On role models, activism, and being an academic mama

Some days the parts of one’s world seem to converge, bringing together moments and thoughts that were meant to be unrelated to show you how they really are related.

Recently I had one of those moments.

I was attending a dissertation defense, playing the role of outside member. It was an all-woman committee. I was on time that morning, but worried I would be late. My day had taken a slight detour at motherhood. My child had needed, and so I was there for her, but that meant entering the shower about 10 minutes later than I would have liked. It ended up fine. I was on time. Another academic mama on the committee was a few minutes late. No big deal, but also a kid issue. Sometimes mornings are difficult. And to be honest, I had difficult mornings before I became a mother.

The dissertation was about scholar-activism among Chicana doctoral students. The dissertation was memorable. The student (now graduate) wrote some powerful words as she synthesized and commented upon the words and experiences of other women. The presentation was also memorable. The student purposefully broke with convention in ways that made the audience feel the power of others. It was a provocative document and defense. We – the reader, and the audience in the packed room – were asked to consider what we do with our power, and what our acts of activism are. Continue reading

One foot in the past, one in the future, and the time between

The time “between” terms is always a challenging one for me to manage. At my university, spring term ended on last Friday, classes ended a week earlier, with grades due on Tuesday (2 days ago). And summer term begins on Monday.
Students are clear between terms. They turned in their papers and exams, and await their next directions, which are still a solid week away. Me? I just finished grading the last few papers Monday night, and now I’m finishing up a bunch of paperwork (GA/TA evaluations! Service hour verifications!) and starting to feel the panic of new classes starting in a few days. I had hoped to have a break. I will not have a break.
I feel both rushed and compelled to rest. I’ve been looking back to last term out of necessity. I need to be able to complete all of the checklists and file it in the archives, but in the midst of those tasks I want to be looking forward. Grading and filing all required paperwork has a final deadline and gets prioritized for that reason, but course planning has felt so much more urgent all week. I want to start the new term feeling centered and organized. I want to have everything nailed down sooner rather than later. Is Friday unreasonable? If I have it all done, I could take the weekend off. Really, truly off. With no obligations. That would be glorious and rare.
This time, the panic feels worse than usual. First, it’s a tight turnaround. There’s more time between summer and fall, and fall and spring (although the latter is squeezed with the holidays). By this time of year I find that everyone — myself included — just wants to drop with exhaustion and enjoy the lovely weather. However I have classes with major changes to them. I can’t just copy what was done the last time. One class has been taught in a 6-week term for the last 6 years. This year it’s going to the 12-week term. The other has been taught on campus, and this is the first online offering.
I have things I want to do in the time between. I have whiteboards that I want to fill with my scholarly plans. I want to see my projects and ideas laid out clearly, a guide for my work over the next several months. I want to take a few long walks. Work in the garden. Sleep in (okay, that plan will be thwarted by having a kid who needs to go to school and weekend activities by 9 am).
It’s a weird week, this time between terms. It neither fits a rhythm of a typical term, nor defies a rhythm in the way that vacations do.
Just another year in academic life. Bring it, summer!

What would happen if …

What would happen if …

  • I answered email when I got to it rather than the second I saw it?
  • I  said no to a professional opportunity?
  • I rearranged my schedule so I could pick my daughter up at school at 3:45 two days a week so I could take her to dance class?
  • I gave myself the time to read a novel every weekend (barring unusual events)?
  • I worked out 3-4 days per week?
  • I wrote (almost) every day, just a little bit?
  • I got enough sleep?

These all are questions I have asked myself in the past. They’re all questions I’ve tried to answer through direct experience.

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Best Job on Earth (if you let it be the best job on earth)

Pardon me as I get all sentimental and schmaltzy for a mo …

One of my colleagues frequently says that as professors we have the best job on earth. He usually makes this comment during times when I’m grumbling about something or other, or someone else is grumbling about something or other, or when we’re stressed out and frustrated (as is the case when the semester draws to an end or the to do list gets too long or some new requirement for paperwork done in duplicate-triplicate comes out). I usually reply with a “but … [thing that is annoying right now].” However, I secretly agree with him.

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She said yes … yes, to the review (two sides of the same coin)

A true story from a random Monday in April.

Situation #1

Earlier today I opened an email from a journal editor. No surprises – the email was a request to review a journal articles sometime in the next x weeks. I’m vaguely familiar with the journal. I’ve never published in it, but it’s got a decent reputation. The article is on a topic that I’ve published on previously, more than once. It’s not my greatest interest, but I’m certainly qualified to comment on this topic. How did I come to be identified as a reviewer? Perhaps it was via a scopus keyword search. Perhaps I am cited in the manuscript. Perhaps I am in the publisher’s larger database of eligible reviewers. Does it matter? In the end, it’s all the same: I was asked to review.

I dithered for a moment. Did I mention that I’m not tremendously interested in the topic, even if I’ve written on it before? Did I tell you how busy I am with other things? And how many reviews I’ve already done this year? How about the fact that I have pneumonia right now, and it’s the last week of classes, and I’m just generally sick and overwhelmed?

And then I clicked the button. Accept.

Accept? I accepted the review? Why did I do that? Do I regret doing it? Should I have taken more time to decide?

No. No more time was needed to deliberate. Best save that time to read and review the article. In the end, it won’t really take me that long. It never does.

The most important thing is that I said yes. I said yes to the review.

Situation #2

A few hours later, I drove to a lunch meeting. My first venture back to work since getting really sick. There’s nothing really notable about that, I suppose. I was slowly working through my mental fog at home, shut down the computer, grabbed my phone, and headed a mile or so down the road. When I parked, I stayed in the car for a moment and checked my email on my phone. Three new messages. One particularly lovely one had this subject line:

Rowena Reviewer has accepted your invitation to review manuscript XYZ123

Yes, it was a form letter … but I do love this particular form letter and the actions that trigger it.

I mentally composed a reply that will never be sent: Thank you, dear Rowena Reviewer! (You’re a Ravenclaw, right?). Thank you for accepting this invitation. You may not realize it, but you have made this journal editor so very happy.  So much time and effort goes into finding reviewers, and so many people say no (they’re all too busy, presumably writing their own manuscripts which will then need to be reviewed) that it is an exhausting process. But you? You said yes!!! You said yes to the review!

In that moment, I envisioned the journal editor receiving the form letter that I triggered this morning. Did I bring him a similar moment of joy? I hope so.

And although they are presently unaware, two authors moved one step forward to receiving feedback on their manuscripts. They likely feel impatient about the process. They want to know the verdict as soon as possible. They don’t know what’s going on in the black box of the review process, a process that almost always takes twice as long (or longer) than perhaps it should. (Hint: the cause is usually people who don’t respond to requests to review, and those who decline requests to review and put the editor back at square one). But maybe a little bit of review pixie dust drifted down on their heads today, and perhaps when they receive their next request to review they’ll find it in their hearts to say yes, too.

A day in the life …

I was recently asked to kick off a new feature for my department social media site, documenting a typical day in my life. I went through my day with my phone nearby, taking photos throughout. Here’s the essay that I wrote at the end of the day. It will be cross-posted over to the FSU ISLT blog.

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My new magic potion

This summer I discovered what I’m sure will be the key to my academic success moving forward.

Admittedly, this is not the first time I’ve made this claim. I’ve had other “lifechangers” along the way. Let’s see …

…there was the iPad with keyboard. Hmmm, I’m writing on it right now. Love it. It’s super convenient, small enough to use effectively on a plane, large enough to see enough of the screen to write (remember the eee? I had high hopes, but it was too small and limited. Before that I had a foldable keyboard for a palm pilot – was I really typing on that?). I love my iPad, truly. However, I’m not sure that it’s been the key to success. Continue reading