I Don’t Know If I Want To Be A Professor Anymore (Pt. III)

Photo by Erik Mayes

Photo by Erik Mayes

This is Part III of my four-part series, “I Don’t Know If I Want To Be A Professor Anymore” (see Part I and Part II). With all the processing I’d done to reach the point where I felt somewhat comfortable stating “I don’t know if I want to be a professor anymore,” and all of the specific ways in which my field can accommodate alt-ac work, I set out to try on this new identity at a conference.

Luckily, I picked a pretty fitting conference at which to do so: the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA). Since I got roped into going by a bunch of fellow grad students at Indiana University a number of years ago, I’ve been a regular attendee at this conference on sci-fi, fantasy, horror, comics, film, fandom, the visual arts, and practically any other aspects of the fantastic mode that exists. And it’s truly an international conference; I see some of my favorite Scandinavians there.

In addition to ICFA being a conference where I feel as though I’m coming home each year I attend, it’s particularly well-suited to these kinds of post-ac/alt-ac conversations. While it’s an academic conference, wherein presentation submissions are refereed before being admitted, it’s not just professors and grad students in attendance. Many of the presenters are alt-ac in some sense, whether they’re trained in a different field than the conference theme, or actually employed outside the academia but attending to do the scholarship they love. The fields of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror studies are interdisciplinary, and have always had elements of a fan participation. And at ICFA, we have a number of guest artists, authors, and editors in attendance. Their presence as participants in the media we study makes for rich and lively discussions, as well as a conference program that includes more than just scholarly presentations. I got to meet author China Miéville and ask him about how he incorporates folklore in his writing, for instance, which was wonderful and fascinating.

I decided that ICFA was the perfect place for a soft coming-out for two reasons: I’m comfortable there, having attended for nearly a decade and built so many friendships and collegial relationships there, and it’s already a mixed group of academics in varying relationships to institutions as well as non-academics. That, and the processing of my academic angst had reached critical mass by the time the conference occurred, and I really wanted to talk to people about it. I felt ready to start moving in a new direction or three, and I needed to know whether all of my colleagues would suddenly hate me. The fact that fantasy studies isn’t my main field, though it overlaps with folklore studies in some areas, particularly areas in which I work, would also soften the blow if things went poorly.

Upon arriving at ICFA this past March, I told everyone whom I talked to that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a professor anymore. Depending on how long I’d known someone, and whether it was looking to be a brief “get to know you” conversation or a “let’s talk for ages” conversation, I went into varying amounts of detail about my reasons for reaching this decision. I outlined some of my plans for the future and asked for feedback where appropriate.

The experience was wonderful overall. Everyone was very supportive and encouraging. Most of the folks I talked to knew of the troubles with the academic job market, and it was interesting comparing notes with my colleagues from other countries. I had to fill them in on some of the specifics of our job market and, in turn, I got to learn about some of the reasons things are difficult in other places.

No one berated me for my choices or my experiences. But, I did get a few of those annoying “just hang in there” talks, which I guess are meant to be helpful, but miss the point that one can only “hang in” so much when one is struggling on various levels, including emotional and financial.

I found a lot of solidarity with people who are in similarly liminal situations, regardless of whether they had an academic career in mind. For instance, I talked to Kathryn Allen, who blogs at Bleeding Chrome (check out this great post on embracing ambition after a PhD), and she was really understanding and wonderful when listening to me rant about my career-shift ideas. And there are others whom I won’t name because not everyone’s out about their various career moves… but you all are awesome. Our poolside chats and discussions over drinks made me feel accepted, loved, and as though I am not alone in this struggle.

Getting to “try on” the new identity of post/alt/whatever-ac was a transformative experience for me. It demonstrated that people whose ideas and work that I respect still find value in me even when I am distancing myself from the institution and career that we’re all indoctrinated to venerate above all else. My precarity wasn’t seen as a personal failing, nor as a factor in evaluating the worth of my ideas.

I was a bit worried about whether I’d get very emotional about this topic (since my career angst has been tugging at my heart for a couple of years now), but things went pretty smoothly during the conference. I might’ve also been envisioning my time at ICFA as though I were playing a new character in a role-playing game, but that’s not terribly out there given the content of the conference. So I’ll go ahead and call it a success. (of course, it helped that I had a successful conference on a professional level, too, receiving many compliments on the research I presented and chairing a session that went wonderfully)

Tune in next week for the final post in this blog post series, which will address the “what now?” of coming to terms with the “I don’t know if I want to be a professor anymore” experience.

Advice On Surviving Conferences From Dr. Wendy M. Christensen

Wendy ChristensenDr. Wendy M. Christensen is an Assistant Professor at William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ.  Her research focuses on how inequality shapes political participation.  In her free time she loves reading feminist theory and mysteries (and feminist mysteries!), running, and drinking beer.  You can learn more about Dr. Christensen on her website and on Twitter at @wendyphd

How To Survive Academic Conferences

Suddenly it’s August and the American Sociological Association (ASA) annual meeting is right around the corner! That means I need to prepare physically and mentally for the whirlwind of activity and socializing ahead!

I attended my first academic conference during my first year in graduate school. I decided to take advice about networking very seriously. I decided to go to the ASA meeting. I’ll admit that I was beyond miserable at that first conference. I only knew a few people in my department, and even fewer of the people from my school in attendance. I roomed with older grad students who were too far out of my own area of interest to introduce me around. Out of the 5,000+ people there, I felt as though I didn’t know a single person. I wandered around for days without any familiar contact. It was pretty terrible and mentally exhausting. I’m surprised that I actually stayed in academia after that.

Since then, I’ve been to dozens of conferences. And with some reservations, I actually love them. Conferences are still stressful and exhausting, but they also serve as a reminder of the excitement that I have for my discipline. And conferences give me a chance to see a lot of the wonderful friends I’ve made over the years at conferences—the result of successful networking! And now that I’m out of grad school, conferences give me a chance to see my grad school friends and mentors.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years about attending conferences without losing my mind.

  • Think small. If you’re at a huge conference like ASA, try to attend a smaller conference happening at the same time (SSSP, ABS, SWS). A lot of smaller organizations run their meetings concurrently, either in the same hotel or in the same area. They might have their own receptions, workshops, and hospitality suites. It’s a lot easier to get to know a smaller group of people. And if they’re people who are either similar to you (SWS feminists!), or who study the same thing you do, it will feel much more familiar and give you more to connect over.
  • Try not to be afraid to meet new people. It’s easy to sit in a ton of sessions and never meet anyone as panels and lectures are not very interactive. Attend some informal events like workshops and interest-meetings (focused around students, for example) where you’re likely to talk to people. Try to find a buddy and go to some of the section receptions together. Don’t be afraid of meeting scholars whose work you know, either. If you’re feeling shy, ask a professor or mutual friend to introduce you. I scan the program for scholars whose work I use and then attend their sessions. I make sure to go up and meet them afterwards and I’ve found people are usually always gracious and friendly in these circumstances.
  • Don’t be upset if people you know ignore you. If someone from your department blows past you without acknowledging your attempt at a “hello,” don’t take it personally. It’s not you. They’re trying to juggle presentations, meetings, workshops and all sorts of other stuff on bad hotel coffee. Unless they’re really rude (which I guess might be the case in some situations), just assume they’re busy and try to grab them again when they look less busy. Keep in mind that people, even those who have been to tons of conferences, are probably just as stressed out about them as you are.
  • Take advantage of hospitality suites, media centers, wifi spaces etc. to hang out and work at during the conference. These are great places to catch your breath and meet new people. And they often have free coffee and snacks!
  • Select roommates wisely. It’s great to save money by rooming with a bunch of people. I always do this at SWS conferences, which I think of as a big feminist slumber party. I’ve actually met bedmates in the middle of the night when they got into bed with me (hey, don’t get the wrong idea, folks)! But it’s also nice to room alone sometimes, if you can swing it financially. For the upcoming conference I found an AirBnB boutique hotel room for the same price that I would have paid sharing a room at the conference hotel. It’s a couple blocks away, and it’s good for me to be able to escape the crazy activity of the conference when I need to.
  • If it’s going to be a really busy conference map out your schedule ahead of time. I use the color-coding function in my calendar to note which events are mandatory (e.g., a meeting I’m running, my own presentation) and which events are optional. That way, if I decide to wander around the book fair longer than I planned, it’s clear to me at a glance that I’m not missing something important.
  • Be selective about the sessions you attend. I spent a few years of meetings going to sessions because they sounded interesting and I ended up bored more times than not. Maybe I’ve had bad luck, but I find a lot of presenters don’t prepare and do little to try to make their talk interesting. To avoid getting stuck in a snooze-fest I do a couple things:
    • I search the program ahead of time for names of people whose work I know and make it a point to go to their sessions.
    • If I do try an unknown session, I sit in the back so I can duck out, if it’s not what I thought. I only duck out between papers, though, not during someone’s presentation. Don’t be rude.
  • If you’re presenting, think about your presentation like teaching. I’ve seen some truly terrible presentations (and some really fantastic ones). There is already lots of advice out there on this, and there are some disciplinary differences (I guess in History they read their papers– I can’t imagine what that’s like). I would stress these:
    • For the love of Karl Marx, do not read your paper. Please. I don’t care how entertaining you think your voice is. It’s not.
    • Do use visual, selective, and appropriate PowerPoint. Pictures! Graphics! Short videos! Stand out!
    • If you use PowerPoint, bring it on a flash drive, email it to yourself, and try it out ahead of time to make sure there are not technical issues.
    • Do not cram 8 million words onto your slides. Do not use small fonts. The same goes with tables.
    • Do not spend more than a few slides or 3-4 minutes (in a 15 minute presentation) getting to your data and findings!
    • No surprise endings. Walk your audience through your argument, but tell them where they’re heading up front.
  • Do some serious networking! Meeting people and networking really are the most important part of conferences. Yes, it happens at sessions, in the halls, and at receptions. But you know where it really happens? Over drinks (coffee or alcohol). In bars, over dinner, out, late after the conference ends. “Networking” = drinking. Have a drink. Bond with people. Dance. Laugh. Make friends. BUT:
    • Don’t get drunk. This isn’t a night at your apartment playing Apples to Apples with your best friends.
    • Don’t bitch about anyone. We all need to vent about professors, colleagues, students, department chairs. etc. But, everyone in academia knows everyone. This is not an exaggeration. You never know who is at the next table. Never bitch about someone using names or other identifiers. Basically don’t ever say anything you wouldn’t say in a mixed-department function anyway. Just be smart about it.
  • Do something local. After going to great new cities where I never left the hotel, I try to always do one thing that’s local – try a local restaurant, explore an interesting neighborhood, or go to a museum. I’ll at least take an afternoon, or an extra day to explore. As a result, I’ve been to plantations, historic attractions, museums, swamps, canyons, ghost towns, markets, and landmarks that I might have never gone to otherwise. It’s definitely worth it and makes the conference experience much more fun!

That’s it! What are your tips for surviving ASA? And if you see me at the conference, say hello!

My Interview On Social Media Use And The Academic Job Market

In the winter issue of the newsletter of the Medical Sociology section of the American Sociological Association, you will find an interview by UGA sociology PhD student Jessica Seberger with me on social media use and the academic job market.  Jessica, as the Student Newsletter Editor, has been interviewing recent PhDs about their experiences on the job market and in the early part of their career in academia, with a particular focus on using social media for research, teaching, and service.  I was honored to be her latest interviewee!

You can see the full newsletter [download PDF] or just the interview below.


For my stint as student editor I want to explore how recent PhDs found and secured positions within or outside of academia and how sociologists (with a focus on medical sociologists) connect to others through technology. I intend to explore discussion with sociologists who communicate extensively through Twitter, those who use groups on Facebook as a resource for classroom material, those who have and  maintain personal/professional blogs, and those who contribute op-ed pieces to major news outlets.

For this edition of the newsletter I interviewed Dr. Eric Grollman. Dr. Grollman recently received his PhD from Indiana University and has secured a tenure-track position at the University of Richmond. Dr. Grollman’s research examines the impact that prejudice and discrimination has on marginalized groups’ health, well -being, and world views. Within the last year he has also restarted a blog he started in graduate school. That blog, ConditionallyAccepted.com, provides a space for scholars who exist at the margins of academia. In the following interview we discuss his new position, his blog, and social media use by sociologists in academia.

JS: You’ve recently joined the University of Richmond as tenure-track professor. What made this position a good fit for you? How was your transition from graduate school to assistant professor?

Dr. Grollman: What I was looking for, on the job market, was a place where a good balance between personal life and professional life was possible. I’d heard this was more doable at a liberal arts institution. I also really wanted to work at a place where there was an acknowledged synergy between doing research and teaching. When I interviewed at the University of Richmond one of the professors whom I met with mentioned that they focused on this synergy, and I was drawn to that. I expected my transition to professor to be a bumpy transition, but making the switch from graduate student to professor isn’t as automatic as you’d expect. I also had plans to be politically neutral my first year but there were a couple of times where I stepped on political landmines that I didn’t know about and I had to deal with the consequences of that. So I was hoping to quietly focus on my work and establish myself but there was still political stuff that I found myself bumping up against.

JS: In the last year you’ve restarted a blog you started as a graduate student. What inspired you to start the blog? Could you tell me a bit about it?

Dr. Grollman: I wanted to play it safe while on the job market so I censored my online social media accounts while on the job market but that self-censorship took a toll. At some point I thought to myself, “I can’t do this anymore,” especially at a time when I was starting to see parts of academia that were really kind of ugly and upsetting [note from JS: see conditionallyaccepted.com for more details]. This was all when I was most socially isolated because I was working on my dissertation. So I started this blog where I planned to write about instances of discrimination and micro-aggressions, while keeping myself anonymous. But, I still felt it was too risky to do this while on the job market, so I deleted the blog. After graduating I still felt like there needed to be some space within academia, particularly for marginalized scholars who face these difficult and unfair experiences. I felt like these experiences needed to be highlighted so people can stop suffering in isolation. I found out later that many of my experiences were common, but I didn’t have those stories accessible to me. I hope that with this blog I can have this space where people are telling these stories, and talking about how they navigated through these experiences so we can make these experiences transparent.

JS: How have others responded to your blog within the field of sociology?

Dr. Grollman: It’s hard to gauge. I keep waiting for the shoe to drop, for someone to say, “Okay, you’re out of here, you’re fired.” So I’m still waiting for that but it hasn’t come yet. Ironically, I came to the University of Richmond thinking that this was a great place for me because no one would give me grief about blogging.  Initially, I still kept it really private, in part so I could gauge the political climate. At colloquy, when new faculty are introduced to the full faculty body, my dean introduced me and said, “Oh, this is Eric Grollman, he’s a new professor of sociology and he blogs, sometimes personal and critical reflections.” My heart dropped because I was being outed in such a big way. I kept waiting to hear if there’d be repercussions to my blogging. So, I asked the chair of my department, “Do you all know that I blog?” and she said, “Of course, it’s so public, everybody knows.” She said that people like it and that it was part of what made me strong as a candidate. That is not what I’m used to. That just reinforced why Richmond is a good place for me. Outside of my institution I have heard good things. A lot of people seem to appreciate it and say, “Oh this is so inspiring, you’re so brave.” So it’s been good overall.

JS: Do you use social media in other ways as a sociologist (for example, in the classroom or at conferences)?

Dr. Grollman: I haven’t figured out how much I want to use it in the classroom and pedagogically. Right now if I want to share links with my students, I’ll show them the link at the start of class. It’s something I’ve been thinking about but I would prefer to do my homework first before I start using it. I do use Twitter to put out teaching questions like, “Hey, people who teach, what would you recommend for ___.” At conferences, sometimes I’ll “live tweet” with other people so others who are not in a session have a record of what was said. Also, using Twitter and other social media has created a nice academic network, even with people I wouldn’t normally connect with at conferences or in person. It has been good in that way, as far as using and sharing resources.

JS: Do you feel compelled to be “on” or professional with your twitter account at all times?

Dr. Grollman: I’ve been trying to figure out what the right balance is. I’ve been feeling too “out there.” I don’t censor myself too much; I post a hybrid of personal and professional on Twitter. It’s just me and what I would say (outside of class). Lately, I’ve been becoming unhappy because sometimes it opens me up to hostility as I become more visible. I’m not really ready to deal with that kind of hostility. We simply don’t have professional norms around how (and whether) to use social media, whether it “counts,” and what protections there are for those who use it.

JS: Some of the topics on your blog are pretty personal. How do you feel about self-disclosure as a sociologist?

Dr. Grollman: I think it’s underrated. My opinion is that our goal seems to be being “objective,” which we know doesn’t exist. In general we seem to discourage using the personal as a perspective, as a support for something. Pedagogically, you can’t ask a human to set aside their humanness to make sense of the social world. If we want to have a conversation about how racism shapes health, it’s unfair and nearly impossible to ask me to set aside my own experiences with racism and my health. (Keep in mind that this is not at the expense of existing research and theory.) Since we don’t put these stories out there, they’re not out there. I think there’s power in telling your personal experience, otherwise we just leave it invisible and pretend that it doesn’t happen. Blogging and Twitter are spaces where I can actually write about my personal experiences. It opens up these new spaces to have these conversations that are for public consumption. My intent is to provoke conversations about these sensitive issues. For example, writing publicly about my struggles with anxiety in graduate school, or experiencing racist hostility from other academics hopefully contributes to a chorus of voices that highlight how pervasive these problems really are.

JS: What advice do you have for graduate students or junior faculty with regards to social media?

Dr. Grollman: I have two bits of advice. The first is to think about the benefits and consequences of using social media. The benefits of it are being open and accessible, inspiring people, or speaking in ways that you can’t in journals or in the classroom. The consequences may be that since it is public, what we do outside of the classroom and in publications may trickle into our colleagues’ evaluations of our work. You have to be comfortable with what you put out there. There are some people who have been harassed, particularly women who blog or are on Twitter, when people don’t agree with what they’re saying. The second piece of advice is to take time to reflect on why you’re using social media. Because we haven’t crystalized its professional value, you have to be intentional and self-directed in deciding why you’re using it and what you want to come from it.

Think Like A Drag Queen


This post is not to be confused with anything related to Steve Harvey’s book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man (or the movie, Think Like A Man).  I know nothing about it, but a quick internet search confirms my suspicion that I am saving myself from a waste of time and anger by avoiding it.

Rather, this is a post about embracing one’s inner confidence in academia. From reading The Ultimate Guide to Grad School Survival by Lesli Mitchell years ago, the one suggestion that sticks out in my memory is to pretend you are a drag queen at academic conferences:

Pretend you’re someone else who has more confidence.  I pretend I’m a drag queen when I do a reading (p. 160).

Mitchell offers this advice to overcome the nervousness and doubt we experience as we prepare for public speaking, particularly presenting at a conference.  Many people experience anxiety about public speaking — not just academics.  In part, this is because we want to do a great job.  But an internal voice (really, a critic) raises concerns that we are not strong enough, prepared enough, or qualified enough.  And, this is compounded by the fear of being negatively evaluated by our audience, and/or that something will go wrong during the talk.

But, because academia is hierarchical and status-obsessed, academics are constantly evaluated.  So, some have an internal critic that is constantly talking, casting doubt on small (e.g., my lecture won’t cover enough material) to big (e.g., I won’t get tenure!) matters.  This is further compounded by prejudice and discrimination in academia, leaving scholars on the margins at risk for a lifelong case of “imposter syndrome,” distress, and even the resultant health problems.

Fake It

There is some great advice out there on overcoming “imposter syndrome,” which I share at the end of the article.  One tip that I like is to “fake it ’til you make it”:

Acting as if I belong will eventually lead to belonging.  Imagining how I would behave if I were not feeling so insecure was useful. I just acted that way until I owned it (I even named my unflappable alter-ego and acted as if I were her. Also, I have a theme song. I don’t know: it just works!) (from gradhacker).

As Megan Fork, a very bright graduate student, pointed out, we can change how we feel internally by making external changes — at least to some extent.  The research of psychologist Dr. Amy Cudy demonstrates that how we hold our body — i.e., postures that signal greater (or lesser) power — alters our internal state (i.e., mood).  Of course, that has external meaning as body language, which signals to others how to perceive and interact with us.

If only it were that simple.  Adding insights from the sociological side of social psychology, we must acknowledge that others may sanction (or reward) our behavior.  Our behaviors, cognitions, and emotions do not exist in a vacuum; they are influenced by various social interactions and processes.  For example, a man standing in a “high-power” pose is accepted without question, yet a woman in the same pose may be dismissed as aggressive, bitchy, or a lesbian (as if these are bad things…).  So, to get ahead, we must think and behave in ways that indicate confidence and authority, but within the allowable limits for our gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, weight, social class, etc.

Think Like A Drag Queen

I really like Lesli Mitchell’s suggestion to pretend one is a drag queen.  And, I would extend this advice beyond conference presentations.  Drag queens are known to be confident, flashy, and provocative.  In a way, they embody stereotypically masculine behaviors — aggression, competition, and sexual prowess — but through feminine expression and attire.  There is an art to the drag queen’s ability to flip the audience’s power via evaluation (e.g., applause, or lack thereof) to her own control over the audience.  Audience members squirm in fear yet desire that drag queens will make jokes at their expense, or pull them into embarrassing interactions during performances.

This may be a useful mentality for academics to embody.  Students are taking your class; they work to make good grades by your standards.  You are offered a job because a university wants you; and, they hope you will do the work necessary to earn tenure and stay for life.  You have been invited to submit an article, present a paper, review others’ work, participate on a panel.  We must resist the easy temptation to live in constant fear of negative evaluations.  Even in the face of negative evaluations, we must recognize our strengths and accomplishments, and contexualize what the “haters” think appropriately (e.g., prejudice, standards that are not transparent, conflicting standards).  Or, take (drag queen superstar) RuPaul‘s perspective — “what other people think of me is none of my business” — at least to the point that you are actually formally evaluated and held accountable.

Make Them Eat It And Gag!

How my advice, to think like a drag queen, differs from the mantra of “fake it til you make it” is the recognition that traditional, mainstream academia does not want us (scholars on the margins), and will employ various strategies to keep us from “making it.”  It has been a long fight to even get through the doors of colleges and universities for women, immigrants, people of color, disabled people/people with disabilities, and people of poor and working-class backgrounds.  The fight to be treated as equals, taken seriously, and be rewarded continues for these groups, as well as people who are trans*, lesbian, bisexual, gay, and fat.

I see the world of drag as communities that have carved out their own spaces, but not with the intention of being accepted into the mainstream.  Drag, by its very nature, is subversive to the values of the heterosexist patriarchal dominant society.  Drag queens, in particular, differ from “female impersonators” because they do not aim to mimic the heterosexist society’s obsession with the gender binary, rather to mock and subvert it.  More specifically, for some queer people of color, there is a recognition that one will never be accepted into the mainstream.  Through the process of disidentification, the queer individual of color resists dominant ideology and embraces a “disempowered politics or positionality that has been rendered unthinkable by the dominant culture” (p. 31, Muñoz).

The gift that marginalized individuals have is the DuBoisian notion of a double consciousness.  By being kept outside of the dominant mainstream, we are in a unique position to better understand it.  Because behaviors and values celebrated by whites are taken for granted, they are unable to grasp a full consciousness of how these acts are socially constructed, reinforced, and performed.  As a person of color, I sometimes feel I understand whiteness and white culture better than white people themselves.  I feel I can effectively convince whites that I am just like them, albeit with brown skin.  But, it takes an additional oppressed status — for example, queer people of color and women of color — to see the trap of tolerance that some singly disadvantaged people fall into.  As white lesbian, gay, and bisexual people celebrate the recent victory in the movement for marriage equality, queer people of color watch with a suspicious eye as the tide reverses on racial justice.

The parallel for scholars on the margins is the ability to clearly observe the values, practices, and structures of academia.  We are the outsiders within.  To be so far removed from it — both by others’ force, and the disjuncture between academic values and those of our communities of origin — allows us to convincingly perform the normative role of “academic.”  We can show them that we came to work, that we are professionals.

But, we also have the alternative path of subverting it.  We can resist the messages that critical methodologies and marginal communities are inferior by recognizing the inherently hierarchical and oppressive natures and histories of those methods and fields that are considered acceptable.  Or, like myself, you can work to build up credibility and resources (former path) that allow you to more freely make changes (latter path).  For, “the haters will read, even if you peed.  You still the ‘T’ — just pose, turn, and flaunt.”  So, “make them eat it and gag.”

Eric | Denise

Eric                                                      Denise

Do It For The Children, Hunty!

Another bit of advice that others have offered is to find support and serve as a mentor.  During my first official week as a professor, I experienced great anxiety about how I presented myself, being taken seriously by my students and colleagues, and that stupid fear of being “found out.”  But, after a great first day in my Gender and Sexuality course, and then seeing two students (from that class) on campus, I was reminded that my agenda as an academic is to create change for and inspire the next generation — particularly those of marginalized backgrounds.  By focusing on myself, my own internal demons, I am taking attention away from offering support to others going through the same thing, and from being a role model.  I do not want to send the message to my students that they, too, can earn a PhD and land a job at a top university… if only they censor themselves and dress just like their privileged peers.  I want them to see a great scholar who is brown, queer, and fabulous.

By prioritizing improving academia, specifically to become a more welcoming, diverse, and socially just place, getting a job, earning tenure, getting published, etc. become means to that end.  I need not stew in my stress and worry about tenure because devoting all available energy just to winning tenure means I am doing nothing to better others’ lives, only serving my own (professional) needs.  And, I am better able to flip the question “do I belong here?” to “does this career/field/university work for my goals and values?”  (Fortunately, the answer is a clear “yes!”)

Seek Professional Help, If Needed

I do not mean to make light of the anxiety and self-doubt that underlies imposter syndrome — I know them all too well to think it a laughing matter.  But, RuPaul’s Drag Race, including RuPaul herself and her queens, have given me life.  After a tough day at work during my grad school days, my escape was the fantasy world of reality show drag realness.  Blogging was a useful escape during the dissertation phase.  Find something that works for you!

And, sometimes the weight of this form of distress is simply too much, too disruptive to our lives.  That is the point at which one should seek professional help.  This is just a job.  There is no reason why we should be suffering with mental health problems.  Frankly, I do not think it is worth it!

Actually, I would say to seek the help of a mental health provider even if the symptoms are mild, or just for regular checkups (the way we do for physical health).  Considering the persistence of the interpersonal and institutional factors that bring this on, there is no reason to feel ashamed or weak that you need to ask for help.  Consider it a long-term investment, so that you do not shorten your lifespan, have to take time off for health reasons, or retire early, or leave academia all together feeling bitter and stressed-out.  As it turns out, we are responsible for our own health and well-being — it is not our jobs’ responsibility (or concern, even).

Other Advice

Advice For Attending Academic Conferences (For Scholars On The Margins)

In the last couple of weeks, I have been seeing tweets and Facebook posts about academic conferences, including some great advice for surviving these events.  From this buzz, I have been reminded of two things. First, despite the negative aspects of my own graduate training (no program is perfect), I sometimes forget that I am fortunate because of the strength of my training relative to others’.  Some academics are given incomplete (if any) training for preparing for, surviving, and benefiting from conferences.  And, related to that, that many academics are kind enough to publicly share such advice, rather than harboring it for their own and their colleagues’/students’ advancement.

Second, much of my networks are made up of academics!  In between FB posts about babies, jury duty, cats, upcoming weddings, and gripes about work, I see my fellow academics getting excited about upcoming conferences, making plans to meet, and asking for preparation tips.  Indeed, the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) kicks off at the end of next week in New York City.

Enough babbling.  Below, I offer links to advice that other academics have already provided.  And, in this spirit of this site’s purpose, I try to tailor the advice for scholars on the margins of academia.

Survival Tips For Scholars On The Margins

While the above advice is useful for any and all academics, we must be honest about the additional concerns and burdens of conferences (and interacting with other scholars in general) for scholars on the margins.  Though we are told that the “imposter syndrome” fades by the end of your first year of graduate school, we are not told that marginalized scholars may experience it and general self-doubt well through their training and even into the tenure-track.  It continues for many because our competence and  authority are regularly questioned by our colleagues and students.

I would say the best kind of advice, at least that I have received, has been placed in the context of my own life.  For example, I devoured every word of The Black Academic’s Guides to Winning Tenure — Without Losing Your Soul by Kerry Ann Rockquemore and Tracey Laszloffy because it presented general advice about being productive and staying healthy, but with explicit consideration of the additional burdens that scholars of color face.  (In addition to the book, I strongly recommend joining the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity.  You’re welcome.)  The American Psychological Association’s Surviving and Thriving in Academia also looks useful, including the rarely discussed “what now?” if one is denied tenure (particularly for women and people of color).    We also need to be honest about the dilemmas trans*, queer, bisexual, lesbian, and gay scholars face, particularly around pressure (from the department, institution, or society in general) to hide one’s gender and/or sexual identity.

Ideally, advice for scholars on the margins of academe (and society in general) are tailored to consider these contexts.  Academia is not immune to the social forces of the world beyond the ivory tower.  Yet, somehow we forget that we, too, are shaped and constrained by the society we live in, and end up giving generic advice to one another and holding each other to identical standards of productivity.  Tailored advice includes acknowledging the aforementioned realities — the external burdens of microaggressions, harassment, stereotyping, disrespect and the internal burdens of self-doubt, mental health problems, and fear — and ways to overcome them.  It includes taking care of yourself and seeking support from others who deal with similar challenges.

And, back to more specific practical advice, you may need to do your homework about meeting your needs during the conference.  Ideally, conferences offer child-care, some aid to those who are low-income or employed, accessible spaces and events, and gender-neutral bathrooms.  You may have to ask other scholars about these services (or making due without them if not available).  Also, schedule in some time to do things to recharge yourself: breaks throughout the day; lunches/dinners with friends; receptions for people from your own background or with similar politics to balance the mixed/”mainstream” events; and, exploring the host city a bit.

What strategies have worked for you?