Why You Need (and Deserve) an Academic Coach

By Kel Weinhold, TPII Productivity Coach

Getting published in academic journals is hard.

Not only does it take the heavy lifting of research and writing, but grabbing the golden ring of a published article in a top journal also requires the knowledge to navigate the unwritten rules and expectations of your field and its journal editors. 

So, the question is, why do academics, unlike others in almost any field where success is based on application of talent, insist on going it alone? Why do they deny themselves the assistance that their professional peers in other fields take as standard.

Doctors, lawyers, architects, CPAs, they all take part in continuing education. In fact, most of them are actually required to seek continuing education to maintain their professional credentials.

Athletes, the very best athletes in the world, work every day with a coach. Serena Williams is arguably the greatest athlete of all time, and she got to the top with both exceptional talent AND daily coaching.

Yet, here stands the academic. Often the smartest kid in the room, but rarely taught how to apply that genius to producing the one thing that exemplifies her or his success. Would we expect Serena to win a record 23 Grand Slam singles titles by insisting that she “should” have been able to perfect her serve with only occasional comments from trusted friends? Or, say, with intermittent attention from a teacher who gets no particular recognition or capital from helping her succeed?

We don’t think so.

That’s why Developmental Editor Dr. Jane Jones (from Up In Consulting) and Productivity Coach Kel Weinhold (from The Professor is In) created The Art of the Article — to coach academics with step-by-step instruction in conceptualizing, organizing, and writing an article manuscript. Instruction that academic writers can return to time and again as they move forward toward their goals.

Here are the top five reasons you need (and deserve) coaching:

  1. Reduce your chance of rejection
    • One sure way to lose a game is to fail to understand the basic skills needed, and the rules. Many new academics lack a basic grasp of the fundamental practices and rules of academic journals, and end up making unforced errors that lead to rejection. Art of the Article teaches you the system and shows you step-by-step how to execute what editors want.
  2. Increase your motivation
    • When the going gets tough, the successful turn to a support team. Having access 24/7 to professional guidance can help you to keep moving forward, even when things are challenging. In addition to 50 lessons with specific guidance based on Jane and Kel’s extensive experience as academic editors and coaches, Art of the Article includes daily reminder emails and monthly motivational webinars. Access to the material does not expire, so you can keep coming back.
  3. Reduce isolation and thus procrastination
    • The isolation of the academy can be debilitating. Just like working out regularly, a healthy writing practice is more likely to happen when you feel like someone is joining you on the journey. The Art of the Article includes access to a private social media group where you can ask questions and seek encouragement. 
  4. Gain insight into destructive habits and how to overcome them
    • We all develop habits that turn into barriers to achieving our goals. And without guidance, it can be almost impossible to see a way around them. Art of the Article includes daily coaching videos on common barriers to success and tools for overcoming them.
  5. Stop wasting time: 
    • Just like spending hours sitting at a piano won’t make you a better pianist without some kind of guidance, spending hours at a computer trying to write an article without instruction will waste your time and deplete your energy. The Art of the Article provides client-tested, efficient techniques to maximize your efforts and, in turn, improve your results.

No coach, advisor or mentor can do what you are not willing to do for yourself, but they can support and encourage you to reach your potential. The Art of the Article provides the knowledge, resources, guidance, training and skills  – in short, the coaching – that will allow you to dominate Wimbledon (errr, we mean, get your next manuscript published!).

Academic Hazing is Abuse – WOC Guest Post

I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color.

If you’d like to submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration, email me at gettenure@gmail.com. I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here.

Today’s post is by Tiffany Monique Quash. Tiffany is a PhD Candidate at Indiana University-Bloomington in the School of Public Health’s Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Program and Associate Instructor. She is studying Leisure Behavior with a minor in Higher Education, and completing a certificate in College Pedagogy. Quash is also a member of the Aquatics Institute Research Team, under the direction of Dr. William D. Ramos. Her primary research interests include: Aquatic Equity and Inclusion; College Pedagogy; Leisure Theory; Qualitative Research; Social Justice; Higher Education Leadership; and Research Methods.

Tiffany is collaborating with faculty from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly white Institutions (PWIs ) on the historical analysis of aquatic programs at HBCUs and doctoral student and faculty mentoring relationships in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Studies academic programs. Her dissertation focus is the narratives of Black Collegiate Women Swimmers from HBCUs and PWIs across generations and institutions. Outside of academic life, Tiffany spends time with her partner Tasha planning their wedding, takes care of their child, Leo (a red-eared slider turtle), and works with the International Water Safety Foundation as the Director of Operations.

Tiffany and I discussed whether or not she wished to publish this anonymously, and she decided to publish it under her name, saying “I am very comfortable moving forward with my name being placed on this piece. If I do not, I will feel like he has won and I have bought into playing ‘their’ game. This is my life and I need to take it back. I hope someone else finds their strength as well.”

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In my ideal world, I would enjoy introducing myself as, “I am a 39-year-old Black Queer Mermaid who has a mood disorder and had an unexpected partial hysterotomy before my qualifying exams”. My reality includes being open and honest about being bi-polar; openly discussing the intersectionality and stigma associated with race, gender, and mental health; challenging the narrative that black and brown bodies can swim through my research and professional roles; and visibly being the only Black woman doctoral student in my academic program. I love the water! I find myself fortunate to have mentors whom I trust and confide in about my academic experiences. 

The advice I have received when it comes to questionable interactions between anyone who falls within the categories of white and/or cis-gender males has been, “Keep your eyes on the prize” to help  encourage me to push through and focus on my dissertation. I loathe this response because it does not validate my voice, my experience, my way of moving through the academe. I have realized that I am exhausted having to assimilate to the submissive doctoral student role. Recently, a tenured Black cis-gender male attempted to derail my doctoral candidacy. 

In April of this year this faculty member accused me of plagiarizing my written qualifying exams. Though he never filed a formal complaint, it was the beginning of other accusations. This faculty member accused me of making plans to leave the institution this upcoming academic year early (this would impact my financial and credit status), turning in my work late (which was incorrect and my advisor had to step in), wanted to remove himself from my committee, wanted to fail me on my qualifying exams, and wanted to remain on my committee all within a week. Ironically, that same week I received the doctoral student of the year award from my department. After receiving the award, I thought the emotional pain had ended from someone whom I highly respected in my department, but it did not.

This was just the beginning from what my mentors told me were a part of Academic Hazing.

How I was being treated by this particular faculty member would become evident to others at a symposium attended by 20-25 other academics in my field who gathered to discuss race. Prior to my attendance, I sent an email (cc’ing my advisor) demanding no contact between myself and the faculty member during the event. After delivering my presentation to the group, the amount of pressure I received to focus on the narrative of Black people drowning and omit other narratives was overwhelming. My knowledge of Title IX and the historically inaccurate research related to bone density as to why Black people cannot swim was challenged after acknowledging my role in athletics (as a former athlete and administrator) and former publication. Though this faculty member did not speak to me, the line of questioning came from colleagues whom he publishes with constantly.

I knew in that moment that something had been said to everyone.

Imagine twenty people in a room watching words being exchanged between a doctoral student and 4 faculty members with no one putting an end to verbal abuse. I thought I had imagined the entire situation. I realized this was not the case when I walked out of the room for air and let out a guttural cry that I had never felt in my entire life. Confirmation of my experience came from two attending faculty members from different institutions.

I have taken the measures to speak to my mentors, advisor, administrators and have spoken to my institution’s proper channels to find out that because there was nothing said sexually inappropriate and I was not touched this cannot be proven. Nothing can be done.

This trauma was and is real.

I have been asked, “What do you want from this?” from everyone. My response has been, “I am telling you because you need to know”. I have been reminded that I am only an academic year away from graduation, but there has not been any acknowledgment of the trauma this has caused. I have been warned by other faculty members to not say anything because it may deter institutions from hiring me in the future. My partner has pleaded with me to not say anything because any action may prohibit me from graduating. I have been reminded that legal action would be costly and limit my writing and research time.

Today, I can walk with my head a bit higher and sleep more sound. My therapeutic team (whom I affectionately call Team TQ) remains supportive and I am trying to celebrate every second of the day. I know that my experience is valid.

Know that I could not sleep for more than 3 hours a night. I was afraid to be in the hallways at school in case I saw him. I refused to open my email for days in fear of receiving an email from him and/or his colleagues. I would walk through my academic office with the fear of hearing his thundering voice. Know that it was my partner and the few friends who endured the countless nights of me crying about how I avoided being seen on campus. Know that I became afraid to trust every black and brown student, faculty and staff member because they adored this faculty member. Know that I was afraid to leave my house and have been known to strategically move appointments to one or two days, so I do not leave my house for the other days of the week.

But who would believe a known, opinionated, “crazy” Black Queer student? 

Who would believe me?

Many assumptions can be made from my experience but know that I am not the only one has endured this type of emotional, intellectual abuse. There is a difference between civil academic discourse and academic hazing. If institutions and organizations acknowledge that “hazing” is an illegal action that can result in various forms of harm, what makes “academic hazing” any better? It is in my opinion that the academe understand that such behaviors can occur across and within racial/ethnic lines and that these behaviors should be dealt with accordingly. Otherwise, voices will remain silent out of fear for their future.

So, let me reintroduce myself. Hi, my name is Tiffany Monique Quash and I am a 39-year-old Black Queer Mermaid who has a mood disorder and I survived Academic Hazing. I survived abuse. I will not remain silent.

“Good” NTT vs. “Bad” TT: A Conversation (Part II)

By erica j. Whitaker, Lecturer, Mathematics Department, University of Kentucky 

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Recently Karen put out a call for comparing a position as a tenure-track professor at a small teaching college, versus a clinical position at an R1 school. My own career teaching mathematics has been roundabout and varied; I’ve had visiting positions at small liberal arts colleges, regional campuses, and large R1 schools (lots of moving due to health issues and a 2-body problem); so I’ve experienced a variety of teaching positions. I enjoyed research, but my love of teaching is what motivated me to finish my doctoral degree. I always assumed I was working toward a career teaching at a small liberal arts college, or other university with a teaching mission. Instead, I have (hopefully finally) ended up at an R1 school in a lecturer position, and overall I am happy here. Someone who is motivated primarily by research would not enjoy my position at all; but if your motivation is mostly teaching and also perhaps service, it might also work for you.

The idea of “fit” is so important, and in my experience independent of the type of school. I have worked at a small school where I felt valued and supported, and another where my skills and needs just weren’t a good match for the position. I’ve worked as an instructor at a different R1 who did not (at the time) value them at all – there were all sorts of awful, petty ways they reminded us of this. But my current position has lots of support at many levels. 

The main difference in my day-to-day life at a small school versus a large school has to do with my role: At a small school, my main role was that of a university faculty member, who happens to teach in the math department. It was typical for me to regularly interact with people from many departments in my day-to-day work life, whether officially on committees or just wandering the hall. It was easy to find a diverse group of colleagues with whom to eat meals, exchange ideas, or work on projects.

At a large school, my main role is that of a math professor, who happens to be employed a lecturer – some of my colleagues have their entire university experience within just our department. For me, I appreciate the broader view of university life. I have volunteered for service assignments and experiences to make sure that I can hear voices other than just mathematicians, but forming and maintaining those connections takes more effort than at a small school. 

Here are some of the pros and cons of my lecturer position, compared to teaching at a smaller school:

I have the resources of a large, active department in my area: seminars, colloquia, software and library access, but none of my job security depends on original publications. I feel as if I have the best of both worlds, with my sometimes-brilliant colleagues and new energetic graduate students each year, but with no pressure on me for scholarship. Because of the high teaching loads I am personally not worried about long-term employment. It seems very unlikely they will run out of classes for me to teach; but my “rolling contract” is not the same as tenure. I’m reckless about speaking my mind sometimes, but occasionally I will keep quiet on something knowing I don’t have the same job security. 

My position is full-time with benefits with the same standard benefit package available to tenure-stream faculty. Because this university has a hospital, clinic and medical school on the same campus, I can walk from my office to routine and specialized care when needed. Both logistically and financially, the medical benefits are stronger than what I’ve seen at smaller schools. But, while it does not affect me personally, the maternity and paternity leave options are not as strong for lecturers as for tenure-stream faculty. My salary is higher than what I could have earned at the small schools I considered, but lower than that of my tenure-stream colleagues, even those just starting. (I just keep reminding myself of the first fact, if I am occasionally rankled by the second.)

My job is very challenging, but the challenges are different than at a smaller school. I have fewer preps and fewer teaching contact hours than at a smaller school, but many more students as some of my classes are very large (in the past five years, I have taught over 4000 students). There are many more sections of each class, so it is easier to prepare a schedule where people teach on the days and times of their choosing. For example, for health reasons I prefer to teach classes 10AM or later: this was much harder to arrange at a small school with a limited schedule. But I teach many courses that are lower-level, and only occasionally something for mathematics majors. I will never serve on a dissertation defense, will never be promoted to “professor”, will never be eligible to be department chair (which can be a pro or a con; but the choice was not mine). In taking this job several doors closed to me, while others opened. 

One of the more rewarding aspects of my position involves mentoring graduate students in their teaching duties. Some of them appreciate having someone to discuss teaching with, who isn’t also assigning them grades or judging their studies. I also observe a lot of their classes and have written  teaching-focused job letters for applications. The relationship with graduate students, something between being a professor and colleague, is something I wouldn’t have experienced at a smaller school. Another rewarding aspect comes from working with the undergraduates, who are often appreciative of my focus on teaching and caring about their well-being. 

About the “second class citizen” concern:

Before I even applied, I asked some specific questions to help determine the status of lecturers within this department. For example, I asked about travel funds, as much to notice how they answered the question, and whether the process and availability was different for lecturers. I was pleased to learn it was completely an option, and that they are open to travel for professional development, not just to present original research. I’ve been supported and encouraged to travel when it was appropriate.

I also asked about leadership and committee service. In my department there are several committees where the important decisions are made; most of them require a lecturer to serve each year. Lecturers are voting members for almost all issues (but not, for example, for tenure and promotion decisions). At the college and university level, lecturers are eligible to serve on most major committees and on the faculty senate. Because I have worked at positions where my status was less than ideal, I am protective of my situation here, and willing to do the service work to help maintain this status. 

Finally, I asked directly, “are lecturers second-class citizens, or are they full members of your department?” If they had told me it was perfect, I wouldn’t have believed them; but they admitted it was a work in progress, so I was encouraged. I especially appreciate that my department thinks of lecturers as faculty – so when something involves faculty, we are included. When appropriate or needful, they distinguish between lecturers and tenure-stream faculty. 

Overall, the large university setting has many opportunities and resources, and allows me to direct my career in the directions that interest me and fit my skills. Like any position I have seen or served in, it can be exasperating or amazing, sometimes all at once. 

“Bad” TT vs. “Good” NTT: A Conversation (Part I)

This is the first in a series of posts submitted by readers on the fraught question: should you choose a “good” NTT position over a “bad” TT position? I use “good” and “bad” advisedly just as a shorthand, because of course these judgments will vary across individuals and context. But many readers have faced versions of this choice and contributed guest posts. I’m sharing their stories.

Today’s author is an early career teaching-track faculty member at a Public R1. His background is in STEM/STEM education. His current scholarship focuses on NTT faculty issues and student’s intellectual development. In the life part of his work/life balance he runs ultramarathons so he can bake more.

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I chose to be a non-tenure track (NTT) faculty member. Telling this to other academics sometimes results in confusion, surprise, or even anger that I don’t feel compelled to pursue a tenure track (TT) position. However, as a new member of the academic profession, I instead feel compelled to pursue a position that is right for me. The choice between TT and NTT faculty jobs is not as clear-cut as it once was. Every position requires you to make a mindful evaluation of the position based on the principles relevant to being a faculty member. 

I chose a NTT job over a TT job for several reasons. I have a Ph.D. in a STEM discipline from a leading institution in my field and spent 2017-2018 on the job market. In the end, I had two offers. The first was a TT position at a regional public institution in a rural area with a 4-3 teaching load, disputed expectations around research, mediocre pay, and a terrible institutional culture. The second was a full-time NTT position at a top-ranked public R1 in a city with 3-2 teaching load, no expectations of (but resources for) research, great pay, a promotion path, and a strong departmental culture. I picked the NTT position and haven’t looked back. In my choice, my network was invaluable because my advisor wouldn’t have anything to do with ‘my mistake.’ When I talk to friends in similar positions, some are eyeing TT opportunities while others are happy to be in teaching-focused positions where research is possible but not the imperative. 

I still hear NTT positions described as “second class.” That narrative is wrong – we have the agency to make the choices that are right based on a myriad of variables both personal and professional. Yes, many NTT positions have elements of marginalization compared compared to TT faculty. However, there has been significant progress towards equity for the NTT workforce. That work occurs in institutions, professional societies, and organizations dedicated to faculty representation. Compared to worrying about the death of a title, I see efforts to improve working conditions for NTT faculty as a more viable way to protect the principles that underpin faculty self-governance and academic freedom. Regrettably, much of the rhetoric today sounds the same as it did in 2001 – trying to explain that many of us NTT academics aren’t settling but are, in fact, thriving in our roles. But why is that explanation still necessary?

Titles matter less to me than working conditions. Why would I pick lower pay, more work, higher ambiguity, and a less desirable area simply for the potential of a title in six years? Instead, I have better work-life balance, an ability to connect with my students, and I use my spare time to advocate for equal working conditions for NTT faculty at my institution. I do more research, with better support, compared to what I could have accomplished in the offered TT position. Other friends in NTT roles have mentioned the opportunities of an R1 as preferable to the chimera of a TT position at the modern quasi-teaching-focused institution. The choice is easy in the abstract, but much harder in the real word. If you chose similarly to me – or even if you did ‘settle’ – don’t let people judge you. The reality is that NTT positions are a spectrum. They can refer to someone barely surviving from multiple part-time gigs or they can refer to someone in a position that is reasonably scoped, fairly compensated, and has protections similar to tenure. Without diminishing the real concerns about pay and status, the positions can be come with the respect they deserve. 

The spectrum of good and bad NTT positions is why the analysis of the position and context is critical. Just as with TT positions, any institution can be ahead of or behind the curve in working conditions. Some key questions should be obvious – teaching load, pay, contract lengths (both overall length and 9/12 month pay cycles), and a promotion path. Others are less obvious and often ridiculous. Real lessons learned from my network include: Do you get an office? A computer? Are there benefits? Are the benefits equivalent to faculty or are they staff benefits? Are you allowed to do research? Research in your discipline, or only disciplinary educational research? Can you buy yourself out of courses? Are you invited to faculty meetings? Faculty senate? Do you have a vote? Do you have professional development funds? Access to resources like a center for teaching and learning? Tenure-like protections? How does promotion work? What are you evaluated on? An annual leave? Family leave? Presumption of renewal? A specified timeline for contract decisions? When do you get your teaching assignments in comparison to TT faculty? At first,you will often get the answer ‘I don’t know’, but these are all important questions whose answers highlight an institution’s policies and norms. With administrative positions still primarily populated by TT faculty, lack of clarity on NTT issues often is not ill-intentioned, just assumed or forgotten. For example, I’ve seen evaluations for teaching-focused positions that start with research, because no one ever thought to change it. 

Most importantly, what are your interests? Do you want to focus on teaching? If so, go for it!

It’s your career and your life. Pick the job that’s right for you and ignore any naysayers. There are many reasons – both professional and personal – that might cause one to choose NTT over TT and call it a success. All the variables about TT jobs apply to NTT positions as well. Analyze each job, institution, and location with a mind towards what you want and need. While the narratives in grad schools and from long term faculty still haven’t changed, TT positions no longer hold automatic supremacy in my mind. In the end, an academic job is an (academic) job, and they all deserve the same dispassionate analysis about what will meet your basic needs. It worked for me.

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How to Turn Your Teaching Duds into Memorable Statements

Sharing another post in our new semi-regular series, “Missives from the Editing Trenches” written by long-time TPII editors. They are the real MVPs, working in the trenches to catch you in all your job document pitfalls — from the self-deprecating to the self-aggrandizing. They’ve seen it all and are happy to share their knowledge and give you concrete tips on how to make your documents shine.

Today’s post is by Dr. Maggie Levantovskaya.

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In our last installment, Verena talked in depth about one particular teaching statement cliche. But there are plenty of others. Fortunately, we have advice on identifying and rooting them out! The following are some duds that I see over and over (and over) again in teaching philosophy docs. This, of course, means that search committee members also see them (over and over again) and the last thing they want to be is bored. Remember, you’re swimming in a deep sea of applicants. At that very initial vetting stage, they’re looking to reject and they’re going to reject anyone who doesn’t pop out of the water shouting “Me, me, me! I’m the original one!” But it’s no use to actually shout this. A core principle of TPII is the same one you’ll hear in every writing classroom – show, don’t tell! 

What the following examples of teaching duds have in common is that they probably seem like good ideas but are in fact unoriginal, corny and vague. The important thing is that they can also be treated as springboards for creating memorable moments in your teaching statements. 

  1. The Paulo Freire quote. In editing TPII documents, I have read many, many, many Freire quotes. When I encounter one I just want to shout “leave Paulo Freire alone!” Why? Think of it from a committee member’s perspective. Is it really that pleasant or surprising to read so many quotes by the same thinker? Also, starting an essay with a quote (and a teaching statement is an essay) has a pretty undergrad vibe. It’s also a cop-out because it prevents you from articulating your philosophy. How you teach is indeed informed by the theorists and practitioners who came before you, but surely they were many and the one-page teaching statement is not a place where you can give credit to them all. So give the committee members what they want – one or three sentences that distill what’s most important to you, right now, for teaching your particular subject. What are the stakes? What are the learning objectives? Think of a phrase that spells out exactly what your philosophy is, not Freire’s. 
  2. The “relating material to students’ lives” thing. Not a bad objective! The problem is the repetitiveness of this phrase across job docs and its general vagueness. Again, think of it from the committee members’ perspective. Reading twenty different teaching philosophies that declare “I relate course material to students’ lives,” as if their authors were the first to do so (and as if all students had the same lives!), can make one want to scream. The solutions: be specific. Express the same idea by describing exactly what you’re doing – “when teaching logical fallacies, we listen to excerpts from the previous evening’s political debate to identify candidates’ fallacious claims. This activity helps students see fallacies in action and more critically evaluate the candidates currently running for office.” 
  3. The Tweeting and the Youtubing. Social media can be very useful for teaching, but how candidates incorporate it into their classroom can come off as unnecessary, a thing to do for the sake of saying “Hey, I’m totally a 21st century professor!” Again, keep in mind, that many professors use social media in their classrooms so it’s important to not portray yourself as the first to screen Youtube clips or have students tweet during lectures. You also need to have a compelling reason to use social media (and not some other tool). To use the previous example, you want to discuss candidates’ fallacies and it makes much more sense to show a clip of them speaking during the previous night’s debate than to cut excerpts out of newspapers (as teachers used to do!). Sidebar: I often see some version of the following phrase: “I have students tweet during my lecture and this allows shy students to participate.” Here, I want to note that referring to members of your course as “shy students” is something worth re-examining. The phrase suggests that these are permanent features of a person, attributing static properties to someone you barely know. Rather than categorizing certain students as “shy” or “introverts” simply talk about what you do to make ALL of them assume active roles. 
  4. The talking about what you’re not doing in your teaching. I’ll regularly see candidates say something like “instead of lecturing…” or “I don’t just have students repeat back the material…” or “while others start this course by doing X, I do Y…” None of this language does much to a teaching statement. And that’s just because the committee cares little about what you don’t do. Also, what if you poo poo lecturing and one of your committee members primarily lectures in their course? In general, it’s a good idea to make positive statement. Take ownership of what you do and don’t waste time putting down other approaches. You only have one page. Every line on it needs to spell out who you are by showing what you do

So to recap: Avoid these common pitfalls to pop out of that treacherous sea of applicants. Leave Paolo Freire alone!  

Enough is Enough

Let’s talk about scarcity.  In particular, scarcity that is fed by shame and and comparison and results in disengagement — specifically not submitting work.

Today’s post draws from the work of Brené Brown. Quick aside: If you have not read Dr. Brown because her popularity evokes a sense pop culture over substance, take a second look. She holds an endowed chair at the University of Houston, where she has spent two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. 

In her work on vulnerability, Brown has documented a cultural shift in the United States over the past decade: an increasing belief and stress around NOT HAVING ENOUGH. 

Even a cursory look at the language of most of our days supports her findings. We start off, first thing in the morning, before we even get out of bed, building a narrative of scarcity.  I did not get enough sleep. The barrage continues with each passing hour. I’m not getting enough exercise. I am not eating enough healthy food. I don’t have enough time. I am not spending enough time with my <insert significant relationship>.

And Brown’s research indicates that this steady drumbeat creates a deficit identity:  I didn’t have enough; I don’t have enough; I won’t have enough. I am not enough.

She makes a compelling argument that this scarcity — or, to be precise, our own personal sense of feeling that everything good is just out of our reach —  is not based on reality. It is created by interacting with systems that are built around three key things:

1) Shame

2) Comparison

3) Disengagement.

Turns out, these three things are also the core values of academia. How about that?

Shame:

If you regularly interact with a system built on negative feedback, putdowns, corrections, and pushing people into categories of not being <insert manufactured standard>, you are part of a shame culture. While we can certainly see the impact of shame in broader culture in any number of areas, for the purpose of reclaiming your writing life, it is important to notice where a demeaning and diminishing culture exists in your intellectual spaces.

The Academy, in its cult-like insistence on acceptance of “this is how it’s done,” trains you to accept all “feedback” (no matter how toxic) as evidence of your shortcomings. There is little or no attention given to the culture surrounding the feedback. I consistently see clients accept the shaming culture of their program, department, field (I’m looking at you political science) and take it on as their own personal failure.

Comparison:

The second contributor to a culture of scarcity is comparison, and if you have attended even a couple of Karen and my FB live sessions, you know I am all about Teddy Roosevelt on this one: Comparison is the thief of joy.  Don’t get me wrong, healthy comparison is not a bad thing.  We can use comparison as a way to motivate ourselves, as a way to strive to improve: Wow, that person I admire exercises every day. I really want to do that, or  I have so much respect for the way she approaches her writing life. I’d like to model that. That kind of comparison can be very healthy, because it is seeing a goal and owning your own responsibility in achieving it.

But far too many of us use negative comparison— belittling and shaming — as a motivator. There you are in your program or in your department or in whatever space is serving as your intellectual water cooler. First you’ve got that put-down thing going on, and then you start to add that toxic comparison. So, now it’s not I really respect that way of writing, and I’d like to emulate that. It’s She’s so good. I’ll never be able to do that. I am never going to belong. That’s toxic comparison and it reinforces the shame system in an endless feedback loop. And also, it doesn’t work.

Disengagement:

To top it all off (and I think this is probably the most compelling part of what Brown has to say) in that toxic soup of shame and comparison, ee put up shields around our small, beaten-up, overwhelmed, feeling disrespected, not enough selves, and we hunker down and disengage, afraid to act.

Everything in the soup gets internalized.

Welcome to scarcity:

I don’t work fast enough, I don’t write fast enough. I don’t produce enough. I’m not smart enough.

So what’s the path out of scarcity?

Brown challenges us to begin notice the toxic places and find a circle of people who will walk away from them with us. 

Start by noticing where you’re are feeding not enough.  Simply noticing is one of the most empowering things that you can do. Notice it — I don’t write fast enough! — and start to pay attention to the shame that feeds it. My advisor keeps telling me it’s taking too long. The wonderful thing is that the most powerful inoculation against shame is daylight. You don’t have to change the shame culture. You just have to name shame for yourself. And when you say it out loud to someone else, you draw a line between you and the event and diminish its ability to devastate you.

To be very clear, Brown’s research shows that the path from awareness to resiliency goes through vulnerability, i.e. finding a place to speak your shame out loud.

I can almost hear the roars of protest from across the TPII readership: The way I’m going to be more resilient, the way I’m going to keep writing, the way I’m going to keep doing all this stuff, is to be more vulnerable?  You have no idea what you are asking! I’m not going to tell anybody out there that I’m struggling!

I respect that. Keeping your struggles out of your work life is a very good instinct. If you are among in any group that is considered marginal to your field, and you start to say you’re struggling, you could be setting yourself up for even more shaming and toxic comparison.

The key to effective vulnerability is finding a SAFE place to express it!

Find those people who can hear you say, “This thing happened today and I feel really ashamed” and not feed a victim stance about it, but instead remind you, “That’s a *them* problem, not a *you* problem. You’re good. Keep going.”

Or if you actually fucked up, who can listen and say, Wow. I can see why you feel bad about that. What is your plan for cleaning it up? Look for the people who are brave enough to sit with pain and point you toward your better self.

Just keep walking and repeating: I am enough.


If you are looking for a safe place to identify your roadblocks and learn from other people’s struggles, consider joining Unstuck. Our private social network is a safe, supportive place to say “I’m struggling,” without it affecting your tenure case, or how anybody responds to your dissertation.


#MakeupMonday: You’re Never Too Old

Ep.54: Granny Makeup

Beauty has no age limit ?? by Tea Flego IG: https://bit.ly/1TzbvYA

Posted by Beauty Wow on Thursday, August 2, 2018

 

I saw this video last year, and I find myself thinking back to it regularly. While I am by no means a fan of the ageist, tokenizing feel re “ooh look makeup on an old lady!” or the impossibly heavy makeup style, I do like the way that seeing current makeup techniques on an elderly face makes one confront lots of internalized ageist ideas about what the elderly can and cannot/should and should not do in terms of beauty, visibility, vanity, and the rest.

Plus I like the model’s spunky glow!

(And note the shoutout to Starskin masks! As you know, I love Starskin. )

Beauty Wow, which posted this, specializes in extreme makeovers and wild makeup, hair, and nail techniques. This is not a place to go to find realistic, every day ideas. It’s a place to go for the new and unusual and outre. I love it because it’s always playful, and it’s all about the gender and racial diversity.

I do makeup because it’s fun, creative, colorful, and ridiculous. We all need a place for that in our lives.

I mean, come on, look at this little washing machine for your Beauty Blenders!

Makeup challenges me to ask: what am I afraid of trying? What ageist assumptions have I accepted about what a 50-something woman can or cannot do, or how invisible an older woman should be?

The Art of Facing Criticism

Let’s talk about criticism, in particular criticism of our academic work. Criticism that challenges our methods, our arguments, our conclusions. Criticism that we personalize even though it’s not about us. Criticism that stings.

But before we get into how to handle criticism, let me be clear that I am talking specifically about written or verbal feedback on writing — an R&R, a chapter for your dissertation, a conference paper — any written work that you put out to someone for comment. This advice does not apply to interaction with toxic people who are undermining, or who don’t offer any good feedback. There is other work to do be done to remove those people from your sphere and from inside your head. In this post, I particularly want to talk about what to do when you get what you perceive as harsh criticism of your work in writing.

To begin, a question:

What is your first response when a feedback email shows up in your inbox? Do you rush to it with excitement?  Do you think, “Hurray! I can finally make this even better! I can’t wait to see what they say!”?

No?

Maybe you are like so many of us and when the email comes in, your first response is a heart-stopping dread, a little (or big) knot in the pit of your stomach. “Oh No!” you instantly think,  “What did I do wrong? What failure are they going to discover that proves I don’t belong?”

Sound familiar?

If you have been in this spot, then you are in the perfect location to begin changing the way you respond to criticism.

First step: Notice the story that you are creating. Notice the way you are thinking about the email before you even open it. Does it feel like a threat? A potential harm to your person? You haven’t even seen it yet but are you accepting as “truth” that it’s going to hurt?

If your answer is yes, join the crowd.

After all, you have sat through countless seminars and conference paper presentations only to hear (and perhaps offer) blistering critique. It is not surprising that you can imagine yourself at the receiving end of those same dismantlings. And because of the cult like qualities of the academy, at some point you have likely woven your sense of self into your work. Your research has become your identity, and vice versa. Hence the reactivity.

Welcome to Step Two: Focus on the facts rather than a story.

The first fact is, regardless of the toxic messages of academia, you are not your work. This means that critique or rejection of your work is not a rejection of you.

The goal of focusing on the facts is to begin to create even the tiniest gap between you and your work so feedback is not a direct hit on your psyche.

Now let’s get to the content itself.

I read a fascinating write up of a study in the Harvard Business Review on what makes people resilient in the face of harsh criticism.

Much like the process of focusing on the truth that your work is not your identity, this research suggests that we build resiliency in the face of harsh criticism by ignoring the form of the delivery and focusing on what’s potentially true in the information being shared.

In short: The key to resiliency is exposure to feedback with an eye to the truth rather than attention to HOW the feedback is delivered (and the story you create about that delivery). The end game is to get to a place that the condescending holier-than-thou blah blah blah gets tossed aside as a “them” problem and the information itself becomes a “you” opportunity.

Here are the (CURE) steps to resiliency the author recommends.

Again, this is not meant to suggest that you are required to interact with toxic people; rather to look at tone as noise, focusing on the facts underneath, and nurturing a resiliency that will keep you moving forward and productive.

So, let’s try that email again. Take a deep breath, get your bearings, start reading and ask, “Is that true?”


Find this advice valuable? Wish you could have a daily dose of coaching with clear steps to writing success? Join Unstuck: The Art of Productivity.
Unstuck is a 12-step, self-guided digital course that walks you step-by-step through acquiring the tools and practices of a productive academic writing practice. Membership includes access to daily blog posts, checklists, coaching videos and live webinars with Productivity Coach Kel Weinhold as well as interaction with a writing community. Each part of the course is designed to help you identify your negative habits and rewire your brain for regular and enjoyable writing!

From Russia with Anxiety: An Accidental Alt-Ac Story (#Postac Guest Post)

I’m pleased to host this guest post by the indomitable Chrissy Stroop. Chrissy is one of my post-ac heroes, for her courage and commitment to exposing the Evangelical cult through her #EmptyThePews and related online community building and writing. Please consider supporting Chrissy on Patreon. She has just launched a new life in Portland, and could use a little help getting established to do her best new important work.

By Dr. Chrissy Stroop

Holding a Ph.D. in Russian History and Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities from Stanford University from Stanford University, Chrissy Stroop taught at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration and the University of South Florida before deciding that chasing a tenure-track job was no longer worth it. Having set out with the mistaken notion that academia would provide a “safe” path on which to pursue thinking and writing, Stroop accidentally acquired the life experience necessary to return to her original dream of being a writer. Stroop’s work can be found in Foreign Policy, Playboy, Religion Dispatches, and other outlets, and she is the co-editor (with Lauren O’Neal) of the forthcoming essay collection Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church. A prominent ex-evangelical voice, Stroop has created a number of viral hashtags aimed at exposing Christian Right extremism including #EmptyThePews, #ChristianAltFacts, and #ExposeChristianSchools. Her personal blog, Not Your Mission Field, is found at cstroop.com. Click here to book her as a speaker.

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After weeks of sending somewhat panicky e-mails, I was sitting anxiously outside the office of a high-level administrator at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). It was Wednesday, January 28, 2015, the beginning of the second semester of my third academic year teaching at the massive Moscow-based institution.

I don’t remember exactly what went through my mind as the snow swirled outside the imposing late Soviet-era structure in which I sat awaiting my fate. Perhaps my thoughts turned to the way that, in the middle of the 2011-2012 academic year, my advanced Russian instructor had convinced me to send my CV to the man who ran the now defunct Stanford in Moscow study abroad program. Proudly hailing from the Moscow intelligentsia, the always elegantly dressed Zhenya was sort of a mother hen to her students, and I suppose I will always regard her as one of the best people I’ve ever met.

The short, bespectacled brunette was someone who taught us not just Russian grammar, but also the kind of life wisdom that only a strong woman who had spent half her life in the USSR could provide. Zhenya was someone in whom you could confide. Someone who would scheme to help you get your life on track, whether that meant attempted matchmaking of a personal or professional variety. I still remember how, standing on one of Stanford’s columned arcades surrounding the quad, she said to me (in Russian of course), “You’ll become a true Muscovite!” It was a high compliment, coming from her.

And so I went to work for RANEPA, just in time to have a front row seat for the steepest decline in relations between Russia and the West to take place since the end of the Cold War. After getting my Ph.D. in modern Russian history and interdisciplinary studies in the humanities in 2012, I had no immediate tenure-track or postdoc prospects in the United States. Temporarily going to work in Russia seemed like a normal enough Area Studies path at the time. I had access to Russian archives, and the Russian government was putting pressure on universities to hire foreign scholars who could help with English-language course offerings and also assist Russian scholars with publishing in prestigious international journals. And the job seemed like a way of staying in the tenure-track game.

But as the old joke about a one-sentence summary of Russian history goes: “Then things got worse.” The Kremlin’s destabilizing move to annex Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 represented brazen disregard for international law, and in late 2014 and early 2015, the consequences of sanctions, counter-sanctions, and large-scale capital flight were finally beginning to catch up in a significant way to those of us who were earning a living in rubles. I’ll never forget the day that the ruble, which had been trading at about 30 to the dollar when I began working in Moscow, plunged to over 80 to the dollar. I was not a verified “Twitter personality” with a large following then, but I tweeted about it at the time. And then, because nothing happens in Russia around the New Year’s holiday, I had to wait a month to address the situation in a meeting with my superiors.

While the ruble had lost well over half its value, and I was attempting to pay down debt denominated in dollars, RANEPA could only give me a 20% raise. That spring, I finally got a chance to get back to America with the offer of a postdoc at the University of South Florida in Tampa that I was thrilled to accept.

While I was in Tampa, Trump came to power, backed by a Russian influence campaign and the Christian Right. And suddenly, as a historian of modern Russia, an expert in how conservative religious ideology functions, and a former Christian school kid who knows white evangelical subculture from the inside, I was increasingly able to get work as a writer and commentator on current affairs something I’d begun to do already while living in Moscow.

Since the 2016 election cycle, my frankly really weird combination of academic expertise and lived experience has led to considerable visibility on Twitter[https://twitter.com/C_Stroop] and to alt-ac research and writing opportunities for outlets including ReligionDispatches, Political Research Associates, Eurasianet, Foreign Policy, and even Playboy. As things worked out, I never got around to making any serious effort to turn my dissertation into a scholarly monograph. Applying my scholarly skills in writing for popular audiences was honestly far more satisfying.

I began to pursue these opportunities more and more as my prospects of ever attaining a tenure-track position diminished, and I eventually gave up on that dream altogether. Of course, freelancing alone isn’t a realistic way to pay the bills these days, and I have neither a trust fund nor a partner who can support me. Despite that, after two years in my postdoc and one as a visiting instructor in USF’s Honors College, I decided to pass on adjuncting, moving back in with my parents in Indiana for a year to see if I could find a way to make it as a blogger, writer, and public speaker.

I had some B plans in mind, but as of now this path is working out, if only thanks to crowd funding via Patreon[https://www.patreon.com/cstroop], where people who understand the horrors of the gig economy can throw a few dollars a month toward those of us who create work they find valuable and believe should exist, despite the lack of traditional jobs. I am both grateful for my patrons and juuust Gen-X enough to feel at times that this is not a “real job”—although it is—and to worry that it is still precarious.

Those worries notwithstanding, I am currently living a life I’m proud of. I’ve helped to build up a community and movement of “exvangelicals” or “exvies,” former evangelicals speaking out about the authoritarian leanings of the conservative, mostly white evangelical demographic that makes up Trump’s key base. I’ve been part of an award-winning documentary about ex-evangelicals and have a co-edited anthology of personal essays by former conservative Christians—exvies, ex-LDS, and ex-Catholics—coming out on December 1 of this year. I’ve written investigative journalistic exposés on evangelical colleges’ mistreatment of LGBTQ students and on America’s history and present reality of predatory adoption practices. And as a paid invited speaker, I still get to interact with college students, as I did at Alma College last fall and will at the University of North Florida this fall.

While my particular path to what seems like a sustainable alt-ac career is not replicable, I have learned not to let anyone tell me that humanities Ph.D.s don’t have transferable skills. In fact, I wish I’d given up putting all my eggs in the tenure-track basket and given myself permission to try other things earlier on. If I could offer one piece of  advice to struggling grad students and early career scholars, it would be to throw off academia’s imposed myopia as soon you can, dipping your toes into various projects and networks that appeal to you and relate to your interests. Perhaps you’ll find, as I have, that there’s something you can do that is more immediately satisfying and more personally meaningful than writing for narrow circles of specialists. After eleven months in Indiana, I’ve moved to my dream city of Portland, Oregon, and I get to work on projects that reach far more people than any peer-reviewed research I’ve ever published. This in turn generates engagement with others that I find value in. And I’m beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, the alt-ac path I’ve accidentally forged is going to work out for the best.

#MakeupMonday: Revisiting The Beauty Blender

I was today years old when I learned the origins of the Beauty Blender. Turns out Rea Ann Silva, a Latina makeup artist, created it for the actresses of Girlfriends, the first show shot in HD, in order to replicate the effects of airbrushing.

Apparently it was an instant hit, and the actresses started stealing them from the set! Silva created a business to sell them, and the rest is history.

So, I rejected Beauty Blenders a long time ago… but coincidentally, I had just started experimenting again with one I still had around in the past few weeks.

Now that I know more about it, I’m using it for real. I apply my makeup with a brush, but finish with the Blender.

And turns out, the reason I didn’t like it before is because I was using it wrong. Yes, you must use it damp. I didn’t read the instructions.

Now I spritz it with a little mini (travel) spritzer I keep at my makeup table — surprisingly useful for all sorts of mishaps and cleanups! — squeeze lightly to remove any drips which would smear the makeup, and then pat.

Learn more about how (not) to use the Beauty Blender here:

You’re using the sponge dry. We get it, you didn’t read the instructions, but theBeautyblender is supposed to be used wet. The damp surface gives you streak-free blending and a dewy finish.

Your sponge is dehydrated. Professional makeup artists like to keep a cup of water nearby to keep the sponges moist while working on set. “The best way to use the Beautyblender is when it is activated and damp and completely wet,” Rea Ann says. This January, the brand is releasing a new Reactivate spray that will plump the sponge when water is scarce.”

And, apparently you’re supposed to clean it every single day–UGH.

Please share your Beauty Blender tips…. I’m still learning!