her company, and a page on her likes and pet peeves.  Although it was unconventional, this woman was very confident about selling herself to us in a way that she had well thought out.

Yesterday, Mary and I met for coffee and of course, University of Venus came up.   Mary has been encouraging me to build my personal brand through social media: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  I have been resisting Mary’s advice for months.

I mainly use Facebook to entertain.  My Facebook friends are actually my friends and family.  I am a regular Facebook user; it is my main form of communication with people that I don’t see every day.  Until the launch of this blog, I had never used it for anything professional.  Each day the line dividing personal and professional blurs a little more.

I am a lurker on Twitter.  I follow a few people, and have 5 close friends that follow me, but I rarely tweet and my tweets are private.   I have been reluctant to start publicly tweeting, until I know what I want to use it for. Twitter seems to need a strategy, a marketing plan of sorts.  In the meanwhile, I read other people’s tweets, and try to learn from their strategies.

I am terrified of LinkedIn.  I put up my resume, connected with a few people, and have been afraid to log in ever since.  I suppose I am an avoider. It is clear that LinkedIn is Professional. A friend who is also new to social media once said the following: “I’ve been told that LinkedIn is the office, Facebook is the neighborhood cookout, and MySpace is the bar.” When your home office and the local coffee shop become extensions of your workplace, where do you draw the line? Are you a different person in different contexts?

Although my relationship with these three networks varies, I do think that building my brand is important.

I am in a strange place in my career.  I am no longer new to the world of work, and I am a member of the senior leadership team.  However, I don’t think I have paused to think about what I stand for or what I want to be known for.   I need to focus on thinking  of myself as an asset that is compelling, authentic, and consistent.  I need to create my own definition of success and ensure that it motivates me.  I am finding this task to be somewhat intimidating. I always thought that hard work would speak for itself. However, I now realize that self-promotion is not only a good idea but a 21st century necessity.

What do you think? Is personal branding vital for success at work? Is the concept relevant only to Western audiences, or is it also important in other areas of the world? Are there any drawbacks to marketing yourself in this way? If so, what should you do about it?

Meg Palladino

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Men Swagger, Women…?

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/03/26 at 09:00

Meg Palladino, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA

Since I became an administrator, I have had a yearly performance evaluation.  Overall, they have been positive, but I am consistently criticized for one thing, year after year: my lack of “swagger.”

It is a confusing thing to be criticized for.  When I look up “swagger” in, I find:

–verb (used without object)

1. to walk or strut with a defiant or insolent air.

2. to boast or brag noisily.

–verb (used with object)

3. to bring, drive, force, etc., by blustering.


4. swaggering manner, conduct, or walk; ostentatious display of arrogance and conceit.

It is difficult for me to believe that this is a desirable quality.  Swaggering makes me think of bullies and cowboys; it is very macho.

Is it swagger that I need to be successful as an administrator?  When I was a full-time teacher, the qualities that made me successful were patience, knowledge, authority, and perhaps my sense of humor.  These qualities made my students feel comfortable and helped bring them together.  However, in my role as an administrator, I have been trying to develop my swagger.  I have a fancier notebook and nicer pens.  I wear more blazers.  I think before I speak.  I smile less.   I feel lonelier.

Moving from a teaching role to an administrative role was moving from a traditionally female role to a typically male role.  When I was teaching, it was easy and natural for me to be in a collaborative, friendly environment.  Administration is more competitive, political, and ruthless.  I need to rely on a different skill set to navigate my way.

Although I have made improvements, I still feel like I am missing the mark.   I know that I don’t actually want a swagger.   I want to improve my confidence.  I want to raise my game.  What is the feminine form of swagger?

Meg Palladino

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The (Bitter) Sweet Spot Between Values and Money

In Happy Mondays on 2010/03/22 at 07:30

Is there a sweet spot between values and money? Can one feel financially secure and also feel like they are living a life that is true to their values?

In last week’s posts several writers addressed a range of issues that can be brought together under the umbrella of making tough decisions. Whether we call it idealism, balance, or compromise – each of is searching for a way to live a meaningful and fulfilling life while continuing to earn enough money to pay the bills.

Meaning and fulfillment are derived from an endless array of sources. For some of us, it is the joy of teaching and having intense, life-changing interactions with students. For others, it is having the power to make decisions that impact people’s lives in positive ways. For some, it is the freedom of autonomy, spontaneity, and the thrill of new experiences. For others, it is the security and comfort of a partner and/or children and connections to a local community. In life, I have found that none of these are mutually exclusive and that they morph and blur over time.

We desire meaningful and creative work in an environment where we are encouraged to strive for intellectual and artistic breakthroughs.

Too often, this type of work does not pay the bills, does not get published, does not earn funding, is not commercially successful. So, we are forced to strike a compromise, find a sweet spot – or a bittersweet spot – between what we want to do, what we are able to do, and what we need to do.

Personally, I find that resistance is crucial to living with compromise. Resistance in our day-to-day lives takes many forms, ranging from leading formal protests like sit-ins and marches to a daily refusal to let your family be negatively impacted by your job to a life-time of refusing to create art that may be commercially successfully but soulless.

I am inspired by the protests of March 4, by the Edupunk movement, by the increased use of social networking (blogs, facebook, twitter, etc.) to share dissatisfaction, unrest, and desire for change while simultaneously creating new communities and new types of social contracts.

Along with Itir, I feel that I have moved from realism to idealism. In my 40s, I have gained a sense of responsibility for taking risks, for giving back, for making change happen, for making fewer compromises. And as Meg reminded us, making a compromise is doing what we know is wrong. I don’t know about you but I can only do that so many times a day before it begins to have a negative impact on my soul, my creativity, my sense of self.

I believe that a rapidly increasing globalization has forced a change that looks like a crisis to some and a brighter future to others. I believe that our most radical and creative solutions can be found amidst the upheaval of chaos.

I believe we can move from a bittersweet spot to a sweet spot.

Mary Churchill

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I’m Not Just Rhetoric: Dreaming of the Rainbow, Between Realism and Idealism

In Under the Rain With No Umbrella on 2010/03/16 at 09:00

I’m teaching 3 courses this semester and during the last two weeks in all of them I had to teach about international relations (IR) theories of realism and idealism. It’s probably every IR scholar’s dilemma: which one of these two basic perspectives to favor over the other?

The realist perspective claims that humans are selfish and that states always go after their national interests which they try to attain through usage of power. Realists believe that self-help is the only way of surviving in a world they see as anarchical where there is no central authority such as a world government. The idealists on the other hand emphasize the good nature of humans and believe that through education and better institutions, people can change, so can world politics, and that the effects of the anarchical state of the world could be alleviated.  The realists see the world as it is whereas the idealists see it as it should be.(*) In other words, idealists and realists are caught up in a dilemma between dreams and reality.

I recently realized that not only I have favored realism in my studies and analyses as a professional perspective in IR so far, I also favored it in my daily life and saw the world as it is, not as I want the world to be. That actually contradicted my personality because I also do have this very idealist side, which wants to work for the betterment of my own personality, betterment of my own life and of those who I love, betterment of the society in which I live, betterment of the world. Why then all these years have I been a realist and supressed my idealist side?

I now believe it was the lack of courage. Being an idealist requires tremendous courage because envisioning the world as it should be has a lot of potential for disappointment and frustration. The progress is slow, the waiting is long and the odds against the ideal dream are everywhere.

For a long time I have studied the spill-overs between external threats and internal threats in international relations. Now it looks like I am on to something else: Will IR theories help me better find myself? Can there be a spill-over effect between my professional self and my personal self?

Lately I’ve come to the realization that I am not just rhetoric. I just cannot be. I cannot be content to sit back and make realist analyses of the world. I also have the dream to make the world a better place for myself and for others, on professional as well as personal terms. As much as I always believed in the past that ideals should be based on good analyses of the reality, I now think maybe it is best not to limit the ideals to what we think is possible in the current picture, for realities are not constant, they are mostly temporary.

In the worst-case scenario, if you are ready to handle the frustration, why not dream? Even dream big? For peace inside us or for peace in the world? If you are already ready to face the rain with no umbrella, why not start by dreaming of the rainbow and the gold buried beneath?

I’m not just rhetoric, I am now a dream.

Itir Toksöz

(*) As a reference on realism and idealism (also known as liberalism, as in this following source), see Genest Marc A.. 2004. Conflict and Cooperation: Evolving Theories of International Relations. Second Edition. Belmont, CA. 

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Conversations: Resolutions and Action Plans

In Conversations on 2010/01/28 at 20:36

MARY In December, Meg and I committed to starting this blog and realized that a January first launch date was a stretch. After a flurry of Facebook and Twitter posts to Harvard Business Review links on developing action plans and new year’s resolutions for 2010, I think I had sufficiently guilt-tripped myself and others into making resolutions and developing a theme or WORD for 2010. One of my resolutions was launching this blog in January 2010. So, here we go – a soft launch of January 29, 2010.

MEG Mary always inspires me, and so I decided to choose a word that would be my theme for 2010.  I chose ACTION.  I tend to sit back, have faith and let life take me where it will.  However, I am discovering that unless I act and take some control and responsibility over the direction of my life, it actually goes nowhere.  I am trying to set goals, make plans, and do one thing every day that brings me closer to who I want to be.  My actions so far have included going to the gym, signing up for overdraft protection, being more attentive to my friends and learning to cook one new thing each week.  I am trying to make conscious choices, and actually work to be the kind of woman that I always hoped to be.

MARY As always, Meg is too kind! I do try to inspire people but I never really know if it’s happening. My word of the year is actually two words hyphenated — RISK-TAKING. Being a wordy academic, I have yet another word – Intentionality. But back to risk-taking – I found that as I got into my 40s, I was taking fewer risks. I had the husband, the house, the PhD, the kid – I didn’t really feel like risk-taking was part of the equation. Then I became aware of the fact that I was feeling stuck and little bored and VERY uncreative and realized that my definition of risk-taking probably needed to change – maybe it no longer involved tattoos and wild, all-night parties. Maybe that wasn’t really risk-taking; maybe it was more like wild and crazy behavior. I started to think of risk-taking in a different way. Maybe it involved learning new languages, meeting new people, getting outside of my comfort zone, taking an African dance class, and getting back into making art. So, this year is about doing things that make me uncomfortable – like starting this blog – having public discussions that will definitely involve conflict and critique– putting myself out there and making mistakes. The second piece is intentionality – I want to do things in an intentional way, rather than randomly. So, I have set some high goals for myself and I am plotting my way there.

MEG I like the concept of having a word for the year rather than a resolution.  A resolution is hard to keep; it is very black and white.  A word or a theme, however, is something that you can keep coming back to.  Even if I fail one day, I can come back and try again.  My theme will guide me at every turn throughout the year, and I think I will be free from failure at the end of the year.

MARY So, Meg and I have just given you a peek into our thinking processes and a flavor of our conversations. We have also indirectly brought up the issue of personal branding – kind of what do we want to be known for. One of the goals of this blog is to harness the energy and amazing power of social networking to bring multiple voices together around higher education. An important piece of social networking is personal branding – and that gets us back to intentionality – if everything is random – your brand is chaos – hard for your readers/followers/students/co-workers to stick with you.

MEG It is strange how I spend so much time at work developing strategic goals, quality assessment, and 6 month to five-year plans, but I have never done this for myself, outside of work.  Developing my personal brand, strategic goals, and quality assurance plan is a goal for 2010, part of my ACTION.

So, the next step is expanding this conversation. We’ve started by inviting some of our best friends/colleagues to join us in our inaugural editorial collective for the University of Venus. Our initial group includes members who are living and working in the USA, Sweden, Turkey, Egypt, and the Philippines. We are going to share our insights on current issues in higher education from our perspectives and we are counting on you to join in and add your voice to the mix.

See you back here on Monday. In the meantime, start following us on Twitter (UVenus), become our fan on Facebook (University of Venus), and subscribe to our blog and by all means, say hello in the comments below.

Join in the conversation and let us know what you think! Let us know if you have a resolution or word for the year and we will try to give you weekly updates on our success in keeping to our themes.

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Mary Churchill and Meg Palladino

Co-Founders, University of Venus blog

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