Can you be physically incompatible with a career?

For all that academia is a ‘brainy’ pursuit, many disciplines also rely on an impressive array of motor skills and physical abilities. Perhaps you need to be able to carry those archaeological samples out of a desert canyon, or you need to be able to dissect a fruit fly’s brain under a microscope. I remember an old Grey’s Anatomy episode where a resident was dismissed for not having a surgeon’s “hands”.  In an ideal world we could surmount, bypass, or move any physical barriers to our academic dreams – but is that always realistic?

Sometimes it just means altering one’s expectations. In one of my prior research positions I mentored a student with cerebral palsy. The project they worked on required many different abilities that I took for granted in myself and other students – the ability to perform precise measurements quickly, walk long distances quickly, and enter data quickly (you are probably seeing a pattern here). Ultimately he could do 95% of what all of the other students could, it just took him a bit more time and effort. In the end his project went so well he came back for a second summer, and it was a rewarding experience for both of us… he on track for a successful career in science. Continue reading


The Absentminded Professor

I’m not sure when I became “that professor”… you know, the one who can’t be counted on to answer emails, be prompt at meetings, or follow through in a reasonable amount of time. We all know one or two – we tell our students not to bother emailing them or ask them for a letter of recommendation, and we tell our colleagues not to start collaborations with them. It’s not because they aren’t smart, or congenial, or even effective researchers and teachers… by and large just have way too much on their plate, and haven’t figured out how to juggle it all effectively.

This past fall semester, after two years mostly focused on prepping new classes and trying to get a handle on teaching and academic advising, I was finally able to take a breath. That peace only lasted until I started giving all of my other responsibilities the attention they deserved. My service load has increased and I’ve joined multiple department and university committees. I’ve tried to get back into writing and research with collaborators who I kind of ignored for two years. Most importantly, I’ve been focused on getting student research projects underway, designing their projects and finding funding (applying for over a dozen small grants this year). All this meant that although some parts of my job had started to feel manageable and sustainable, all of the new pieces meant that I was feeling even busier.

Things started falling through the cracks. Continue reading

Crushing hopes and dreams since 2013

I’ve been an academic advisor, teacher, and research mentor for three years now. I’ve done ok at figuring out the nuts and bolts of teaching and advising, and I’m doing better with understanding how to be there for students as an empathetic ear. As a teacher and research advisor I’ve gotten more flexible about my expectations given the fact that most of my students are non-traditional. Overall, I think I’ve made progress in learning how to be supportive and encouraging of students’ goals, while also realistic.

Each student comes into college with their unique set of abilities, resources, and drive to succeed.  They also come with a set of expectations – perhaps simply of achieving a degree, or of getting straight As in their chosen major, or of getting into a top graduate program.  Many students at my College are high achieving and could fit in at any top-tier university, and they achieve their goals. Others are relatively apathetic… ‘Cs (or Ds) get degrees’; they aren’t going to do that well, but they’ll pass the classes and get a bachelors, also achieving their goals.  Others realize for themselves that they are not reaching their own expectations in their chosen major, and transfer to another department of their own accord.

The students that I continue to struggle with teaching and advising are those that are not achieving their own college expectations but can’t make the hard decisions that entails. Even worse are those whose college expectations for themselves were mismatched with the expectations of the program or the career they have chosen.  Continue reading

What is the ‘right’ work-life balance in academia?

As I approach the end of the first half of my third year an Assistant professor, I look back on the semester and feel disappointed in myself. I have been what feels remarkably unproductive. My first two years were spent frantically prepping new classes, and now that I’ve got all repeats this semester has seemed tame. Frankly, I had gotten used to always just barely keeping up, as I found the transition to teaching difficult. Everyone told me that it would get easier, and it certainly has. Is it possible it got too easy? Continue reading

Welcome to Tenure, She Wrote’s new bloggers!

In our most recent call for regular contributors Tenure, She Wrote received many amazing applications, and it was hard to select just five new women.  We selected new members who will increase the diversity of voices represented here at Tenure, She Wrote, and we can’t wait to see what they have to say. Here they are:

CaptainTenure is an associate professor at a small private institution.  In addition to her teaching, research and service duties, she is responsible for faculty development at her college.   She has been a big fan of Tenure She Wrote since the beginning and is honored to join the team.   She tweets at @CaptainTenure.

Dr__Klotz is a tenure-track faculty member in English at a community college in Northern California.  She is interested in social justice, community literacy education, and digital pedagogy. Aside from settling into a new full-time teaching load, she spends her days hiking, reading science fiction, and drinking California wine. She tweets at @Dr__Klotz.

QTChimie is a smiley genderfluffy queer who loves science enough to make it a day job, interested generally in human disease. Q spent a few years working in the real world after undergrad and is now running back to academia for a PhD. They are also an artist and maker in media ranging from pencil to steel to cloth. They enjoy dismantling the patriarchy by being confusingly sweet, educating folks about healthy relationship dynamics, and taking really cute photos of their pet rats.

PunkeeProf teaches literature and writing at a small liberal arts university in Iowa. She likes it when she makes food that people enjoy, when laughter is the dominant noise in a room, and when students exceed her expectations. She hates very little, but it’s almost always warranted. You can follow her @ThePunkee.

Sciencella is a postdoc at a large public university, working in a social science field that combines experimental work with fieldwork. She has lived in 4 different countries on 3 different continents in the last 10 years. When she is not working, she enjoys watching trashy TV shows, drinking beer, and cooking. She tweets at @DrSciencella.

Choosing and using textbooks

There is no such thing as a perfect textbook – unless perhaps you write one yourself. Going into my third year of teaching I’m certainly not ready to write my own textbook. I am, however, thinking hard about whether the books I’ve been using are the best ones for my classes. I’ve talked here before about the importance of selecting reasonably priced books. Beyond that, however, I want to make sure that the textbooks are helpful to the students and add value to the courses I’m teaching.

The first thing I’ve been thinking about is how I want the students to use the textbook in an intro class, and what it provides for students both in class and in the future. I’ve seen what I would categorize as three main type of books that might be selected for an introductory class. 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