I hate writing these. And every time I have to write one for a new context I write a fresh bio, because I want to give the right info to the right audience. And I figure out what's the 'right info' by cruising for similar bios written by others.
Here's some of what I've noticed, generally:
- Often, graduate students write the most about themselves in their bios, and this can be a little off-putting. ("Janey Ambitious (BA Podunk) is a pre-PhD student in the program of Arts and Culture at the University of Bigname, where she teaches several yearly sections of freshman comp and studies the grand literary theory of everything. Her research combines new criticism, poststructuralism, new media studies, and continental philosophy to propose that everyone is wrong. She was a valedictorian of her high school and published a poem on the Arts Student Association website, which earned three comments.") Otherwise, they say very little, which I kind of like for its clear-headed brevity. ("Janey Ambitious is a Masters student at University of Bigname.")
- Early professors sometimes couch their whole records like a selection -- this was my particular trick. ("Aimée Morrison (PhD, Alberta) is an Assistant Professor in English at the University of Waterloo. She has recently published on videogaming in 1980s popular cinema, blogging, and rhetorics of internet democracy.") The trick here is that 'recently published' was in fact everything I had ever published. It just sounded less shitty that way ...
- Some really senior people write damn near nothing and are intimidating as a result ("Susan Accomplished is CRC of Magnificence in Scholarship at Hyper Competitive University, as well as President.") Of course, when they list out even a representative sample of what they've done, it's huge, and still totally intimidating. ("Susan Accomplished (PhD Oxford, FRSC) is CRC of Magnificence in Scholarship at HCU, as well as President. She has published three mongraphs on That Very Cool Thing No One Else Does But Everyone Cites since 2004, earned a Nobel Prize for Literature as well as a Pulitzer Prize for journalism for ... [Oh God, I can't go on. I'm getting depressed]")
It's just generally awful for everyone, let's admit. Awful because it feels important and risky and fraught with rhetorical danger.
One thing that's increasingly becoming clear to me is that the bios that accompany Serious Scholarly Writing, like a peer-reviewed article, don't mention teaching. Better more words devoted to where you've published and who funded your work, than to describe what you teach in the graduate (or, heavens! the undergraduate) program at your institution.
I myself have begun to remove references to my teaching from my bios in these venues: it just doesn't seem like the done thing to talk about my teaching there. I almost feel like it takes away from my credibility if I give the same number of words to my teaching career as to my research. So now I just list more publications, and talk about my external funding. Because it's the done thing.
Bios are important. For me, the are one of the filters I apply to the database of 800+ things I have lined up as possible research sources. A bio will tell me what field an author works in and that matters: a communications scholar's take on Facebook is one among a million, but a literary scholar's is much more rare. A bio will tell me someone's rank and experience level, and it is (true story!) often the case that this knowledge forms part of the context by which I decide how and if to read something. I will even admit to you that I can get a little judgy reading bios: worse, lately, I find myself wondering if someone is really a serious scholar if they put too much emphasis on their teaching in their bios.
Teaching is a huge, esssential, fundamental, joyful, exasperating, rewarding part of my career. I love teaching. Someone asked me recently if I (hypothetically) would like a lower teaching load (2/1) than I have now (2/2) and I said no, because, dammit, teaching is a big reason I became a professor. If you glance your eyes over at the tag cloud on the sidebar to your right, you'll see that this blog, even, has way more discussion devoted to teaching than to research: it's a huge part of our lives and our self-image as professionals.
So why the bias against teaching in the bios? Have I unveiled a conspiracy, or does it not matter? What do you think?
When you write your own bio, how do you balance out the different aspects of your life as an academic to tell the story you want to tell about yourself in the context of your research?