The troll down the hall: what do academic comment sections reveal about our colleagues?

If you spend twenty minutes on the internet doing anything besides looking at videos of baby sloths getting baths, it’s almost impossible not to discover some kind of abuse, and odds are it’s going to be in a comments section. We know not to “feed the trolls” (a philosophy I actually find really unhelpful, because trolls are like asexual autotrophic amoebas that don’t need chum to reproduce). We remind ourselves and each other not to read the comments– to NEVER, EVER read the comments (and then we always do anyway). Because comments sections are cesspools where discussion and nuance and respect go to die, buried under a mountain of abuse and inanity.

As someone who works on climate change and biodiversity, and writes (and reads) a lot about feminism and sexism in academia — topics that get a lot of press but also invite a lot of vitriol — my experience with comments sections is less than awesome. I know, intuitively, that most readers aren’t commenting, and that commenters tend to be a vocal minority of trolls, and aren’t representative of the population. There’s a pervasive internet rumor that some commenters are even paid to flood online forums and manipulate public opinion. That makes it easier to ignore most comments sections (even as I wish we could do more to make the web safer for people who aren’t white dudes).

But what happens when the comment section is more of a representative cross section of your community? Continue reading

Guest Post: Teaching while dissertating

Today’s guest post is by NeuroPostDoc, a recent Ph.D. moving cross-country to continue her research on human cognition using neuroimaging. 


When the email went out with TA assignments for Spring 2015, my first response was “uh-oh.” I had been assigned to research methods, a writing intensive course known to have the highest workload of all TA assignments in my department. This was a problem because I was already in the midst of my own “writing intensive” – writing my dissertation, with my defense scheduled for finals week. I had the same feeling reading that email as I imagined the captain of the Titanic had when he first saw the iceberg (dissertating also made me a tad dramatic).

I was only TAing during my last year because I needed the health insurance coverage for my husband. I had sworn up and down to my chair and graduate director that I could balance the workload (normally 5th years in my department are supported by a research-only fellowship, which comes with lesser health insurance). So, I wanted to make a good faith effort to work with my assignment before requesting a new one or trying to trade with another grad student. Here are the steps I took that made the situation workable, which I hope will be helpful to anyone struggling with teaching load, whether it’s teaching while dissertating like me, managing teaching while under grant deadlines, or adding an extra class as an adjunct when you know it will be a stretch.

DISCLAIMER: I was only able to pull all this off for a few reasons: I have a good amount of experience teaching this particular course, and I’m also really good at improvising lectures (thanks in part to my theater geekery in high school). I can also do a sort of party trick where I am able to skim text at a pace beyond speed reading with about 80% comprehension (relevant to how I graded assignments). Your mileage may vary. Continue reading

Guest Post: Every Student Uses Your Access Statement

Today’s guest post is by Sandy Olson, a scientist, disability activist, and freelance writer.


Accessibility is important to create a welcoming environment for learning for all people. While aimed primarily at people with disabilities, accessibility options can benefit everyone. They can help students who do not, for whatever reason, identify as disabled. They can also help create a more comfortable atmosphere for discussion and learning. To learn more about accessibility, and accessibility statements (AS) in particular, I interviewed a number of teachers and students in the US and Canada.

Who qualifies for accommodations?

In order to get accommodations for disabilities at colleges and universities, many students need documentation from a medical doctor. Seeking documentation adds a burden on students with disabilities, who are already expending more time and energy just to attend school. Some students may not have easy access to medical care, or may have an uneasy relationship with doctors. Seeing a doctor may present a burden on finances, time, energy, and emotions. Some illnesses and disabilities are not taken seriously by the medical community, or can be difficult to diagnose, but can easily be addressed by simple accommodations in the classroom. For example, people with dysgraphia may have trouble writing longhand but have an easier time typing on a laptop.

More than one person said that working with the disability services office can be difficult. Continue reading

Academic Job Hunting for Aliens

or Academic Job search for non-resident* foreign nationals in the US

In which @scitrigrrl discover one way that academics are like fashion models

DISCLAIMER: I am not an immigration lawyer, Tenure She Wrote does not have an immigration lawyer as a consultant, and what I have written here about visas is only the most cursory of notes about common things. If you have questions, concerns, worries about your immigration status, talk you the international center at your university (if you’re in the US), the International Center at your prospective institution, contact a US Consulate, or look at the USCIS website.

When @TenureSheWrote asked for reader questions, one that came up was this:

As a foreigner in US academia, there are some interesting challenges that are not always obvious to US-nationals, and some of these can be surprising as a foreigner even after over a decade in the US, particularly at transition points along the career trajectory, such as applying for faculty positions** in the US. Continue reading

Overcoming My Impostor Syndrome

For most of the time since I started on my academic career path, I’ve been dealing with the feeling that no matter what I was doing, it was somehow never going to be either “good enough” or “real enough” to the point where I would one day be a Real Scientist. I’ve had impostor syndrome for quite a long time, although I’ve recently been discovering that it’s been deeply lessened within just the past couple of years somewhat by accident. Continue reading

Science Careers: Now offering advice for privileged men from 30 years ago

On Friday, Science published an essay under the heading “Working Life.” The essay is a first-person account of one path to success in a research career. Problematically, the path that Science chose to feature is one that it is inaccessible to most people today – as I’ll discuss below. When Science showcases such paths, they demonstrate that they are either out of touch with or don’t care about the reality of the majority of young scientists who are not white, het-, cis-, able-bodied and slavishly devoted to their work. I’m sure that some people will argue that this first-person essay is not Science saying that this is the way to succeed in a career, it’s simply one author’s advice. But Science gave it the page space and ink, rather than choosing to print a more inclusive (and probably more useful) career section. Much like Nature’s “Womanspace” fail a few years ago, Science gave Diamandis’s dated, privileged, and out of touch essay its stamp approval when it published it in the magazine. Coming just a few weeks after Science published a column advising women scientists to put up with sexual harassment “with good humor”, it is starting to seem like the journal published by an association dedicated to the advancement of science would like to take science back to the Mad Men era. If that’s not the legacy Dr. Marcia McNutt (who is about to become head of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences) wants to leave from her tenure as Science’s editor-in-chief, I hope she’ll take a deep look at the sort of advice her Careers section keeps offering up. Continue reading

How to fail better (and even succeed!) in the academic job market

I’ve been on a few searches now, and observed a dozen or more hires across every stage in my academic career. There have been barrels of ink spilled on how to do better in today’s awful job market, and academic job consulting is now a thing (if you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with The Professor is In).

So why write (another) post on the job search? Two reasons. First, I’ve been through both processes in the last few years, so I’ve got a recenlt perspective from both sides of the process. And secondly, I see a lot — a LOT — of really easy, fixable mistakes made by people vying for academic jobs. I was almost tempted to title this post, “If the job market sucks this much, why aren’t you trying harder?” because there have been a surprising number of times that I’ve had this thought as I’ve gone through terrible cover letters or struggled through painful interviews or downright awful job talks. But the fact is, the market sucks, and a lot of the search process is out of your control. Most people are probably trying about as hard as they can. They just may not realize what they’re doing wrong, because the process can be obtuse from the outside, and a lot of us don’t get the mentoring we need.

I’m not going to talk about what you can’t control in this post, because while that will account for a number of your specific rejections, it’s not going to be the systematic cause of failure over the long-term. If you’ve been trying for a long time and you just cannot reach the next level of the search process, it’s likely to be something you can fix.

So, your goal should be to fail better. Let me explain:  Continue reading