Friday, November 30, 2012

Making Lemonade

Today, I'm offering up a framed narrative. I wrote the following nested post on Sunday, but then Liz offered a bunch of solutions to my exhaustion questions on Tuesday. So, while my exhaustion has not evaporated, I've decided to make the proverbial lemonade, and look forward to brighter things in the New Year. Rest assured, I'm not quite ready to do the counting of the blessings, yet. After all, it's still November. So, here's Sunday-me, all tired-but-hopeful:

***

It seems I'm on an inspiration kick. Or a whining kick. Whichever it is, I'm trying to turn it into something better. You might also argue I'm crowdsourcing my counselling. However, I bet I'm not alone in feeling exhausted right about now, on the brink of December. So, I'm writing this post to ask you all: how do you deal? cope? manage? right about now.

Here's my situation: it's Sunday as I'm writing these lines, and before you admire my organizational skills, wait until you read the whole thing. My oldest has now been sick with the flu (the real one, the influenza one) for almost a week [update: she's better, but we still had to pick her up early on Wednesday, as she was running a fever], while also scheduled to take a trip over the pond tomorrow. I hope, by the time you read this post, she will be long past it [update: the cough is still here]. Otherwise I feel like I will snap something. Speaking of snapping: my youngest woke up early. Well, nothing is *too* early for a baby, but right now, at 53 degrees latitude north, when the sun rises around 9 am (I'm exaggerating; tired mothers are allowed their lion's share of hyperbole), 6:45 am seems unpardonably early. Strike that, it's always too early to be woken up at that time. 

However, to add literal injury to insult, after I'd taken the baby into my own bed, hoping to steal maybe another 5 seconds of shut-eye, he gleefully--everything is either ginormously gleeful or deathly dramatic at 13 months--proceeded to get up, pick up my water bottle, and drop it--nay, throw it--squarely in my right eye. The visible result? I now sport a red spot on the white of my right eye. Yeah, I didn't need that one anyway. Symmetry is always better, and my left eye is much more myopic than my right. Babies always know more than we give them credit for, no?

The cherry on the cake of exhaustion--see, even my metaphors get mixed this late in the term--I am about to receive (remember, it's still Sunday here) eighty (if I spell the numeral instead of writing numbers, it will seem much smaller, yes?) research essays tomorrow. E-i-g-h-t-y (nope, still small, still in denial). 

So, between the packing and the marking and the lesson prepping--and did I mention the few remaining job/postoc apps--and the usual demands of life, my upcoming week--happily now in my past--is looking quite quite busy. 

Which brings me to my last point (and, alas, a sentence fragment--you can see I'm gearing up for marking here!): how do *you* cope with the end-of-term avalanche of marking and deadlines and final exams and final papers and the anticipation of all. that. work waiting for you in the new year. I will spare you my list for 2013, but I would really love to hear, before we do the pinnable year-end tally of "awesome things that happened in 2012," how you deal with the actual year-end itself. Because me? This here is how I'm dealing. Crowdsourcing my therapy. Please don't send me a bill, though, k?

***

Now back to my usual Friday-due-post self: you know, I did say I'd snap something, but I didn't. The cherry on the cake: now my partner is sick. And the baby, the water-bottle-bull's-eye-throwing baby? I had to pick him up early from daycare yesterday, because they were suspecting pinkeye. Pink-effing-eye! And yet, I'm still here. Unsnapped. What's holding me together? In the words of the wonderful M M-D (our resident English and Film Studies miracle worker), the end-of-term is within tasting distance! Yes, I still have to mark the papers; yes, I still have to write the final exams; yes, I still have to mark those.

However, in-between, I get to dream about how next term will be so much more exciting. I'm teaching a 200-level course for the first time! I've chosen some awesome novels I'm very excited about, and I get to legitimately discuss theory! THEORY! Legitimately! (excuse me for shouting, but I'm just THAT excited). I do, in fact, teach quite a bit of theory in my introductory courses, but it's always instrumental. And that's fine. I utilize theory in my research all the time. But this course will allow me to actually discuss theory in itself. Now that's something to look forward to. (and, by the way, while I'm aware it's not all fun and games teaching a new course, my realistic side is all taken up with kiddie sickness at the moment, so I'll just deal with the problematic issues this course will pose as they arise, rather than imagining them)

Finally, and probably most excitingly for me, I will revise, rethink, and reconceptualize my manuscript. I did it once, but I was too enamoured with it, and I didn't do enough. Now I've got some really substantive feedback, which helped me truly see the lacunas, and I'm ready to tackle it again. I've also got a very receptive editor who's willing not only re-read it at the end, but support me in the process. It's looking good, and it is thrilling.

And that's my lemonade! Want some?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Blogging dilemmas

I’m emotionally exhausted out of frustration from a work issue that is very much about equity, professionalism, process, and fairness. But I can’t write about it! Even though it foregrounds issues that are pretty high on the agenda around these parts, there is no way that I could possibly discuss the details (at least online) without getting in deep s#@!

This particular episode follows upon at least two other instances this past semester of egregious sexism that I can’t blog about because of confidentiality. I am okay with that, on one level. Confidentiality exists for a reason: there are many instances in academia when people have to be comfortable to express difficult opinions on sensitive and important matters. Moreover, having agreed to confidentiality, I consider it unethical to then break that agreement. So my lips are sealed. 

But I’m also not okay with that because that sexism nevertheless hangs in the air, at least in my atmosphere, shaping and colouring my work life. And I know that people take advantage of the protection of a confidential setting to express things that they could not get away with otherwise. So I find it problematic that I’m bound by confidentiality, when that works to perpetuate a sexist, chauvinist work culture. 

With regards to my current situation (which actually reaches back 2 years), there is nothing confidential about it. But to discuss it would only stand to hurt me professionally more than I stand to gain by sharing with you folks. And that is incredibly disheartening because, when combined with the aforementioned sexism, it makes me wonder where can change come from? The hierarchies in my institution make it clear that I have no means to address the issue head on. I could raise a grievance with my faculty association, but that is putting myself out there again in a way that will likely do more harm to me then it will actually realize substantive change. If I put my head down and protect my self-interest, then of course nothing will change. 

I grew up thinking that you always fought back. Every time you saw something that was wrong, you called it out, and you kept calling it out until you got a response. But in our culture broadly, and narrowly within academia, sexism and inequity can be so pervasive that I have to "pick my battles." So my question to you folks, given that I can’t ask for specific assistance on the matter in question, when you pick your battles, what criteria do you use to decide?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Social Work: Emotional Labour and the Core Mission

Yesterday, I wrote another peer review, this time a gentle and encouraging rejection of an article submitted to a journal. That particular shit sandwich wound up being over 1300 words long--like the Dagwood sandwich of carefully worded peer reviews. It took me all morning to write, because I really wanted to encourage the writer at the same time as make clear just how flawed this particular instantiation of the ideas was.

I've also been to two meals with job candidates and other assorted part-social part-intellectual events. I'm finalizing the details for the department holiday party I'm hosting at my house. I'm giving graduate students pep talks about time management and the writing process and how it's okay to cry sometimes. I'm helping members of my broader network process scathing reviews of cherished work. I'm trying to be a constructive but forceful participant in some discussions about massive structural change in our university teaching and curricula.

It strikes me that a lot of the way that I get my core mission--my research, teaching, and service--done is through deliberate and sustained "social work." That is, emotional labour greases the track across which everything I do is supposed to slide.

Weird that even in the touchy-feely humanities it needs to be said, but those "soft skills" we always try to indicate we help students master--verbal and written communication, social savvy from historical awareness, self-reflexivity, creative thinking--constitute a kind of emotional labour. And that even in humanities disciplines we tend to undervalue this emotional labour, which we might reframe thus:
plays well with others, can keep a civil tongue in her head, has Kleenexes and pats on the back and kind words for burnt-out students, crafts interactions to be effective without being aggressive.

Sometimes I'm really good at this kind of work and sometimes I'm really not. When I do it right, the results are invariably better than when I let my harsher nature loose and slash and burn my way through the day with Sword of Righteousness aloft. I mean, sometimes, somebody just blows it, and I want to tell them off. Or they don't know what they're talking about, and they should, and my instinct is sarcasm. Or someone misses another deadline and I want to drop the hammer down hard. I find that just letting rip in these situations hardly ever achieves the desired outcome. But if I focus my reactions instead on constructing some kind of interaction that is designed to make it more likely that my ultimate goal is going to be met, I get better results from those I work with, students and colleagues and administrators alike.

This is hard. It involves teeth gritting, followed by deep breathing and a short meditation on kindness. It involves a careful consideration of the future beyond the next five minutes. Sometimes it involves sitting on my hands to not launch a tirade at a meeting, or a further 20 minutes on a peer review editing out the sourness, or a phone call to consult a senior colleague on how to deal with a thorny situation.

If you do it really well, this emotional labour is invisible to most of those around you: you seem naturally nice or kind or thoughtful or easy to work with. You make life with the hotheads more bearable, or your students all seem to graduate faster, or the committees you sit on seem to laugh a lot. The work might get ascribed to personality, or some kind of intrinsic nature, and become invisible as labour to others. Does that matter?

Like so many other things that women often excel at when compared to men, it seems like emotional labour is a kind of skill we resist considering as real work. I don't want to get a merit score on personality. But I would like to see more open recognition of the fact that when some people are perhaps easier to work with than others, it's probably not as easy as it looks. It might be deliberate. It ought to be celebrated.

What kinds of emotional labour do you exert in your day to day work? And is it recognized? Should it be?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fighting Burnout

Like most early career academic researchers, I’m busy. My official job duties are teaching a lot of courses and chairing a program. But, then there’s all the extra academic stuff that gets piled on top: applying for tenure-track positions; applying for research funding; writing reference letters; going to meetings; attending conferences; trying to think about writing something, as well as the non-academic life stuff on top of that: eating; making sure the laundry gets done; keeping up with friends; having a long-distance relationship; exercise (?); doing the dishes every once in awhile…

It’s a bit much. It’s too much, in fact. Even if I was a feminist superhero (and I couldn’t tell you if I was because it would jeopardize my secret identity), it would be too much.

There are particular times of year—and this is one of those times of year—that it’s pretty easy to start feeling burnt out. You might be reading an article and find that your eyes are glazing over; seeing a pile of essays might induce nausea; or you might just feel completely saturated. Here’s a few ideas for fighting burnout.

1. Clean Breaks

Are you one of those people who insists on bringing a laptop or pile of grading to a cottage? If you’re already feeling burnt out, take a clean and guilt-free break. It doesn’t even need to be a long break, but a break that involves you lugging four books around town while you “go out for a walk” is not a clean break. When you’re done working, stop working. For real.

2. Reading Detox

Try this experiment: do not read anything. No email; no lists of things to do; no articles or books, even for pleasure, for 24 hours. It feels impossible. It is not. Let your brain recover for awhile! Try occupying yourself in other ways: knitting; exercise (?); doing that pile of laundry; or anything else that strikes your fancy.

3. Have a Life Outside of Academia

One of the best things that happened for my academic career is that I made friends with people who aren’t academics. In my case, it was through playing music. Being friends with people whose lives don’t revolve around the university puts a lot of what we do in perspective, and this can help academic work feel much less overwhelming.

4. Acknowledge that You Won’t Do Everything Perfectly

This can be hard to do. As an academic, and maybe just as a human, I want to do my best all the time. Acknowledge that you are doing your best under the circumstances and try to avoid long sessions of beating yourself up for what you may perceive as “falling short.”

Finally, perhaps most importantly, sleep! Goodnight!


Monday, November 26, 2012

Who Fills the Chairs


Consciously or not, I'm always aware of how many women there are in the room at academic gatherings. As an undergraduate in English, it was rare to have more than a couple of men in the classroom, excluding the professor--who was, more often than not, male. As a teacher of undergraduates in English, the same went. Beyond the graduate classroom (which had a slightly more equal male-female ratio, although women still dominated) I was struck by what I saw. At department meetings, there are more male professors than female. Conferences I've attended, depending on the subject, have often been male dominated, and like the one I presented at earlier this fall, can be profoundly uncomfortable spaces to be in as a woman. Department support staff at my university are almost all female. Department chairs, since I've been here, have almost always been male, and upper administration and governance is certainly male dominated. It's not anything new to note that there is a major disconnect in my field between the gender of the students who enter it as undergraduates, of those who dominate the PhD graduating classes and the gender of those in the positions of highest power. This isn't just the field. This is the world.

I had a few experiences this week that seemed to suggest that things are changing. In a meeting of the key players behind a new graduate student professional development program in our Faculty of Graduate Studies, I looked around the table to note that most of those people, including the Dean, were women. I'm helping to coordinate a writing workshop for dissertation scholarship winners, and all but two are women, as are most of their supervisors. I'm also the graduate representative on our tenure and promotions committee, and we met earlier this week. The committee is headed up by our new graduate program director, who is, after men heading up the department for the last decade or longer, a woman. Around the conference table, nearly everyone seated was also female. At one point someone asked the committee if we could estimate how much longer we might take, as she wanted to let her stay-at-home husband know when she would be home to breastfeed their baby daughter. At the end of the meeting, the professor with the baby daughter and I exchanged mutual admiration for the bag I was carrying and the granola-covered nuts her husband had made for her (for which you can find the recipe here). It felt, during that meeting, like the proportion of women in the room had changed something, like it was okay to be academics and people too. That baking and breastfeeding and being good academics and holding positions of power weren't mutually exclusive—the acknowledgement of which is key, I think, to addressing the power imbalance in the academy and the wider world.

It would have been nice if there wasn’t another side to this story, but of course there is. The two people up for tenure and promotion were both men, as are most of the people who have been given tenure or have been promoted since my arrival in the department. The nursing professor was apologetic, and jokingly defensive, about her need to get back to her baby. After bonding over our shared love of Smitten Kitchen, she remarked that she clearly wasn't working hard enough if she had time to go hunting down recipes for granola-covered nuts. At a workshop on academic job interviews later that afternoon, we were warned against interviewers who would try to find out if we were planning on having children soon. And at that uncomfortable conference last month, a presenter made a joke about my sending him love notes as I sat and waited to deliver my own paper, a joke that I had to laugh off but which made more women than me in the room cringe. Earlier that day, another male panelist told me, in not so many words, that as a young(ish) woman, I was not allowed (although I was moderating the panel) to ask him to wrap up when his paper went over time, which he assured me it would.  

One of the things I love best about Hook & Eye is that women fill the chairs. We sit around this virtual table and discuss whatever matters to us as female academics. Sometimes that's writing a better conference proposal. Sometimes it's how we get treated differently when we leave the house without makeup on. Sometimes it's a great recipe that makes rushing out the door to get to class feel a little bit easier, or one that can keep a breastfeeding woman going through a long day on campus. We feel comfortable talking as people, and not just as academics, at least in part because we fill the chairs. And if we filled the chairs in more rooms, as we fill the chairs in more rooms--in the Dean's office, in the office of the department chair, in the university senate, in the President's office, at the presenter’s table--the culture of the university might continue to shift. It might start to acknowledge that parenting and positions of power aren't incompatible. That teaching and taking time to nurse a child, or to care for an aging parent, or to spend time on a hobby, are equally important facets of a complex academic life. That being professors and being people, no matter our gender, should be accepted and celebrated and taken into account when making decisions about who is given positions of power. When we fill more of the chairs, I can't help but feel that the feeling in the room changes for the better, for us and for the men around us. And so do our experiences of being women, being people, in academe.  

So I’ll keep watching to see who fills the chairs. And I'll keep filling one myself, as often as I can, while I do. What about you? What’s your sense of the gender balances and imbalances at your university, or in your field, and whether or not they’re shifting? 

Friday, November 23, 2012

What's the best time to have kids?

The topic for this week's #ECRchat, which stands for early-career researcher chat on Twitter, was "Deciding when to have a family." As I sit in my office during office hours (on the most recent Wednesday in your past), while my oldest is at home with yet another cold and hacking cough, I cannot help but wonder if there is ever a good time. Apart from the knee-jerk reaction, however, and because I cannot participate in the live-tweet chat due to time-zone conflicts (with my sleep!), I wanted both to think through this question here, and to ask you, lovely Hook & Eye community, to do the same.

To reply to this very thoughtful question with yet another one along the lines of "Is there ever a good time?" seems a cop-out, especially in the case of academics, who like to plan their future, but have little control over it. Even though one can make the case that nobody can actually control their future, this inability pervades the lives of early-career academics more than others'. The better part of PhD students know they commit to their chosen grad school for a good chunk of time, but when the PhD is over, unless one is a superstar with her choice of employment, most PhD graduates have little choice and limited possibilities of decision about their immediate next steps.

So, if one in that situation wants a family, what does one do? I don't think there can ever be a blanket answer to this question. However, hearing other academics' experiences might help one take a more appropriate decision. [Maybe I should stop hiding behind the neutral form of the personal pronoun and say "she," especially since even The Globe and Mail recognized yesterday appropriate childcare to be a major obstacle in women academics' career path. They say nothing of systemic sexism, of course.] Personally, I took the advice of one of my profs from my MA, a very generous woman in her openness to mentor (female) graduate students (Hi, HL!). She said to the women-only class of graduate students: "If you want to have kids, have them in grad school. Don't wait to finish, because then something else comes up, and you end up delaying too much." I'm very grateful for this advice, because it worked for me.

I did have my oldest during graduate school. As it happened, it was the perfect timing for me: five months after my candidacy, which made the pressure of the imminent arrival productive for my dissertation work. Well, that and my wonderful supervisor, who knew exactly how to guide me, what to suggest I do, so I "will be able to come back to something written, and be less daunted" by the amount of time that had elapsed between the last graduate milestone and the end of mat leave.

As it turned out, having a kid in graduate school worked wonders on my time management skills. All of a sudden, the time she was in daycare--which was so hard to find, it nearly caused me a breakdown--became immensely precious. I had to work, research, write. Because when I took her home, it was kid-time. As a rule, I don't work after I've picked up my kids (now I have two, as you might know) from daycare. It's kiddie time. After the kids go to bed? It's relationship time. I made the decision of treating my PhD as a 9-5 job when I started it. Is that always possible? NO! But the important thing is to have the rule, and to treat the exceptions as exceptions, without allowing them to become generalized into the new normal.

Time for a privilege disclaimer: I would tell you about my wonderfully supportive (emotionally and financially) partner, but he's opposed to being talked about online, so I'm not. But I do realize my privilege, and it stays with me (it's because of his taking care of my sick kid at home today that I can even be at work and write about this stuff). It's why I'm reluctant to give advice. Babies and kids take an exceptional amount of emotional and financial energy. Much more than a person who's never been around them can imagine. Much more than I could have imagined. Much more than I still think possible, because parenting relies on amnesia. How else would be reproduce? Multiple times even? Of course there are immense and proportional rewards. There are studies that show parents of one or two kids are happier than childless couples. There are other studies that argue the reverse.

Take your pick, but think about it hard. Borrow a child (babysit, you'll score many karma points, and the eternal gratitude of those parents), try to model (not just imagine) your life around a baby/kid for a week. AND for the love of all things baby-related, please stop using the birthing and labour metaphor for dissertation writing.

I would love to hear from both sides of the camp: anxieties, fears, desires, words of wisdom, 20-20 hindsight? Whatever you got:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I'm reading a novel

I'm finally there. I've made it. I have now been finished my PhD long enough to return to reading for fun. I don't have any more classes to teach this semester, and all of my grading is finished, except for the final exam which is still a couple of weeks away.
So today, I have finally picked up a novel for the first time since that last Harry Potter book came out. It's been awhile.
While it is true that I have a number of articles just waiting to be finished and sent out for review, and while it is true that I have job applications waiting in the wings, today I will read a novel.
It is not entirely outside of my research interests of course. I'm not there yet. I've picked up Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. It deals with humour, taboo, and carnivalesque images and practices, all of which relate very closely to my own research.
But the point is, I'm reading something for fun, actually finding it fun, and not taking notes and anxiously skipping what I hope are superfluous sections that I simply do not have time to read.
Does anyone else remember their first post-PhD novel? When did reading become fun again?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Doing Peer Review Better

Last week I wrote about how to improve a conference paper proposal, to make it more likely to impress the peer reviewer assigned to assess it. This week, I'm thinking about how those of us who do peer reviews might do our part of the job better.

I've drawn all my inspiration for this post from the program committee of DH2013, the umbrella conference of the Allied Digital Humanities Organizations, which comprises the Canadian Digital Humanities Association, the Association for Computers in the Humanities, the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing, and others. The conference is global and it is interdisciplinary. It is also highly selective, sometimes prone to controversy about who is in and who is out (and what is DH and what is not). For example, and in retrospect hilariously, even though I regularly review proposals for the conference, all three submissions I have myself made have been rejected. The first time, one peer review gave a one sentence assessment of my work (I paraphrase): "This work is not even interesting and I don't know why this author would propose to consider it for this group." That was in 2001 or 2002, and I still remember it as the most dismissive, disrespectful review I have ever received for a conference paper.

So imagine my pleasure this year when I visited the conference website to review the CFP as I prepared to assess my five assigned proposals. This year, the organization has put together not only a guide to writing proposals for its authors, but also, magnificently, a guide to peer reviewing this proposals for its assessors.

Go see it. Then come back.

Aren't these just the very model of transparency? All the implicit rules by which proposals will be assessed are explicitly outlined. Even better, peer reviewers are reminded that their work is not simply to assess in summative fashion (accept / do not accept) but to mentor in formative fashion (How might this be improved? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this proposal?). Even better, peer reviewers are reminded of ... well ... the affective dimension of this part of academic work. Nasty peer reviews work to exclude people from the field. Harsh rejections are bad for morale generally. Community is built upon mutual kindness. The "big tent" model is not supported by vicious kicks to the support poles at the edges of the structure. This bit, to me, is the most incredible, and the most awesome: instead of training would-be participants to develop a thick skin and "try harder" when faced with what looks sometimes like gleeful rejection, peer reviewers instead are being asked to consider what might help the not-accepted scholarship fit within the fold next time. It manifests a kind of humility about the field and our expertise as gatekeepers within it, even as we are still very much called upon to review the intellectual merits of each proposal.

I imagine the acceptance rate will still be low. But maybe we all won't feel so rejected by that.

I loved this so much I sent a mash note to Bethany Nowviskie about it.

The lessons of DH2013 and the wisdom of its program committee extend to all our peer review work. I know it's given me pause. I get asked to do peer review all the time. And some of the papers I read are, not to mince words, terrible. And sometimes it feels like I'm wasting my time to read all 30 pages. I'm mad at the editors for even forwarding this to two hapless reviewers. I write incredibly sarcastic notes in my printouts, to blow off steam.

But I try, and will try harder, to make my reviews, even the ones about papers that purport to be about user-generated review sites but are actually thinly-veiled screeds about how evolution is just a theory and Richard Dawkins is going to hell (really), constructive. To keep them focused on the intellectual. To not descend into recriminations against the author's not knowing what the journal is for, or not caring to take the time to copy-edit let alone proofread, or for stuffing an unreconstructed coursework paper into a digital envelope in total cluelessness about how that is not what an article is. That's all judgy and personal. Try to be constructive.

I'm using the classic "shit sandwich" approach now. You are probably familiar with it.

Here's how it works. Start by saying something nice (and true): maybe the topic is important. Maybe the approach is worthy. Maybe the primary texts have never really been considered before. Maybe the author has a great knack for fluid and engaging prose. Maybe the reference list is superb. Acknowledge the merits that you find. Next is the "however": this varies from paper to paper, but might be courseworkitis (all lit review, no argument), or it might be something more complex and unique about the approach to the topic or the methodology or the sample set or whatever. Be specific but try to confine the criticism to the words on the page, not the character of the author. This can be sometimes very difficult to do. Do say: "The paper takes what it describes as "genre analysis" as its theme, but does not reference the major works in that field." Do not say: "The author has no right to perform as so-called 'genre-analysis' when it is obvious that s/he hasn't read anything at all in this well-developed field." Finally, end with some suggestions for improvement. This is hopeful. Having perhaps said that it's unworkable to try to prove point A with reference to text F and L, maybe suggest a set of texts that might be more useful. Or if the author seems unfamiliar with an important subfield he or she generalizes about, suggest one or two texts and one or two major ideas from that subfield the author might consult to better support his or her contentions.

If you feel this all doesn't convey enough the depth of your rejection, then by all means make use of the field that is labelled "for the editors only"--you can let rip in that section, if you really need to.

Putting stuff out to review is very hard: this is part of the reason we all hold onto our drafts for too long. We are afraid of what the reviewers will say. And yet, as reviewers, we very often lash out at the poor shmucks who've let their precious drafts out into the world. Yeah, maybe they're totally not ready for the big time, but we don't have to be mean about it.

Do you have any tips and tricks for doing or receiving peer review? Funny stories? Terrible tales?


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

On Surviving Public Humiliation


Recently I went to a guest lecture by an Internal Medicine Doctor that promised to examine the latest treatments, remedies and aids for cancer.

I situated myself on the inside of the second or third row and expected a long evening of power points but instead I got a personal dose of public humiliation.

The doctor took the stage and proceeded to lament lifestyle choices that lead everyone to cancer and searching for an audience scapegoat, let his eyes land on the young blonde student on the inside of the third row.

He left the stage, walked to where I was seated and proceeded to critique everything about my health from my nail beds, to the fold of flesh on my abdomen, to my thighs, my tongue and the circles under my eyes until he had rendered me a walking cesspool of disease without my consent.

Now, I would not hold myself up as exemplary, but I ran 4 years of varsity cross country, eat my vegetables and try and grab a good night of sleep here and there so I have been doing a lot of thinking of why he chose me. There were plenty of gentlemen my age and health level in the audience, fitting the description I am sure he was looking for. Why did he feel that a female fulfilled his agenda more sufficiently than a male audience member?

As he left me to return to the stage, I sat there with a burning face trying to decide what was the best reaction to something like this: was leaving the lecture a weaker decision than staying in my seat? By staying, was I supporting his actions?

I chose to remain in my seat, burning with indignation. I have a sister who has struggled with a life threatening eating disorder for the past decade and have watched many friends deal with the same insecurities, so WHY is it considered admissible for a male doctor to publicly pick apart a young female in a crowded room in front of complete strangers in the name of science? In a presentation where a simple power point example would have been sufficient, I was left wondering how some of my feminist heroes would have responded (including my mother, who I am sure would have given this doctor the finger shaking of his life.)

I step off my soapbox for the moment to ask you, Reader, how would you have reacted?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sassy and Imagined Communities: One Version of How I Became a Feminist

This week I read a piece written for The Nation by Jessica Valenti, and it sent me on a trip down memory lane. It wasn't the article itself, so much as who wrote it. I encountered Jessica Valenti and feministing.com when I was at a particularly lonely stage of my PhD. That said, the article itself got me thinking about my evolution as a feminist as well. Entitled "Feminists for the Win," it details some of the ways in which feminists and feminist agendas are making progress in the United States. It ends with a call to action, and reminds readers that while some advances have been made this year, much feminist activism has necessarily been defensive. While every good basketball player knows that sometimes a good offence requires good defence, Valenti underscores the importance of continually, relentlessly moving forward in the fight for rights for women. When I finished reading the article I found myself thinking about how I came to claim a feminist identity, and whether or not it had anything to do with my current position in the academy. For, while Valenti doesn't say as much in her article, there are many many other writers who acknowledge that despite its promise of academic freedom, the academy is not an equal opportunity space.*

In part, I became a feminist through reading. I come from a family of voracious readers. My dad keeps a list of all the books he's read each year, and last year the list numbered over one hundred. My mother laments that I don't remember how much she read to me as a child. We were not a family that watched television during meals, but sometimes we have been known to all have our books out at the table. Indeed, I recall my mother signing my up for synchronized swimming lessons in an attempt to get me out of the reading chair and into socializing with other children...when I was eight.

I can't claim classical literature as an influence on my feminist development, not really. Rather, I owe my nascent feminist to a teen magazine. When I was in high school I started reading Sassy. Now long-defunct, Sassy was, for me, an outlet to another world. I was living in small-town North Carolina where I felt out of place, alone, and lonely. While I am sure I wasn't the only one in my high school feeling like an outsider, I sure felt like I was an island. Sassy was brash, witty, and not afraid to swear! In its DIY-ish pages I learned about the Riot Grrrl movement, about why politics should matter to me, and I learned how to make my own clothes. In reading the infamous "It Happened to Me" column, I learned that I wasn't alone, and that troubling, terrible, and sometimes hilarious things happened to other people. Along the way I also learned about feminism.

When Sassy went the way of YM and other body-image-obsessed magazines I stopped reading them altogether ... until I discovered Bust and Bitch. Around this time I was in university, I was making friends with other feminists, activists, and generally politicized folks. I felt less lonely, and I was more connected to on going issues in the world. I never felt as though I knew enough, or had all of the answers, but I was developing a vocabulary and a community through which to continue thinking out loud. Granted, that community was by this time largely an embodied one: we saw one another, were in classes together, and lived in the same town. There was no Facebook yet, and while forums and listserves were active, they didn't happen to be a part of my everyday life. So, while my lived experiences and my growing communities of brilliant, politicized people have ultimately been the most informative of my feminist identity, initially it all started with an imagined community of magazine readers.

Is this still the case? For all the phenomenal community-building that digital space can do, I wonder, have wildly popular interfaces like Facebook flattened out some of the radical possibilities of imagined communities? Certainly, there are countless feminist and feminist-inflected groups out there on the interwebs. I think of CWILA, of Lemon Hound, of VIDA to name a very few. But I also think about the site I find myself on most regularly durning the day... I go to Facebook for connection, for distraction, for a sense of imagined -- and immediate -- community. Last week though, a friend of my posted an article about Facebook banning a feminist activist for calling out misogyny on her page. And then I read this article.

What about you, readers? How did you come come to claim feminism as part of your identity? And where do you forge your communities?


*See for just one Canadian example Sherene Razack, Sunera Thobani, and Malinda Smith's co-edited States of Race: Critical Race Feminism for the Twenty-First Century.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Greater Expectations

Recently, a friend suggested that the expectations on her as a PhD student in 2012 were much greater than those placed upon graduate students in previous generations. To a certain extent, I could see where she was coming from. In the relatively short time that I have been either a graduate student or a professor (the last 10-plus years), I’ve watched the expectations for publications and especially conference presentations and participation grow.

Where are these new expectations coming from?

As a graduate student supervisor, I will say that my expectations of students are not significantly different than those I faced: students need to successfully meet program requirements; they need to focus their main energies on their own research and writing; and they need to begin to build a professional network. As someone who reads and evaluates student applications each year, whether for reference letters, scholarships, or program admission, I can also say that I don’t actually think the base criteria for getting into graduate school or getting big scholarships has fundamentally changed. GPA is still key for admission into MA and PhD programs. Writing effective research proposals is critical once you are in these programs and want funding to research or present your work. Realistically, there are only so many measures that can be used to evaluate student performance and applications, so it’s not that surprising that formal expectations in this regard haven’t changed much.

What has changed? In my short time, I’ve seen graduate programs in the humanities grow without either a commensurate increase in permanent academic positions or the effective development of alternate career outcomes for graduate students in these fields. I’ve also seen funding opportunities proliferate (when I did my MA, there were no SSHRC MA awards and there were only regular SSHRC awards at the PhD level when I entered my doctoral program). These two factors have created different expectations for graduate students by creating more competition. Specifically, there are now more occasions for students to compete with one another. There are more students competing for funding once they’ve been accepted to graduate programs and, in turn, more competition for postdocs, teaching opportunities, and permanent positions once they are finished their PhDs.

All of this works to shift expectations, because even if individual supervisors and graduate programs are placing essentially the same expectations on graduate students that they did in the past, students now have to navigate a different environment than before. 

There’s been another shift that has influenced what is going on in humanities graduate programs. SSHRC has become far more concerned with the public profile of arts, humanities, and social science research in the past decade. This has manifested in changes to SSHRC’s structure (“architecture” is the term they used in their most recent revision) to encourage “knowledge mobilization and dissemination,” “partnerships,” and “public outreach.” Translating arts and humanities research into new inventions or commercial applications is rare, but translating such research into more effective public policy or a more informed citizenry are both achievable and laudable goals for a public funding agency.

There is thus a lot more money available now for disseminating humanities research than there was historically. I’ve seen this first-hand through my involvement in a SSHRC-funded research cluster. This cluster has not been able to fund research directly, only the “mobilization and dissemination” of research: so, for example, you can’t use the funds to send someone to an archive, but you can use the funds to send them to a workshop or symposium, particularly if this workshop includes policy makers or community members. Moreover, one of the SSHRC-directed priorities for this funding was that it be spent on graduate students. So here is where I come back to the changed environment in which graduate students, at least in the humanities, now operate: paradoxically, there’s more competition, but also more funds and opportunities for research dissemination, and thus more pressure and expectations to produce conference papers and to participate in workshops and symposia.

In effect, graduate students in the humanities today are being trained to be something different than they were trained to be 10-15 years ago and this is where some of the changed expectations are coming from.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Make your conference proposal better

Over the last several years, I've been invited more and more often to serve as a peer reviewer for conference proposals. I've done this for the DHSI Colloquium, for the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities, the Association of Internet Researchers, and Digital Humanities. I've probably reviewed 30 or more submissions. And then there's all the proposals I've written that I've received feedback on, and the proposals that graduate students I work with share with me, and the "conference proposals" I make yet other grad students write as part of the assessment structure of a seminar I teach. That's probably another 50 or so proposals.

I've been noticing some patterns.

I figured that since you all liked my post on giving conference papers, framed around the stuff that annoys the crap out of me, I could do the same for conference paper proposals, too. All in the name of helpfulness, of course. If you're a graduate student, I hope this information is good advice; if you're on the other end of the PhD and a habituée of the review circuit, please throw your own advice or experience in the comments.

It's a tough genre to break into, and every conference seems to require something different. They don't, though, mostly: and I'm going to tell you the gist of the feedback I give to nearly 100% of people I review in all venues.

First, the easy stuff:
  1. Stick to the required limits, constraints, requirements, and formats. If the call asks for a reference list, provide one. If it says you need to submit a bio along with your abstract, do that. If it suggests a maximum of 1500 words, get close to that--200 words will not do in that case, but neither will 2000. (I've seen both happen.) Oh, and it is increasingly the case, with computerized application processes, that 3 minutes after the deadline means you missed it: be timely.
  • Why does this matter? Well, peer review for conferences means comparing apples to apples, and quite a lot of apples, and according to set criteria. At the very least, you don't want to stand out from the rest of the applications with weirdo formatting or length or no reference list or a too-long reference list, etc. At best, if you follow the rules, the content of what you're proposing is what will stand out.
  1.  For the love of baby kangaroos, proofread your submission carefully. One typo, I find, can happen to anyone. A bunch of typos, or three references done incorrectly, or something cited but not referenced, or misspelling a central critical term repeatedly, or using a big word that is actually the wrong word? RED FLAG.
  • Why does this matter?  It's really the case that it is irritating out of all reasonable proportion to read a proposal with more than one typo in it. It may not be reasonable, but it is true. It gives a whiff of last-minute-itis or, heaven help us, stupidity. 
Now, the not-so-straightforward stuff:

  1. Be a laser, not a homemade Diet-Coke-and-Mentos bomb. On 80% of the proposals I read, I advise the author or the program committee that the proposal bites off more than any human brain can chew in 15-20 minutes, to mix metaphors for a moment. I addressed the end result of this in my conference post, so I won't belabour it here. Much. No one aims to write a proposal that skitters all over like a bunny on ice skates, but sometimes, in our sheer enthusiasm for all the nuances of a topic, or our deep research and preparation, we overdo it. All fizz, no boom.
  • Why does this matter? You only have time to make one point well, and support it, in the average conference slot. Focus, focus, focus. If a 250 or 500 or 1250 word conference proposal already scrambles my brain with its sub-clauses and side-arguments, as a reviewer, I'm going to try to spare a full audience from the confusion and diffusion I am sure will result from a 3000 word paper. Also, when a proposal skips all over hell and back (and a startling number of them do), even if the applicant has been researching the topic for years, it doesn't come across; this kind of proposal reads very surface-y.

  1. Do not blow up the edifice of prior scholarship and proclaim yourself the holder of the red scrunchie. You don't have to revolutionize the field in 15-20 minutes. You just have to make a sensible contribution to strengthening the foundation, or replacing the weather stripping on the exterior doors, or sweeping the front porch. Hell, you might even do a total gut on the kitchen, but let that emerge from your paper itself. Show, don't tell.
  • Why does this matter? Debunking an entire field is a rookie manoeuvre. It usually indicates a lack of subtlety or nuance in the final thinking. It leads to grandiose writing in the proposal, and bombast in the presentation, a thundering denunciation best saved for the drinking session with your academic buddies, from which, upon sober second thought, a more laser-like and specific criticism might be elaborated. 

  1. And yet, do not, either, hide behind the big wigs. This is the corollary rookie mistake: ventriloquizing the major scholars in your field, especially the fine folks whose works are most often studied in grad seminars. If the first couple of sentences of every paragraph summarize, paraphrase, or extensively quote published work, the rest of the paragraph explains the idea cited, start over.
  • Why does this matter? We've probably all read those same books. We are familiar already with most of the big ideas: we took those grad seminars, too, or taught them. A conference paper is meant to make a contribution to new scholarship, not explicate extant works. This kind of proposal telegraphs a kind of intellectual timidity. What is your idea?

  1. Put your big idea in the first sentence. A lot of proposals work up to the main point, leaving it in the concluding sentence. This may be suspenseful and exciting, but it results in the reader--having only really discovered what the applicant is proposing in the final seconds--having to go back to the beginning and read it over again to see how the case was made. Surprise is good for The Sixth Sense. How fun it is to rewatch that once you know the trick! It's really, though, if I may be frank, never fun to reread a conference proposal.
  • Why does this matter? Reviewers read a lot of proposals. If a proposal tells me the Main Point in sentence 1, I can read the rest of the proposal to see if such a claim is supported, or how it will be developed in the final presentation. It gives me the context by which to evaluate the proposal. If all the context comes first, I'm constantly asking myself, "why tell me this?" and "what are you getting at?" Also, a proposal that gets right to the point gives me confidence that there is a point and that it will effectively be conveyed to an audience. Further, many reviewers, frankly, are not going to take the time to do a second careful read of the proposal in this way, because they are busy. And now possibly annoyed at having been made to be confused for several minutes.

That's it, pretty much. Do these things, and your paper just got way more likely to be accepted. You get better at it the more conferences you apply to, so hang in there! Of course, there are things you can't control. I get rejected from way more conferences now than I ever did before, even though I'm an ace proposal writer--sometimes reviewers are crabby and just don't like your subfield. Sometimes, in interdisciplinary contexts, they don't get it. Sometimes, there's just way more applicants than there are available slots. Sometimes, the substance of the thing is just not ready, no matter how well you write it up. Oh well.

Thoughts? Addenda? Let's make conferences more awesome!

---
You'll notice all the ideas are labelled Number 1. That's partly because they're equally important, but also because I can't seem to bend the HTML to my my will this morning.





Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Tyranny of the Office Chair

I have a not-so-secret fantasy. I really want a beanbag chair for my office. This is a well-known fact at my workplace. We joke about how I could make some extra money on the side by allowing other faculty and staff to sit in it for a small rental fee.

Like most office spaces, my office is dominated by hard, rectangular, pointy-cornered objects: the desk; the shelves; the filing cabinet; the books. Even my chair, while ergonomic, does not satisfy. Every now and then, I want to slouch. I want to sprawl. I want to find a way to let my body relax for a few minutes. Hence, the beanbag dream. I want a structureless blob of over-sized cushion plonked off in the corner that’s just for me.

I recognize that I’m fortunate in that I can entertain this fantasy: I have an office that would be large enough to accommodate such a wonderful object and a windowless door that would let me sprawl sans surveillance.

I think about seating a lot, especially at conferences. I love conferences because they give you the opportunity to meet and interact with lots of folks. You start having "conference buddies." But even if the conference is awesome, the chairs are not. Conference chairs are always uncomfortable. And I’ve been well trained to not squirm around in my seat, no matter how uncomfortable it is.

One notable exception was at a Feminist Disability Studies panel that I attended last year. People were encouraged to move the furniture around. People were invited to stand. People were invited to do whatever they wanted to do to make their bodies feel as okay as possible in the space. Revolutionary! Why can’t we have more of this?

I remember how important comfortable spaces were to me as an undergraduate. The university that I attended had a large quiet room with red (slightly cruddy) sofas: in my last year, the space was renovated, the sofas were removed, and the space was repurposed for private functions only. I think these kinds of spaces are becoming less and less common in universities as they adopt more of a business culture. And I think that’s unfortunate. I don’t think it’s “unprofessional” to have a quiet space to take a break.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The cruelty of job applications

I'm procrastinating from job applications *and* from marking. They're both pressing. Both have deadlines, although the latter's are softer than the former's. I was wondering why I procrastinate from writing the job letter, when I am actually excited by the prospect of these two jobs I'm applying for this week, whose deadline is next week (they require mailed applications, so that effectively means the deadline is this week!). And it hit me: it's exactly because of this excitement that I have trouble bringing myself to write the job letter. You see, until the moment I've committed myself in writing, the possibilities are still open, and my imagination can fly through the streets of the wonderful cities the universities inhabit, and I can wander along with it on the walk of my dreams, to the permanent place of work, where I can finally settle into my exciting new research project, and my teaching gig.

And that's exactly where that cruelty lies: in the hopes and imaginings and exuberances preceding the writing of the letter, but constitutive of the conditions of possibility for its emergence. I simply have to be excited for a job that I apply for, not only for the mercenary reason of conveying it in a letter, but for the reality of having to move my family to a new location. I have to be able to imagine my kids growing up in that place, and I have to love it for this possibility. This is the reason why I cannot apply for jobs in the States: I just cannot see myself fighting the swelling tide of conservatism there. It's not where I'd like my kids to grow up.

So, I'm stealing time to write this post instead of writing the letter. Because talking to you about the possibilities allows me to prolong the dream, the fantasy, the desire, all intact. It's not that they fade once I write myself down. On the contrary, they increase. Especially after I've mailed the application, I find myself day-dreaming even more about what it would be like to live there, to work there, to walk into that library with my laptop for a full day of research without the burden of job applications. Yes, I know other responsibilities ensue once one has attained the dream of a permanent position. I've held permanent job situations before, and their demands were exciting, not excruciating. No job one likes can compare to a limited-time situation or the job-market precariousness.

"A relation of cruel optimism exists when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing. It might involve food, or a kind of love; it might be a *fantasy of the good life*, or a political project" (1), Lauren Berlant writes in her latest book , Cruel Optimism. She goes on to explain

Whatever the experience of optimism is in particular, then, the affective structure of an optimistic attachement involves a sustaining inclination to return to the scene of fantasy that enables you to expect that this time, nearness to this thing will help you or a world to become different in just the right way.

Yes, it's this return that I want to keep open, so my optimism doesn't die. In procrastinating, my attachment grows, my desire lingers, and my fantasy flourishes without being checked by the cruelty of the fact these applications are eating away at me, as they are at everyone who's unfortunate enough to be on the job market. Any kind of job market. The question is, is my desired outcome, my fantasy of good life--the academic job--an instance of cruel optimism in itself? Or should I start looking for something else, something less cruel, less demoralizing in its process of attainment, less soul-crushing? My own answer: I'm giving it this year. That's all I can take and still remain the human being that I want to be, the human being that I want my kids to see.

I'd love to hear your answers.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Now welcoming women?

This week, I thought I would talk about one of the reasons I feel strongly about continuing to pursue feminist research. It is, in part, because of the very issues that Liza Piper raised last Thursday in her post chicks dig big brains. For me, it is the everyday, constant detritus of gender bias and gender inequality that really push me over the edge. I'm talking about those insignificant little details that on their own aren't a big deal, but added up over the day, over a week, over a lifetime, have a significant effect on gendered attitudes.

A new ad campaign for Mark's Work Warehouse that is being featured in GTA subways and buses provides a good example of this very issue. I spotted it on my way to work one morning, grabbed a few photos of it with my phone, and have been struggling ever since to articulate the exact extent of my disappointment with Mark's careless gender politics. As featured above, the ad claims that Mark's is "now welcoming women." I suppose this is a gesture towards some kind of expanded women's clothing line (although Mark's has had women's clothing for quite some time), but it really hits an inclusion and equality nerve for me. Well, gosh, if women are now welcome in Mark's Work Warehouse, I'd say that's mission accomplished for feminism. Am I right? ...Ladies? ...Right?

I hope that it is safe to assume that this was intended to be tongue-in-cheek. Nevertheless, there is always something a little bit cringe-worthy about ads that attempt to incorporate the rhetoric of political movements, but end up getting it horribly, horribly wrong. I feel that the Mark's campaign's parroting of gender equality discourses offers a shining example of this. To begin with, although there are many institutions that still exclude women in practice, the chest pumping pride with which Mark's announces that women are now welcome is absurdly outdated.

These problematic connotations are taken to an additionally troubling level when combined with the "male" version of the ad, which features a generic group of attractive, young, masculine men doing man things with the caption, "Less work. More you."


Now, I might be taking my reading of this ad to its semiotic extreme here, but it seems to me that Mark's Work Warehouse is inadvertently stumbling upon one of the enduring failures of second-wave feminism. That is, the reason that these men presumably have the leisure time and disposable income to spend at the pub relates to their experience of heteronormativity and gender inequality in which their spouses are working the double shift - adding household income while also continuing to take on the lion's share of domestic work. After all, the women in the ad are not out playing pool and drinking pints, they are buying "work" clothes. The ad is an unintentional parody of shifts in the workplace, which are now also "welcoming women," with many growing pains still being experienced along the way.

My interpretation of the Mark's ad can very much be accused of reading too much into it, but I stand by my initial disgust at the tagline: "now welcoming women." Joking or not, I don't care to have a clothing store remind me of historic exclusions of women from the workplace, or attempt to capitalize on their supposed corporate progressiveness through misplaced political rhetoric. Now welcoming women? Thanks, Mark's.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The uses of kindness

I'm walking around feeling very stylin' this week, on account of my new purse. It's not actually my purse, though. It's my sister's. As we just spent a whole weekend together up north at our parents' house where I could not stop telling her how lovely I thought that Fossil cross-body buff leather purse was, she just dumped all her stuff out of it, and told me I could borrow it for a month or two.



How kind!

In fact, our whole weekend was awash in kindness. Our husbands took on sole-charge child and home care so that we could have this getaway, and our parents had as their objective to spoil us with sleep-ins, and home cooking, and fancy cocktails, and a dinner out. My mom said nice things about my hair and complimented my photography. My dad uploaded a bunch of his jazz CDs into my iTunes, and made me a little post-it note so I would know what was new.



When I got home on Sunday, I was touched by my husband's kindness, driving out to my sister's house down the highway to pick me up, and then taking the dog out for a walk when we got back to our tidy! house. I was so touched, that I sent him out for supper and did the groceries with our girl, and then did a bunch of cooking.

The next morning, I discovered, he washed all the cooking dishes after I went to bed, because he was so happy I had done so much prep work for all our lunches. Then I was so touched by THAT kindness that I went in the backyard to retrieve all the bags of dog poop that had scattered everywhere when a big wind blew our garbage can off the back porch.

And on it goes, this week, kindness begetting kindness, multiplying kindness.

This time of year, my own kindness tends to go out the window: I get stressed, and when that happens, my fuse gets shorter, I perceive more slights and wrongs and start tabulating who's done what chore or eaten the last muffin or not refilled the milk or someone got unfairly treated better than me. And you know where that gets me? Having fights.

It's so easy to forget that sometimes, we just need to invite a little kindness into our day. I'll tell you, sometimes, it's really hard for me to offer to take the dog out on his last "poop walk" of the day when I've already scooped up three and it's cold and I want to go to bed. But when I do make that offer, my little kindness multiplies unexpectedly, in hugs, or flowers, or an offer to take the dog out for his *first* poop walk the next morning. And I always feel so good.

I'm going to try to remember that, that even in the busy time, the awful time … maybe especially in this time, I need to take a deep breath, and offer myself in kindness. And it will come back to me.

Here's a digital hug for you, dear reader: I sincerely hope your day is going well, and if there was a more tangible kindness I could offer you, other than me just wishing you a nice day, I would.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How Read For Pleasure (And Other Impossible Tasks)


Lately I have been thinking a lot about free time. I think it is due largely to the fact that I don’t really have any.

One of the first thoughts I had upon graduating university was that of the sprawling amounts of time I would have to tackle the enormous stack of unread books that I accumulated over my undergrad or the Sunday morning long runs that would no longer be hampered by papers and research.

Sadly, it didn’t take long to realize that those books would remain shut and my long runs would remain unrun as the stack of research and writing assignments on my desk grew. To be honest, when I have an important project on the go, I find it difficult to find time to take a proper breath, much less indulge myself in something I enjoy.

It appears that busyness and academia go hand in hand which would explain why I was so empowered by my female professors during my undergrad. They were organized powerhouses who somehow balanced children, academia, research and a host of other responsibilities and I loved them for it. I thrive on being busy but operating at full speed for weeks on end sets me on a fast track for burnout, usually resulting in an unjustified emotional response to a mundane daily situation or blindsided by whatever illness my compromised immune system is unable to stave off.  

Knowing this, I have tried to sneak things I enjoy while rushing from place to place.  I listen to audio books while I commute and keep a book in my purse for brief moments of quiet during the day where I am riding the bus or waiting in lines. I no longer run during normal waking hours, but find myself setting my alarm clock earlier and earlier in order to fit it in.

Overambitious? Probably. Common for a woman in academia? Yes.

So I ask you, Reader, (knowing you probably are reading this in between meetings, or on your iPhone or eating at your desk while you work on a project) how do you sort through the chaos and find time to do things that you enjoy?

Or do you?