Supporting Women at Work in Academia

Professionalism is a lot like maturity; the more you think you have it, the further away you get from it. But when I use the term “professional,” I simply mean doing your job and doing it well. The details on and definitions of “professionalism” vary from person-to-person, often with heavy consideration to position and experience.

Professional, Not Likable

So you know now that when I use the term “professional” I don’t mean likable. In this post I am in no way endorsing a workplace where everyone is likable. The demands on women to be likable are so pervasive (and annoying), there have been several blog posts and articles about the very subject. See Chimamanda Nigozi Adichie’s great speech on how women absolutely don’t have to be likable.

Not a relevant question.

My post today comes from a few places, but most essentially I attempt answer why it is important to support women in the workplace, even when they aren’t likable. I believe this support is an integral part of “doing your job well”–i.e. professionalism. And I realize that it’s all easier said than done.

It’s nice to imagine that people can keep it relatively professional at work, but that doesn’t always happen. I’m guilty too. Bullying, passive aggressive/outright aggressive behavior, and conflicting opinions/personalities often make the theoretically simple task of professionalism impossible. I find this is particularly true in an academic workplace, where budgets are being slashed. Because of this, there is increasingly more and more call to not only justify the why of one’s research, but also the legitimacy of one’s discipline or field altogether.

But supporting your colleagues certainly is important.  Even when they aren’t likable. Sometimes especially when they aren’t likable. Why do I keep italicizing likable?Probably because I want you to know how ridiculous the entire concept is.

Likable? Meh.

Supporting  Women at Work

So how is it possible to build collegiality and camaraderie amongst colleagues in this type of working environment? Why is it even important? And what does it have to do with women?

Penny Herscher answers many of these questions in “Women Need to Support Women at Work.” She notes the lack of women in executive or senior management positions, and the woman-on-woman bullying that often happens in the workplace. Indeed, a 2009 New York Times article revealed that 40% of workplace bullies are women, and that 70% of their targets are also women.

On top of everything we already know about gender, race and the pay gap, it is important to keep in mind that women are often trained to view other women as competitors rather than collaborators, and that we must actively seek woman-produced models of women’s collaboration.

For a not-so-serious (but I think fairly awesome) model, just look at Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj’s ability to share the spotlight rather than compete for it.

OK, OK… I confess, there are maybe better examples of collaborative women.

I tout the collaboration game hard, but even I sometimes find something jealous creep inside of me when someone I know receives an honor, praise, or award that I don’t. And I don’t think this makes me or anyone else who feels this way a terrible person or something, but instead it only indicates that feelings of jealousy emerge when we’re feeling down about ourselves, insecure, or threatened.

As the new academic year starts, consider the simple ways you can offer emotional and intellectual support to your colleagues, particularly if you’re in a male-dominated field in academia. This could be a nod in passing, sharing CFPs or articles that could be of interest to a colleague that you happen to come across, engaging your colleagues about their research, simply saying “congratulations” to colleagues after she has received an honor, and many others. Keep likable out of the equation as much as possible.

It is important for me to reiterate that support amongst women at work doesn’t mean you have to be friends–i.e. no one is going to make you socialize when or where you do not wish to socialize–but instead you have to be present, mindful, and collaborative to foster a sense of support amongst your colleagues.

Final Thoughts

I realize fostering camaraderie can sometimes be thankless work, particularly if you’re doing more giving than receiving. Sometimes you will find people who do not want your support at all. And it is impossible to say why some people are better collaborators than others, but still we should challenge ourselves at the start of this new academic year to build one another up, to offer support, to provide a second chance.

On (Social) Networking in Academia

While I realize it’s an unpopular opinion, I really hate the summertime: humid weather, sunburned skin, stupid clothes that serve only as incomplete counterparts to winter wear, and a general lack of email-checking from just about everyone.

But What Is Summer Good For?

Summer is, admittedly, good for quite a lot. For sanity, travel, research, people who aren’t terrified of the sun, and so on. Just as I love sanity and travel, I love that the summer offers an opportunity to read and write without the interruptions of teaching, meetings, and all of those other interruptions that come with the start of a new school year. But still, no matter how much I think I need the break at the end of spring term, I am always excessively happy to have the summer come to a close.

Outside of dissertation research and the submission/revision of articles and book reviews, I use summer as an opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues, many of whom I know through conferences, Twitter, or other academically-sanctioned social media sites. Sure, I attend conferences regularly where I can chat with/meet fellow scholars, but in between research and teaching I always feel so terribly behind on this particular type of networking throughout the regular academic year.

Academic Networking via Social Media

And it appears I’m not the only one. Anxiety over maintaining academic networks is quite serious, particularly when considering the many articles and blogs devoted to subject of cracking into one of these elite networks (which are so often tied with an ivy education…). The humanities, however, appear to operate a bit differently in terms of the question of whether or not one should use social media as a mode of self-promotion and networking. There is, after all, almost a resounding yes to the question of social media networking for academics.

No longer are we in the days of simply passing out business cards at conferences (although I have some pretty cool ones, if I do say so myself). We’re in a new and exciting era of fast access to information and scholarship across the globe. If you don’t use social media as a networking tool, consider giving it a try. And you don’t have to be a tech genius to figure it out.

There are many resources on starting/maintaing social media sites for academics, such as Diane Rasmussen Neal’s book. It’s possible it’s simply not for you and that the potential problems of maintenance and regular posting serve as more of a detriment to your research than a merit, but that’s for you to decide. There’s no need to force yourself to keep up with something like social media if it’s not serving you.

If you do want to network outside of conferences and you hate social media, consider joining a Listserv in your interested subject areas.

My personal experiences with social media as a mode of academic networking are generally positive, but I am still relatively new to it. There appears to be a heavy culture of “follow for follow” on sites such as Twitter, and it is quite easy to search for relevant hashtags and people on most social media sites. I have the pleasure of many 140-character conversations with friends/scholars I normally only get to see once a year. Even though we email sometimes, we never seem to keep at it.

I also have received book review opportunities and submitted to conference CFPs through Twitter. This is where the networking starts to feel real.

Potential Problems

And while there are very few reasons to avoid social media as a networking tool (even less to just give it a try), it is important to know that the professional persona you cultivate online can follow you. If you post something sexist, racist, classist, etc. chances are your followers–i.e. colleagues–are going to know and really (with good reason) hold it against you. So, quick solution: don’t be sexist, racist, classist, or just generally speaking a bad person.

It is important to know that some types of social media–such as blogs–require strategy and patience. Twitter accounts simply require regular use, although I’m sure some would argue that well-placed hashtags would also constitute strategy.

Many argue that social media networking is ultimately a waste of time. The central idea here being that time on social media is time that you could/should be working. I don’t find this true. First of all, academic work isn’t corporate (despite how much it can feel like it), you have to take regular breaks from your research–even if for just 15 minutes–for your sanity. If you’re concerned about spending too much time on social media just make a schedule; check in every other day or twice a week or whatever.

And not that it’s worth saying, but I don’t let social media run my life. I may have a troubling addiction to television and carbohydrates, but for some reason this does not spill over into social media. As long as you’re comfortable with the amount of time you spend social media-ing, you do you.

Yeah, no…

Final Thoughts 

From this post I hope to hear how fellow academics create/maintain/find networks that are purely born on social media sites. How do these networks survive throughout the academic year? Do these, at any point, feel like an onus rather than a pleasure? Do you have any negative experiences with networking via social media?

Preparing for International Research

While I already have a post on preparing for archival research I thought it might be useful to combine this information with the more broad topic of international research. Indeed, it appears that for international research, you need to turn to juvenile-seeming webpages about “Study Abroad 101” as well as scholarly resources regarding archival research. I hope this post offers something in the middle of these two extremes. It’s very much the post I wish I had before I started the long visa/contacting librarians/connecting with scholars and conferences process.

I would also love to hear more about your experiences with international research trips, particularly because this is my first.

Yeah, I think we’re a bit beyond this level…

There are already many online guides that discuss the general prep that is demanded when preparing for international research, although many of these tend to lean towards the sciences and offer advice that is not relevant for the humanities–such as expensive research equipment, the use of a research assistant abroad, and many others.

In the humanities, depending on your sub-discipline, your needs for research–whether it is abroad or at your home institution–tend to include the following:

  • Computer/tablet for saving archival/research information (consider using Dropbox or GoogleDrive as well as your usual backup method)
  • Dialogue with research librarian(s), curator(s), etc. at your intended place of study
  • Well-developed time table or itinerary for your research hours
  • Grants or funding opportunities that will allow you more time researching
  • Others. Again, depending on your sub-discipline you could require more resources akin to those in the social sciences, such as the completion and approval of an IRB. These are more thoroughly laid out in my post on archival research.

While these fundamentals remain the same, it seems as though everything gets far more complicated when you’re planning for a research trip abroad. Since I embark on my first year-long archival research trip in September, I thought I would share what I’ve learned about preparing for international study and research:

  • Worry about everything. I’m sort of kidding here, but yes, I’ve done this quite a bit with excessive phone calls and emails between myself, my department, the Irish consulate, the Global Education Office on my campus, the librarians and curators at my intended places of study, etc. If I have a question that cannot be answered on a website (and please do actually look; I mean, don’t be insane), you better believe it goes on my to-do list for the day.
  • Make a Daily To-Do List. Yes, it’s tedious but it really does help with the overwhelming task of constantly refreshing your memory on what needs to happen. Put it on your white board, your Stickies, and so on. Just put it somewhere you can remember.
  • Connect 

    with scholars.

    Use

    Twitter, Academic.edu, other social media sites and/or networks to establish connections with scholars in your intended country of study. This way, you can stay up-to-date on readings, conferences, colloquia, publishing opportunities, and other academic events that may not be accessible to you otherwise. If you hate social media, try to jump on relevant listservs.

  • Make the most of your time. By this I mean create a serious and realistic time table that allows you to learn more about and enjoy where you will be researching, as well as attend conferences, readings, and do the very thing that you came all this way to do: research. So, for example, don’t plan that weekend trip to Paris on the same weekend that great lecture is taking place at Hampshire, UK.
  • Go with the Flow. Anyone who really knows me realizes that I’m just about the least “chill” or “go with the flow” type person. That being said, understand that things will happen that are out of your control. For example, at one library I was told that I did not need a Letter of Introduction, only to find out that I do, in fact, need such a document. This is OK. Human beings make mistakes sometimes.

Final Thoughts

For me, these few points have served as the greatest differences between preparing for international and domestic research in the humanities. I wish it were all about just going to big libraries and finding everything you need as soon as you get there, but it’s not. The point is to not go in blind, connect with relevant people, create a schedule for yourself, but also don’t be too afraid to deviate from said schedule if something out of your control happens, or if you find your research is taking you somewhere different.

If only this were it…

I’m still working on this last part; that is, I often find it difficult to let myself discover something outside of the plan. What strategies do you find relevant in preparing for international research? Which has been the most challenging, if any?