GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘Research’

Superstitious Minds

In Sarah's Posts on 2013/01/23 at 04:15
Sarah Emily Duff, writing from Stellenbosch, South Africa.

In a recent interview with Mother Jones, the author Philip Pullman admits: ‘I’m perfectly happy about being superstitious and atheistic.’ Pullman, who has been outspoken about his own lack of faith and has critiqued organised religion in much of his writing, describes a set of rituals he has around his writing: that he writes precisely three pages every day, and that he needs to write on a particular size of paper. He explains:

The state of mind which I put myself when I tell a story is one in which superstition flourishes very easily. And I welcome that because it helps me. A story, to me, has a particular sprite, like the angel of the spirit of that story – and it’s my job to attend to what it wants to do. When I tell the story of ‘Cinderella,’ the sprite does not want me to make it into an allegory of the fall of communism. The sprite would be unhappy if I did that.

Pullman and his ‘story sprites’ reminded me of one of the most reassuring pieces of advice I was given while working on my Ph.D. At one of my department’s annual welcoming drinks for research students, the guest speaker, a distinguished historian of early modern France, urged us to embrace the rituals and superstitions we developed as we worked.

I avoided guide books and lectures about the best way of pursuing a doctorate – they served usually to make me anxious, as my way of researching and writing seemed to contradict all their guidelines and checklists – but this guidance proved to be immensely helpful. I had become aware that my daily routines were becoming increasingly ingrained: that I’d begun to glare at hapless scholars who had taken ‘my’ desk at the British Library; that my day couldn’t really begin unless I’d had coffee in a particular mug; and that I could only use a special kind of notebook for research notes.

These routines weren’t unique either to me, or to my Ph.D. I had written all of my school and university exams with my special, beautiful fountain pen. And from conversations with fellow Ph.D. students, I realised that as we became more stressed, so our routines and superstitions grew more significant to us. There is a link between anxiety and obsessive behaviour – as we use routine to establish order and, seemingly, control over complex and stressful situations – but I wonder if academics more generally are especially superstitious about their work.

At least in my experience, I have had friends and colleagues who have peculiarly strict routines and superstitions around their research and writing. I think this is partly because academia can be a profoundly stressful and competitive environment. For those of us at the beginning of our careers, it is a precarious one too. I develop all sorts of strange rituals when applying for jobs and funding – and these only become worse during the often interminable wait between application submission deadline and the committee’s decision.

We spend so much time on our own, thinking, and caught up in our own, particular research interests that it’s hardly surprising that we begin to believe that the control we exert over our own projects can be extended to other facets of academic life. For historians and anthropologists interested in the shifting symbolic value of the material world, objects can take special meaning too. I was not the only doctoral student in my department who placed particular significance on the fact that my supervisor’s desk used to belong to our hero, Eric Hobsbawm.

I think it’s worth taking closer notice of our routines and superstitions because we work in such overwhelmingly rational environments. We defend our work on the grounds that we attempt dispassionate, logical analysis of problems, and yet many of us indulge in fairly irrational behaviour, specifically around our research. I wonder if – like Pullman – we were to acknowledge that we are both superstitious and rational, much of the anxiety within academic life would begin to reduce.

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

In the company of friends

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/11/06 at 23:10
Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from IloiloPhilippines

For the majority of my research career, I was a one-woman show. Except for the services of a research assistant to arrange my travels, make the field preparations and sort the paperwork, I do all of the thinking, from conceptualizing the proposal, implementing the project (including facilitating the focus groups and conducting the interviews) to the final write up. In this solitude, the only intellectual conversation transpires inside my head — between the data and the literature to which I am hoping to contribute. I have had previous experiences of “research collaboration” but it was rather a short-hand for “I do it my own way; you do yours,” with the tying up of findings falling into my lap. The collaborative aspect has also proven contentious, with serious disagreements about methodology and fashioning a suitable output.

In the past few weeks, I had a taste of what a nurturing intellectual environment and collaborative research should be. In one project, I am part of a select pool of academic-experts on the Philippine military, the military brass and NGOs working on security issues tapped by  a foreign foundation to conceive and implement a project assessing the latter’s internal security operations. Four half-day long brainstorming sessions (and counting) in which participants had to be flown into Manila resulted in a frank, policy-driven discussion about security sector reforms. This was “the dream three-way conversation” I had in all those years of solitary trudging in remote army camps and communities affected by militarization. The officers in this group are seasoned field commanders with advanced degrees from the US; the NGO and foundation reps are senior staffers with parallel academic and field credentials. After one meeting, I did my homework, scoured the literature and ended up supplying the framework and operational definitions that will anchor the project. I never had to bite my tongue to honestly tell the honchos of military operations that if they were serious about turning over internal security operations to the police, they should cut back on their size. It was also a lesson on humility. As a case study specific scholar, I did not know much about conflicts in other parts of our country, particularly in Mindanao Islands. While I understood the importance of safety in doing research in a conflict area, it was still sobering to hear that one of my teammates was a kidnapping survivor, and  to hear stories about their friends who never made it. All these brought out questions about whether institutions (cookie-cutter contraptions designed by imperial Manila) matter in ungovernable spaces. The military is tired and wants out; the local government is an absentee landlord; NGOs for all their talk are scared to venture in.

I had a different kind of intellectual buzz from another project with a more sedate topic and membership: water governance with high-brow academics from various University of the Philippines units. We are a motley crew of resource and agricultural economists, psychologist, anthropologists, community development specialist, gender expert and political scientist (me)– published, with a hefty record of externally funded projects under our belt and scientific designations. From a largely email-based project conceptualization process, we had an intensive 2-day inception meeting at bucolic UP Los Banos in Laguna. In between delicious local Tagalog cuisine, Vietnamese coffee and bread from a campus-based French-inspired bakery, I had the most inspiring discussions from colleagues who never have an iota of “I am the greatest” syndrome. We hammered out fundamentals of the conceptual framework, agreed on definitions (resource conflict I found, the economists understood differently!), and began work on the instruments. Water policy being NOT my organic research issue area, I was the most novice of the lot. But I am as excited about this ambitious endeavor– policy, socio-economic and community interventions, all to be done in 5 years in 10 provinces, 3 major watersheds and 7 replicates. It is the traveling group of accomplished sisterhood (we have some men in the team) very similar to the collaborative API project I did in Batanes in 2010, but minus the ego. In October, we do the scoping in Iloilo, Benguet and Laguna– mountain and riverside hiking which I look forward to.

Interdisciplinary, collaborative, policy-focused– these are becoming “lived” concepts as I evolve in my line of research work. Scholarship (and publication in ISI outlets) is the life blood of academics, but more importantly scholarship that is informed by conversation with those who make policies and is geared towards making a difference in communities is the current template. I am expanding my circle of friends among practitioners and men-in uniform, exploring more of Muslim communities in my country and inching closer to my dream of scholarship that matters.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

In (re)search of success

In Guest Blogger on 2012/11/04 at 23:26

Guest blogger, Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier, writing from Edinburgh, Scotland.

As a former biomedical researcher, a field I left in favour of a different career, I was recently asked to act as a speaker at a careers’ day designed for early careers researchers and Ph.D.s interested in (or forced to explore) alternative careers to academia. Interestingly, there were more women than men both in the audience and amongst the speakers. Is it because women don’t mind admitting they are open to all career options, or is it that they have less confidence in their ability to sustain a lifelong successful research or academic career? In fact, I am not sure.

It’s not the first time that I had to present arguments as to why I decided to leave academic research and join the “other side”, (in my case, university administration) and I must admit that I always feel like I am having to defend my corner fairly strongly. But why? Is it because I feel guilty of disloyalty towards my supervisor, the institution which trained me and the funder who paid for my research? (My supervisor, just like my head of lab at the time, took a little time to get used to the idea.) Or is it because I feel the question is only asked because I am a woman. Maybe it is because, deep down, I miss the lab. Well, of course I miss the lab! And the varied nature of research, and that fantastic feeling you get when your paper is published, and the freedom to express your ideas. But as I explained to my audience, I don’t miss being in the lab late at night or the fact that my project was so specialised I didn’t have time to see the “big picture” whatever that might have been!

The other truth about leaving academic research, the thing I think I am afraid to say, is that actually, I did well! I enjoy my job (in the same institution I did my Ph.D. at, by the way). It mainly involves the recruitment of postgraduate research students. What does that mean? Well, amongst other things, I get to speak to students who are considering doctoral studies about what a great experience it is, and importantly, what an array of careers is open to Ph.D. holders.

I love the interaction with students at this stage of their careers, they are passionate, driven and a large proportion thinks (quite rightly) that they can make a difference in the world. Of course, the reality of doing a Ph.D. hasn’t reached them yet and perhaps the difference in the world will be confined to creating “an original piece of research worthy of publication”. That doesn’t mean that they won’t make a difference in the world, it depends of what world we are talking about. Perhaps it will be an impact on just the research world, or that particular body of knowledge but you have to start somewhere, don’t you? While only around a third of Ph.D. students in the UK will end up as academics, their impact to the labour market means that they will continue to make a difference to the world, in a different way.

In my talk at the non-academic careers’ day, I thought it would be useful to give a few tips to those considering alternative careers as a next step and here is what I came up with:

  • You have amazing transferable skills, even if you attended none of the courses on offer (a short-sighted move in my view), your Ph.D./research experience gave you resilience, negotiation skills, report writing skills, etc.
  • Don’t aim too high or too low
  • When applying for jobs, don’t bamboozle employers with jargon/technical speak but make sure you know the keywords/buzz words

What I find amazing these days is that you’ll find Ph.D.s in all walks of life: in industry, in the arts, in the public sector, in the third sector, in university administration…. And as far as I can see it is both men and women who choose these career paths. Maybe women are better at telling the world about alternative careers to research. In conclusion of my presentation, what I really wanted to say and managed to say for the first time in public is, “You haven’t failed. It may be the best option for you!” Do I believe it myself? Well, at least a little bit….

Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier is currently a Postgraduate Research Student Research and Admissions Manager at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland), Nathalie has worked in research and graduate policy as well as a researcher in biomedical science. She is passionate about postgraduate education and enjoys interactions with prospective and new postgraduate researchers. Originally from France, Nathalie has lived in the UK (mostly in Scotland) for 17 years.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

Rethinking What “Academic” Means

In Liana's Posts on 2012/10/10 at 23:45

Liana Silva, writing from Kansas City, Kansas in the US.

In August, Amy Rubens (@ambulantscholar on Twitter) posted a thoughtful post on her personal blog about her plans for the semester and how to continue her research agenda while teaching (and also adjusting to a new town and new school). Amy and I met via Twitter some time in the past year when we were trying to finish our dissertations, balance work along with dissertating, and blogging about our phd exploits. We both graduated last May, and are embarking on new jobs this fall. In her post, Amy pointed out that in order to get her conference presentations done in time she will be blogging about her reading; it’s a way for her to stay accountable and to digest the information on a long-term. She also discussed how she thinks of her blogging as a form of public scholarship, an idea I sympathize with.

As I read her latest post, I felt she was articulating some of my own concerns as I posted earlier this summer at my personal blog: how will I keep an active research agenda while working at the writing center? This may be a little easier for instructors who teach one or two classes a semester or who are exclusively research-driven, but for those of us who balance different obligations (administrative, service, teaching, programming) and still want to do research, this can be a daunting task, especially if our job descriptions do not explicitly include research. Her concern about fitting research in when you no longer have the luxury to take chunks of time for writing, reading, research, and thinking is something I share. This summer, as I became full-time at my job, I lost the days where I could take my daughter to daycare and sit with a cup of coffee and read, write, and research for hours on end. Even though I am happy to be employed, I do miss those times. Now I am trying to find ways to bring my research interests into my work as a way to sustain a research agenda while working full-time.

But Amy’s post reminded me of a post I wrote last year for U Venus titled “How Do You Define an Academic,” where I talked about whether I was still an academic even though I was no longer teaching. At the time I had quit my teaching job, something I had been doing for years, and I felt being a college instructor was directly connected to my professional persona. I had moved into a staff position, one I now recognize as an alternative-academic position, and I was still unsure about where I was, career-wise. The comments sagely pointed out that we do not cease to be academics because we do not teach, and looking back at that post it seems obvious! One commenter pointed out that, if I consider myself an academic what does it matter if others do not see me as such? And I feel much more comfortable in that position. Being an academic is about your approach to questions, your desire to continue thinking about burning questions within your field.

More importantly, Amy made me think about how I could frame my research work as an alternative academic. She cited the U of Minnesota’s definition of public scholarship. Could my work contribute “to the intellectual and social capital of the university and state,” even if the public institution I work for sees my role as staff in a limited fashion? Surely. Maybe I need to start thinking about my work not just as an academic but as a public intellectual. I blog on issues pertinent to academia and to my areas of interest, I curate content at an academic blog that publishes cutting-edge scholarship and writing on sound studies on a regular basis (three years, going strong!), and I continue to work on research within my discipline and within my burgeoning career as a writing center professional (fodder for another U Venus post, I’m sure).

In sum, Amy made me think again about how to define being an academic. It’s not about what job we do, that much I’m sure, but the questions we ask and the approach we take. Maybe the better question is “what is academic?” Academic as adjective instead of noun. I wonder how this plays out for those who are not in traditional, tenure-track positions: is academic more of an adjective than a noun for them? And what are the pros and cons of thinking in those terms?



Confessions of a Field Research Addict

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/05/25 at 00:32
Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines 
At a recent International Studies Association panel presentation about military mergers, I was asked how I got access to the ex-combatants-turned soldiers in Mindanao with whom I did a focus group discussion. I am often asked this type of question by foreign audiences, and my standard answer is: I have built a considerable personal network within the armed forces and have a decade of field experience in my belt; I know who to call or send text messages to. By comparison, I never get asked this sort of methodological questions by Philippine audiences, not for lack of critical spine, but because  field  exposure is considered de rigueur in any Social Science research project.

A colleague, who is now Assistant Secretary of National Defense, once told me he likes my work better than another similarly-inclined “strategist” whose conceptual anchor is notoriously rusty and whose data is suspect. He says the empirical data I bring gives an “added value” to my work. In retrospect, this is standard research practice to academics in my University. There’s an emphasis on primary data– interview, focus group discussions, and  direct observations. That this primary data is secured at a heavy cost (think days of fieldwork in remote and inhospitable locations; literal armies of survey enumerators tasked to hop household-to-household; hours of facilitation with bureaucrats to secure FGD participation) is commonplace where I come from. There’s an implicit understanding even about what it takes a lot to earn your “research” wings, including  a close brush or two with guns, long hours of trekking (forget about public transportation; there’s none) and a several nights of un-hygenic situations. None has beaten the record of my anthropologist-colleague Dr. Alicia Magos whose pioneering research on the Sulod-nons’ (indigenous people of central Panay highlands) oral tradition of epic chanting required her befriending communist rebel commanders and military officers alike at the height of insurgent conflict in the area in the late 1980s.

My research interest (civil-military relations) makes field research comparatively less interesting, but edgy. I have been accosted by armed militia; conducted an FGD with paramilitaries in a remote mountain-village and interviewed a group of coup plotters in an East Timor prison. From a battalion-size force that  responded to a mudslide in Southern Leyte province to  a mobile platoon chasing after communist insurgents in central Panay island, I encountered various faces of the armed forces. I listened to stories of losses, despair, courage and optimism among men and women in uniform, ever conscious of my reflexivity and ethical position. I have done fieldwork research in conflict areas in Mindanao, where most of my colleagues fear to tread. I have a heightened sense of adventure but am not reckless, relying on advice by trustworthy local field assistants who have a keener sense of the spatial politics of an area than I do. Where my “Chinese-like appearance” or my foreign-sounding surname may invite kidnapping threats, I don’t go.
But where I can take risk, I will not let others do so under duress or on promise of remuneration. I have been recently engaged as area field supervisor to a handpicked team of 8 to conduct focus group discussions, interviews and community observations throughout the Visayas region for a bilateral foreign aid-funded research project on anti-poverty. During the training for the field teams attended by representatives of the funding agency, I put up a protest over their supposedly randomized selection of field study sites because they did not cross check their selection with the security data of the Philippine military and police. Arguing both from a methodological perspective (how truly representative is their site selection, where poverty is not cross-checked with armed conflict indicators) and from the point of view of my crew’s safety, they finally caved in and changed one study site in Eastern Samar, but not the sites in Negros Oriental tagged by my military friends as “security threatened by communist rebel groups.” A small victory but meaningful, particularly since the overall project leader (a close friend) is even more gung-ho a field researcher than I was! To someone like her who has traipsed across communist front lines in Bicol province, I am a wimp.
I have never aspired to be an armchair academic, not after I had my first field research experience at 21. At middle age, I still have the physical constitution and energy to visit remote places in my country for research. I hope to continue doing this, surpassing even my field-research be-medaled friend Rufa who at over 60 is still running her racket across Mindanao. We belong to the happy sisterhood of indomitable traveling researchers. May our tribe increase!

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

The R1 Bias*

In Afshan's Posts on 2012/04/03 at 00:14

Afshan Jafar, writing from New London, Connecticut in the US.

Having been out of graduate school for several years now, it’s easy to forget sometimes that the advice we received in graduate school often did not match our reality or our preferences. I’ve written about the “publish or perish” emphasis and the lack of emphasis on teaching in most graduate programs.  There are other manifestations of this lopsided emphasis on research.

Recently, I was reminded of the lopsidedness, when I volunteered to do a “Critique Me!” session at the winter meeting of Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) this year. At this session, faculty from all kinds of institutions and backgrounds volunteer to offer advice to current graduate students regarding the job market. They specifically offer advice on each person’s CV, personal statement and whatever other materials they may have brought with them. The organizer of the session very accurately described the format as similar to “speed dating”. The “experts” sat at different tables and every twenty minutes students moved around from one table to another.  We briefly explained our background/expertise (such as working at a small liberal arts college, part of an academic couple) so that students could identify who matched their interests the most. More organizations need to do sessions like these, and in a moment you’ll see why.

Even though I had volunteered to serve as an “expert”, I was unsure. How much advice could I have to offer? I’m only in my fourth-year as a tenure-track faculty after all. I thought so many things I have to say would be . . . obvious. Turns out, I’ve forgotten what it was like to be a graduate student at a research university. My most interesting exchange was with a graduate student who sat down at my table and started her introduction with something along the lines of “I know you’re at a small liberal arts college, and I don’t want to teach at one, but I still wanted to talk to you . . .” She went on to tell me how much she absolutely loves teaching (which is the reason she decided to get a PhD) but also wants to do research, so the only option for her would be an R1 institution.

Whoa. Here was a passionate and enthusiastic student, one who considers teaching to be close to her heart and she will only consider an R1? What made her think that an R1 was her only option? Now, don’t get me wrong. Of course there are amazing teachers at R1s (I had some of them!), but they don’t normally go there because they love to teach and feel like it is their calling in life.  So I asked her: If you love teaching so much, how come you don’t want to consider a small college?  Turns out that somewhere along the way, she had picked up the idea that small liberal arts colleges, for instance, just make you teach and teach and never leave any time for research. Not only that, she was led to believe that research isn’t rewarded or expected at small liberal arts colleges.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Why have I been working so hard at my scholarship then?

Once I cleared up these misconceptions and told her about what life is like at a small liberal arts college like mine, she seemed thrilled. Maybe even relieved. She then told me how a liberal arts option is never really discussed and how people treat her love of teaching as a naïve preoccupation, one that she’ll outgrow once she’s in the real world.

The devaluing of a small liberal arts career is connected to the devaluing of teaching, of course, but it’s also connected to the exaltation of research institutions over any other kind of institution. Why are we trained in graduate school to think of R1s as our top choice? Why do we want our “brightest” students to land at R1s? Having been to a small liberal arts college for my undergraduate degree, then to an R1 for my graduate degree, and now back to a small liberal arts college as faculty, I can tell you that I wouldn’t trade my experience at a liberal arts college for anything, not even for an R1 job.

This is not a denigration of R1 institutions by any means. It is simply a plea to graduate programs to acknowledge that not every one of their students will be happy in a large research institution. If we want graduate students to succeed (that is, be happy in their choices and careers), we need to consider their interests, passions and strengths and advise them accordingly.  But before we can do that, we have to let go of the idea of the research university as the best job in academia.

* I realize that Carnegie has officially dropped this classification. But I use this term in this post, because 1) it is still commonly used, and 2) because it does symbolize the high ranking we give to research universities.
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

Being Curious

In Under the Rain With No Umbrella on 2011/04/25 at 01:57

Itir Toksöz, writing from Istanbul, Turkey.

The day I am writing this, I am sick. I was supposed to go to the Polish Consulate to do a visa application this morning, as I will be teaching at one of our partner Universities for a week there next month within the Erasmus Exchange Program. I woke up with a runny nose, sore throat, aching muscles and fever. Actually there were the signs that I was catching a cold or a virus or something by Saturday but I thought I would get over that quickly. I did not. So I could not go to the consulate to do my application and I called work and told them that I would not be able to come to work today. I have to give two tests to my students in two separate courses tomorrow so I need to get my batteries charged to be able to go to work tomorrow.

However, as everyone knows, a runny nose and a sore throat are not good company for sleep. After I called in sick, I went back to bed and I turned around and around but could not sleep and I decided not to fight against my mind’s will to stay awake and instead, preferred to do something useful. I took all the articles I had saved to read on the new research I am doing on the Space Programs of the Emerging Powers and started to read them one by one: China, India, Brazil, Iran, Pakistan, and the EU, among others.

I realized that I was hardly ever bored during the day; on the contrary, I was reading with such a degree of hunger. I had a clear mind which was ready to absorb the maximum amount of information and I also simultaneously organized my paper-to-be in my mind. I realized then that the last time I had read consistently for research was many months ago. Shouldering an administrative work load had really left me deprived of the greatest joy of being an academic: being curious and going after what I am curious about.

Then I realized that there was more to this line of reason. I was especially happy to be reading on space policy because the topic was providing me with an opportunity to merge my sci-fi loving child self with my adult and academic mind. One profession I had in mind as a childhood dream was that of becoming an astronaut. I was a clever kid so it did not take me long to realize that I was not born in a country which was qualified as “space-faring” at the time (and is not yet space-faring today). I had to drop that dream. Still, ever since I was a kid I have followed many science-fiction TV series (the original and the later versions of the Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century etc.) and films; read my share of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Stanislav Lem; followed science magazines and spent long evenings looking at the skies to figure out which star was which.

Now that I think about it, it is a wonder that I did not aspire to study astronomy or something similar. In a way, I was a kid with multiple interests and my curiosity about the cosmos was accompanied by my deep interest in all things social and I chose my place in social sciences. However, my child self apparently found a way of coming back and finding me and saved me from academic hunger and boredom at the same time on a sick day.

Research and Awe

In Graduate Studies & Students on 2010/12/17 at 22:56

Deanna England, writing from Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada.

This past month I completed my second Master’s course – a Research Methods class which took us through the paces of literature reviews, conference proposals, peer reviews, paper drafts and concluded with a small class symposium where we each presented our work. I confess, it sounded dry to me when I registered. I was almost dreading it as it all seemed to be so much of what I was already advising my students on. However, I was determined to be positive, so I chose to use it as an exercise to improve my writing. And of course, it was wonderful.

As Graduate Studies Officer, one of my responsibilities is reviewing scholarship applications. One of the amazing things about life is that you just never know when you’re suddenly going to be struck with something unexpectedly fantastic. I had had a fatalistic view of working on scholarships – I was panicked that I would miss some inane detail that would cause my students to miss out on funding due to my inadequacy. It seemed like a mountain of work with a never-ending ocean of minutiae. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Read the rest at Inside Higher Ed (link here)


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An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2010/11/10 at 23:35

Rosalie Arcala, writing from the Visayas in the Philippines

Having recently acquired my own iPod touch, I finally found a reason to do some serious weeding of my address book. I realized that I have active mobile phone numbers of 4 army generals and numerous colonels, majors and lieutenants. Some years back, I have included notations on the units where they belong and their station to better manage this growing data. The notations have become more diverse– J3, OG7, engineering, CRS, RCDG, EastMinCom– indicating the many types of soldiers I have encountered in the course of my research career.

How and why I came into this research specialization was serendipitous. I picked up my interest in the military’s role in democratic transitions from my Latin American course, and decided to focus on the issue for a dissertation back when coup d’etats were a thing of the past in the Philippines. I zeroed in on counterinsurgency strategies and local civil-military engagements and hit a goldmine. I accepted back-to-back-to-back foreign-funded research projects on the military (disaster relief, overseas deployment, rebel integration, military-to-military cooperation, asymmetric warfare, women soldiers) and never looked back.

Doing research about the military in the Philippines is never for the faint hearted. There is an ongoing war against communists and Islamic separatists. While much of the violence has been scaled down and localized, a great chunk of the army is deployed on the front line at any given time. The empirics of military research demand fieldwork in places not always accessible nor safe for any non-local. There are the usual hazards of being shot at, kidnapped, or victimized by a bomb blast (improvised explosive devices were found or detonated killing people in Cotabato and Davao cities in Mindanao while I was there for fieldwork). As an institution that cut its teeth in counterinsurgency, the army is also reflexively suspicious of researchers, particularly those from my home University that have produced countless student activists-turned-rebel commanders, including the heads of the Communist Party and the Moro National Liberation Front. Plus, there is the much-lamented military bureaucracy which often requires permission to undertake research from higher authorities, necessitating cumbersome legwork and follow-ups.

In military research, force majeure events are never rare. I had to postpone my field work in Mindanao for 6 months because the army units that included rebel integree respondents were deployed chasing after rogue Islamist groups responsible for violence in 2008. I had to wait until the troops finished their operations. Another unit, which was a subject of my other research on disaster response, also got re-deployed in Mindanao for the same purpose. When a major typhoon hit our island in 2008, I had the chance to observe first hand the type of “military operations other than war” performed by the local army unit alongside American Marines with their fancy Seahawks. I camped at the airport by invitation from the local commander and did my informal interviews right there and then.

That I am a woman partly explains the kind of inside access I have with the military. The men who make up the bulk of our armed forces exhibit the kind of old-world view of and treatment of women. To many, I am non-threatening; I am not likely to question the celebrated masculinity of the institution. There is also a protective instinct towards the female. I have encountered commanders who flat out refused to send me to remote detachments for interviews (I can’t hike half-a-day up a mountain, they say) or would only do so with an armed escort. On one occasion in 2003, my escort pulled out his gun when we encountered an armed person by a road. That convinced me to refuse any offer for security from then on. Rather than me risking my life and limb to get to their remote detachments, the army respondents come to me! In great kindness, the division commanders in Mindanao have issued “special orders” for my respondents to descend to the headquarters specifically for my 2-day focus groups. I remember distinctly two male Muslim lieutenants who told me that had they been ambushed on their way to or from my focus group discussion, their deaths would be on my conscience.

In retrospect, women of high status (professors with advance degrees) CAN successfully do this kind of military research in the Philippines. I know of 3 other female professors who have done work on the Marines and on war trauma. It is a great tribute to the men in the armed forces that women like us are treated seriously. Perhaps it comes with having many women in my country who have had successful political careers, including commander-in chiefs. The status (whether you are a mayor, congressman, or a President) is more important than your being a woman.

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This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.