Doodling for Academics

In recent weeks, I have been slowing down a little in an attempt to find some of that ever-elusive ‘work-life balance’. Amongst other fledgling self-care efforts, I have started exercising again (following an unintentional but extensive hiatus) and reading more. Now, I am adding colouring to my list of relaxing activities, and here’s why.

A few months ago, I was contacted by University of Chicago Press asking if I’d be willing to take a look at a new book, Doodling for Academics by Julie Schumacher. This sounded like a lot of fun and the book is awesome, so I was happy to provide a blurb:

The wonderfully weird illustrations in Doodling for Academics brilliantly capture the bizarre highs, and arcane lows, of academic life. Full of fun activities to pass the time at staff meetings, this book will be a quirky addition to any academic office.

In Julie’s own words:

The original idea for Doodling for Academics came from University of Chicago Press editor Christie Henry. When she proposed it to me, my first instinct was to dismiss it, but then I found myself laughing while day-dreaming through a few possible images. I had never collaborated on a writing project before, so the matching of concept, illustration, title and caption for the forty different panels was initially overwhelming. Illustrator Lauren Nassef and I exchanged hundreds of emails and drafts, and had several very long conference calls, but never met until after the book was finished.

As soon as copies became available, my department chair held a coloring party. We stuck our finished artwork on the staff fridge when we were done.

I loved the book so much I asked the publisher if I could post a few free pages for fellow academic doodlers to print out and colour in. Three free doodles are provided below, and you can click here to get your hands on the full book, which contains 40 of these wonderfully silly and snarky illustrations.)

 

Julie Schumacher is professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of the best-selling Dear Committee Members, winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor. Lauren Nassef is a freelance illustrator and artist living in Chicago.

Full disclosure: I didn’t get paid for the blurb, but I did get a free copy of the book. I also didn’t get paid for this post, I just wanted to share the fun so I reached out to the publisher for the free pages. I did however set up an Amazon affiliate account (an idea I had only when finding a link to buy the book for this post), which I believe means that if you by the book after clicking the link above I will get 3 cents or something.

How ‘broken’ is academia, and how can we fix it?

Jon Tennant just finished his PhD in paleontology. This post originally appeared on Jon’s blog, Fossils and Shit. Follow him on twitter @protohedgehog.

In every coffee break conversation, you hear murmurs of a ‘broken academic system’. Hallways whisper secret conversations about the latest case of professional abuse, the tenured professor still writing papers on a type-writer, and the grad student that mysteriously disappeared just 6 months in.

I’m going to try and outline here what I have seen in my experience and through many discussions with an enormous variety of people about what the most pressing issue in the current system is.

It’s all about power, and the abuse of it.

Academics who are embedded in a position of status or power must have successfully navigated the academic webways, played the game just right, in order to be where they are now. This must be true, based on the virtue of the fact that they are there.

These very same people are those who control almost everything – they sit on your hiring committees, they are the gatekeepers to journals, they review your grants and decide who or what receives funding. They also are the ones with the capacity to create real, systemic, and cultural changes, because they are the ones pulling all the strings.

However, by the very virtue of being successful, they can easily become blind to the faults of the system, because you can’t see them as negative when they have worked for you in a positive manner. Because they have overcome obstacles, they fail to see why others cannot in the same way, or that these obstacles impact upon different people in various ways – typically disadvantaging the already disadvantaged most. By definition, marginalised communities are invariably under-represented, but are often the very common and real victims of faulty systems. But when do we ever hear their voices?

Success in academia, or any walk of life, blinds people to the reality of failure. For whatever those reasons might be. How common do we see the attitude of “It’s not a problem because it doesn’t happen to me.” in academia? “I made it here, so others can too.”

This sort of ignorance and lack of empathy results in a system that constrains innovation, stifles cultural adaptation, and defines inertia as the norm through a system of fear. Fear because you can’t challenge this status quo, as it’s the members of it who are going to decide if your paper gets accepted, you get hired, or you get that grant. They decide if you are able to pay your rent and feed your family.

This reality is a huge problem, as those who wield this power won’t always do so. They’ll try to for as long as possible, but it is the grad students and postdocs (early career researchers, ECRs) who will inherit the system. But they aren’t having much say in what it is they will inherit.

Students of today are growing up in a very different web-powered digital world. This world is all about creation, innovation, and the freedom to share knowledge and ideas. But ECRs are penalised for speaking out and challenging and creating, because at the moment they have no power in the system. You can look at the table and watch the game, but you don’t have any chips so you can’t play.

A consequence of this is that diverse voices are not invited, welcomed, or recognised to be at the tables where the important decisions are being made. The top of the system, where all the power is, represents a culture of replicas, of clones, the same demographic who know how to play the system to win the game. It will rarely be success based on individual prowess or skill, but a process of a thousand small events with a thousand different players that were leveraged at the right time, with just the right amount of luck, that manifests itself as personal achievement and results in acquisition of power.

It’s these very same people though in power who don’t want to undermine the foundations of their own success. It makes perfect sense – that’s human nature. A researcher would have to have a serious foot-shooting fetish to point out the flaws in their own achievements. But this means that the ‘elite’ by default choose ignorance over empathy, over generational sustainability, over using their power selflessly to help others.

There are some people at the top who have gained better awareness, and who listen to others and try to induce positive change. But they remain a minority, and we as a culture and a community have to do better to increase social mobility and increase engagement that transcends academic hierarchies.

One solution to this is to have grad students and postdocs better represented in the places that are deciding the future structure of academia: every hiring panel, each grant committee, engaged in advisory roles for every policy process.

If we do not do this, we are left with the very same people who won the long game dictating the rules for future students based on their own minority experiences, rather than the unheard and unseen majority. All the time, we lose our best and brightest as they become disillusioned with the system, and are chased out for one reason or another – just another leak in a very patched-up pipeline.

What I want to see more of is senior researchers listening more to ECRs, to their experiences, their problems, their requests. I want them to embrace empathy for those who haven’t won the game, or refuse to play it. I want them to use this to build a better future for everyone that breaks down power dynamics, embraces diversity and encourages equity, and creates a better environment for innovation to flourish without fear.

Let us be brave and challenge the status quo, let us create, let us think outside the box. Isn’t this is what research is supposed to be about, after all?

Note: Parts of this discussion are chopped up on Twitter here.

Edit: I’m much less interested in responses to this about how the system has benefited people (i.e., the “It’s worked for me so what’s the problem” mentality). That’s not what this is about. I’m interested in finding out why it doesn’t work or hasn’t worked for those who are worse off. #notallacademics, right..

6 Phrases that Should be Banned

By Dr George Gosling

Academia, whether that means teaching or studying, is ultimately a matter of communication. Our words are the lifeblood of what we do. So I regularly find myself stuggling to suppress my inner pedant when I read phrases that I know simply don’t do what they’re supposed to. So, if for no other reason than to release the build up of pedantry, here are my top six offenders. Of course, these are things for which I’d never dream of marking down a student, but I might counsel them against. If you use them all the time, it’s nothing personal.

  • It could be argued that…

This is one that gets used endlessly in student essays, and it’s hard to blame them when it’s used so frequently in academic texts. Unfortunately it is absolutely meaningless. Anything could be argued. I could write a blog post putting forward an argument for the sun being The Great Mother Satsuma, but I’d struggle to make the case convincingly. One of the things students find hardest to master is acknowledging complexity while still putting forward a strong argument. For me, this is the wrong side of the line. Arguably, starting a sentence by sitting on the fence like this is a bad habit to get into, as you can easily find yourself opting for this over and over, and miss the fact you haven’t actually argued anything. If you’re not convinced, attribute it to someone who is.

  • On the other hand…

There is a simple way to structure an essay: argument, counter-argument, conclusion. It is easy, but I tend to advise against it. This is often a shock to those students who’ve had it drummed into them at A-Level. Structuring an essay this way is not wrong. It’s actually a straightforward way of producing an acceptable essay. However, it’s a really difficult way of writing really good essay. This is because it creates a number of traps – forcing you to simplify the discussion into two sides when it’s probably much more complex, and making it all too easy to avoid actually having an argument of your own until the closing sentences. No. Start with the argument and then make the case.

  • a biased source

In fact, in my seminars I recommend students ditch the term ‘bias’ altogether. There is no person, no document (no historical witness or source) that is not biased in some way or another. Again, it’s meaningless. The problem here is that labelling a source as biased sounds like you’ve actually said something when you haven’t, making it all too easy to move on to the next point without actually having made one at all. Instead, identify the perspective from which a source is written, or from which they see events. That really can tell us something.

  • some historians

What happened is history (the past). How we interpret, explain and debate the cause, impact and meaning of what happened is History (the scholarly discipline). This wouldn’t be possible if all historians agreed, so there is some sense in distinguishing between the ideas and opinions of some historians and others. The problem is the obvious question it prompts: which ones? Not specifying implies historians are interchangeable, that the positions we take are random. We’re not and they’re not. This is why labelling historians as traditionalist and revisionist likewise falls short – suggesting it’s a fluke of timing. Once again this phrase only does half the job.

  • …but then she is a feminist historian

The objective historian is a myth. Once we recognise we are all biased commentators it can serve as a useful myth – giving license to rigorously question our own assumptions against both the available evidence and the wisdom of the crowd. This is a good thing, yet it’s often cut short by the negative connotations of bias. Labelling the premise of the historian’s assumptions should be a helpful way of engaging with their perspective on the past, but instead is often used to dismiss alternative interpretations rashly. Most typically I see this dismissal – sometimes this bluntly – to reject the arguments of feminist historians. Although I’ve never encountered this said of a male historian.

  • as to

I used to use this all the time about a decade ago, and there’s no zealot like a convert. The reason as to why I turned against this unnecessary flourish is that it’s pretentious. I’ve never used it when speaking, so why when writing? It’s the over-compensating that comes from not feeling you have the authority to write about a given subject. There will always be an element of fake it ’til you make it, but this is too transparent a disguise it be any use. Good academic writing is a matter of saying complicated things as simply as possible. Decide what needs saying. Say it plainly. Then stop.

This post originally appeared on Dr George Gosling’s blog. It is reposted here under the terms of Creative Commons license BY-NC 4.0. Dr Gosling is a Historian of medicine and charity in modern Britain and beyond. Follow him on twitter @gcgosling.

Shit I learned during my PhD

Jon Tennant just finished his PhD in paleontology. This post originally appeared on Jon’s blog, Fossils and Shit. Follow him on twitter @protohedgehog.

Doing a PhD is one of the greatest trials you will ever experience in your life. It is physically and mentally grueling, you will be challenged and pushed to the limit every single day, and the pressure levels are so high they will bust you right into the sixth dimension if you’re not prepared or strong enough.

So yeah, they are not for the faint of hearted. That is, if you want to succeed by pushing yourself to the limit, excel in everything that you apply yourself to, and grow to become more powerful than you can possibly imagine (compared to the wimpy undergrad you used to be). But I imagine you wouldn’t even be doing a PhD if this wasn’t your mentality anyway.

I’m a strong believer in committing yourself fully to something if you believe in it, and doing everything within your power to achieve your goals. A PhD is basically a 3-4 year long single project that you can, and should, dedicate yourself too. Now that I’m nearing the end of my own challenge, I wanted to share some simple things with you all that might help in some way.

1. Don’t compare yourself to other people, especially researchers
Every day, you will see other people achieving their own things. Encourage the success of others, but do not think that this means your own work has any less value. I think this competitive nature of academia is one of the main causes of Imposter Syndrome for researchers. Acknowledge that others will succeed, and that your own successes will come too. Which leads on to…

2. Be content with your successes
Celebrate all the things! Get a paper published? Awesome! Abstract accepted for that conference? You’re amazing! Get some code to run? Get a beer! Accepting that your successes, no matter how big or small, are meaningful is a great step towards acknowledging your personal worth. Both to yourself and others. That doesn’t mean rub them in other people’s faces; simply allow yourself to enjoy the feeling of completing something that meant something to yourself or others. It took me about three and a half years of my PhD to get there and realise ‘Oh. Maybe I’ve finally done something good.’, and then it was like a cascade from there where every achievement began to mean something and excite and motivate me even more. My only wish is that I’d realised this sooner.

3. Social media is a doubled-edged sword
Social media such as blogging and Twitter are amazing to learn for personal development, networking, and science communication. The negative side of this is that social media emphasises point 1 in this list. People basically pump out all of the good things in their lives, and it’s like having 1000 marginally interesting success stories pummeled into your face on a daily basis. That is not healthy, as it becomes too easy to see this as a single timeline of success that you could not possibly live up to. This is why it is so essential to know that if you do use social media, what you’re looking at is a multitude, and not a single narrative of another person’s life.

4. Challenge everything, especially that which seems normal or is the status quo
Universities are places were freedom of thought and freedom of expression are standard. Note that this doesn’t mean you are at liberty to be a dick, and simply do or say things without thinking them through. If someone tells you to do something ‘because that’s the way it is’, challenge it. Conforming to expectations is not only boring, but changes nothing. Research and academia are places to unleash yourself and your creativity in ways that you will never get in a standard workplace, and you should embrace the opportunity. Rules are meant to be broken.

5. Having a relationship during your PhD is insanely difficult
A PhD is so time consuming it’s ridiculous. When people say they work 45 hours a week, a PhD student replies “Oh it must be nice working just a part time job..” This impacts quite a bit upon the hypothetical ‘work life balance’. I’m not gonna sugar it up, there is no work-life balance. Work becomes your life. Even when you’re not working on your PhD, you’re thinking about it. Trying to reconcile this with a love life is insane. If you can find a significant other who understands this, keep them for life. If they don’t, it’ll make the relationship all the more difficult. It’s not about placing one person/thing above another, but recognising that at certain times there are certain priorities that have to take precedent.

6. Take every opportunity to travel
PhD students can be blessed with unparalleled chances to roam the planet. We get to attend conferences, workshops, talks, and do our research in some of the most exotic, weird, wonderful, and exciting places on the planet. Embrace this chance, as you probably won’t get it ever again. Never be afraid to try something or somewhere new, and embrace every opportunity as a new learning experience.

7. Take every opportunity to learn
A PhD is a learning experience. Don’t ever feel stupid for not knowing something – no-one knows everything, and the whole point of research and education is that we’re forever pushing our boundaries by discovering new things. What is obvious to some people is clearly not to others, and you should not be afraid to ask questions, or be made silly for asking them. Over the course of 3-4 years for a PhD, you will be constantly learning new things, expanding your knowledge horizons, and acquiring new skills. Some times, you won’t even recognise that you’re picking up or developing skills. Often it’s worth going out of your way to try new things: a foreign language or a new coding language, creative writing, yoga, art, baking – anything that helps you to enhance yourself.

8. Use your spare time to learn ‘secondary’ skills
By ‘secondary’, I refer to those which are not strictly to do with research. These include learning how to write for non-specialist audiences through blogging as a form of science communication, learning marketing, advocacy and community building skills as a form of networking and promotion, and social media usage in order to more effectively communicate with a diverse range of audiences. These skills are invaluable and can open up a multitude of new opportunities, and if you learn to integrate them into your daily workflows can become valuable extensions of yourself.

9. Learn to code. For the love of God learn to code
Coding is frickin’ difficult, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Some people have a knack for it, others don’t. In the modern age though, the ability to code, or at least read or execute code, is so damn important. I’ve only learned how to use a bit of R during my PhD, but this basically saved my research just by learning the basics. Websites like CodeAcademy are super duper useful for picking up coding skills, and good fun and free too.

10. Some people are assholes, and there’s nothing you can do about it
The common asshole can often be a difficult species to find. Common traits include: 1. Talking about others negatively behind their backs; 2. Only ever talking about themselves and their activities; 3. Interrupting you to tell a story that’s just oh so much better; 4. Poisoning the way you think and act so that you begin to question yourself, but not in a good way; 5. Sapping all of your time and energy to deal with them and their problems; 6. Taking everything from you, but never giving something in return. One thing I’ve learned is not to engage with people like this. People who are not helping to build you are not people to surround yourself with, and are best removed swiftly and painlessly from your life. This also accounts for serial harassers, some times even people under the facade of ‘close friends’, and those who refuse to be held accountable for the words they say and the actions they perform. There is a whole world of amazing people out there, and do not settle for people who act like shit and treat you like anything less than you deserve.

11. Be there for other people as much as you can
I might have mentioned this once or twice, but doing a PhD is fucking difficult. Some times, those most in need are those who hide it most. Learn to read the signs of when people might be struggling, and be there as a stone pillar for them when they need it most. This is just part of being a good friend, and some times for people simply knowing that someone is there for you can make all the difference.

12. Don’t sacrifice your mental or physical health for research
At Imperial College, almost every grad student I know was suffering from some sort of mental or physical health issue. Alcoholism, depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia – the list goes on. The pressures of academia are insane, and don’t kill yourself just to get out a paper or do another experiment. Everything that needs to get done will get done with time. You work more efficiently by pacing yourself. Staying healthy in body is also a path to staying more healthy in mind. I started running during my PhD, and found that after a while I was able to focus more, sleep better, and not be so damn exhausted all the time.Also, don’t over-caffeinate – quitting ten shitty cups of coffee a day was awesome, I gained the ability to think again. If you’re a coffee fan, have one or two a day strategically. Drink a glass of water in the morning as soon as you wake up, and stay hydrated during the day. Don’t binge on carbs, and try and have a healthy diet. This shit actually works, is ridiculously simple, and you’ll feel a positive difference. Meditation can also be a powerful method for clearing your mind and helping you to focus – apps like Headspace are great for starting with this.

13. Publish the shit out of your PhD as much as possible
I’ve written about this one already here.

14. Learn how to empathise with others
This is a ridiculously powerful way of thinking, and very difficult to grasp. I’m not sure I’ve got it yet fully, but is something I try all the time. My parents always used to say to me ‘treat others how you would like to be treated’, and being able to place yourselves in the shoes of others and understand their feelings is important for this. By doing so, you’ll be able to understand the problems of others more easily, and generally perceive everyday issues in life from a more enriched diversity of views. It also means that you’re not thinking about things selfishly, shallowly, or narrowly. I got sick of people in London being so self-centred about their thinking, when it came to personal and academic issues, and is actually one of the key reasons why I left London and Imperial College in the first place.

15. Learn how to think about problems from a range or perspectives
Problem solving is an intrinsic part of academia. Shockingly, problem solving is not easy, either to do with research or real life situations. Being able to consider problems from as diverse a range of perspectives as possible is a very powerful tool for understanding and resolving them. Learn to be solution-oriented, focus on the positives, and consider how other people are perceiving a situation and what the implications of this are. Follow thoughts and actions through like a web – consider all possibilities and all implications of this. Through this, often the optimal solution will emerge, and you will be braced for all possible outcomes.

16. If you recognise that you have a weakness, do everything you can to overcome it
Part of self-development is recognising that you are not perfect. Everyone has weaknesses, or parts of themselves that can improve – if you can’t think of anything, think harder, or stop being so arrogant. Learning what these traits are is the first step towards building upon them. For example, if you have an issue with approaching new people and initiating conversation, slowly build up your confidence in smaller steps by approaching groups, people who you know from social media, or by planning out the first few lines of a conversation in your head in advance. For every problem, there are a thousand solutions – you just have to find that which suits you the most!

DISCLAIMER: These views are based on my own experience, and might be utter bullshit.

10 Quite Useful Tools for Academics

Gone are the days of type-written papers and literature reviews built on index cards. In the age of information overload and email overwhelm, we need all the help we can get to stay sane and productive. I rely heavily on the 10 tools described here, and I hope that they might lighten your load a little too. 

Many of these tools require an initial time investment and/or steep learning curve before you realise their full potential, so I don’t recommend trying to integrate them into your workflow all at once. Start with one or two that you think might be most helpful: if you are about to begin a PhD, get friendly with a citation manager; if you have 8 post-its permanently affixed to your monitor, get your shit sorted with Trello. 

1. Citation manager
If I could give only one piece of advice for those starting out in academia, it would be this: use a citation manager! I use Mendeley, and get along reasonably well with it, but I recommend fiddling around with a few before settling (try Zotero, Papers, Endonte). Ultimately, the particular platform matters much less than the absolute necessity of integrating some sort of citation management software into your workflow. It may seem like a chore at first,1 but you’ll be glad you put the effort in.

scrivener-logo2. Scrivener
Whereas Word and its ilk are digital extensions of the typewriters of old, Scrivener is a word processor built from the ground up to redefine the way we write on computers. Scrivener is at once simple and versatile, and flexible enough to complement the way you think and work when writing, whatever your style. I put snippets of writing onto virtual note cards and organise them by theme. The cards are easily edited and reorganised by dragging and dropping, while the powerful export function turns it all into a formatted and ready-to-go doc file.

evernote3. Evernote
The Chinese word for computer literally translates as “electric brain”, and this is exactly how I would describe Evernote. I use Evernote as my second brain, a giant electronic notebook brimming with everything from research-related news stories to recipes. You can clip direct from the web, add photos from your phone, or email notes directly to your account. It is available online and syncs across all devices, so you can access your stuff wherever you are.

trello logo4. Trello
Trello is a sort of virtual pin board. Pre-Trello, I would have at least 3 to-do lists on the go at any given time and would waste an inordinate amount of time faffing around with them. Now, together with my calendar, I use Trello to organise my entire life. I have changed the way I use the app a few times based on my needs at the time, so I recommend experimenting until you find what works best for you. Currently I have four main columns: One Big Thing (i.e. my primary task for the today); “Three Smaller Things”, in case I get my one big thing done; “Later” (for everything else); and “Done”.2 I also colour code, because why not.

Gloriously simple, and incredibly effective.

My Trello setup Colour coding: red=work, blue=PhD, green=blog, orange=admin

On older Trello setup, before I started prioritising one big thing per day.
Colour coding: red=work, blue=PhD, green=blog, orange=admin

unrollme5. Unroll.me
If you want to reach the holy grail of inbox zero, Unroll.me is going to help you get there. It “rolls up” all of your regular email subscriptions and newsletters 3 into one neat bundle and sends it to you daily/weekly at a time of your choosing (I receive mine every day at 4pm, the time that I am usually started to either fall asleep or look at cats on the internet anyway). This reserves your inbox for priority emails and stops you getting distracted by junk during the day. Unroll.me detects new mailing lists and allows you to leave the messages in your inbox, add them to your rollup, or unsubscribe 4 This nifty little app has spared me the distracting allure of 12,000 emails in the two years since I started using it.

twitter6. Twitter
Academics are notoriously sceptical of the merits of Twitter. Despite initially sharing in this somewhat understandable reluctance, I am now a full convert. I use Twitter to keep up to date with news and developments in my field, request articles that I can’t access, and chat with other researchers. As long as you are vigilant not to let tweeting take up too much of your time, Twitter can be incredibly useful.

freedom7. Freedom/Anti-Social
While studies show that looking at pictures of kittens increases your productivity, wasting your day on the internet probably doesn’t. Freedom will lock you out of the internet for a designated period of time.5 The only way to get your connection back is to reset your computer, which is enough of a pain in the arse that you probably won’t do it. If you really do need the internet (e.g. for research) you can use Anti-Social instead, which only locks you out of particularly distracting sites. 

coach me8. Coach.me
Coach.Me is a motivation app for building good habits. You set up a checklist of things you want to do on a regular basis, and tick them off daily. I used it to get over my lifelong habit of biting my nails, to start brushing my teeth after lunch at work, and, during writing periods, to commit myself to X pomodoros a day. Not especially sexy, but eminently practical.

9. A clipboard manager
Modern academic writing involves as much copying and pasting as it does scribbling or typing, yet most of us still make do with the one-shot copy and paste feature built into our computers. I do not say this lightly, but a clipboard manager will change your life. The main advantage is the ability to copy more than one item for pasting later (if you’ve ever copied something only to forget to paste it and remember an hour later, you will understand the importance of this simple extension), but most of them have other handy features too. I swear by Copy’em Paste – while the $15 price tag might seem steep, it is pretty reasonable for an app that I use unthinkingly hundreds of times per day. 

10. An external hard drive/Dropbox/Drive/Crashplan
Computers die, so you should back up regularlymore or less constantlyas if your life depends on it. Invest in a decent external hard drive and make use of the backup software on your computer. Hard drives also die, so sign up for an online file storage service and put an extra copy your most important files in there too. I use Apple’s Time Machine to back up everything to an external drive (a recurring task in Trello nudges me to do this weekly), and I copy all my essential documents to dropbox as well. Better safe than sorry.

Already using these tools? What has your experience been? Did I miss something? Comment below or tweet @AcademiaObscura.

 

  1. Does footnoting ever not seem like a chore?
  2. When a task is done I drag it here – I could just delete it, but I find dropping something into the done list seriously gratifying
  3. To distinguish this from unsolicited emails, i.e. spam, the tech community coined the term “Bacn” to describe “email you want but not right now”
  4. Be careful though: it doesn’t actually unsubscribe you, it just funnels the messages away from your inbox, never to be seen again. This could be problematic if you stop using Unroll.me later and find a sudden influx of all this junk you thought you were rid of. Caveat emptor my friends.
  5. Yes, it is a damning indictment of our culture that ‘Freedom’ means turning off the internet so you can get more work done. Don’t hate the player…

11 Essential Hashtags for Academics

Academic twitterJust over a year ago I began tweeting as @AcademiaObscura, and in that time I have converted from a twitter sceptic to a fervent advocate. Twitter, and other social media tools, can be invaluable for connecting with others in your field, disseminating your work, and keeping up-to-date with the latest research and news. Indeed, once you are past the hump, Twitter becomes useful for all sorts of things. If you are new to Twitter I highly recommend the Thesis Whisperer’s explanation here (scroll down a little to the using twitter section) and LSE’s guide.

Hashtags are a great way to follow specific discussions, and a number have become staples of the academic twittersphere (side note: I use Tweetdeck to follow numerous hashtags simultaneously – intro here). This list is an attempt to introduce the essentials. Special thanks to Raul Pacheco-Vega, whose extremely useful post provided the basis and inspiration for this.

1. #PhDchat
The hashtag for all things PhD, PhDchat is a staple of academic Twitter, having been initially started all the way back in December 2009 by Nasima Riazat (@NSRiazat). A great place to discuss your research progress, get tips and tricks, share experiences etc. Structured sessions are also hosted:

  • UK/Europe: Wednesday nights, 7.30pm-8.30pm GMT (hosted by Nasima herself)
  • Australia: usually the first Wednesday each month, 7pm-8pm Sydney time (hosted by Inger Mewburn – @thesiswhisperer)

More: There is a satisfyingly geeky analysis of the #PhDchat community here.

2. #ECRchat/#AdjunctChat
As above, but specifically for ‘Early Career Researchers’ (ECR) and adjuncts.

3. #AltAc/#PostAc/#WithAPhD
A trio of useful hashtags for those trying to find alternative academic paths, get out of academia altogether, or figure out what to do with a PhD. Jennifer Polk (@FromPhDToLife) is your go-to person on all of these!

600_3663352324. #shutupandwrite
‘Shut Up and Write’, aside from being a great mantra in general, is the name for informal writing groups convened the world over. I guarantee that attending such a group will be the best decision you ever make in terms of writing productivity. But if there isn’t a group near you (and you don’t have the inclination to start one) you can join one virtually through twitter! They take place on the 1st & 3rd Tuesday each month (#suwtues):

5. #AcWri
AcWri, short for ‘academic writing’ is a great place to find helpful tips, motivational tidbits, and articles about the writing process itself.

6. #ICanHazPdf
Have you ever gone to download that crucial paper you need only to find that it is behind a paywall? If your institutional subscriptions don’t cover what you are looking for, simply tweet the details of the paper along with the hashtag and an email address. Usually someone will come through with the paper pretty quickly. Don’t forget to delete your tweet after!

More: Check out some interesting analysis of #ICanHazPdf here and here, and critical discussions here and here.

7. #ScholarSunday
There is a tradition on Twitter of doing #FollowFriday (or #ff) for short – sending a tweet with a few names of people you recommend to others. Raul Pacheco-Vega created Scholar Sunday to go a step further, calling on academics to share not only who they recommend, but also why.

More: discussion from the hashtags creator.

8. #AcaDowntime
Amongst all the writing, teaching, and general stress of academic life, it is more important than ever to set aside for rest and relaxation. #AcaDowntime calls for academics to share what fun things they are up to on their weekends and in their free time. Hopefully we can foster a culture of work-life balance and encourage us all to take time for ourselves.

More: I asked academics what they do in their ‘free’ time. Here’s what they said. Also read “The Workaholic and Academia: in defense of #AcaDowntime

9. Whatever is used in your field
There are many subject-specific hashtags: #twitterstorians, #realtimechem, #TrilobyteTuesday#archaeology#gistribe#runology (for the study of runes, not running)… Poke around a bit and you are bound to find something to take your fancy!

(Just for fun)

10. #AcademicsWithCats Are you an academic? Do you have a cat? Then this hashtag is for you. All the cute cats and kittens you could ever need, often in academic settings.  

More: A day in the life of an academic, with cats; The first annual Academics with Cats Awards.

11. #AcademicsWithBeer If you don’t have a cat but you do love beer, this one’s for you! We have Elena Milani (@biomug) to thank for this recent edition.

More: Read the call to arms (The King’s Arms, that is).

Did I miss anything? What are your favorites? Please post a comment or tweet me @AcademiaObscura. Happy tweeting!

The Workaholic and Academia: in defense of #AcaDowntime

Gemma Aherne is a PhD candidate at Leeds Beckett University. She originally posted this piece on her blog following a debate about #AcaDowntime on twitter. It is reposted here with permission. You can follow Gemma on twitter @princessjack.

palm

In 2012 my husband was in Intensive Care, or ICU as we like to call it in the UK. I was told he would most likely die. It was traumatic. My husband spent 3 weeks in an induced coma. It was terrifying. When he woke up still worrying about work more than his near-death predicament, a very wise nurse told him “There ain’t no pockets in a shroud”.

I can tell you there aren’t any publications either. Or titles. Or accolades.

I’m sure we have all had these moments. Losing loved ones, facing severe ill health, caring for ill relatives or friends. And we all see what matters in life is our health and wellbeing, and that of those we care about.

Yet in academia, workaholism is rife. It is normalised and dare I say it revered. If you loved your work enough you would answer emails whilst on annual leave/ at a funeral/ on maternity leave/ sick in hospital. You love your work, so why not do it 7 days a week?

Academia offers flexibility in working hours, which is why it appeals to me. But sadly flexibility often is often translated as available at all hours and working constantly. I’m here as an early career researcher to say no. If this is what academia is, I don’t want it. I love my work, I am so grateful to get paid work that I feel passionate about. But I am entitled to a life outside of it. We all are.

Spending time with your loved ones is not a privilege. Never let people tell you it is. Taking time out to rest, or watch Netflix, or read fiction, or watch films with your kids, or play with your pets, this is not a luxury. It keeps you well. Visiting your elderly relative in hospital, not a privilege. Seeing your old neighbour in a care home rather than taking on yet more additional work, not a privilege.

Not rushing back to work after a painful hospital appointment or upsetting health session, not a privilege. It’s called looking after yourself. I spent my time in 1st year trying to work the day after 2 operations, during my husband being re-admitted to hospital and the day my mum told me she was ill. Utter nonsense! Why? Because I felt guilty for a second off. Guilt and fear that I wouldn’t catch back up.

I wrote about self-care and the Ph.D here and I wrote about the trauma of research here. I have written on Happy Ph.D and M.E here, and blogging with health problems here.

Today I am working on a rare Sunday. Why? Because I am visiting 2 babies tomorrow on Monday afternoon. Since Christmas I have limited my working hours. I am more productive as a result, healthier, happier, and all my relationships have improved. I am a workaholic by nature, it’s anxiety for me and having health issues that I have to pace and deal with. But at Christmas when I felt guilty for having time off, I said no more. Friends on minimum wage didn’t feel guilty for taking time off. They felt lucky if they were able to take some time off, but not guilty. Why is it that guilt is so common place in academia?

I now do 40 hours a week. In marking season I will do more, or if I get a wave of energy for writing a chapter I will binge. But I take days off. Weekends off. I make plans. I enjoy my life outside of academia. I took my first holiday abroad in years in June. It was glorious. And that’s ok. It doesn’t make one less committed.

Today I see the #AcaDowntime hashtag. How good I thought! Let’s challenge current working expectations. It is not privilege to have rest time. Yes, we have times in our life where we are juggling jobs working all the hours we can to survive, but let’s call that out. Let’s not compound it as legitimate. It’s not showing off to join in with the hashtag, it’s challenging the dominant narrative that we must live to work.

Recently I read this For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University. Number 10 in the paper stood out to me:

Reach for the minimum (i.e. good enough is the new perfect). Rather than getting caught up in measuring worth by the number of peer-reviewed journal articles published or grant dollars procured, reach instead for the minimum numbers necessary to achieve important benchmarks (such as tenure and promotion). Reaching for the minimum allows for a focus on quality – rather than quantity – and acknowledges the need for balance. Imagine, too, an alternate CV or annual report with all of the other items of life included: relationships tended to, illnesses overcome, loved ones cared for, hobbies cultivated. Be unwilling to be undermined or belittled for not conforming to hegemonic agendas that are devoid of the responsibilities and joys of life beyond the ivory tower.

The authors continue:

Slowing down involves resisting neoliberal regimes of harried time by working with care while also caring for ourselves and others.

A feminist mode of slow scholarship works for deep reflexive thought, engaged research, joy in writing and working with concepts and ideas driven by our passions. As a feminist intervention, slow scholarship enables a feminist ethics of care that allows us to claim some time as our own, build shared time into everyday life, and help buffer each other from unrealistic and counterproductive norms that have become standard expectations. Slow scholarship has value in itself, in the quality of research and writing produced, and also enables us to create a humane and sustainable work environment and professional community that allows more of us to thrive within academia and beyond.

This all day long. Our colleagues and friends who are mothers shouldn’t be answering work related emails on maternity leave, or feeling their part-time position upon their return means they don’t care enough, or they are lacking. Our colleagues with health issues, or caring for family or friends with issues, should not feel they have to choose between some respite, however short, or doing the obligated extras.

Academia actively promotes workaholism and that’s wrong. We need to look after our health.

I love my research, I feel lucky that this is my job. And thus it is easy to get sucked into working non-stop. But I have other commitments and things that need tending to in my life. If I have to choose between extra work and my loved ones, or resting up, or enjoying a hobby outside of my job, I am going to pick the latter. Not because I am not committed enough but because that’s what keeps me well.

I love the fact that in the Psychology department of my university there are a wonderful bunch of critical feminist researchers. They don’t email outside of 8-6 Mon to Fri. They actively encourage life outside the academy. And they are successful, kind, caring, and bloody brilliant.

We need to work and we want to make a difference in the lives of marginalized groups. We are very lucky to have this opportunity. But let’s remember that to carve out time for ourselves, or to opt for a radically different format of working, is not selfish or lazy, it’s absolutely necessary.

I shall follow and support #AcaDowntime. And tomorrow I shall look forward to meeting those two babies.

Academia: Survival of the Bitterest?

t4_-1069229323Jan Klimas is a scientist, artist, thinker and writer who’s interested in communicating with the public and using art to blend boundaries between the two disciplines. Check out his blog, and follow him on twitter @janklimas.

 

In dance, I call it Survival of the Bitterest. The choreographers who stick around are often the ones most comfortable feeling bitter and resentful. My artistic mentors were brilliant artists. But I do not want to live the lives they led.

Andrew Simonet

choreography-Amy-Siewert

Academia: a bitter dance for survival (Photo: David DeSilva)

What do dance and science have in common? What makes a successful choreographer or scientist? In this post, I speculate about the bitterness of the academic dance for survival. The academic competition is cruel and uneven. The fittest may not survive, but the bitterest thrive.

Before we dive deep into the murky academic waters, let’s define our objectives. Is survival worth the fight? Is it really a fight, or just a game? Survival is “a natural process resulting in the evolution of organisms best adapted to the environment” – academics would give anything to be the most evolved and the best adapted.

We strive to get tenure. Other occupations call it a permanent job. Few make it and most have to fulfill harsh criteria to keep their tenure, bringing in a lot of research funding, or taking on a heavy teaching load.

monkeys

Source: Oui Stock Images

Papers are the currency of our world. The one who has the most is the richest. Because money follows money, the more articles an academic co-authors, the higher her chances of getting more money (i.e., more research grants). Like tokens of appreciation, authorships on papers are gifts that some scientists give to each other as a gesture of appreciation, friendship or a promise of a future token. Agencies give grants to people with most of these tokens. Journal editors publish their friends’ work.

In such a system, the most published may not be the best; instead they are the most popular or they know how to play the system. In such a system, novice scientists’ willingness to park their writing integrity is challenged. Some may find refuge in writing non-academic literature, but for most, the peer-reviewed “romance” pays the mortgage.

Some big research centres are like fiction factories. They pay people to write articles; the purpose of those articles is to bring in more cash. Fiction factories operate like famous brands, where the name of a famous academic becomes a brand instead of signifying who wrote the paper. James Patterson, for example, “heralded as the world’s best paid writer, is the world’s most successful fiction factory,” writes Michelle Demers. Just like Patterson, the chief scientist comes at the end of writing, puts a few finishing touches and their names on the final product.

The road to tenure is paved with the PhD students that an academic supervises. This inflates the need for scientifically-trained workforce whereas the sole purpose of taking on a PhD student is, in many cases, to get the professor closer to the tenure. We don’t need so many PhDs. “PhD ‘overproduction’ is not new and faculty retirements won’t solve it,” writes Melonie Fullick in her speculative diction at University Affairs, “Yet somehow no matter how many PhDs enroll and graduate, academic careers are the goal.”

Overproduction-dependent career progression and dubious writing practices are only two of the many symptoms of a sick system. The best way to navigate such an unhealthy organised science is to bring both passion and dispassion to the task. Build up a dispassionate, bulletproof shield of resilience, unless you are willing to get sick yourself.

Some are born resilient. But for most, it takes years to become hardy. Much like Erickson’s stages of psychosocial development, resilience grows in stages. A crisis happens at each stage of development. A developmental task must be fulfilled for progress into the next stage. The infant learns hope by resolving the trust vs. mistrust crisis. A young adult breaks through the isolation, discovers intimacy and acquires love.

My own anecdotal evidence suggests the following developmental stages of early academic career: i) solitude, ii) despair, iii) good science/bad science, iv) fear and loathing, and v) workaholism. Getting through these stages takes you pretty far on the bitter road, but get ready to be the bitterest if you want to stick around.

Stages of development

  • Solitude: For the extroverts, this stage is excruciating. As they focus on the work, their social networks suffer. The computer becomes their best friend. Introverts find working alone easier, but it can be hard at the start. The junior scientist embraces loneliness in exchange for better concentration.
  • Despair: Some come into academia with genuine prosocial intentions. When they hit the brick wall of loneliness and parked integrity, they collapse. Too much science is done only for the sake of science and for personal interest. Finding the right balance between the need for helping others and promoting oneself moves the young scientist to the next stage.
  • Good science vs. bad science: OK, so if I can’t change the world through science, let’s just do it right so that the bad guys don’t win. Unlike fairy tales, the good scientists don’t always win. Bad science informs policy. Bad science receives funding. The fight for good science is endless. New researchers must decide which side of the battle they join.
  • Fear and loathing: power and control, greed and envy are common in academia. Fear is a natural reaction of junior scientists towards the loathsome deeds of some senior scientists. Scientists are humans too. They err. Some err too much and don’t acknowledge their mistakes. It is up to the junior scientists then to stay or to leave the kitchen if they can’t stand the heat. Learning to detach resolves this developmental conflict.
  • Workaholism: The balance is not static. It changes all the time. Latch on to the dynamic, forget about the static. The early-career scholar’s task is to make a healthy lifestyle their number one work tool.

The path to academic success is rough and bitter. Bitterness is the key to survival, but happiness lies in enjoying the journey, rather than focusing on the bitter end.