A woman’s place is on the syllabus

We’ve been busy. Organizing, mourning, resting, strategizing, spending time with loved ones – not to mention all our paid (+unpaid) labor as academics.

As TSW writers and readers know all too well, our work (every dimension of it) didn’t just begin nor will it end with the change of any administration. For many of us though, the work  (every dimension of it) feels more urgent now than ever.

There’s a lot more to say, and lots of voices we want to feature in this space to speak, to listen, to make change.

And we also need to – and do – act “in real life.” *

There is SO MUCH to do though, that it can feel overwhelming. And in our role as academics, especially in a climate that wants to censure topics and conversations in the classroom (Exhibit A, Exhibit B) and eliminate academic freedom by eliminating tenure (Exhibit A, Exhibit B), what can we do?

I think lots of things, and lots of “small” things that add up. Which brings me to:

A woman’s place is in the syllabus.

One of the most concrete steps we as educators can take is to decolonize our teaching (and our research, and our outreach, and our mentoring).  Many of us, unconsciously or not, claim we are merely finding the “best” material or the “right” material for our classes (and the “right” students, etc). With so much scholarship and so many scholars to choose from, what does that mean?  Doesn’t that claim sound awfully familiar lately?

So as many of us start our semesters today or started them recently, let’s reflect on our choices for our syllabi. Who are we asking students to read? Who aren’t we? What topics are we covering? What aren’t we?

It should go without saying that I am not here with definitive answers, as this is a continuous process for everyone.  I’d like to share a few readings that help think through the work of syllabus building and revisiting as vital (if seemingly mundane, as it’s “backgrounded” and invisible) work in the academy:

Decolonizing the University

Please post syllabus here

Celebrate Black History Month to Decolonize STEM

Decolonizing Science Reading List


What are you reading and doing to decolonize your teaching? Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments.


*I mean, the internet is part of my real life, so I find that term not meaningful.

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.

When should you (or your students) defend?

At first shrug, this sounds like a simple question: when should you defend your dissertation, whether that’s MS or PhD (or other terminal degrees like MFA)?  If you’re an advisor, when should you let your students defend?

The ‘right’ answer could be: when they’re ready. Of course! But the timing of that, in practice, is far more complicated.  I strongly believe part of good mentoring is helping students move onto The Next Thing – whether that’s another degree, a postdoc, an academic job, a non-academic job, or something else.  So the timing of students’ defense and graduation should help them get there.

What’s so complicated then?  Lots of things. Continue reading

Celebrating the village that ‘raised’ me

Earlier this week, Professor Terry McGlynn shared his story of how he found science as a career path on the Small Pond Science blog. As a woman in the academy who is also a scientist, I wanted to share some of my story.

Why? It’s not that I think I have a particular unique path to where I am now. Mostly I want to share it because there can be so many difficult things about being a woman in science and a woman in the academy. I’d like to take this opportunity to celebrate the path that led me here, to a mental and physical place where I work hard to do work I enjoy while mentoring women students in science – and to thank (although anonymously here) the many women mentors who helped get me here. It takes a village!

There’s certainly a stereotype that kids who have chemistry sets or collect fossils are the ones who grow up to be scientists. Maybe that’s true, but that wasn’t my path – and it wasn’t the way I was brought up. Continue reading

Good times

My last few posts on TSW have been less than positive. It is time to reflect on the good things in my life.

I am on the job market again this year. This is not in and by itself a good thing; but I am getting pretty damn good at it. I got a good number of interviews, and just got back from my last campus visit a few days ago. I won’t hear back for another week or so, at least, so this is when hope is at its highest. Even when I don’t get offered a job these days, colleagues on search committees reach out to tell me about the good aspects of my application and to give me feedback on why the choice went another way. They don’t have to do that, and I appreciate it very much. I actually really enjoy the visits themselves — traveling to new places, meeting faculty members I didn’t know before and interacting with bright students, giving a talk and getting asked good hard questions, getting to think about my future and how I would like to shape it. I also have an excellent support system that helps with everything from listening to me practice my talk over Skype twice in one week to fixing page breaks and font issues in my handout the night before the talk. I am very lucky. Continue reading

Off the beaten tenure track

Last week, I got an email from a friend suggesting that my husband (who adjuncts) apply to a tenure track position two and a half hours away. Even though I am happy in my full-time, non-tenure track position here, my (tenured) friend still saw this as an option. Why?

“Because tenure-track trumps all,” my husband said, and he’s right. Even with the stress, workload, and uncertainty faced by my TT friends and colleagues, it’s clear most see NTT as an unacceptable option. Yet despite the shadow cast on anything except tenure-track jobs, three years ago I chose a non-tenure track over a tenure-track job offer. Today, as I work to juggle being the family breadwinner with taking care of a newborn, I still think this was the best decision for myself and for my family.

As criticism of the percent of faculty who are adjuncts grow, I expect to see universities increase the number of faculty who are full-time, but not on the tenure track. This is not as bad as it sounds. Before I explain why it’s worked for me, let me add this caveat: My R-2 university has a long-standing NTT structure, one that includes a union, a benefits package equal to TT faculty, and the opportunity for promotion. The structure of the university’s NTT positions promotes permanence. So, this is not an part-time adjunct or “instructor” position.

In this position, I am expected to teach a solid number of students, with a focus on general education courses, and to teach well. I get paid less. I am not required to do research, but I can continue to research and publish if I choose to. However, I can’t expect to receive workload reductions in exchange for being research active. I cannot get tenure, so although there is a 9-year “post-reappointment” zone, my job is less secure than tenured faculty. Continue reading

Now what?

My tenure packet is wending its way through the nearly year-long process, and while I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch, all signs point to me having a job here in the future. My teaching load and service load have already seen step function increases, and I’m starting to acknowledge that I am finally, well and truly, mid-career. It appears that this professor gig is what I’m going to do with my life. Now what?

With job security in the offing, there’s a world of possibilities out there that aren’t constrained by what my PhD committee, search committee, or tenure committee will think of my choices. With job security in the offing, I can make choices that aren’t simply to always push for that extra paper or next grant proposal in case that’s the make-or-break statistic for my tenure portfolio. It’s liberating to be able to make those choices, but it’s also daunting. What do I want to do with my life? Now what?

Now that I don’t have to simply calculate what the highest-short-term-reward-least-time-cost item is on my  to-do list, I can actually decide what I want to do with my research time over the next few years and beyond. Do I want to stay the course and continue to focus on the topic where I have been making progress over the last several years? Do I want to pick up some lost threads from earlier in my career? Do I want to pivot – slightly or acutely – and explore new directions? Now what?

Continue reading