I Am Thankful, But I Am Tired: Working for Nuns

I teach at a small, Catholic liberal arts university founded by an order of nuns who are guided by relatively progressive core values that direct both their ministry and our institution’s mission. (Though Catholic in mission, the institution welcomes–and even seeks–a diversity of faiths in its faculty, staff, and students. I, for example, am raised Catholic but have explored many faiths and not landed on any one in particular. I made my agnosticism clear during my interview.) These values I vaguely refer to contain commitments to justice, knowledge, choice, and compassion–all of which could be embraced by many faiths. Another feature of our founding order of women religious–and one that is not officially recorded anywhere but is universally understood–is their commitment to their work. What this looks like at my institution is a long history of women who had the passion and, more importantly for my purposes here, the time in the day, to commit to founding and maintaining an institution of higher education. Education became their calling and, therefore, consumed their lives.

Since the institution’s founding, 14 of the 17 presidents have been members of the founding order. This means that 92 of the institution’s 116 years of existence have been shaped directly by an institutional ethos of work, work, work. It was present five years ago when I arrived: (a) what I like most about ____ is that we all honor the tradition and are willing to do whatever it takes for our students to succeed, (b) we all work hard around here because we believe in the mission and in our roles as contributors to a larger cause, c) you won’t see anyone work harder than a nun, but we all try! In year one, this commitment to the institution/community was inspiring. In year five, it’s exhausting and has me reevaluating what my role is/has been versus what my role should be. Continue reading

On my role/effectiveness as a mentor

Graduate students are one of the best, and one of the most difficult aspects of my job. I constantly wonder if I’m doing it right. I worry because I care about the students. I care about whether they are learning and growing as scientists, and I care about them as human beings. I also care about their scientific output. In fact, as a lab-based scientist, I am dependent on the work that they do.

There are a two main flavors of my worry. First, Am I doing enough for their scientific development? Second, am I falling into the trope of the over-demanding pre-tenure faculty?

The first of these generally has two main steps transient* frustration with a student triggers a longer spiral of second guessing myself as a mentor.

The frustrations are usually normal** day-to-day things. Mistakes, failure to take notes of discussions, failure to locate notes from discussions, needing to repeat instructions that should not need to be explained again****, slowness of writing, oversharing about personal issues, failure to talk to me about research-related questions, and lack of keeping up with the literature, for example.

But then I start wondering: Is there something about what I am doing that could fix some of these problems? Am I giving my students too much room? Or am I micromanaging? Am I applying too much pressure? Not enough pressure? Is it contradictory if I am working on something up to a deadline, but demand they have drafts to me early? Continue reading

19 things I learned when my husband took paternity leave

My baby started daycare this morning. My husband and I went to drop him off together, and it was not as hard as I had expected. When we left the room he was happily playing with blocks, and he didn’t even notice us leave. I’m sure he did notice at some point, but it wouldn’t have been me he looked around for. My baby would have looked for his primary caregiver, Daddy.  Really, I left him some time ago.

I’ve been back at work full-time since August, teaching, pumping, going to meetings, pumping, trying to find bits of time for research, pumping, and pretending my heart wasn’t across town with a little boy that was learning to crawl and clap. My husband (also an academic) has been home with our son, playing on the floor, exploring the outdoors, changing hundreds of diapers, feeding pumped milk and an increasing number of solid foods, and wishing our baby would nap on a regular basis. Now his time away from work is ending too, so its time for the baby to go to daycare and begin a new chapter of his life.

So it seems like a good time to reflect on what I, the mother, learned when my husband took over the primary caregiver role. Here’s a listicle. Continue reading

I have a weird sounding (to you) name

I have a perfectly common girl’s name where I’m from. Not like Emma or Sophia, but a solid top-50 name that I don’t have to repeat twice when I order my coffee or spell out for anyone.

Not so in North America.

Here, I already know that people will not understand my name the first time I say it. It’s just not something that they expect to hear. It’s not long or particularly hard to pronounce, once you understand what I am saying, but something about it seems not to compute. So, I always have to say it at least twice. I don’t mind, really. I actually appreciate it when others make an effort to say my name correctly.

I do my best to help people remember my name and how to pronounce it. At conferences I always hold up my name tag as I say my name, and that usually helps. I put my name on every page of my handouts and slides, so students and talk attendees don’t have to to work hard to remember. On my website, part of my “personal” page is devoted to the etymology of my name, and there is even an audio of me saying it.

Another characteristic of my name is that it doesn’t end with an “-a” or “-ie” sound. In fact, it has basically all of the characteristics of a male name that are discussed in this article about boys’ and girls’ names that you should all go and read. So maybe it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that most people who have only seen my name in print assume that I am a man. That is depressingly common.

I can’t decide if I think that it helps me or not. Continue reading

Guest Post: How to Not Listen to Women

Today’s post is by a guest author:

It’s happened again. A woman tried to show how bad people are at listening to women, and instead of listening to her, her words got twisted and used to attack women.

In her article, “Famous quotes, the way a woman would have to say them during a meeting”, Alexandra Petri describes how “Woman in a Meeting” language is unique. In order to avoid being seen as aggressive (or bitchy), and to be heard and taken seriously, women frequently police their at-work language. If they don’t do this and instead speak assertively, women are often perceived as being aggressive, and angry women aren’t taken seriously. Petri shared the example of Jennifer Lawrence being accused of being angry and aggressive by one of her male employees when after she spoke to him assertively (i.e., not using “Woman in a Meeting” language). It turns out, men frequently mishear assertion as aggression when women speak. Continue reading

I don’t like me when I’m angry: rage, sustainability, and activism

The first time I went to a therapist, it was because I was angry all the time. It was during grad school, so there were plenty of sources of stress in my life, but what worried me most was the anger. I was fighting with my family. I had a short fuse about everything — random interactions, small infractions, selfish people, rude people, clueless people. Socks left on the floor. Empty ice trays. Inane administrative red tape. Mistakes.

At the end of our first session, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. In my case, anxiety and stress were translating into anger, especially at small things I couldn’t control. My therapist and I spent the next several weeks coming up with a set of tools and practices to process my anxiety in more healthy ways, which would turn the dial back from anger to calm. Each week, I would have different homework, as I slowly built my tool kit. The first week, I was asked to take a break from venting.

I was surprised, because I’d always thought of venting as healthy — it’s a way to process and release steam, like a safety valve (which even the name implies). But when my therapist asked me, “Do you ever feel better after you vent?” I realized I didn’t. Venting would wind me up, rather than cool me down. Instead of venting, he said, try just stating how you feel about something, and leaving it at that. That was six years ago, and I’ve found that letting go of venting has been one of the healthiest things I’ve ever done.

And then, I started this blog.  Continue reading

Ageism Goes Both Ways

I recently got into an argument with a friend and former colleague about ageism in academia. I insisted that young women professors experience regular, persistent, and pervasive ageism in the workplace. I couched this claim in my usual “the personal is political” mode and emphasized my own recent experiences with what I would call ageism. My friend shot back that ageism, like racism, can only go one way. Young people are the privileged workers of the academy. At the time I capitulated. Was I advocating reverse ageism? How embarrassing! But recent experiences have caused me to return to the question.

I do not in any way want to argue that academia is more or most discriminatory towards young faculty. Given the well-documented discrimination against older faculty who remain in temporary and adjunct positions with little chance of a full-time hire,  it would be ridiculous for me to participate in a discrimination competition. Robert Mckee has a great piece on this exact topic. I do want to argue that ageism is a complex and nasty monster that intersects with gender, race, class, sexuality, and other axes of oppression to close doors and make the workplace uncomfortable if not downright hostile to young women faculty.

Let me give you some recent examples from my daily work routine. Continue reading