Magic Money and the Partially Funded Sabbatical

It was mentioned repeatedly during my on-campus interview: there was a pre-tenure sabbatical after year three. Having already taught at an R1, I knew pre-tenure sabbaticals were a rare and wonderful gift. Even in my first year, I was already imagining all that I could accomplish during this year away from teaching.

The amount of research you can accomplish without a pre-tenure sabbatical varies depending on the orientation, culture, and organizational structure of the institution. My SLAC operates using shared governance and a teacher-scholar model. (Terms that were all new to me 2.5 years ago) Our model of shared-governance features a compressed administrative bureaucratic structure – no provosts, no chancellors, and few deans (a much-needed option in this era of the corporatization of institutions of higher ed). But here is the hitch: this shared governance model requires that almost every faculty member (T-T, tenured, adjunct, etc.) engage in quite a bit of service work. Thus, this sabbatical would be a welcome break from not only teaching, but also an unusually heavy service load.

Both the casual conversation and the language in the faculty handbook regarding reappointment at years 1,2, and 3 focused almost entirely on assessment of teaching (thus the teacher-scholar model). I was actively advised to focus on teaching (with an implicit suggestion that research should or could (??) take the back burner in these early years). Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

In the Company of Women

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a room of medical clinicians and public health researchers – all of whom happened to be women. Although the demographics in my own discipline are shifting such that approximately 60% of new doctoral degrees are awarded to women, I rarely find myself exclusively in the company of women, much less women of various ethnic backgrounds who have decided to pursue scholarship at the highest levels. However, I have no illusions that the problem of low gender and ethnic diversity in STEM fields is simply due to women’s lack of commitment to their work.

If you can’t tell, I am not a fan of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean-In narrative – as Imani Grady argued, black women have been leaning in for years, and yet we still hold few positions of power in academe or business. It is clear that the structures within academe were not created to support the dynamic nature of women’s lives, particularly those aspects that include caretaking and childrearing.

Here I happened to be at a conference that was designed to discuss how we, as women, can navigate the arc of a long career in international research – careers that require far more flexibility than the lean-in narrative outlines. This conference managed to address everything from mentorship to publications, with a special focus on integrating the academic and private lives of women. Continue reading

Finding Structure & Productivity Despite Stress & Self-Doubt

I think I can remember when it began. Nearly 10 years on, I can faintly recall the comments on that paper, the subtle doubt expressed by a pregnant pause in a conversation with a mentor, the moments that I interpreted as meaning that I was not as strong a scholar as I believed myself to be. Instead of leaning on all of the positive affirmation that I had received previous to these interactions, these moments lodged themselves in my memory, and eventually chipped away at my confidence.

You may be thinking that this just plays like a typical case of imposter syndrome. And it does – Because it is. I am not the first scholar to battle the kind of self-doubt that can wake you in a cold sweat. But I can speak to the long-term impacts of this struggle. Imposter syndrome takes what is your core belief in yourself, that thing that gives you pride in your particular skill set, your ability to construct a deft argument backed by strong data, and punctures it with tiny holes day after day.

Although imposter syndrome slowed my progress, it did not bring it to a complete halt (thankfully). Continue reading

Stranger in SLAC-Land: Considering Intimacy on a Small Campus

It happened again today. I was dropping my son off at the daycare on campus, and a colleague asked if me and my husband would be attending the kindergarten graduation ceremony later this afternoon. I have a toddler, and I know very few (if any) of the older children or their parents, so we planned to skip the graduation…However, this colleague was the third person who asked if we would be attending the ceremony.The third time’s the charm. I noted sheepishly that I didn’t realize that we were supposed to attend. He responded with a faint smile “It really is a nice event.” And so I finally got it, attendance is required at the kindergarten graduation.

You may be wondering what this has to do with life in SLAC-Land. This is about my kid and kindergarten graduation ceremonies. What I’ve learned in my first year is that employment at a smaller institution comes with a set of rarely articulated, but often followed rules of community engagement. Continue reading

Feel free to call me Dr.

It happens so frequently, to me, to my friends and colleagues, and in professional settings no less. In asking about your work, they say, “Mrs. Biolock, can you explain your findings?” You find yourself wondering if it is necessary to correct them, to ask them to refer to you by your professional title: “Dr.” When deciding whether to halt the conversation, to introduce that awkward moment of correction, we are actually considering whether (as my mother would say) we are willing to ruin the party. Is your name, your title worthy of the tricky pause, the halted speech, and the stilted correction?

Whether someone refers to you as “Dr.” or “Mrs.” or “Ms.”, and whether or not you correct them is in some small part about the politics of respectability. Not the typical respectability politics (à la Don Lemon ) that continues to haunt the Black community, but the kind of respectability politics that forces you to acknowledge that titles matter. They shape how people speak to you, whether they respect your opinions, whether they validate your work, how your work gets covered in broader science communications pieces. Continue reading

We Want You! Musings of a New Diversity Hire~

We have all seen the behests included towards the end of a job posting. “ We encourage minorities and women to apply” or “We are equal opportunity employers, and we specifically encourage women and members of under-represented groups to apply for this position.” As a woman of color, these phrases never meant much. They seemed tacked on at the end of every job post. Every institution of higher learning should be working to increase diversity among their faculty, staff and student populations, no? Would I want to work somewhere that didn’t explicitly state this in their job advertisement? The short answer: certainly not. Having done the job market tango several times (and as recently as fall 2013), this phrase became invisible to me. It only received a passing glance as I tried to absorb the announcements, to determine whether I could bend and twist my CV to another job posting. Continue reading