Eliminating grant deadlines is a feminist issue

“You’re such a productive academic mama! I didn’t do anything the first 4 months after my kid was born.”

Reading this recently in my inbox was unsettling. It was in reference to the fact that I was writing and replying to emails, with an infant at home.  What the sender didn’t, doesn’t, understand is that I don’t feel like I have much of a choice.  As an early career academic trying to figure out The Next Steps (AKA someone hire / fund me please!), there are a round of grant + fellowship deadlines this fall that won’t come up again for at least another year. And by then I won’t be eligible for at least one of them. In other words, external forces just don’t care what else I have going on. Their deadlines are not negotiable.

To some extent, I get it. I really do. I’ve ended up backing out of or turning down several things this fall that understandably are time-sensitive and involve large groups of other people- conferences, workshops. Deadlines and set time-frames help organize these groups and keep everyone on task. And these opportunities are important, but I just couldn’t make them work this fall.* One workshop required that I teach a module to peers on a pre-determined schedule, which I couldn’t commit to [with an infant nursing on demand who isn’t taking a bottle]. One conference was willing to let me present remotely/electronically, but said I had to commit to being available to answer questions live [again, I didn’t think that was a realistic option personally].

But I truly do not believe that this kind of inflexibility needs to be true for all academic opportunities. I feel especially strong about this when it comes to grant deadlines. 

There is already an ongoing movement to eliminate some grant deadlines in exchange for rolling deadlines. The latest NSF program to eliminate deadlines is in plant genomics, but NSF started their tinkering with this initiative years ago in the geosciences.

So far, NSF considers their elimination of grant deadlines wildly successful. Why? Because it greatly reduced the number of applications. Which makes funding rates look higher.  They’re chalking it up to reducing the number of mediocre or hastily created applications.  Others think it’s eliminating the procrastinators from the applicant pile. But, of course, there’s no way of knowing (yet?**) whether the quality of applications is better, or whether there are just fewer of them.

I agree with eliminating grant deadlines. But for a very different set of reasons.

Eliminating grant deadlines is a feminist issue. Why? Because when Life Happens, as it often does outside of work, women are left picking up the pieces. And this affects whether women can meet those deadlines – or at least whether they can meet those deadlines while maintaining their sleep and health.

Why do I think this? What do I mean by Life Happens? Kids get sick. Elders get sick. [Check out this entire page of stats on women and caregiving] Women are overwhelming taking care of the loved ones in their lives. Women are STILL doing more housework at home. Women are doing more service and admin work in the office. Women STILL get paid less, so they have fewer resources to outsource caregiving or food prep or take their of their physical and mental health.  Women are also more likely to be dealing with a mental illness, including depression, than men — so self-care and mental health-care are much needed.

Unfortunately, I don’t think grant deadlines necessarily keep women from applying to grants. [But don’t get even me started on how women are less likely to receive a major grant. Or that they are likely to get less funding than their male colleagues when they do get funding. Issues for another post.]  I think many a multi-tasking academic women perseveres and gets their grants in, while doing One Million Other Things, sacrificing all the way.  Even if they are sick. Even if their kids are sick. Even if they are taking on more tasks and roles in the academy than their male peers.

So with funding rates lower and lower, I don’t think NSF should be celebrating making a change that reduces applicants for their grants — especially without yet knowing who is being discouraged from applying with the change.  But I actually think that eliminating grant deadlines could actually help women be better represented in the grant pool – and hopefully give them the flexibility to develop stronger applications.

What do you think?

 

 

*doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be possible, depending on the person or the opportunity. Lots of folks take their infants to conferences or workshops. I took an infant to a conference once. But not this time.

** if we looked at the grant scores for pre- and post- deadline elimination, this could be possible. I’ll look forward to hearing whether program officers are going to do that and release the info publicly.

How to Publish Without Institutional Support

My institution defines me as a teacher. I knew this when I accepted a job teaching a 5-5 load a community college. Publication is not a part of my tenure review process, but teaching evaluations are, and I take part in an elaborate observation of my classes each year. The thing is, I am trained as a researcher and I define myself as a scholar, which to me means equal parts research, writing, and instruction. I was one of those people in graduate school who couldn’t wait to start my dissertation. Even as I have come to see myself as more of a teacher and found real meaning in working with my students, I feel a need to go beyond the classroom, to try and solve the systemic problems I see in my institution and community colleges more generally through inquiry and writing. This post is a look at my ongoing struggle to make space for the part of myself that is a writer in a teaching-focused job.

Problem 1: No Writing/Researching Community

Research is not exactly frowned upon at my institution, but there are not many folks around me who see themselves as researchers or academic writers. Lacking the environment of a research-focused community, I have to seek out like-minded scholars elsewhere. We have a four-year college in our town, and so far I have been lucky to meet junior scholars (on the tenure track and adjunct) to talk with about writing. I am learning to go out of my way to maintain scholarly community. I have no conference funding, but there are ways to finagle some travel money from our professional development funds at my college. Most importantly, I have become more assertive with my communications within my field. If I am writing something, I send emails to senior-scholar acquaintances I met during graduate school. I have them read my work. I have them suggest others I should be engaging with. Some senior scholars ignore my emails. But by and large, I have had great success and continue to nurture connections in my field.

Problem 2: No University Library

Books, articles, dissertations. I had no idea how lucky I was to have access to a university library system for 10 years of my life in higher ed. I have not figured out how to work around this constraint. I can interlibrary loan one book at a time for a few weeks, and our library provides access to some databases (JSTOR primarily). But electronic journals- no. Ongoing acquisitions to maintain an up-to-date collection- definitely no. Opportunities to suggest books that I would like to see in the collection- nope. The library budget is extraordinarily limited at community colleges with most of the focus on students and their needs. Fair enough. But this makes me more or less an independent scholar. Open access is my rallying cry. There is no such thing as academic meritocracy if some scholars have their access limited by paywalls.

Problem 3- No Research Funding

This problem has been surprisingly simple to get around. I have started applying for funding through professional organizations and external grants (I’ll let you know how that goes). I also have the option to spread my salary out over 12 months. With the academic year of about 9 months, this leaves me the entire summer to travel, write, and get my work out. The main problem is the timing. I managed to get two articles out this summer, but I will not likely have the time to return to them until winter break at the earliest. Depending on the time reviewers spend with the drafts, I may not be working on those pieces again until next summer, with actual publication dates some time in the year after that. I can see my current summer-writing strategy working for shorter pieces like articles and book chapters, but my ambition to complete a monograph does not seem feasible when I can only write for 2-3 months of the year. And there is that furious voice in my head that says no one should produce academic work without compensation. This is why we are increasingly undervalued as workers and professionals. I am not currently compensated for my scholarly work. Should I give it up? I can’t see myself doing that any time soon.

I am certain there are more and more of us in this position. How many scholars are spread between adjunct gigs, postdocs, visiting assistant professorships, and community college jobs? I imagine a lot of us struggle with finding  resources- be they time, money, community, or the promise of professional advancement- to keep writing. If research without compensation is the new norm, we are going to need to think seriously about how to pay for scholarship, and create access to all of us doing scholarly work.

 

 

Guest Post: On being productive and reproductive at the same time

Today’s guest post is by Megan Rivers-Moore, Assistant Professor at the Pauline Jewett Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies at Carleton University


  1. PhD, Post-doc, someone give me a job please

When I’m about to go start fieldwork for my PhD, my academic advisor says “why don’t you have a baby? Everyone trusts a pregnant woman.” Now, I’m not saying I know for sure, but this seems like pretty terrible advice.

When I’m in the field, the women I’m interviewing find it baffling that I am in a long-term, happy relationship but don’t have a baby yet. As we get to know each other, as the mutual trust develops, I am regularly asked if there is something “wrong” with me, if I can’t get pregnant. They cannot conceive of any other reason that I wouldn’t have a baby. I say something vague about trying to finish school first, get a job, and then we have many long conversations about the complexities of work-life balance in the Costa Rican sex industry.

I get a post-doc in Toronto, the point of which, I’m told by several people, is to have a baby and get a tenure track job. Well, ok then.

I’m pregnant. I actually eat soda biscuits while I’m lecturing so that I won’t retch. I’m pregnant, but I’m also bleeding. I use the bathroom before class and then I realize there is the possibility that I will actually have a miscarriage at the front of the room while my eight-five students watch. I get my first cell phone, because my partner insists that I need to be able to call someone if this happens. I think about what the order of the calls would be: first my partner (guess what, honey?), but who would be next? The department administrator (I’ll be ending class a little early today)? Maintenance (there’s a bit of a mess in my classroom, sorry! Do you have any of that sawdust, like when kids barf at school)?  This is not at all funny, but the only way I can face the possibility of my body coming apart while I teach Feminist Studies in Sexuality is by making myself laugh, imagining trying to make it into a teachable moment. I haven’t included a section in the course on reproduction, but I imagine announcing “one aspect of sexuality we haven’t discussed is pregnancy. Many, many, many pregnancies end in miscarriage, as you can see. We don’t tend to talk about it, it’s not supposed to be a big deal, so people often feel isolated. And deeply heartbroken. You know how important it is to relate our academic theorizing to the real world? Well, this is me unravelling before your very eyes! Don’t forget this when you fill out your course evaluations.”

As it turns out, this time around I don’t have a miscarriage. I am seven months pregnant and travelling to Texas to interview for a tenure-track job. Right after I arrive, I’m taken out for tacos by a lovely couple who spend the whole dinner trying to get me to drink. “This place is famous for its margaritas. Why don’t you try one? Are you sure you don’t want a cold beer to wash that down? Irish coffee for dessert?” Either they haven’t noticed I’m pregnant or else things are really relaxed in the south. As the epic marathon of a multi-day interview goes on, there seems to be an unspoken agreement not to mention my pregnancy. I am seriously out of breath during my job talk, gasping a few times as the fetus decides to push my internal organs up into my lungs. I avoid touching my belly at all, I watch people avoid looking at it. We all pretend it isn’t there, except for the head of department who says “I’ll put you on the waiting list for the campus daycare.” When I finally waddle back to the hotel room at night, my fetus and I spend a long time poking each other. Hello, you. Sorry I ignored you. How’s it going in there? Do you want to move to Texas? I’m killing this interview, I think I’m going to get this job.

I don’t get the job. I can’t help but notice that the guy who does get the job may well have triplets on the way, but he didn’t wear them under his sweater at the interview.

Continue reading

How do you find the time?

In graduate school, I took up crafting — knitting, sewing, embroidering, quilting, making magnets and sock monkeys and jam? I tried them all. I’ve always liked working with my hands, and the grass roots, eco-friendly nature of the DIY movement was really appealing to me. I also enjoyed learning more about what have traditionally been women’s activities. Embroidering science quotes on pillows felt subversive and oddly empowering. I made me feel closer to my grandmother. It gave me something to do. It was a creative outlet. I met new people, and saved money on holiday gifts. My grad student friends and I would meet for weekend stitch-n-bitches and support each other through tough times.

Crafting also helped my mental health. Watching an episode of Buffy or Alias at night to unwind, I’d find myself unable to relax until I discovered that crocheting silenced that persistent little voice saying “Why aren’t you working?” Because I was working! I was making something! My overachieving neurotic brain was just as satisfied by stitches as by words. I was able to relax, and concentrate on Sidney Bristow kicking ass instead of the pervasive feelings that I wasn’t good enough.

When I started my faculty position, I stopped. I don’t know why. It wasn’t intentional, it’s just that self-care is one of the first things to go when you’re busy. 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

How do you spend your breaks?

My big kid spent spring break in another state, with my ex-husband. Early in the week, we were talking on Skype and we had the following conversation:

“What are you doing for spring break?”

“Nothing too exciting. I’m going to work, pretty much like usual.”

“But don’t you get a vacation?”

“Yes, but I’m just using it to work.”

“But does anyone at your work take a vacation?”

“Yes, some do. I know some people are going to visit their families. One person is going to Disney World with his family.”

“So how come you aren’t doing anything fun?”

“Well, I’m trying to get caught up because of time I’ve spent with you, and your brother and doing family stuff at other times. And I’d like to get a bit ahead so that we can spend time together when you’re around.”

[Noises of not really buying my story. I try again…]

“You know how we’re planning to go on a couple of trips this summer? To Big City in the US? And foreign country?  I’m working now, when others are on spring break, so that I can take longer vacations during the summer, when you can come too.”

“Oh. OK.”

So that’s how I spent my spring break. Continue reading

Big kids take time too

Oftentimes, when we discuss mixing motherhood with an academic career (or a professional careers more generally), our discussion and anxiety center on pregnancy and babies. “What will happen if I get pregnant during my PhD?” “If I wait until after tenure to have children, will it be too late?” I think this baby-centric view of academic motherhood comes from the clear physiological demands of parenting an infant (the sleep deprivation! the leaky breasts!) and is compounded by the absolutely abominable lack of paid leave and support for new mothers in the US. But children don’t magically start taking care of themselves as age 1… or 2… or 3… or… even though their mothers are back in the classroom and lab pretending to have it all together and maybe even trying to make up for “lost time” or “low productivity” during their child’s infancy.

It would be nice if we did a better job of acknowledging that big kids take time too, and that even as our children grow older there’s still a strong time demand on parents. Continue reading