Sonya’s latest blog post on self-censorship has stuck with me since. Specifically, she pondered why she fails to include her own published research as assigned readings in her classes — classes that overlap with her research! I already know why I do not include my (admittedly) few articles. I do not want to appear arrogant before my students. And, I would like to think that the readings, which often reflect others’ voices in the form of narrative or autobiography, provide other perspectives that complement that which I provide in lecture.
But, Sonya’s post also forced me to acknowledge that I fail to include my own expertise because I do not feel like an expert. Sure, exclusively assigning your book as the class’s text might seem suspect. But, as Sonya pointed out, our students may be wondering what kind of research we do. And, more importantly, besides preparing lectures, what do we really know and think about the topic? (I can vouch for students wanting to know — but what do you think?)
On Self-Promotion For Marginalized Scholars
I will let you in on a little secret. Self-promotion is a required skill in academia — and, other professions, too! One’s status and individual success serve as two primary measure of one’s professional worth. If, like me, you have made peace with not participating in the status game, you should probably also make peace with being dismissed by those who do. Unfortunately, it seems impossible to actually survive professionally, let alone excel, without the occasional self-promotion. And, a scholar’s own efforts to promote her work (and herself) influence the efforts of her network to promote her. (Are we ready to stop pretending academia is a meritocratic profession?)
What is more unfortunate, though, is that many marginalized scholars struggle to self-promote. At the starting point, many of us are simply trying to overcome impostor syndrome — the sense that we are not good enough, that we do not belong, that we will be discovered as frauds and forced to leave. So, a rather low-level of self-promotion would just get us to the point of feeling like we even belong in the first place. The other constraint, in my mind, is a fear of being dismissed as arrogant. Women, for example, face gendered expectations regarding professional (and really any) interactions that place a low threshold for too much self-promotion — we all know what women are called when they “forget their place.”
Since I cannot escape my mathematic roots (science and technology high school program to almost majoring in math in college), something like the following hypothetical graph comes to mind:
Above, I have envisioned a range of visibility in academia — one’s department, university, subfield, and/or discipline — from “who the hell is that?” to “everyone knows that pompous asshole.” (Note, again, these are make-believe data!) Accounting for internal factors (self-doubt, impostor syndrome, alienation) and external factors (prejudice and discrimination), I have placed marginalized scholars at a negligible level of self-promotion in the negative. You know — feeling and actually being invisible. Even at low, medium, and high levels of self-promotion, I suggest that these factors still create a disparity between privileged and marginalized scholars. And, you can probably switch out visibility for any other valued attribute or desired outcome in academia (e.g., authority, respect, status).
My point here is to emphasize that we (marginalized scholars) cannot afford not to self-promote. But, many of us experience fear in doing so because we worry about being labeled arrogant — maybe even “uppity.” So, we uncomfortably bob between invisibility and just enough visibility to survive in our profession. We fear just being present in academia is already asking a lot, so we avoid rocking the boat politically or through critical scholarship. Maybe we will feel safer and more confident once we get that job, tenure, that promotion, that publication, that… whatever validation from our profession. But, the thing is, it takes self-promotion to achieve them!
In 2014, Promote Yourself
Sure, as I write this, I feel the self-doubt creeping in. I want to preface this by noting my lack of experience, my young age, maybe even my naivete. No. If this is a crock of shit, it is a crock you sought out on this blog, having read all the way to this point in the post. I am not going to apologize for encouraging my colleagues to be better in their jobs, to feel better in their jobs. You’re welcome. But, I digress.
I like to set resolutions for the new year. And, every three years, I set 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year goals, to which I return to see what I have accomplished. One of them for 2014 (and beyond) will be to become more comfortable with self-promotion.
Here are the specifics I have in mind:
- Set as a rule the inclusion of one of my publications as an assigned reading in my courses — if it is relevant, if it is an exemplar article or at least a useful example on a topic. I set as my arrogance threshold any effort to alter the overall course organization or content just to include my own research. That is, I refuse to start with my research as the foundation of a course, and then build around it. Rather, if there is space, I will own that my expertise is relevant. Letting self-doubt and impostor syndrome win is both bad science and bad pedagogy!
- Stop second-guessing why I receive invitations to speak at conferences, on panels, to give talks, to submit articles, etc. As status-driven as our profession is, I am lucky to receive these acknowledgements of my good work. I should think about the number of invitations I don’t receive because others have dismissed me because of my personal identities, or presumed inexperience, or outspokenness, or the subject of my research, or my job at a liberal arts university.
- Stop living in fear for the work that I do (including this blog!). Clearly, I am doing something right (i.e., I still have a job!). And, I pride myself on being just as safe, reflective, and cautious as I am provocative and outspoken. I am hardly reckless (here, rejecting conformity, silence, and assimilation as “safe” approaches). So, it is time to live up to my declaration to work toward tenure without losing my soul.
- Continue to promote the excellent work of my colleagues and fellow marginalized scholars. Sure, a part of me does this because I hope for that favor in kind. Selfishness aside, I advocate for making academia a supportive community; in my mind, this includes regularly supporting and promoting others. While individualism and competition may effectively motivate scholars, it also seems to hinder knowledge production because scholars are not building together. So, specifically, I will continue to cite and promote the great work of people in my network — publications, pedagogical tools, blog posts, and other intellectual efforts.
- Celebrate my accomplishments, big and small. As I noted in an earlier blog post, one factor that has been driving my impostor syndrome in 2013 is failing to properly celebrate all that I had accomplished. I finished my dissertation, earned my PhD, started my tenure-track job, and sent out a few articles for review (including one which was conditionally accepted). Besides a dinner with my family after graduation in May, I never took the time to celebrate. How can you feel accomplished, successful, efficacious, and powerful if you fail to reflect on what you have achieved? So, no more of that. I allowed the taken-for-grantedness of academic milestones push me past celebrating every little victory, like surviving the semester, submitting a paper for review, receiving an invitation to speak. I can scale back on the celebrations when they become too frequent!
So, who’s with me for a little self-promotion in 2014?