GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘Risk-Taking’

Tiger Mothers and Superficial Scholars

In Uncategorized on 2011/03/04 at 23:30

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the USA

In my role as a fellowships adviser, I have a motto: think laterally – not literally. “Tiger mothers” as described by Amy Chua enshrine literal thinking of the kind that dooms overachievers when tested outside the realm of the rote. Such tiger cubs are the “superficial scholars” of whom Rhodes Scholarship selector Heather Wilson complains and with whom I work to overcome the soul-shattering terror imposed by tiger parents of whatever ethnicity. I think the replies Dr. Wilson labels superficial reveal tiger cubs’ inability to offer their own opinions. Petrified of getting the ‘wrong’ answer about something as fraught as “what is worth killing for,” they say something simplistically ‘right.’ To a tiger cub, “I don’t know” means I don’t know Dr. Wilson’s answer, because she, in loco tigris parentis, conveys the authority to determine what is correct.

Practice makes for a particular kind of perfection. Repeat your multiplication tables until you memorize them and read historical time-lines until you remember the Americans revolted in 1776 and the French in 1789. However, the interpretive spark that makes a brilliant mathematician or political theorist does not ignite from memorization alone. You need to master the rules in order to break them. Tiger parents cultivate the former without opening their cubs’ eyes to the possibility of the later. The memorization and mastery of some preexisting ‘correct’ method and answer offers academic means without an educational end.

Practice scholarship interviews for tiger cubs typically close with the interviewee stating in frustration, “I didn’t know what answer you wanted.” She cannot imagine a question to which no ‘right’ answer exists and for which she therefore cannot prepare by memorizing it. I have to teach the cubs to answer based on what they know, think, and even – shock – feel. Anecdotes from the play dates Professor Chua prohibits offer better fodder for a fulsome answer to a query about the human condition than endless hours pounding out chords on a piano. We have all heard child prodigies play with technical precision but an emotional tin ear. I offer a crash course on the possibilities tucked within the ‘wrong’ answer for the honest, the innovative, and even the right.

Thus, I agree with New York Times’ columnist David Brooks’ assessment that “Amy Chua is a wimp.” She protects and prescribes a form of emotional coddling amidst her abuse. A child can physically survive being locked out of the house in the snow and being called “garbage.” The child will learn to practice and to please mommy in order to avoid insults to body and soul. Tiger cubs have this form of tenacity in spades. If I just work hard enough, I will succeed. I owe the one who ‘helped’ me for everything I have. Unfortunately, they are wrong.

You can work hard and fail – think Sisyphus. When you succeed, no one person deserves the credit – think Armstrong on the moon. Children learn these lessons through interaction with their peers – in clubs, on teams, at parties. Novel situations force us to cross-apply what we do know onto the unknown (lateral thinking); it is scary. Nothing disturbs me more than when a student who says she wanted to win something for me, because I worked hard to prepare her. If a student says that, I know she missed the point of the exercise. I want to make my advisees trust their own instincts, their own worth, their own ideas, and their own limitations while valuing those of the people around them.

In my role as a mentor to fellowship applicants, I experience something similar to a mother of multiples. I wonder how Professor Chua would feel if she had twins and only one of her cubs could be top of the class. No doubt she would expect them to share in equal glory, but there are circumstances that proscribe such an outcome. How would she handle the child who came second in a fair match? I work with multiple candidates. Some win; some don’t. As a result, I want each candidate who sits across a table from Dr. Wilson or some other selector to leave the conversation with the confidence that she answered each question true to her own essential self – not with an answer she thinks her mother, her interviewer, or I would give. Someone else’s answer will sound superficial and is alwayswrong. Just ask Professor Chua, who admits her parenting techniques not only break cultural norms but quite possibly the law.


Brave New World of Academic Publishing

In Uncategorized on 2011/01/25 at 06:25

Lee Skallerup Bessette, writing from Kentucky in the USA.

I just found out that I didn’t win a dissertation prize for which I had submitted my 300+ page work (I got honorable mention), so now I am brushing off the old girl for publication. I have truly “new” research to offer (archival research is the way to go if you want to do something new that isn’t necessarily “innovative”) and I strongly believe that with some targeted edits, I can get it published at an academic press.

But why? It’s not important for my tenure portfolio (because I’m not on the tenure-track). It will just be another academic book that isn’t read by anyone and sits anonymously on university library shelves, right? But would that be any different if I make it available on the Internet for free or published it myself through print-on-demand websites? The audience for my book is other academics, and the best way (still) to get your work into the hands of other academics is to get it published by a university press.

Read the rest at Inside Higher Ed (link here)


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)


We launched the University of Venus blog in February 2010 and currently have readers from over 125 countries. In October, 2010 the blog was visited by over 26,000 readers.

In July 2010 we partnered with Inside Higher Ed (a large higher ed media publication in the US) as part of a new initiative to support blogs focused on international and global higher ed.

In June, GlobalHigherEd and The World View launched with IHE. GlobalHigherEd is headed up by Kris Olds (professor at UWisconsin-Madison) and Susan Robertson (professor at UBristol, UK). The World View is a blogging venture coming from Philip Altbach’s team at the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College.

Beginning July 12, we started blogging at University of Venus @ Inside Higher Ed. Check out our new home and join the conversation (link here)



Leading Them “Over There”

In Liminal Thinking on 2010/11/20 at 00:18

Denise Horn, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA

When I was in college in North Carolina, no one really thought much about “abroad” experiences. If you did go abroad, you went to Europe to study French or, as in my case, to learn Spanish in Madrid. The norm was to think of your career aspirations as a domestic endeavor. At the time, the Peace Corps seemed only to want engineering and nursing students, so it wasn’t a viable option for an arts-n-science student. Even in grad school, many of those who studied International Relations with me never seriously considered international field work as an important component of study–why go abroad when you could just manipulate the data from your computer at home?

I bucked the trend and made a concerted effort to move my work overseas but to be honest, I engaged in no strategic planning for my career as a young student–I had vague notions of wanting an international career, but my ambitions stopped at the academy. Luckily that has changed drastically for me, and I spend a third of my year abroad, but sometimes I really do wonder how that happened. There was no one to show me how to do it, so I fumbled along until I found the opportunities I needed.

Read the rest at Inside Higher Ed (link here)


We launched the University of Venus blog in February 2010 and currently have readers from over 125 countries. In October, 2010 the blog was visited by over 26,000 readers.

In July 2010 we partnered with Inside Higher Ed (a large higher ed media publication in the US) as part of a new initiative to support blogs focused on international and global higher ed.

In June, GlobalHigherEd and The World View launched with IHE. GlobalHigherEd is headed up by Kris Olds (professor at UWisconsin-Madison) and Susan Robertson (professor at UBristol, UK). The World View is a blogging venture coming from Philip Altbach’s team at the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College.

Beginning July 12, we started blogging at University of Venus @ Inside Higher Ed. Check out our new home and join the conversation (link here)

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.

Control in the Classroom

In Guest Blogger on 2010/11/08 at 21:58

Guest blogger, Susan Currie Sivek, writing from Fresno, California in the USA

Those first days of teaching were disastrous, but I didn’t know it.

I started out teaching at a community college right after finishing my master’s degree in journalism. Entrusted with the campus’s only two sections of the introductory Mass Communication class and given little guidance about how or what to teach, I was thrilled to find ready-made PowerPoint slides from the publisher included with the textbook.

I rocked those first few classes, talking through the slides and flipping quickly from point to point. I thought I had it made. I was on pace to cover the whole book, too!

Once the adrenaline wore off after about four class sessions, I realized that those sighs coming from the students weren’t due to the enlightenment they felt upon entering into my instructional presence. They were groans of pain as they massaged their hands after trying to take notes on my speed-lecturing. There may have also been groans of boredom.

I still cringe thinking of it now. But after a frank discussion with those classes about what was going wrong and how I could improve, I made huge changes to my approach. Into the trash went the pre-made PowerPoints. I built in more discussion opportunities. I slowed it all down. I taught less content, but tried to teach it better.

This was the beginning of a trend that would change my teaching, though it’s taken this long – about six years – for me to really realize it was happening. It’s not an original concept, I realize, but finally observing and labeling it has helped me continue to improve my teaching. What I’ve noticed is that the more I let go of control of the class – without losing control completely – the better I teach, and the more students learn.

It seems contradictory. After all, shouldn’t a masterful instructor plan every moment of a class session and anticipate all the students’ needs? That’s what I thought at first. As a beginning instructor, I wanted to manage every moment of class. I tried to anticipate students’ responses to pre-planned discussion questions so I could craft perfect segues from topic to topic, slide to slide. I wanted it all to be orchestrated to the finest points of detail. I thought this would make the teaching better, complete, perfected.

In the last couple of years, though, I’ve finally learned to let go – and let them. Let the students take more of a lead in determining how our classes go.

I now let them talk more. A lot more. I leave lots of time for discussion. If a topic takes off, great; and on the days it doesn’t? Well, I do still lecture some, and can provide some useful information when discussion is flat. But if I never leave the floor wide open for the students to take things where they want them to go, they won’t get what they want and need out of the class. I don’t always know what they need, no matter how much I think I can anticipate it.

I now let them have time to think individually and with each other about our class topics. In my large 120-student class, I now allot 10 minutes of each 75-minute session to a small group discussion warm-up activity on the assigned reading. I then collect and talk about students’ questions at the start of class and see what they’ve learned or missed from the reading right away. I think the activity is also helping to build a sense of community in that large, diverse general education class.

None of these ideas is novel, I know. I learned most of them from other instructors. But as a beginner, I would have been terrified of these approaches. Answering completely unplanned student questions around any possible aspect of the reading? Giving up class time for unstructured discussion in groups, in which they might wander off-topic? The horror!

I think I needed time to mature as an instructor to get to this point – and I certainly don’t have everything figured out and perfected even now. I learn something new with every class session. I also needed time to gain confidence in my subject matter so that I feel confident dealing with a variety of questions.

I had to learn how to keep a class on topic and hard at work, without micromanaging every second. Not micromanaging runs counter to my Type A personality as well, making this approach even more challenging. However, for a personality like mine, failure is a powerful teacher. Reflecting on my early teaching failures makes me more determined to improve.

I also needed to see, semester after semester, that loosening, without losing, my control over the classroom was possible and beneficial. And a whole lot more fun.

Susan Currie Sivek is an assistant professor and the graduate coordinator in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno, where she teaches courses in media studies, writing and qualitative research methods. She blogs and is a knitter, triathlete and hiker when she can get away from the computer.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

To PhD or Not to PhD

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/09/10 at 23:23

Meg Palladino, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA.

Aliens, pumpkin pie, birds, solar energy, language, coffee, football, traveling, new shoes, Kon-Tiki, walking my dog, weather, doing P90X , cooking lasagna…there are so many things I like to think about. Mary Churchill’s recent post made me wonder if I’m cut out for research and academia. She writes of not wanting to “unplug” from looking at life through her academic lens (and loving it), even while on vacation. I, on the other hand, am far too fickle to look at any thing in any way for too long a time. I know that a dissertation means just that and I have my doubts.

When I think about where I want to be in five years, I can imagine a few different scenarios, and one of them involves getting my PhD. It seems like there are many more reasons why this wouldn’t be my best choice. I have no interest in fighting for tenure, I am worried that I might not be able to sustain the focus necessary for a dissertation, and I don’t see myself as a college president in the future.

So, why should I go on for a PhD? What are the benefits? In what circumstances does it make sense? Officially, a PhD would demonstrate my competence in research. It is also a valued credential that would offer prestige, and possible financial gains. Unofficially, it would feed my ego and boost my credibility in certain circles. Getting a PhD would offer me the opportunity to have a mentor, learn from peers, and even take a few classes that are genuinely exciting. Most compellingly, a PhD would allow me to become intellectually engaged in the study of a particular field.

Perhaps I’ve watched too much TV. Maybe I am shallow, or it’s because I am a Pisces. I need to unplug from my work. If I don’t, there is no way that I could go back to work the next day. I begin to feel battered by the constant email and the blinking of my phone, showing me that there are new voice mail messages from faculty, students, and other administrators waiting to be heard.

I wonder if I belong in academia. I love my career, but I also love the moments that I don’t have to think about it, whatever unidentified lens it is through which I look at life. When I go to a new place, I look at the lampposts, the blades of grass, and inhale the new scents in the air and let them carry me away. Perhaps if I had the research, training and background of a PhD, I will be able to see some of the more frustrating aspects of my work in a more nuanced way and think about the larger picture. I would have more perspective to step back and analyze the situation.

Another scenario I envision is becoming an entrepreneur. I wonder if I am cut out to build my own business. I could sell a college education to aliens, pumpkin pie for dogs, and lasagna to football players. Or maybe it is just time to take a vacation.

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

Summer’s Labour’s Lost

In Uncategorized on 2010/08/02 at 15:45

Guest blogger, Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the USA.

My sons and I hold a recurrent discussion about the reason school lets out in early June and resumes on the cusp of September. They adhere to the notion that a summer vacation came to them as a birthright. I point out the critical difference between the break they receive and the vacation they claim.

“Do you know why you don’t have school? Because when schools first started, children had to help their parents work in the fields during the summer.” The lecture continues: “Do you know that because kids could only go to school in the winter, their parents had to give firewood to the teacher? The teacher would even go around to their houses with a wagon to pick it up.” A few more details about one-room schoolhouses, in which the older kids taught the younger ones (they know about their great-grandma’s), and the complaints about nightly reading die down.

Many undergraduates hang on to the vestiges of my boys’ sense that summer is supposed to mean getting to do exactly what you want to do precisely when you want to do it. For undergraduates, the desire for change frequently manifests in the desire to make money by whatever means and in the highest amount possible. Nirvana equates to a Goldman Sachs internship, which will miraculously produce the six-figure job offer and maximize this goal in the present and the future. Other internships result in less cash up front, but promise golden tickets to elite and lucrative legal or medical careers down the road. Then there are the camp counselors, shop clerks, and burger flippers. They earn a little and learn a little while the sun shines. Another set expends more parental cash to buy extra courses or “voluntourism” packages anticipated to ‘pay off’ in the future with graduate admissions and global influence to make newly-impoverished parents proud.

Any of these options may broaden a students’ minds and give them the ‘experiential learning’ opportunity of which academic administrators speak ad nauseam. However, the student has to conceptualize the opportunity as more than money/career-making in order for it to work. William Deresiewicz’s reflection on Ivy Leaguers’ inability to converse with convenience store clerks ( could be quickly overcome with a summer working in a convenience store, but only if the student forgoes the snobbery of assuming they have nothing to share with their colleagues. If the student comes from a snotty suburb, a job in a low income urban neighborhood offers far more potential for cross-class understanding than one at home. As George H.W. Bush and Barak Obama each learned the hard way, every citizen should know the price of milk (NOT arugula) and its percentage in a minimum-wage worker’s budget. Once you know it, you can talk about it with anyone whether at Harvard or in Harlem.

Summer should be about pushing boundaries, and the best opportunities need not be expensive. That hypothetical convenience store might stand next to a community center. A student could volunteer to work with those in need while earning a little to contribute towards the family bills. The choice between teaching country-club kids tennis for profit or offering underclass children a new definition of fun for free need not be so stark. Time abroad means little if a student leaves feeling like a self-satisfied saviour or never sets forth from the safety of a study-abroad ghetto.

I spent the summer following my freshman year on the Navajo reservation. My parents paid my tuition for the ethnographic field school, but money had no influence as my blond ponytail circulated a Gallup, New Mexico stadium in a sea of shining, coal-black hair during the Intertribal Games. I knew in that moment what it meant to be different. I spent the evening with Native Americans from across the country commenting on having ‘seen’ me, the only melanin-deprived person among the throngs on the field. They had not seen me, of course. They each noted the ponytail bleached to extreme by the southwestern sun. That visceral sense of having my appearance draw everyone’s attention to my outsider status never left me. I made no money, but my summer’s labor was not lost.

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe is associate director of the office of fellowships and teaches history and American studies at Northwestern University, from which she earned her B.A. (1992). She earned M.Litt. (1994) and M.Phil. (1995) degrees in European History as a Marshall Scholar at Cambridge University before completing her Ph.D. at Princeton University (2000). In her so-called spare time, she fights household entropy, gardens, bakes boozy bundts, enjoys breakfast in Bollywood, and writes scholarly papers about funky monks. For more, visit or find Elizabeth on Twitter@ejlp and LinkedIn.

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

Outside the Box

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/07/30 at 22:41

Meg Palladino, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA.

I never finished high school.

After my sophomore year of high school, I left and went to college at age 16. Some people thought I was crazy; they were worried that I would miss my senior prom.  I thought they were crazy. The prom was the last thing on my mind.  I was bored and lonely, even though I was surrounded by childhood friends.

I asked my parents to send me to a private high school, and they refused.  They thought that it was a waste of money.  They suggested that I go to college instead. The opportunity to go to college early was a decision that has impacted the rest of my life.

At sixteen, I didn’t have the maturity to understand a lot of the material that was presented to me in my first college classes. I didn’t have the study skills to manage my work load. I didn’t have the life experience to know how to work with faculty or ask for help. I did, however, find a group of peers who were also going through similar culture shock and who understood me. I felt like I fit in for the first time in my life. We all had the chance to redefine ourselves.

After getting my bachelor’s degree, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had just turned twenty. I took a year off and worked. I also took two graduate courses. I found that my graduate school peers were in a different place in life that I was. I was assigned to a study group that liked to meet in a local bar. When I tried to meet them, I was not allowed inside, because I was underage. It was embarrassing.

However, I did go on to get my graduate degree, and enter the world of teaching and higher ed administration. My non-traditional background has helped me relate to students of all types, and think outside the box of traditional education.

Standardized education and standardized tests are made for averages – not real human beings. In real life, none of us are really standard. Some of us finish high school at 16 and some need to stay until we’re 20. Some of us are ready for undergraduate programs and eager to attend, others need a gap year or two – some “real world” experience. We need more options – more entry points. Some students succeed on fast-track programs and others need additional time for reflection and practice.

Just as the end of the bachelor’s degree and the beginning of the masters should overlap and have continuity, the end of high school and the beginning of college should speak to one another. The focus should be on proficiencies and outcomes rather than on the number of years spent sitting in hard wooden chairs. It is not always about time. Who is to say that a three-year degree in the UK is not equivalent to a four-year degree in the US?

I was lucky to have a mother who was a high school teacher and a father who was a guidance counselor – lucky to have parents who knew about alternative paths to college. This prevented me from becoming a high school dropout. Having an option to attend college early forced me to come to terms with myself, grow up, and make my own decisions. I had small classes with excellent faculty. I studied abroad. It was an inspiring, broad education.

Early college is not for everyone, but I have no regrets about leaving high school after only two years.

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

How Higher Ed Makes Most Things Meaningless

In Uncategorized on 2010/07/23 at 15:48

Guest writer, Lee Skallerup, blogging from Kentucky in the USA.

My academic research will not change the world. Don’t get me wrong; I love the authors I am currently studying and I found fascinating all of the topics and areas I have previously written about. But at the end of the day, most people are not really interested in what I am doing, including most people in the academy or in my discipline.

Recently, however, I began blogging and Tweeting, not about my current academic research interests, but more largely about education and the direction of higher education. This work has the potential, if not to change the world, then at least to play an active role in changing academia. Through social media, I have reached a broad audience of academics, teachers, parents, professionals, non-profits and other people who are interested in and care about education.  I have been invited to contribute blog posts for a number of different sites. My writing has been featured on other sites, UVenus included. Suddenly, not only am I working on a topic I am passionate about, but it also seems to matter.

With a foot in both worlds, there are a number of questions about what academia really values from its (theoretically) most important employees, the professors.

Are Academics really interested in “sharing”?

We, as academics, are not really encouraged to share our research and our knowledge. We are encouraged to “share” our findings in limited environments: the conference or specialized journal. If you miss a conference, you must typically wait years for the presentations to appear as either journal articles or chapters in books. These forums (conference, specialized journal, academic book) are highly priced (for the consumer) and highly valued (by the academy), giving the research meaning. We are taught to hoard our research and findings to share with a potentially smaller audience in venues with more “prestige.”

Why can’t a professor be rewarded for sharing her research through sites like or SlideShare? Why can’t a professor receive credit for creating or participating in Twitter Chats related to her discipline or sub-field (for an example of the power of Twitter Chats, browse the number of weekly discussion focused on education-link)? These means of communicating our research are “crowdsourced” instead of peer-reviewed. Hiring committees and tenure committees wouldn’t care, making the work meaningless, even if the reach, influence and impact of the research could be greatly expanded by using social media and the Web 2.0.

Are we allowed to be ourselves?

When I first decided that I was going to be an academic, I was told that I had to give up my online life (I blogged before it was even known as blogging) if I ever wanted to be taken seriously as an academic. I was encouraged by my professors and more senior grad student colleagues to give up every part of my life that didn’t have to do with my research. A professor is expected to be nothing more than the talking head in front of the classroom or a by-line on a book or article. Outside of those two functions of teaching and research, the person behind the professor would appear to be meaningless.

Deciding that I didn’t care about any of that was freeing in many ways. It allowed me to to engage with a larger peer group as my whole self, with all of my interests intact. And perhaps the most liberating part of no longer trying to be someone I wasn’t in order to be valued was that my research improved. I am no longer desperate to make my research sound like it will change the world in order to fit myself into a job or funding opportunity. I continue to publish and present at conferences, but I choose the opportunities that fit with the research, with me, and not the other way around.

Academia has such a narrow view of what is meaningful, and I, for one, have stopped listening to what higher education thinks I should be and started defining it for myself.

Lee Elaine Skallerup has a PhD from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an Edupreneur. You can visit her blog at and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting).

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.