Grit is Good. (right?)

As a mother of a three year old, I catch myself reading every article about childrearing that comes across my Facebook timeline. Lately, there has been an increasing focus on what it takes to raise resilient and thus successful children. Research from the Duckworth Lab at the University of Pennsylvania explores the idea that grit and self-control are predictors of lifelong personal achievement.

As I read these articles, I start to consider if these same traits predict success in academe, or rather I realized that I had been taught that these qualities would ensure job security and some modicum of fame in our little corners of the academic world. (Though this narrative of hard work and success has certainly shifted along with declines in funding for institutions of higher education, and the tightening of the job market. See recent news out of the University of North Carolina, LSU, and Iowa for the latest horrors.)

According to the Duckworth Lab, grit is the tendency to “sustain interest in and effort towards long term goals” and self-control is the ability to control impulses. My initial interest in these articles stemmed from an interest in what I can do to help my son develop the ability to self-regulate his emotional needs, and commit to and pursue long-term goals. Inevitably however, I turn inward and begin questioning whether I have these developed these skills well enough to pass them along to my son.

In these moments, I flash back to endless college nights sitting in a computer lab, grinding away on final papers (long before we had cell phones or Facebook to provide endless distraction). I am reminded of longer days in my windowless write-up office in graduate school, composing against a deadline – pushing towards a post-doc that awaited me that Fall. These experiences must have served as the training runs for the marathon that is the academic job search process and tenure track, no?

So it’s clear, I have grit. We are resilient. No women I know in academe are lacking these qualities. Most of us have enough extra grit that we could hand out some to those in need. I get the benefits of grit – I chose not to walk away from a few challenging situations (changing field sites after pilot research, switching graduate advisers, changing institutions while on T-T) – and I am slowly crafting a career that reflects an intersection of my personal passions and intellectual interests. But what is the cost of this kind of dogged pursuance of our professional goals?

What have I lost as I pursued these goals? If I am honest, I can name a few things: several hours of sleep, relaxing down time, the ability to attend my friends’ weddings, the sight of my cousin graduating from college having survived evacuation during Hurricane Katrina, among other things. I wake up sometimes, and cannot fall back asleep – not because my kid is keeping me awake – but because I lay in bed thinking about looming deadlines and upcoming projects. This happens too frequently, and I know I am not alone. Several of my friends have casually mentioned that the same thing happens to them. And I think I read somewhere that this cannot be good. I also sit too much, and don’t work out enough (though I used to run all the time…).

Perhaps the most troubling thing is that I don’t get to build and support my familial relationships and friendships. I communicate with my friends via Facebook, text, and sometimes over the phone. I see them at conferences, and on rare occasions – in person at non-professional events. The irony is this: I study social and kin networking in contemporary human populations. So I know all too well the value of these interpersonal connections for the maintenance of good mental and physical health.

But you know what? I have grit for days.

And grit is good, right? Well great,  I can check that off now. I also heard that balance is something I should be striving for…I think I saw an article on that somewhere…

Drawbacks and benefits of administrative housework

Mellivora had an excellent post last week about dismantling a culture of discrimination, and many of the issues she discussed were geared towards pretty large issues- sexual harassment, egregious behavior, etc. But so-called “micro aggressions” are also much in the news these days (e.g., here and here), and have been on my mind recently. For better or for worse, I don’t often notice micro aggressions until later, when they add up and a pattern emerges (probably why the name microaggression is so apt). Because of this, it’s really difficult for me to respond to these “in the moment”, and even if I notice it when it happens, it’s difficult to know how to respond constructively.

For me, one of the forms of “administrative housekeeping” that I’ve been thinking about recently concerns note taking.

I take a lot of notes. I take them every single day, in both research and in meetings. Depending on what I’m doing, these notes are electronic or handwritten. When I meet with my students, I take notes on what they are doing, then transcribe my own action items to a separate “to-do” list and file that note page away. When I’m in meetings with colleagues, I’m usually taking notes on my computer or iPad. Some times these notes float away into the ether, but in general, I find my notes super useful, in so many ways. I’ve used them to jog my memory about what else happened in the meeting, to figure out who made a specific comment to follow up on later, sometime even just to provide context to my overall day. They are also, it turns out, also useful to my colleagues and in general, I will happily send my notes along if someone requests them*.

But recently, I’ve been involved in a few groups where the gendered nature of note taking was almost laughable. Continue reading

Dismantling a culture of discrimination

Many of us have been part of a department that contained problematic faculty with obvious gender biases against women. If you have been lucky, those faculty members have been in the minority and not in a position of significant influence in the department (i.e. Chair, Dean). Of course, even one sexist person in a position of power over students is problematic. One-on-one sexist communication between faculty and female students can negatively affect students’ performance and mental health. Just as important is the example such faculty present for others in the department. If newer faculty and students see others get away with sexist behavior, it’s more likely to be seen as acceptable and even sanctioned. This perpetuates the problem, and creates departments that have a culture of discrimination. In those departments we can’t just wait for the problem to disappear with time as older faculty retire. Some fields are more likely than others to have individuals and departments with gender bias problems – STEM fields are particularly problematic – but these issues are in no way field specific. Any department that houses a culture of discrimination is less likely to attract, nurture, and graduate female students.

Since I started my faculty position last year I have been mentally cataloging sexist instances (both hostile and benevolent) that I’ve experienced, witnessed, or heard about secondhand. As a mentor and role model I see part of my job as doing what I can to make my college a place where women are treated equally and fairly. I have been brainstorming with colleagues how to push back against a culture of discrimination present in one particular department. It has been challenging to think of meaningful steps that we as untenured women faculty in male-dominated departments could achieve to make a difference in our students’ lives. Continue reading

When trainees go bad

Toxic work environments – including lab environments – are bad for everyone. They are utterly destructive to those involved, to the rest of the lab, and to the PI. We have discussed toxic mentors, problematic advisors, and mentoring styles, with the goal of understanding how to identify toxic situations and how to survive and get out intact. These situations are especially despicable due to power imbalances between PI and trainee.

But what happens when it’s not the mentor but a trainee that is the major source of problems in the lab? . This is a very different issue from toxic PIs – there isn’t the same kind of power imbalance, and there is much more protection for the PI than there is for trainees. Nevertheless, a problematic individual in the lab can cause massive amounts of stress for both the PI and the other trainees in the lab. We don’t often talk about “toxic” trainees, or even “difficult” trainees, or trainees that are making everything more difficult for everyone. Perhaps we should. Continue reading

Guest post: Acknowledging and overcoming self-hindrance

As a graduate student nearing the end of my degree, I have started thinking a lot about what I plan to do when I graduate. Thinking about the future inevitably leads me to think about confidence – am I confident in my abilities as a scientist? Do I think I have what it takes to “make it” in academia? Through conversations with female graduate students and postdocs, I’ve realized that this lack of self-confidence is pervasive (I’ve written about this more here), but in what ways does this materialize, particularly in early career stages?

There is a lot of discussion on gender biases and stereotype threat and how these (often implicit) biases hinder women from staying in academia. Some biases are commonly talked about (i.e. imposter syndrome – here and here), while others are rarely acknowledged. Continue reading

What’s your choice? Names as a microcosm for a feminism at the crossroads

This is the third post in a three part series about changing your name as an academic. Be sure to check out our earlier posts: Changing my surname was a personal choice, and No good options: when your name change indicates a gender change.

I kept my name when I got married. Growing up, it had never even occurred to me to change, and by the time I got married keeping it had become a matter of principle. The process was quite smooth (considering there was no paperwork), and aside from correcting a few stubborn family members who insisted on mailing things to Mr. and Mrs. Husband, my choice has been drama free. I’ve had my share of awkward customer service interactions, and I’ve had to explain to strangers that my husband and I have two different names. We don’t have kids together yet, and so haven’t had to decide how to handle that (right now we’re leaning on any hypothetical baby taking my last name, since my husband has a child with his last name already; it seems only fair.). I had already published under my own name, and it was nice to not have to worry about making any changes — to my drivers license, my CV, my Social Security card, my life.

Over the last few years, I’ve watched a growing number of my friends and colleagues get married. Naïvely, I’ve been surprised that the vast majority of them have taken their husbands surnames. I watched as some of my staunchest feminist friends have had to defend their choices — or, more commonly not defend them. Because what you do with your life and your name is your choice; you don’t have to defend it. This is the promise of third wave feminism: we are now responsible for our bodies, our selves, our lives. Our choices.

Actually, this is kind of how I pictured patriarchy...Run! it's coming for our choices!

Actually, this is kind of how I pictured patriarchy…Run! it’s coming for our choices!

But… What happens when our choices are the same choices that The Patriarchy would have made for us? Bear with this clunky metaphor for minute — I don’t mean to think of The Patriarchy as some sort of 1950’s supervillain that bears a mysterious resemblance to the Mecha-Hitler at the end of Castle Wolfenstein. Rather, the patriarchy in this context is shorthand for both an overwhelming societal pressure (the kind our great-grandmothers would’ve faced); but also a more subtle, insidious socialization.

Basically, after decades of feminism, it surprises me that so many heterosexual married women still take their husbands surname. Is it really is a choice, if the choice isn’t changing?

Continue reading

No Good Options: When Your Name Change Indicates a Gender Change

Today’s post is the second in a three-part series here at Tenure, She Wrote exploring the complexity of name changes and choices in academia.

When you’re trans, getting your name changed is a huge ordeal. You have to file it with the court, have it published for x amount of time in a local newspaper, hopefully get it approved by the court, then deal with social security, banks, DMVs, the lot. It’s a pain and very bureaucratic, but there are processes to follow. The same isn’t true for an academic publication record, particularly for those of us who transition later in our careers.

Your publication list is a huge part of academic life, and if you transition after having some manuscripts published you have to face a choice on every CV and every grant application from that point forward: Include past publications under an old name and risk discrimination for being trans, or leave out past publications under an old name and risk not getting the job or grant for seeming like you don’t have enough experience. It’s a catch-22, and right now there are no good answers.

Continue reading