Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Showing Your Work

Since Aim

é

e's post last week I've had conferencing on my mind. Well, her post and the fact that it is conference season. I gave a paper this past Friday at the NSCAD Cineflux Symposium, and this coming Friday I'll be heading off to Fredericton, NB to attend Congress.

I don't have any children, so I must admit that the important issues Aimée discussed aren't issues I've had to deal with or consider. Conference time is my time plain and simple. OK, maybe not plain and simple.

I've been thinking about conference papers--and more generally of conferences--as sites for either positive collaborative thinking or (less positively) another notch in the old CV. Of course others have written about the good, the bad, and the boring conference already.

Lately, I've been thinking about sharing ideas. Here's what I mean: the panel I was on at the Cineflux conference was made up of a new group of collaborators. My colleagues have recently been successful in the competition for a SSHRC Research Creation Grant and I am a collaborator (eeek!) We are a film maker, a sculptor/installation artist, an urban anthropologist, an independent artist, a technology specialist and digital artist, a design specialist, and me. This is our project. When we got together this weekend the aim and intent was to share ideas, to inspire and inform one another, and to begin to think about how out work in different disciplines could productively cross-pollenate to create new ways of experiencing urban space.

I realized that everyone else on the team has been used to working collaboratively save for me. Now if you look at my CV you'll notice that I go out of my way to think, practice, and write about collaboration in the Humanities. ...But as we well know co-authorship and other collaborative work isn't yet valued in the same ways in all disciplines. There are some good reasons--and less good reasons--for that but what I'm really interested in is the way in which I'm only just getting used to sharing my BIG (read: research) ideas with other people. Before they've germinated.

I did not have the kind of MA of PhD experience in which I would show my supervisors conference papers before I gave them. Sure, we worked on my thesis and dissertation together, but any work I did on the side was my own. I wonder why? I certainly could have showed it to either of those women, they would have read, responded, offered useful commentary. It never occurred to me though. I have been under the unconscious impression for such a long time now that I shouldn't show my works in progress until they are more or less polished. That's hurt me, I think. Perhaps I was influenced by the endemic fear that circulates amongst many graduate students of having my ideas stolen. Granted, there are certainly cases where that happens but I'm coming to believe that giving my ideas public breathing space is the best way to make them mine, and make them better.

In the last year or so I have been trading drafts with colleagues. I'll admit, I find it is still TERRIFYING. I often catch myself thinking some version of the fraud narrative: will I be revealed as a novice/idiot/charlatan now? (note that I clearly have blocked the fact that many writers, especially creative writers, show their work all the time in workshops and with editors. Hmm, good model, no?) In reality though the result has been that my work is stronger, more fully articulated, and sounder for this sharing.

What about you? Do you share your work with colleagues/writing groups/an editor before it is fully finished?

Monday, May 16, 2011

A conferencing we go!

I find myself in the unusual position, this week, of parenting solo while my husband is on a business trip. This has never happened. There are business trips aplenty in this household, but it's always me traveling. And I always go alone. Solo. Like a wolf.

Well, that's not strictly true, but the exception clarifies the rule: once, when my girl was six months old, my department sent me on a graduate recruiting trip to my alma mater, and I said that since I was breastfeeding I could only do it if my daughter came, and if my daughter came I could only get any work done if my husband came too.

Can you believe they paid for all of us? We saved on hotel costs by all staying with my husband's parents, but really! Three of us flying thousands of kilometres to do a recruiting trip! It was crazy, of course: my daughter fussed for the entire flight, there AND back, the time change was hell, my boobs were like rocks every time I left my daughter for more than 90 minutes, my husband was solo parenting in someone else's house, out of our collective routine. Nobody slept. I hardly remember a thing. I barely knew if I was coming or going, it was 40 below, and I was worried about everything. Good times!

Yeah. So now I travel alone.

I've been to Denmark, England, Alberta, British Columbia (yearly), Northern Ontario, Maryland, California, and Michigan (three times) without my family. I've ordered room service and luxuriated in hotel robes. I've done yoga on pebble beaches. I've plucked oranges from trees growing along the sidewalk. I've slept in. I've done audio tours of historic buildings. Of course, I've also cooled my heels in what feels like 50 versions of the same awful, soul-sucking airport, having my dignity and shampoo alike confiscated. I've sat through innumerable presentations in uncomfortable chairs with very poor coffee to sustain me. I've crammed myself into hotel rooms the size of my bathroom. I've had jet lag and panic attacks and indigestion.

I do know that I get a lot more work done, and that I'm better able to manage the various stresses of traveling when I'm alone. I know I'm freer to network, to devote myself to conference sessions and meeting colleagues, and making the most of the book fair, then getting enough sleep and alone time to do it all again the next day. But I really do wish I could share the Viking Museum in Roskilde with my husband, bring my girl to see the tulip festival in Ottawa, lie on the rock beach at Brighton with them both so we could all have the sense memory of that incredible sound of waves and pebbles ebbing and flowing. I have one particularly pitiful memory of a four hour layover in Amsterdam where I set myself up in an airport bar and closely examined all 2000+ family photos on my computer, in chronological order, a sped-up version of This is Your Life that seemed to rip my heart in two.

Academics have to go to conferences. It's an inescapable fact of professional life. If you have a family, there are two ways to play it. Either you turn that conference in England (say) into a family vacation, bringing everyone with you, and staying some extra time before or after the working part of the trip--or you don't. I don't. And if I'm being perfectly honest, that's probably the best arrangement for me and my family.

What do you do?

Monday, May 9, 2011

This Month (this semester) in Sexism

We don't make this stuff up.
  • The president of our university sent an email inviting all male faculty members, staff and (male) spouses to his home for a "Men's Steak Dinner." Follow-up for us: the "Ladies' Spring Picni."
  • How about the male colleague who applauds me for all I do, and then asks - at least three times - "Do you have children?" (implied: "Ah, that explains it") or "You don't have children, do you?" 
  • Recently the University Librarian at McMaster organized an important agenda-setting symposium on the "Future of Academic Libraries." Of a possible 21 speakers, in the initial lineup were only 3 women - the rest men. Egregious in any context, but particularly insulting given that, according to CAUT statistics, a walloping 73% of Canadian academic librarians are women. Adding insult to injury, librarian bloggers who called out the organizers on the omission were accused of being disingenuous, "rattling the cage" and practicing reverse sexism. 
  • At a day-long, required meeting/professional development/conference, I watched a male administrator cut off, completely misunderstand, and then talk over a female instructor who was trying to ask a legitimate question. The morning of the conference thing was devoted to (mostly) male administrators telling us about their jobs and what they are doing to supposedly help us (but really, it was about how we needed to do better), and then the afternoon was devoted to the (mostly) female instructors (all instructors, not one of us on the tenure-track) talking about what we did in the classroom. Not one administrator stayed for our presentations. Not. One.

    I know how I feel about this: insulted, disrespected, and a little humiliated. And really, really angry. I've always been surrounded by strong female role models, so I could "hide" from the reality. But not any more. In a contingent position, however, I don't know what I can do. 
La lucha continua.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Guest Post: Recycling is not a bad thing

Our first guest post of the 'summer'! Jo Van Every had the classic experience of writing a humongous comment on a post here, and then watching it get eaten by Blogger. Luckily for us, she channeled her disappearing-comment energies into writing a full-fledged post, and it's very topical: as conference season launches, it's a good time to think about the "communication of scholarly results," as our funders express it.

Enjoy!

------

This post was inspired by Aimée's post Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I have used examples from her post for the sake of convenience. Feel free to substitute names of journals and conferences in your field as you read.

I've written on my own blog about the tensions between publishing for validation and publishing for communication. While you will be judged (and validated as a scholar) based on your publications, the primary reason for publishing and presenting your work at conferences, public lectures, or wherever, should be to communicate.

If you have a communication orientation to your work, the recycling issue appears in a very different light.

Audience makes a difference


The list of occasions on which Aimée had presented similar work looked to me like it spanned a range of different audiences:

I've been joking that what I've been creating this week, in preparation, is a "Frankenpaper": parts of Saturday's 15 minute conference paper is built from text I created for a public talk in the Digital Media Series at Stratford, reworked for a lecture celebrating 50 years of the Faculty of Arts at UW, and then reframed in a minor way for an invited lecture hosted by the MA in Humanities at Laurentian University in Sudbury. Incidentally, those talks all revisited ideas and prose I first considered and wrote in 2005, for the Reader's Forum of English Studies in Canada. Still with me? Okay. My conference paper is also built from an article I've recently submitted to Biography--which was written from the ideas I pulled together for a different conference paper for last summer's International Auto/Biography Association conference in Sussex. Oops, I did pull stuff right from the conference paper, too, that I had removed from the article version of that research. The Keynote slides draw from the Stratford/Arts/Sudbury presentation, as well as from the IABA presentation.

The audiences for those various public talks are unlikely to overlap. Local events, like celebrations of 50 years of the Faculty of Arts, draw a local crowd. Public talks have a different audience from academic conferences. And different academic conferences have different groups of people. The Auto/Biography crowd are not the same as the English Studies crowd. (I know, for example, that there are sociologists in the former.)

The same can be said for different print (or online) publications. The people who read Biography are not the same as the people who read English Studies in Canada. And they certainly aren't the same people who read journals in communication studies, digital media, or whatever.

The fact that you've heard it before doesn't mean everyone in your audience has heard it before.

Audience also affects the content


In addition, each of those presentations/publications will not be exactly the same.

All research communication contributes to ongoing conversations. Those may be formal theoretical conversations happening in peer reviewed academic journals. Or they may be public debates taking place in the mainstream media and people's living rooms. The general public are interested in your research in a different way than the students in an MA in Humanities, or your disciplinary colleagues at an academic conference. And you want to communicate something different to those different audiences, too. You will be engaging with them in different ways.

You will also contextualize your findings (empirical, conceptual, theoretical) in ways that are relevant to a particular audience. A paper for the International Auto/Biography Association will be different from a paper for English Studies in Canada because you have to make different assumptions about the audience's familiarity with particular debates that you engage with, at the very least. A public presentation on Digital Media is more likely to be contextualized in public debates happening in mainstream media than theoretical debates happening in academic journals.

Chances are that you are publishing/presenting to those different audiences because you have contributions to make to different debates and those debates are happening in different places. Although the content overlaps, you have something slightly different to say about your research to those different audiences.

Again, just because you've said this before doesn't mean you have. Or that you've said it in a way that this audience can engage with.

People need to hear what you have to say


Presenting/publishing in multiple venues is not "recycling" so much as giving people multiple opportunities to come across your work. If you only produce one publication/presentation from a given research project, you rely on the people that need to know what you've discovered/created finding that one place where you've told anyone about it.

It's like the proverbial light under the bushel. It's there. And if you know it's there and lift up the bushel basket, you can see the light. But most people aren't going to notice. If you have something worth saying, it's worth saying in venues (live, online, in print) where the people who need to hear it can find it easily. You don't need big gaudy neon signs but you need to be visible.

In doing this remember that any oral presentation is reaching a much smaller potential audience than a written publication. People are there to hear it or not. Whereas a print (including online) publication can be engaged with at another time, even years later. One reason to turn your academic conference papers into academic journal articles is to make them accessible to people that weren't there, including people that won't even be interested in your topic until 2 years from now. And if you want to reach people who don't read academic journals, you need to also publish your work in venues they frequent -- blogs, magazines, public talks, etc.

That ability to access the paper asynchronously (to use the fancy online learning jargon) also means that readers/listeners can refer others to your work. Maybe Jane heard your paper at that conference and thought it was really interesting. She knows people who could really use that knowledge. Is there a way for her to tell people about it and get them access to what you presented/published?

Validation is still important

The processes that validate your work as an academic only recognize some of those publications: the ones that communicate to audiences they value. If you want recognition and validation by peers in your discipline then presenting at conferences in your discipline and publishing in peer reviewed journals in your discipline is important. The fact that you also communicate to peers in cognate disciplines or interdisciplinary fields is likely to enhance your reputation in your field. Those publications will probably not substitute for publications in your discipline.

Communicating to non-academic audiences may also be valued in this additional way, though peers are likely to wonder what the time you spend on that is taking away from things they value more.

The question is, why are you writing/presenting? Who do you want to reach? What do you value? Organize your publication/presentation strategy accordingly.

In the end, you are probably more at risk of publishing too little than publishing too much. Stop worrying about recycling.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Breaking up with Stephen: Some thoughts on voting

Today is the day. Today is the day where--I hope--people in this country who are able to vote get out and demand a new government.

I suspect that readers of this site are aware that Stephen Harper is a danger to women. According to the Ad Hoc Coalition for Women's Equality and Human Rights Harper and the Conservatives have cut or revoked funding to more than thirty-five Women's Organizations. Many of these organizations are health and safety related. Take for example Sisters In Spirit, and advocacy group who among other vital work collected data on missing and murdered Aboriginal women. As citizens of the digital age we know that data is capta, so why cut funding to this group? I agree with Sarah Harrison: without information it is more difficult to criticize governmental practice.

I've already voted, and I suspect that for the second time in my life the person I'm voting for has a chance of winning. (This first time, if you're at all interested, was in the 2008 US Presidential election. I have what we call in Canada dual citizenship and what they call in the States 'incomprehensible'). I live in Metro Halifax, meaning that NDP incumbent Megan Leslie is in my riding. In addition to being thrilled to vote for a candidate I believe in, I realized that this is one of the first times I've had the opportunity to vote for a woman.

Politics is another place where The Count would reveal some fairly stark numbers. Consider, for example, the Elizabeth May conundrum. As one of our incredibly articulate commentators asks:

"What about Elizabeth May who is the only female party leader (yay!), yet whose party's very existence is responsible for yet more vote-splitting that allowed several Tory candidates to beat out the Liberals or NDP in progressive ridings (particularly in southern Ontario) last time, making her very presence partly responsible for Harper's ongoing reign (boo!)?"

What, indeed.

I've looked up some statistics on women in Canadian politics. Simon Fraser University has a very handy page that you can look at here. This year Equal Voice reports the following number of women candidates for each of the main parties:
  • NDP: 125/308 - 40.6%
  • GRN: 98/304 - 32.2
  • BQ: 24/75 - 32.0
  • LIB: 92/308 - 29.9
  • CON: 67/307 - 21.8
Interesting.

More interesting still will be seeing how things play out on the poles today. Most of all I am interested in seeing the youth--that's YOU students--shaming all of the candidates into paying genuine attention to the growing student debt in this country. I do not believe that students and young people in Canada are apathetic. Let's get out there and make some change!



And don't forget, if enough women vote, Harper's regime will fall.