Adapting To Disaster, Episode 1: Security (A Guest Post)

Aisha Ahmad is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, the Director of the Islam and Global Affairs Initiative at the Munk School, and the Chair of the Board of the Women in International Security-Canada. Her book, Jihad & Co.: Black Markets and Islamist Power, was awarded the 2017 Edgar Furniss Book Award and the 2018 Best Book in Comparative Politics Award by the Canadian Political Science Association. She is also the 2018 winner of the distinguished Northrop Frye Award of Excellence for outstanding undergraduate teaching at the University of Toronto.

By Aisha Ahmad

For many people, the Covid-19 pandemic is their first-ever experience of a system-wide disaster. With millions of people now under mandatory lockdown, a serious concern for academics and others is how to remain productive amid rapidly changing and frightening conditions.

How can scholars continue to write and research amid an intense and evolving disaster? What does a productive day and life look like under conditions of catastrophe?

As someone who has lived and worked in disaster conditions around the world, I have experience with both the challenges and opportunities that crises create. I am also blessed with knowledge of systemic fear, insecurity, and powerlessness. In this Covid-19 series, I offer my experience through concrete and practical counsel, with the goal of helping crisis neophytes adapt to life under sustained disaster conditions. There is a good chance that the pandemic will continue, and indeed worsen in some cities or countries in the weeks ahead. The purpose of this series is therefore not to simply react to conditions today, but to help you to live happily and productively under sustained disaster conditions. 

This series is aimed at helping newcomers on that journey. Of course, I am only human and my knowledge is imperfect, but I have found calamity to be a great teacher. I offer my insights here in the hopes that they will benefit others. Take what you need, and leave the rest. This is also a judgment-free zone, as all of us are learning to cope with this new reality. I welcome readers who are new to crises to ask questions, and those who are experienced to share their own wisdom born of suffering. 

To start this series, I now turn to the single most important thing a person should focus on in disaster conditions: security.

Episode 1: Security

The purpose of this series is to help you regain your ability to be a high performance scholar. To that end, you must, first and foremost, secure and stabilize your immediate home environment. For the weeks and months to come, this is the foundation upon which your entire life will be built. This essential work is more important than any other ongoing projects you have.

If you think this is like a sabbatical and are writing papers, stop. If you are wallowing in guilt because you are unable to work on your papers, stop. This is unhealthy thinking born out of denial. Your first responsibility is to pause, evaluate your physical environment, assess your essential supplies, have a team meeting with your immediate family, and make a strategic plan to ensure the security of your household over the next few months. Assume this pandemic will last for 18 months, and be pleasantly surprised if we escape sooner.

This is not a sabbatical. This is a global disaster. Your number one priority and responsibility right now is the security and welfare of you and your team.

As a team, you should address the following critical security areas: food, family, finances, health care, social infrastructure, space allocation, and physical fitness. I will write about each of these briefly here, and in more depth in future episodes of this series.

  1. Food Security

Having adequate food is critical for the security of your home. While the Covid-19 crisis has not affected the supply chain, panic buying and hysteria have created artificial shortages in many places, and physical distancing requirements have also limited the number of people allowed into grocery stores at any given time. For everyone, it will take more time and patience to get essential supplies. Your plan should accommodate the fact that this seemingly ordinary task is now challenging, and can be upsetting.

Next, without hoarding or panic, you should purchase a sensible prudent reserve of food.  While the current situation demands that everyone have responsible supplies on hand, I offer suggestions here with a tight budget in mind. If you do not have a tight food budget, then consider buying an extra set of these supplies for the food bank and another one for your neighbour who just lost their job.

A reasonable, cost-effective prudent reserve looks like a 10lbs bag of rice, a 5 lbs bag of dried lentils or beans, and a large bag of frozen peas. These non-perishable supplies will go the distance and have considerable nutritional value. If larger stores are out of these supplies, try a smaller neighbourhood grocer. Be patient and slow, and try again. Once acquired, do not eat your prudent reserve unless you have to. Remember, the supply chain is fully intact, and you so you should save your rice and beans for an unexpected emergency. Just keep these basics on hand, and then make a reasonable weekly grocery plan within your budget, with significantly more time allocated for this task.

  1. Family Security

Your family are the people you love and are loyal to. Pandemic-induced restrictions might mean that you are physically separated from your loved ones, or it might mean that you are all trapped together in the same house. Both situations are stressful. Regardless of your family arrangement, you will need to coordinate and support each other as a team. Identify vulnerable family members, as well as those who are working in emergency and essential services. Their needs take precedence over any academic work you may have. Develop a sustainable strategy to ensure that they are supported, both physically and emotionally. Get granular on these details and then execute them. If you feel overwhelmed, make a call list or schedule to ensure that you check in with family members that may be isolated. Have emergency contact information on hand. Leave no one behind. 

  1. Finances and Health Care

Identify who in your family network has been affected by the financial insecurity caused by the Covid-19 crisis. If you have been spared the consequences, redirect your resources to support your team. Offer to do grunt work and buy essentials. If your family has been spared these financial consequences, you are well positioned to help others. 

Depending on where you live, you may also be concerned about access to health care. No matter what your family arrangement is, your best team strategy right now is to fiercely protect each other from this pandemic. Consider this a war. Your compliance with public health guidelines is your path to victory, and you should fight very hard for each other. This might mean not being able to see each other in person for some time, but channel your love and loyalty for each other into courage and steadfastness. While practicing distancing, try to ensure that your team has medicine, teas, and self-care products at home, in case they fall ill. Make time for frank conversations about vulnerable members of your family to maximize situational awareness, and make a strategic plan to help each other in case someone falls ill. Learn how public health and hospital restrictions may affect your plan, and adapt.

  1. Social Infrastructure 

This pandemic has created conditions of social isolation that are psychologically stressful, even for academics who are used to working in solitude. Some people have joked that this situation is not like a war because we are just sitting at home. As someone who has seen quite a few conflict zones, I can assure you that life in a war zone is not just explosive bursts of violence. There is also restricted movement, cramped confinement, crippling boredom and loneliness, and terrifying uncertainty. There are closed schools and cancelled weddings. The psychological stress of these losses is real and legitimate, in both war and pandemic conditions. It is therefore necessary to build adequate social and psychological infrastructure to help you mitigate feelings of isolation and loss.

We are incredibly fortunate to live in a time where these challenges can be mitigated with the use of technology. There were times I sent paper letters to try to overcome my isolation, many which never reached their recipients. Today, we can find our family, friends, and community members online, all over the world. Plan meaningful digital social connections every single day. If your gym or yoga studio is offering awkward Facebook Live fitness classes from a basement, join in and thank your instructor. If your spiritual community is hosting an online service, take part and uplift others. If you need a 12-step meeting, there are already thousands of them on Zoom. If you have friends you miss, arrange a regular watch party, or a breakfast or book club on Google Hangout. If you have limited internet access, call someone every single day. Reach out to someone who is even more isolated and be there for them. Reject any and all negativity on social media, and use your Twitter and Facebook only to share your hope, courage, resilience, and joy. Your goal in this early period should be to set up and invest in this sustainable social infrastructure.

  1. Space Allocation and Management

With mandatory physical distancing restrictions, universities and schools have closed and academics have been asked to conduct teaching, research, and service commitments remotely. For many people, this has meant merging work and home spaces in ways that are suboptimal. Those with less space and more household members will naturally experience greater pressures. For academics who were already working from home, there may now be other family members who may be required to work remotely, and who are now putting pressure on your research space. 

Losing your work space and routine will obviously undermine research productivity. It is futile to sit angrily on your couch or bed with a laptop, and it is selfish to take the best home workspaces just for yourself. Before you attempt any scholarly heavy lifting, invest time and resources in building dedicated workspaces that provide everyone on your team with a feeling of retreat and privacy. If you are sharing workspaces, have a team discussion about space allocation. Be mindful of the introverts and extroverts in the house, and discuss what everyone needs in order to feel safe and happy. Try to provide everyone with a separate retreat, dedicated for their own work and wellness. 

Creatively build new spaces that you feel happy in. I live in a small downtown apartment. To accommodate my team, I bought and assembled a cheap small desk and re-jigged a tiny corner of my bedroom into a delightful study nook. I put a stylish pencil holder and a scented candle on it and it already feels like a retreat. I have designed these tiny workspaces in every challenging place I have lived, and they have always increased my productivity and happiness.

If you do not know how to do this, there are wonderful resources online about designing small home office spaces, even with seemingly impossible family arrangements. Put aside your academic reading and so some home decorating research. This will save you from wasted time and family fights. You can do miracles on a shoestring budget. If you cannot afford new furniture, a used or DIY option can work just as well. If you have an abundance of space and furniture, offer to help someone else.

Equally important is the maintenance of your home space. It is perfectly reasonable to spend more time cleaning and organizing your home than you normally would. Keeping your space sanitary will make you feel stable, and is good practice. Forget the fancy disinfectant wipes that are in short supply. A few rags, regular cleaning supplies, dish soap, and a cheap jug of bleach are more than enough to keep you all safe at home. Also, with more people at home, expect to dedicate far more time to regular cleaning and upkeep. Allocate these responsibilities equitably among your team.

You will be at home a lot, so make it a place that feels wonderful. Take a day to deep clean your house. Eliminate all clutter and organize your desk. Rearrange your workspaces so that they are neat and usable by other family members who are under pressure. Dedicate time every day to ensure that your home stays tidy and pleasant. At the end of each day, wrap up your workspace and put it out of sight, especially if you are using a repurposed or shared space. Shift modes. Set loving and respectful boundaries with the people on your team. Once you feel more in control over your home, it will be easier for you to feel like you can control your work life.

  1. Physical Fitness

Much like in war, pandemic-induced restrictions on mobility and community have serious effects on our health and wellbeing. The fact that community centres, gyms, public pools, and yoga studios are all closed is distressing for many people, especially those who rely on fitness for their mental health. In many places, there are even restrictions on public parks. Citizens required to shelter-in-place must stay indoors as much as possible, which can undermine our ability to care for our bodies. No matter how pretty we make our home workspaces, long periods of sitting can cause pain and even injury. These are not luxury problems and they should be taken seriously. 

In my experience, maintaining fitness goals under disaster conditions is challenging, but very possible. Like everything else, this will be a transition. Do not expect to become an Olympic athlete in your living room. Online fitness classes might take awhile before they feel fun. For many of us, we will also have to repurpose our already limited and shared spaces into a fitness area. This can absolutely be done, but it may take time to get into a rhythm. Set reasonable expectations, achieve them, and then build on your success. Even if you are not regularly an active person, your brain chemistry will very likely be affected by sustained pandemic-induced restrictions, and physical exercise can help mitigate long-term mental health effects. At this stage, devise a modest, reasonable plan to do 20 minutes of physical activity every day. If you succeed, give yourself 500 gold stars. If you fail, give yourself 100 gold stars and try again tomorrow.

Summing Up

In this introductory piece, I have outlined some foundations for living happily and productively under sustained disaster conditions. If any of the above is outstanding for you and your family, put your academic work aside and redirect your energy. In the days ahead, your goal should be to establish the physical and psychological security in your home.

From next week onward, I will write more about academic productivity amid disaster conditions. Everything I share from here on will be built on these essential foundations of security and wellness. It is foolish to build a house on sand. If any of us feel unstable at any point, it is wisest to stop and go back to our foundations.

None of this can be done perfectly. My PhD supervisor used to remind us that “perfect is the enemy of the good”. This is also true in disaster conditions. None of us should try to get an A+ in crisis living. If you have insomnia or are sleeping too much, that is perfectly normal and will settle down. Do not expect your wonderful brain to cooperate with your preconceived notions about research productivity. Your brain is extremely busy at the moment.

Finally, you will notice that even this introductory guide includes a lot of very time-consuming work. Yes. Establishing safety and wellness under sustained disaster conditions is time consuming and distracting. If you are doing this right, you will have less time for your research. However, if you do this right, your research will also be much better. And your mind and body will thank you. With strong foundations, we can be productive, resilient, and of service to those in need. There is stability, hope, and even joy in this process.

Ivory Towers in the Rearview Mirror: Emma Friesen

We continue with our new column, featuring interviews with PhDs who have charted a course unrelated to the tenure track, putting academia squarely in the rearview mirror.

Our hope is that seeing and hearing from a wide range of PhDs who are celebrating their careers rather than settling for them will inspire every grad student, ABD and PhD to add the road OFTEN traveled to their list of options.

We are excited to hear and share your stories. If you have a PhD and are working outside of the academy and would like to share your experience with TPII readers, we’d love to hear from you!

Today we are pleased to feature Dr. Emma Friesen

I’d wanted to be an academic even before I started my undergraduate degrees. It took ten years from when I finished undergrad to decide on my PhD topic, and then another nine years to finish my PhD part time. As my PhD progressed, I kept my ties to industry and realized that I wanted to be in an academic environment, but in an industry-based position. A PhD was essential to a research career in academia.

Throughout my time as a part-time PhD student, I also worked part-time in government (health) and non-profit (disability services) roles. I met some wonderful academics who were very committed to translating the results and outcomes of (health) research into practice. This became a key focus of my own work, and for my own research it meant finding ways to make my research on mobile shower commode chairs available to clinicians and end users. I was fortunate to find avenues for this through advocacy, professional, and trade-based associations.

Throughout my PhD journey, I was acutely aware that most PhDs do NOT get academic (tenured) jobs. Even so, I continued to believe I could be an exception and did everything I could to position myself for a tenure track position. My thesis had 6 (!) first-authored publications and I’d networked extensively in Australia and overseas. Despite many applications, I got only two post doc interviews, and no job offers. In the last year of my studies, I’d moved countries to follow my then-husband from Australia to The Netherlands. My applications were not competitive for any academic posts in my field, as I’d had no experience in Dutch institutions. I had a long period of grieving at not being in academia. I’d wanted so much to be a professor and follow in my father’s footsteps. There was a strong sense of loss and confusion as it became obvious a job in academia wasn’t to be.

Thankfully, in the last weeks of my PhD I was offered a great job in a pharmaceutical company. The two years I spent there were an absolute revelation. I worked more closely with academics (working as consultants to industry) that I’d done as a grad student. I read more papers and did more mapping of how to translate research conducted in well-controlled contexts to the messiness of the real world. It was amazing. Unfortunately, the company got into financial strife and made 25% of the workforce redundant. My whole department was let go. It was awful and I worried that I’d never find another industry position with so much potential.

Gosh was I wrong! Towards the end of my redundancy period, someone at Raz Design Inc found my PhD thesis online. (Hooray for open access repositories!) The company invited me for an interview. I thought they were just looking for some consulting on short term projects. Instead they offered me a job! We negotiated an arrangement so I could stay in the Netherlands to work remotely, and travel when needed.

My role is amazing. Raz manufactures mobile shower commode chairs – the exact product category I’d studied in my thesis. I’m the company’s clinical director, which means I oversee all clinical education worldwide, and handle the clinical aspects of compliance for medical device regulations and market access. I literally use the results of my PhD work every single day, and make it available to clinicians, technical and sales reps, and end users around the world. I’m starting to engage with academic colleagues around the world to brainstorm research ideas, run industry-based student projects, and generally push policy development in the field forward. It’s incredible. The energy and focus in industry is wonderfully different to academia. Translating findings from well-controlled studies into the realities of real world human experiences is messy, challenging, complex, and uncertain. It’s also fast-paced and a whole lot of fun! 

One topic I wish I’d learnt more about during my PhD is managing a business. Even though I’d worked in non-academic roles (government and nonprofits) I didn’t learn about managing budgets or pursuing sales or managing people. These are skills I’m learning on-the-job now, and quickly! Another area I wish I’d learned more about is how to set up academic / industry partnerships, or rather, how to navigate the politics and differing drivers for the various stakeholders. I’m acutely aware that academics need to bring in money, and their KPIs are based on dollars. Partnerships and in-kind support that I can offer aren’t going to get my academic colleagues the recognition they need for their own careers. Hopefully in the future, my company and industry will be in a position to bring research money to support evidence generation.

For anyone considering a career outside of academia, and pursuing non-academic roles after graduating, I say TRY IT!! Yes it takes work and a big change in mindset to get out. It’s challenging to shift from begging for scraps of scarce funding to saying – convincingly! – “hey I’ve got all these skills that are hugely valuable to you, potential employer!”. There’s an astonishing amount of work happening in industry and there are many companies who value PhD-level skills and knowledge. Thankfully, there are also lots of career transition resources around to guide you as you make the move. I’m loving my industry-based position and look forward to being the industry partner in a lot of cool research in the future!

#Dispatches Special Contribution: Advice From a Dean and Expert in Media and Performance

In our Dispatches series, we crowdsource responses to questions we see about the academic job market and career.

This week, the question continues: How do I manage my new 100% online professional life?

We continue weekly Dispatches From the Front questions for your crowdsource responses. Scroll to the bottom for next week’s question – WHICH REMAINS: ADVICE FOR ONLINE CAMPUS VISITS— and the link to share your wisdom and advice.


Today’s advice is generously provided by Dr. Sarah Bay-Cheng, Dean, School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design, York University.

Sarah Bay-Cheng is Dean of the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design (AMPD) at York University in Toronto, Canada. Prior to York University, she served as Chair and Professor of Theatre and Dance at Bowdoin College and as the founding Director of Graduate Studies in Theatre & Performance at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. Her research focuses on the intersections among performance and media including histories of cinema, European and US avant-gardes, and digital media in contemporary performance.


There are plenty of recommendations online for how to physically set up for the video interview. In my experience, the most useful recommendations align with what theatre and film people have known for decades (or longer) about what makes the most effective visual communication in frames (either proscenium stages or screen frames).

  1. Here are my top recommendations for the physical set up:

·    Adjust your camera and screen to roughly eye level, so that you’re looking at the screen straight ahead and not up or down. If possible, adjust the settings so that the person speaking is close to where you have your web cam. You want to be able to look at their face and take in their expressions while keeping your gaze close to the camera so that your expressions as you listen are visible.

·    Make sure that you are have enough (soft, if possible) light on your face so that the dimensions of your face are visible and that you’re clearly positioned within the screen.

·    Keep in mind the framing and remember the rule of thirds. You want your eyes to be roughly centred and one-third from the top of the frame.

·    Aim for a simple and neutral background so that the person looking at you can focus on you.

·    Remember you’re acting for the camera. Practice, record and adjust your efforts accordingly.

There are other recommendations you’ll find, such as including plants in the background, among others. These seem less important to me. I can’t say that I’ve never paid attention to the background, but now as I am (like most of us) in constant Zoom meetings, my eyes are getting tired mostly from people in low-or back-lit rooms, or who are looking down at their laptops. As one of my directing teachers once said to me about a badly lit play I was directing, “If I can’t see, I can’t hear.” As much as possible, make it easy to be clearly seen on screen and people will hear more of what you have to say.

2) Lighting to reduce fatigue

Also, remember that we’re all working with an information deficit here. Mediated conversations deprive us of a lot of the information we take for granted in face-to-face conversations, such as subtle facial expressions, physical gestures, and the real-time feedback we typically receive when we’re speaking and listening in person. I think (and perhaps others with actual research data will correct me) that this information deficit is part of what makes tele-video meetings more tiring than other meetings. Many of us are accustomed to multi-tasking on screens and this impulse can be a tough habit to break. Make sure you’re clearly visible and making eye contact as much as possible to replicate the experience of talking in person. A good camera and microphone can be helpful, but with some attention to details, you can make a basic set up look its best. Here’s a pretty good primer for lighting set ups that can be done with a few well-positioned house lamps.

3) How to interact with the camera.

First, remember that you’re acting for a camera, not a person. There’s a story that Rose O’Donnell tells about acting on the set of A League of Their Own with Geena Davis. After doing a take, O’Donnell was unimpressed that Davis was underplaying the scene, so that they’d have to shoot it again. When O’Donnell she saw the dailies, she realized that really it was she who was overperforming. O’Donnell looked foolish on film because she was treating the film set like a theatrical stage. After years doing theatre and stage comedy, O’Donnell was used to projecting her voice and gestures to be visible for the audience members in the rear. On film, performers don’t need to project to the back of the house. They just need to play to the camera and let the camera and screen do the work. Similarly, in a video chat, the screen will amplify you, so you don’t have to do as much work to read on the other side of the camera. Be careful of overdoing it.

That said, you don’t want to do nothing. As I noted before, there’s a gap in the information when communicating by screen. A lot of what I and probably other search committees and interviewers are looking for in campus interviews are all of the intangibles that aren’t evident in the cv and written materials. So, you want to communicate who you are as a whole candidate through a little camera. It’s a distinct skill that is hard to do well and takes time to develop, so I recommend at least a little practice. Record a few elevator pitches about your work and play them back to see which ones look better or worse. Play around with the extremes, so you know what’s too much and what’s not getting through on screen. Practice focusing on the person speaking on screen and how you perform listening. I realize this probably sounds silly, but being attentive on screen is it’s own skill. And, as everyone is now experiencing, talking through screens can be tiring. Coupled with the stress and strain of everything else that’s happening right now, it can be hard to focus. Practicing listening on screen can help maintain focus.

4) Advice for Search Committees

At the same time, I expect that many of us who are able to continue with “campus” interviews are adjusting the schedule to accommodate this new reality. At the same time that candidates can refine their techniques for on-screen communication, I think it’s important that those of us on search committees and administrators like myself also pay attention to how we’re framing ourselves and our online conversations. One of the small advantages of the current situation is that we may be able to avoid the asymmetrical video interview in which a few people are in a room together interviewing a single person by video. So here’s a plea to my fellow interviewers and administrators to schedule shorter, more focused conversations and recognize that long on-screen interviews may be even more draining than the in-person visits (which are plenty exhausting on their own).

5) Let’s all be generous

In the current moment, we need to recognize that none of us are at our best and I’m willing to make allowances for the anxiety of the moment, home-schooling in the background, stressed partners off-screen, and more. I’m glad that we are able to continue with our own interviews and searches for the moment, so I’m committed to doing what I can to make the experience as good as possible for everyone.

Next Question Remains: How do I prepare for a campus visit that has switched to all-online due to COVID19? And Search Comm members: if you’ve made the switch, what do you expect-slash-want to see from candidates?

Share Your Wisdom Here.

What Goes on Inside a Brown Woman’s Head When She Experiences Racism… WOC Guest Post

[This post was finalized prior to the COVID-19 outbreak]

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

PLEASE submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration! Especially related to COVID19 issues, challenges, solutions.

I want to hear from you! Email me proposals or drafts at I pay $150 for accepted posts. More information can be found here.

Today’s post is by Dr. Shahla Khan. Shahla Khan is a Ph.D. Fellow at Business School Lausanne in Corporate Political Correctness. She is also an author, blogger, and YouTuber when she isn’t teaching or researching. Life forced her to convert to feminism and she never looked back since. She tweets from @ShahlaSparkle. 


My blog has a heart chat section where I invite my readers to share their stories, experiences, questions and opinions with me. It’s like a millennial version of Agony Aunt.

One reader, an Indian woman of 30, recently wrote to me in a massively disturbed state of mind. So here’s what happened.

She and her husband work in a highly prestigious university in New Zealand. He works as a professor and she works as the IT assistance worker on the helpline.

In a team of 6, she is the only non white person.

Yesterday it happened to be that for sometime she was the only assistant on the helpline. She received a call from a woman who works in the university. Here’s how the conversation went-

“Hello, this is (her name) speaking from the IT help centre at the (university of name). How may I help you today?”

The lady on the other side responded: “oh I think I misdialed.”

And she hung up.

She then called again and again my reader the Indian woman picked up.

The lady repeated her lines and said she may have misdialed again.

This happened third time. Don’t pull your hair out yet, she called the fourth time and by then a white woman had returned to her desk and this Indian woman let her take the call.

From the computer system it was visible that the call came from the same person.

She then revealed her issue to the white woman and her issue was resolved.

My Indian reader was frantic.

Her first questions to me were not what most people would expect. She asked me “am I not worth working there? Am I not good enough to handle a forgotten password situation even though Iam a software engineer?”

I asked her again if she had even moved past the “may I help you” line in the 3 times she picked the call.

She said no.

I asked her why would she assume then that she wasn’t good enough at her job because she didn’t even get a chance to do the job!

She then asked about what we call ‘tone policing brown women’. She asked if her way of speaking was intimidating or lifeless or too loud?

It isn’t.

I then asked her about the general environment and work culture and she said things along these lines have happened before. Hence she is super cautious around her work to the extent of being called an OCD by the same white colleagues. She isn’t like that at home. But at work she is always walking on eggshells.

I informed her then that she didn’t want to hear  “it was plain and simple racism my dear”. It’s not about how competent she is at her job which was her initial worry. Or that her voice was intimidating or lifeless. She is actually a highly qualified software engineer but she is working at the IT help centre because her husband is a professor in that university and they thought it would be convenient for them to work at the same place.

So as usual the wife quits her highly paid job as an engineer and joins her husband at his place of work.

She was deeply hurt by this experience and she said she didn’t even know how to take this and what to do.

I advised her to visit the university website and look at their policy on racism. Whatever it suggests in terms of reporting or taking action, do so.

And guess what she said next. Yeah, the same thing that kept Ariana Grande shut her mouth at Aretha Franklin’s funeral when a pastor sexually assaulted her in front of a million people. She feared she would be ‘making a scene’ and be labelled as a ‘troublemaker’.

People often believe that women in general and specially women of colour are unnecessarily nagging and ranting about trivial issues. This creates a sense of hostility and social abandonment towards those who raise a voice. Others usually are silenced by this social pressure of being likeable and blending in. They give in to the fear of being labelled and oftentimes losing their jobs.

My current area of research is political correctness in the corporate world so I have been trying to understand why political correctness gets so much flack. A professor at a prestigious European university has written extensively against PC culture in his papers from the 2000s. So I decided to write to him and check if his views on political correctness and affirmative actions had changed in the last decade. 

He is now retired but he responded and gladly announced that he is now no more obliged to self censure and mind his language. In his papers he has consistently made generalizations about Muslim travellers should be racially profiled as terrorists or women when get liberated only think about themselves and do not participate in either home making or in the economy, sciences or advancement of human life in anyway. Those generalizations are fine but the generalization he has most trouble with is ‘white people’ or to be specific ‘straight white old men’, which is a demographic mostly used in the context of identifying systemic oppressions, institutionalised racism etc. 

He claims that race specific or gender specific movements harm genders and races. Any time a woman wants a job because of her gender or a person wants a job because of their race, it only makes them look bad. In one of his emails to me, he told me about two women of color that worked for him as secretaries. One Mexican and another from somewhere in the war zones of the Middle East. He said that both of them specifically told him that they don’t want to align to their cultural values and do not want their race or culture to be identified at work. 

While I absolutely believe that this professor was telling the truth and so were his secretaries, he failed to learn the reason ‘why’ those women of color who got a chance to work as secretaries for a white older man in a grand European university, were distancing themselves from their races so fiercely. That’s because they want to do their best to assimilate in the European culture so that they don’t face racism, so no one sees them as an outsider, the flag bearer of race issues, the troublemaker, and so on. 

Millions don’t utter a word when they encounter racism or assault. Whatever the reasons may be but this fear of being tagged is the worst fear and the first thing that a woman’s mind thinks of when she encounters racism.

Schools Announcing a Hiring Freeze

I put this on FB today; I was asked to share it off FB for those who have left that platform for their mental health. I can get behind that, so here is a special post. It will not include updates, which I’m doing on the FB post, and are also arriving in comments from readers there.


The list of schools that I have been told have reported hiring freezes is below, and continues in the comment thread. *I cannot vouch for the accuracy or specifics of this information for every institution listed.* Please note hiring freezes can take different forms; many will be honoring any verbal offers already extended, but not all.

U of Nevada
Virginia Tech
Western Michigan U.
Bradley (in IL)
Villanova University
Indiana U
U of Waterloo
U of Oklahoma
U of Utah
Florida state
U Montana
U Kentucky
U of Dayton
Colorado school of mines
Central Washington
Wisconsin Madison
Texas Womens U
U of Louisville
Northern Michigan
Los Rios Community College
Miami U
Western Michigan
Ohio State
Penn State
Syracuse U
Simon Fraser
Kansas State
Federal science agencies in Canada
Rochester Institute of Technology
Notre Dame
U Colorado-Denver
Appalachian State
High Point U
Washington State
U Alabama, Birmingham
University of Maine at Farmington
Cal State System

Ivory Towers in the Rearview Mirror: Winnie Chang

We continue with our new column, featuring interviews with PhDs who have charted a course unrelated to the tenure track, putting academia squarely in the rearview mirror.

Our hope is that seeing and hearing from a wide range of PhDs who are celebrating their careers rather than settling for them will inspire every grad student, ABD and PhD to add the road OFTEN traveled to their list of options.

We are excited to hear and share your stories. If you have a PhD and are working outside of the academy and would like to share your experience with TPII readers, we’d love to hear from you!

Today we are pleased to feature Dr. Winnie Chang

I earned a PhD in History in 2012 at UCLA.

Currently, I am a full-time freelance translator

When I started the PhD, I wanted to be a college professor. But, I had a very hazy idea of what being a professor was like, thinking of it more as an extension of being a grad student — teaching, researching and writing.

So when I finished, I still wanted to teach at the college level, but was extremely demoralized during the one year I was on the job market.

When I realized that I was wrong about what a tenure track career really looked like, I could see that my original career goals were misaligned with what I actually like doing, which is working from home in pajamas.

I grew up bilingual and my language skills were honed during my PhD coursework and dissertation. I also freelanced sporadically during grad school. Once I realized how big the translation industry was, I decided to do this full-time without being tethered to any one company.

In making the career shift, I had the support of my husband and my closer grad school friends. Also, I didn’t really have to change much in terms of skills and approach. Translation work involves a lot of basic research and good reading/writing skills, which strongly overlap with grad school skills. In addition, working with focus and having cultivated a strong work ethic while being in isolation was another thing that helped with the easy transition.

With that said, my main advisor has not responded to my email when I told him I was leaving academia… 8 years ago.

To anyone thinking about leaving the tenure track, remember: 1) You have marketable skills and you can have job security through skill rather than attachment to one institution. 2) Don’t be complicit in your own suffering and your PhD is never wasted. 3) The money’s better!

#Dispatches: Help, My Campus Visit has Gone Online! 2/2

In our Dispatches series, we crowdsource responses to questions we see about the academic job market and career.

Continuing from last week, the question is: Help, my campus visit has switched suddenly online. Advice needed: either from candidates who have survived one, or faculty hosts who can share insights and suggestions.

We continue weekly Dispatches From the Front questions for your crowdsource responses. Scroll to the bottom for next week’s question – WHICH IS GOING TO REMAIN THE SAME, AS WE STILL NEED THE ADVICE — and the link to share your wisdom and advice.

And one explanatory note: We ask respondents to provide any personal identifying information in their own words that THEY consider pertinent to contextualize their responses. Some of them go to …. interesting places. We only lightly edit them, and I think it’s worth contemplating what people feel is important to share about their identities.


I’m really pleased that this week are starting to collect really substantive, actionable advice for online campus visits. Let me first offer my own advice:

GET A RING LIGHT IF YOU CAN. This is just one option; there are others. They range from 8″ to 18″ and between $35 and about $80 for a setup. They are fantastic soft, easy lighting that removes the nec. of a complicated frustrating struggle with your house lights and windows, and also have the effect of hiding wrinkles, blemishes and circles. You can also hang sheets over your windows to adjust for the ambient light” [Karen K., The Professor Is In]


Put your computer on a box or a large book so that you don’t show up in the video with a double chin. Make sure you have your phone nearby for when the internet connection is unreliable. Have another jacket/blazer that’s less formal in case you need to change. Ask everybody interviewing you if they are/can still conduct the interview even though they have scheduled it so. Always be the professional in the room by not getting into negative conversations about your current job or the hiring institution. Have a glass of water nearby. Wear contacts if you can, avoid glasses because of the glare. Most important, keep a notebook and literally take notes so you can plan questions to ask afterward.

Online interview is not much different from in-person interview is that it is about the fit. Make sure you are honest about who you are, and ask questions that show your genuine interests in building your career at the hiring institution. They are very excited to see you too. Don’t let the nervousness spoil your meetings. If you are younger, know that your energy is a strength, but also recognize that your colleagues are a resource.” [Asst Prof, Hum, Female, Brown]


Next, don’t panic! Everyone is in the same boat, and it’s possible to come out of this just fine! Like this person:

“My first interview with a Canadian university was online (on Zoom) and I had to do a Teaching Demo and a Research Talk. I had an amazing experience and I was noticed the next morning I was moving up to the second round. Again, an online interview, but with another Research Talk, a presentation of my research plan for the next 5 years and a period of questions. Again, an amazing experience. I finally ended up in second position in this search and didn’t get the job, but here’s my thoughts on why both interviews felt amazing.

First, the set-up needs to be well-thought. I bought an HD webcam with a microphone. I was connected directly on the internet (no wi-fi, it’s unstable). I used 2 screens for both interviews: 1 for my shared visual content and 1 to see the Search committee. It allowed me to see their reactions and to interact with them easily (especially during my Teaching Demo). I did my interviews in a small meeting room I rent at a local co-working space. Finally, the university asked me to do a test with one of its IT professionals on the day before to make sure everything was working well. The same IT guy was there at the beginning of both interviews.

Second, the classic advice “PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!” is more important than ever. For most of us, it feels unnatural to look directly at the camera, so that needs to be practiced first (e.g. talking with friends & family on skype). I started practicing my talks like they were in-person, but the moment I felt good about them, I practiced them with an empty Zoom meeting. At first, it’s really weird to talk for so long while being seated and it’s hard to be energetic. However, with practice, it became natural.

One last note about doing an online Teaching demo…Don’t hesitate to interact with the Search Committee. Most candidates won’t do it in an online setting, so you will stand out for doing it. Have a back-up plan just in case the Search committee stay in silence. In my case, I organized a debate in the middle of my Teaching Demo. I asked two professors to give me their best argument for using a specific marketing strategy, and the other two for their best argument against it. It went really well. I actually had to stop the debate to finalize my Teaching demo in time. FYI, I had never teach online before these interviews. So, it’s absolutely possible to do it and have fun! Best of luck to each of you!” [Grad student, Marketing; PhD Candidate (ABD), 30, Canadian, female, married]


And this person! People are doing it and surviving (and even thriving!)

“I recently did a campus interview online. We used Zoom, and I met with search committee in a conference room setting. Instead of visiting a classroom, a group of students met with me for a Q&A in the same conference room setting. My job talk was presented to a large group the same way – Zoom allowed me to see the audience, and they could also see me talking alongside my slides. Interviews with various administrators were done individually in their offices. Obviously, a campus tour wasn’t possible but the search committee provided me with many videos from their mobile phones! Honestly, it went far better than I thought it would. The interview was spread out over a couple days and there was a sense of continuity (i.e., seeing the same conference room over and over). I haven’t heard back from the hiring institution yet, but I think in uncertain times like these a remote campus interview is the best we can do.” [Tenured Prof, Hum; White female]


As in any interview setting, PRACTICE is essential, especially with new technology. Try talking to your friends over zoom, answering Qs, and deliver bits of your talk. You’ll get used to the digital setting in a low-stress practice environment!

My advice is to practice talking (over skype / zoom / video) with people that you like, before the “visit”. One of the biggest challenges with video interviews is people appear stiff, it’s harder to emote, and so it’ll be harder for people to get a sense of what you are like. However, some of this stiffness disappears with practice, so I’d suggest you take time and do practice video interviews with people you know and like, to practice having a more present, relaxed online vibe.” [Asst Prof, Hum; WW]


And, for more reassurance, see this note from a search committee member:

“I’m on a search committee that had to switch mid-way to virtual visits, which resulted in half of our candidates being interviewed remotely. I was very impressed with how the candidates who interviewed remotely handled the change. In fact, the search committee commented on how there ended up being virtually no difference between the in-person and remote visits and we will likely make an offer to one of the remote candidates. What impressed us from these remote visits was the candidates’ ability to think on their feet and have fluid conversations during virtual 1-on-1’s and the virtual chalk talk. They also seemed very relaxed during their presentations, which they gave via screen-sharing and sitting down. Although giving a presentation to a computer loses a lot of that audience connection you typically have, I think candidates should really take advantage of the fact that they can be way more comfortable just presenting to a computer screen and try to make the presentation more conversational that way. My advice is to embrace the changes, try to keep things as conversational as possible to project your unique personality, and don’t worry about how a remote visit is different that an in-person one. In the end, that committee will probably be more worried about being able to attract YOU to a place you’ve never visited rather than judging you poorly based on the fact that you can’t travel to visit them.” [Asst Prof, STEM; 30s, Female, Married]


One last note:

“All searches should be moved online, if they have not already. For an online interview, committees should give a clear directive as to what they will expect (job talk, teaching demo, just chats, etc). Until candidates get any further directions, they should continue to prep as if it is an in person interview.” [Postdoc Hum; White, female, married]


And like last week, some Questions; if you have responses, please put them in comments:

My campus interview has moved online. Luckily (?) it is just three separate interviews with administrators (chancellor, dean, and HR), and then a 30-minute teaching demo via zoom (on a topic totally outside of my field) with a “real” class. They don’t know whether I’ll be able to interact with the students in any other capacity than through the chat function. My campus is using Google Meet, so I have very low familiarity with Zoom. Advice on how to be interactive/dynamic and actually SHOW my teaching philosophy? Until last week, I’ve not taught online before! 

I’m not sure how to phrase the question, but I do very badly in online interviews primarily because of my autism. I do much better in face-to-face situations. I’m not sure if I should disclose my neurodiversity, or if there are things I could ask for in a digital campus visit that would help mitigate issues. I feel like if I should get a campus interview, my problems with digital communication would tank any chances of getting an offer.

What can you do if you are stuck abroad, and cannot source a good camera or microphone for the virtual interview. I have been trying for a week now, but to no avail. Will a sitting down job talk be terrible? Should I mention this in the interview?


Thank you to all our respondents!

Next Question Remains: How do I prepare for a campus visit that has switched to all-online due to Coronavirus? And Search Comm members: if you’ve made the switch, what do you expect-slash-want to see from candidates?

Share Your Wisdom Here.

How To Do Makeup For Zoom and Other Online Campus Visits and Teaching


OK, as promised here it is! I re-recorded the video today to replace the first one that had multiple trucks rumbling by and my family chattering loudly and animatedly in Japanese in the next room at several points.

There is no expectation that you do all these steps. I just wanted to cover the broadest range of topics. Product list below. Also read the Caveats–in particular, I DO NOT CARE if you wear makeup or not. This post is in response to requests and is meant for those who are seeking this information. Makeup and skin care has been my hobby for 5 years and I have learned a ton about products, techniques and tools, especially for online platforms. Take whatever is useful to you.

New: there is a 15 minute version below, so you can see how it really comes together when one isn’t talking through the whole thing!

As you can see, the results are pretty awesome while still being really natural!



I don’t care if you wear make up and I don’t care what you look like.

This is only for people who have asked, so don’t come at me with your judgment if you don’t want to do it.

This is based on what I have learned over five years of experimentation on what works for ME, not anyone else!

I am not an Instagram make up artist. People who are make up artists may have much more sophisticated advice, and you should Google them for reference; in the end everything I learned through trial and error.

Be aware that drug stores as well as Sephora and Ulta all accept returns of USED products. In the end, there is no substitution for trying products out over the course of several days and seeing how your skin reacts to them, especially if you have allergies.

Things also hinge strongly on lighting. I will share information as I have it on lighting, but that’s not my expertise and there’s much excellent advice out there online about it from others.

—->>>>>The SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING about looking decent on screen is camera angle! Make sure your camera views you from ABOVE and NOT BELOW. That will instantly correct for double chins.<——–

Anyway, the video walks you through the following – slowly and with lots of talking. And scroll to the bottom to find a brief video of my makeup table and lighting setup.

And one last makeup note: you may be surprised to see that I do not wear eyeliner! I do not! I stopped in my late 40s. Eyeliner, despite being one of the looks of the moment and gorgeous on younger women, is very very bad for older eyes. It’s too harsh, it emphasizes wrinkles around the eye, and it shrinks the size of the eye. If you are older, you can achieve far better results using a shadow around your eye, including below the eye. It is softer and more forgiving and will open up your eye rather than circling it in a sloppy (because of the wrinkles issue) dark rim.


  • Skin care and general thoughts: 1:00-7:30
  • Primers and color correctors: 7:30-15:00
  • Ambivalence about makeup! 15:00-15:30
  • Concealer: 15:30-18:30
  • Foundation 18:30-24:30
  • Undereye concealer: 24:30-26:30
  • Setting powder 26:00-28:30
  • Eye shadow 28:30-37:00
  • Contouring 37:00-43:00
  • Highlighting 43:00-44:30
  • Blush 44:30-47:30
  • Lash Primer and Mascara 47:30-54:00
  • Brows 54:00-59:00
  • Lipcolor 59:00-1:00:45
  • Finishing spray 1:00:45-1:01:00

Makeup Table and Lighting Setup


  • SK-II Pitera Water
  • Sabbatical Beauty Asian Powerhouse Serum
  • Sabbatical Beauty Marine Serum
  • Sabbatical Beauty Dorian Grey Serum
  • Lancer Beauty Oil
  • Dr. Perricone Cold Plasma + Eye Cream
  • Sabbatical Beauty Donkey Milk Cream
  • Charlotte Tilbury Glow Primer
  • Tarte Blurring Primer
  • Becca Under Eye Corrector in Medium/Dark
  • Bobbi Brown Eye Primer
  • Clinique Shadow Palette in Greys
  • Clinique Lash Primer
  • Wander Mile High Mascara
  • Tarte Busy Gal Brow Gel
  • Glossier Brow Flick
  • Benefit Boi-ing Cakeless Concealer
  • RMS Un-Cover Foundation in 22.5
  • It Cosmetics Bye-Bye Undereye Concealer
  • Cover F/X Perfecting Powder Translucent
  • Kevin Aucoin Contour Kit
  • Hourglass Ambient Blush in Moonstone
  • RMS Living Luminizer, in Living
  • Stila Highlighter
  • NYX Finishing Spray in Dewy
  • Beauty Bakerie Lip Whip in Syruptitious

Advice for the Online Campus Visit – Guest Post

by Dr. Annabel Ipsen, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Colorado State University. Thank you, Dr. Ipsen, for sharing these insights so quickly!

Anyone who has insights on the new normal of interviews and campus visits by Zoom/skype, PLEASE contribute a guest post, anonymously or not! People need help! I pay $150 for accepted posts.

Did the pandemic covid-19 highjack your campus visit? Many academic job seekers are in a similar position, with universities canceling interviews or asking candidates to do virtual campus visits instead. The silver lining, a fabulous job talk story? No waiting for travel reimbursements? But more seriously, most people have little knowledge about how to prepare for these types of interviews and few candidates or search committees have experience with this format. While virtual campus visits are uncommon, they do happen. In fact, when I got the exciting call for a campus visit for my current job, I was in the hospital. Since I was unable to travel in the timeframe they needed, we agreed to a virtual visit. It was not an easy process, but I have some tips to make it smoother for you.

[Karen Edit: THE FOLLOWING ADVICE PREDATED COVID-19; OBVIOUSLY YOU CANNOT WORK OUTSIDE YOUR HOUSE. SEE MY ADDENDUM BELOW FOR MORE ON CREATING A HOME SPACE]* First, schedule a formal interview venue. Try to avoid doing the interview at your house unless you have an appropriate room for the interview and the equipment needed. If you work at a university and have access to a conference room, reserve it for your interview. If your university is closed or you do not have access to an appropriate space, ask the committee to reserve a space for you. In many communities, there are conference rooms in libraries/universities/hotels. You should not have to scramble to figure this out on your own. Paying for a conference space is cheaper than a “regular” campus visit. While committees might not offer this option to you, it’s likely because they simply have not thought of it. It is important that you are comfortable with the choice and some people may prefer to do the interview at their home for health or personal reasons.

My interview was during finals week and every single conference room at my institution was booked. I was frantic. Ultimately, two colleagues and I each reserved the maximum blocks of time for the last available library study room. This was not ideal for several reasons and I wish that I had asked the committee to reserve an outside conference space for me. My job talk went off without a hitch, but the room next to mine was full of 20 boisterous undergraduates. I had to say to the committee and all of those watching, “could you hold on for just one minute? I can’t quite hear you,” as I scrambled out of the room to quiet the undergraduates next door. Currently many universities have limited campus access; finding an interview space can take up a lot of your preparation time.]

Second, ask the committee what technologies you need and download them as soon as possible. Are they using BlueJeans, skype, zoom? What is plan A, what is plan B? Are these programs accessible at the venue? If the free version will not work for your interview and your institution does not have access, the committee should provide you with access. Make sure you look at the program and are familiar with the basics. Ask how they will see you and how you will see them. Will it just be with the search committee? Will it be recorded for others to watch? Will you need to take your laptop? If possible, it’s nice to have two screens (or a split screen) to see your slides and the committee and for them to see your slides and you. That way you aren’t looking at a group of people on your tiny computer screen and trying to figure out who just asked you a question.

Third, once you decide on a venue, set up a time to do a test run a day or two before the interview. If possible, ask that a technology expert be present and ask that someone on the committee’s end be available 20 minutes later to test the program you’re using and the sound and video on both ends. Everyone wants to make sure the technology works before the day in question and the only way to do that is to test it beforehand. Make sure you know how to mute the microphone and camera and how to move the camera. This will become important during a long day of interviews. Sometimes you may stand (job talk), sometimes you may sit (one-on-ones with faculty), and sometimes you may loudly eat carrots. If you need a podium, make sure you set that up too.

Fourth, ask for the schedule in advance. Make sure you know what each activity entails. Will I be having phone or video calls with each professor? Will I meet students virtually? Make sure there are breaks for lunch and bathroom visits. Get to the venue early. Reserve it at least 30 minutes before the first event. If the lighting is low, bring a small lamp. Bring a lunch/snacks – easy to eat items that don’t require a refrigerator. Bring water, your beverage of choice, a toothbrush, a headset, hand sanitizer/wipes, an extra shirt, and a mirror. Keep the “extras” out of sight.

Fifth, before the interview, do at least one run through of the full job talk with a friend/colleague/mentor. Ask for comments on the lighting, if you’re making eye contact, make sure they can hear you, test your camera and your microphone in various scenarios. 

Sixth, communication is vital. Make sure you have the search chair’s phone number to facilitate the logistics and/or if the technology fails and you need to be put on speaker phone (highly unlikely). Everyone wants to see candidates put their best foot forward. People will understand the extra conversations to figure out the best set up for your campus visit. A one-size-fits-all-set-up will not work for most people. Be kind, flexible, and thoughtful. Communicate what you need and be willing to compromise.

Finally, prioritize your health. Practice social distancing, get enough rest, disconnect from the constant flow of apocalyptic news, eat well, and wash your hands. Take walks outside or meditate to keep some perspective and don’t forget to sanitize the interview venue. Good luck, you’ve got this!

*Karen Edit: You need a home office space. Don’t fret–everyone is in the same boat in COVID-19 and allowances will be made. Set up a small stand or desk in front of an approprtiate wall or bookshelf if possible. Check the backdrop that it’s clean and clear—hang a sheet or wall-hanging if nec! Remember it can be a jerry-rigged temporary set up! You CAN of course use your laptop camera and mic. If you have a better quality camera/mic that’s going to help, but it’s not essential. The main issue is to ensure quiet as best you can (optimally work behind a closed door if you have kids at home), and to get your camera angle to view you from level or slightly above (the most flattering angle) and then to work on lighting. You can do a ton with lighting by moving your desk lamps around and draping sheets of different colors in front of windows and over lights. It’s all trial and error so just experiment. If you CAN order a RING LIGHT please do; it’s the best and easiest lighting option. Here’s one example of what I mean, but you can get a cheaper option of just the light without any of these accessories as well.


[This post and related podcast episode were finalized prior to the COVID-19 outbreak]

I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color. These go up on Wednesday. This one is particularly special because it is by Dr. Joycelyn Moody, who is the co-founder, along with Dr. Roxanne Donovan, of WellAcademic – and we just had the chance to talk to Dr. Donovan on our podcast episode that just dropped yesterday! So please do read this post and listen to that episode in tandem!

Also: PLEASE submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration! I want to hear from you! Email me proposals or drafts at 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 Joycelyn Moody, PhD. Dr. Moody is WellAcademic Co-founder; experienced coach, mentor and workshop leader; and Sue E. Denman Distinguished Chair in American Literature and Professor of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio. 


My university is going to remote learning in response to Covid-19, like many/most of yours. I have five workdays to change my face-to-face, highly interactive graduate seminar to an online-only format. Having never taught an online class in any way, shape, or form, the shift is going to require mindboggling effort and time, even as I take advice to lower my standards. 

This additional teaching labor sits alongside my complicated feelings about the isolation required to meet social distancing calls to mitigate rapid spread of Covid-19. Frankly, I’m gonna miss seeing my grad students and my gym trainer, not to mention the few precious friends I meet for talk and hugs. 

As I grapple with these messy emotions around disconnection, I find my mind drifting back to a certain mountain, to the Elohee Retreat Center, the location of WellAcademic’s Women of Color Faculty Retreats. Even with my beloved partner Lorraine beside me during this coronavirus craziness, I can’t help time traveling to remind myself of the healing, transformative, compassionate sisterlove I’ve invariably experienced among the women I’ve met there. I’m clinging to Roxanne’s brilliant teachings and ancient wisdom. My memories are holding me through this difficult moment. More than simply nostalgic for my sisters, I feel resilient, fortified by them even now. I know my memories will sustain me through the challenges to come. 

I share below part of what I wrote after our first WellAcademic retreat because the hope the words held for me seem needed now more than ever. They illustrate the bonds and lessons that are possible in environments where our full humanity is recognized and valued. 


Twenty-five women of color faculty and I accepted Roxanne’s call to Elohee’s Bald Mountain for insight and renewal, for sisterhood and rejuvenation. Having participated in numerous workshops with my astounding business partner before, I knew the other participants and I would inevitably have an extraordinary experience. Whatever the others expected, my own expectations were truly exceeded. The difference lay in the fact of community: while Roxanne was our indisputable fulcrum, magic lay in our collectivity.
I doubt many of us anticipated the powerful experience we’d create together. 
Almost each retreat participant arrived with trepidation about WellAcademic’s deliberate timing at institutional midterms. Most divulged the challenge of permitting herself to break away for her own revitalization just when others feel free to demand more from us—make-up midterms at students’ convenience, belated committee meetings on chairs’ timetables, and so on. Even retreat participants “on leave” arrived almost panting, as if we’d run the distances from Cincinnati, Madison, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Miami, doubled over by the demands we make on ourselves and we face (or face down) from others who claim power over us.
Perhaps these two short lists capture our transition.
What I expected:

  • Loving reunion with Roxanne Donovan, one of my closest friends and also my business partner
  • Committed service to the 14 women I’d pledged to coach individually
  • Natural beauty transitioning from summer into fall
  • Nutritious, delicious food
  • Solitude: no WiFi, a break from schoolwork, a break from infuriating global news
  • Reunion with my Kennesaw State sisters
  • A chance to meet Roxanne’s only biological sister
  • And more than this.

What I gained/Hadn’t imagined receiving:

  • A community of minoritized academic sisters expressing the same sense of success, insight, stimulation, curiosity, seclusion, need, grief, fatigue, and hope I feel from day to day
  • Deep fortification— cellular memories, science-based exercises, journaling, workbook sheets, photography, clean mountain water and air
  • A bed I first mistook for clouds
  • In-person meeting with the retreat participant with whom I shared the same coach when I was first a client
  • One sister, aged 50, lifting her arms over her head to illustrate reclaiming victory over her physical body after setting her own terms as a Black feminist professor and administrator
  • Two shooting stars with Roxanne, coming five minutes apart after the “Firelight Sister Circle,” on a tiny swing uphill of Eucalyptus cabin
  • And much, more than this, besides.