Advice For Faculty To Track Their Work

shannon craigo-snellNote: this blog post was originally published on our Inside Higher Ed column.  Shannon Craigo-Snell is professor of theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is the author of three books, including The Empty Church: Theater, Theology and Bodily Hope (Oxford University Press, 2016), and numerous articles, essays and chapters. Her latest work, No Innocent Bystanders: Becoming an Ally in the Struggle for Justice (co-authored with Christopher Doucot), will be out later this year.

Advice on Tracking Your Work

It is common in academe for women, people of color and LGBTQ people to end up doing a ridiculous amount of work, much of which goes unnoticed and often counts little toward tenure and promotion.

One of the few Asian-American professors on campus ends up being the de facto adviser for every Asian-American student. A queer professor spends hours doing the emotional work of hearing students in pain regarding their own sexual and gender identities and the anti-LGBTQ bias they experience. And, in what I believe to be one of the legacies of white supremacy in the United States, people of color are given workloads that would be deemed impossible for white professionals. Such structural injustice must be stopped.

In the meantime, as we try to survive, I suggest keeping two documents on your computer that you update regularly: your CV and a list of your work experiences. They should be distinct documents.

Four Steps to Creating a CV

  • Before composing your CV, look at multiple examples from scholars in your field. Many can be easily found online. Examine how different academics organize the material, as well as what kinds of things they list. Make sure to look across institutions. A scholar at a top research institution might not list courses taught, while one at a small liberal arts college might foreground teaching experience. Also, notice how scholars at different levels of experience organize their CVs. Younger professors often include accomplishments that a more experienced academic might omit, such as presiding over a panel at a guild meeting. Find a good model CV that coordinates with your location and level of experience.
  • Write up all of your accomplishments and experiences in the format of your model CV.
  • Once you have laid out your CV, scrutinize, edit and polish it carefully. Pay attention to details, such as punctuation and spacing. Ask friends to go over it and give feedback. Polish it once more.
  • Keep your CV handy on your computer so that you can add to it every time you do something. Do not wait until you are asked to produce a new CV. By then, you might not recall a talk you gave or an event in which you participated. Also, looking back over a well-written CV can help in discerning what your own strengths and passions are as you plan ahead.

Keeping a List of Work Experiences

In a separate document, keep note of every single bit of service work that you do in the academic institutions where you’ve been employed. Every. Single. Bit. I would include:

  • Official work, such as serving on committees. In many institutions, women, queer folks and people of color end up doing significantly more committee work than others. Sometimes this is explicit, such as the dean who unapologetically overworked women, claiming it was imperative to have a woman on every committee. At other times, it is unnoticed. I have a friend who did not realize how many committees she was on because she had never written them down and counted them up. Once she had tallied them, she asked other scholars at her institution and discovered she was serving on many more than they were.
  • Unofficial work. Many types of work never appear on CVs, such as introducing a visiting speaker, unofficially advising students, meeting with student groups that ask for input, attending lunch forums, supervising independent studies and so forth. Women, people of color and LGBTQ people often do a disproportionate amount of such work. Furthermore, this kind of work can easily remain invisible and undervalued. Five different groups might ask for a small effort, each not realizing they are one of many. Nobody else will keep track of this. If you keep a record, you will have documentation to refer to in reviews and negotiations. It can also be helpful backup if you need to decline an assignment.

Finally, a note on discernment. Early in an academic career, scholars are eager for every opportunity to publish, speak at a conference or participate in a project. In the past, that has been an expected pattern through which scholars build a repertoire and body of work to secure their standing in the field. However, for those who are not “likable,” for those who are conditionally accepted, that pattern often fails.

Instead of building a reputation as a solid scholar, academics who do not fit within the dominant culture often end up building an overwhelming load of commitments that, while good in other ways, are not recognized as adding up to scholarly standing. That reflects the increased demands upon these scholars.

Also, traditional academic structures often have no means by which to value the types of work that scholars outside the dominant culture do. For example, when a professor invests hours in an interdisciplinary program or a cultural studies center, people in the department where that person works may not fully value it. They can even view such work as neglecting departmental duties. Similarly, they can portray work that attends to the practical needs of non-dominant communities as not sufficiently scholarly.

You need careful and clear-sighted discernment to determine which commitments are valuable and for what purpose — if they are career enhancing or life-giving, or both. Friends, mentors and a clear-eyed assessment of your own goals can all help with this discernment.

For many of us, individual professional success is not the only goal at play in this discernment. We are also hoping to shift the oppressive systems of academe itself — not to become likable but rather to embody a different paradigm altogether, where senior scholars learn with and support younger scholars, where different perspectives are valued and engaged, and where the secret handshake of the inner circle is posted on placards for all to see. Jennifer Ho, professor of English and grammar queen, says that she mentors others because her vision for the academy is not an exclusive dinner party but rather a rowdy potluck where everyone is welcome and brings something to share.

Whatever your goals are, tracking your work carefully can help you stay focused on them and not fall prey to the dissipation of your energies by the endless demands made of marginalized scholars.

Advice On Soliciting Strong Recommendation Letters

shannon craigo-snellNote: This blog post was originally published on our Inside Higher Ed column. Shannon Craigo-Snell is professor of theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is the author of The Empty Church: Theater, Theology and Bodily Hope (Oxford, 2014). Her forthcoming book, No Innocent Bystanders: Becoming an Ally in the Struggle for Justice, co-authored with Christopher Doucot, will be released in 2017. She is involved in activism as well as a variety of academic organizations.

—–

In the early years of academic life, scholars are asked to provide letters of recommendation for various opportunities, including jobs, grants, summer funding and fellowships.

For scholars who are “likable” — those who reflect the dominant culture and fit neatly into the mold of senior scholars eager to mentor them — I suspect this is rather easy. When I was a graduate student, my male classmates played squash with senior professors, took them out for a celebratory drink after completing comprehensive exams and invited them over for dinner. None of these avenues of getting to know professors seemed open to me. If I, as a woman, asked a senior professor (quite likely a man) out for a drink, the cultural subtext would be very different. That meant that when it was time to ask for letters of recommendation, the male professors knew Tom, Dick and Harry quite well, while they might not recall a paper I had written.

Marginalized scholars often face an uphill battle in finding mentors, and that can be reflected in letters of recommendation that have enormous importance in opening doors throughout their careers. Thus, in this essay, I provide concrete tips for soliciting strong letters of recommendation, specifically for my fellow marginalized scholars.

Selecting Recommenders

Often a scholar is asked to provide more than one letter of recommendation. As you consider whom to ask, keep in mind that you will want people who can speak to different parts of your experience or different strengths. You will also want to make sure that your recommenders are from diverse backgrounds and varied specializations or research areas.

Unfortunately, having only women or only people of color will be a drawback in many situations. For those operating out of explicit or implicit (racial and/or gender) bias, this can pigeonhole a scholar into a particular niche and lessen the sense that they will contribute broadly to the field. In certain fields, it might be the case that having all white men write letters on your behalf would also be a drawback. Balance is likely key in whom you ask to write for you.

Asking for a Letter

When I ask someone for a recommendation, I try to do three things. First, I make clear why I am asking them, in particular, to write this letter on my behalf. Something along the lines of “Because we worked together in this capacity or on this project, you are able to speak to this specific skill, ability, strength or experience I have.” Second, I put them on the hook for a really strong letter. I ask them, specifically, if they could write a strong letter of recommendation for me.

Third, I give them a way out if they feel like they cannot write a really strong letter. My wording is something like this: “I am applying for X. They have asked for recommendation letters to be sent by X date. You know my work well from our past experience X, so I was wondering if you would be able to write a strong letter of recommendation for me. I know that you have a lot going on right now, so I understand if the timing does not work.” At least once, I have had a recommender use the back-out option, and I was glad. I would much prefer to be told no than to have a weak letter that could sabotage my entire application.

Providing Information

What makes a letter of recommendation stand out from all of the rest is its level of specificity. Generic letters fade into the background, while detailed and particular letters shine. For example, every recommendation form asks the writer to say how long they have known the person they are recommending. A generic letter says, “Three years.” A specific letter says, “I first met X when we both spoke on a panel about X. Her presentation was a comparison between Y and Z that was so insightful, I began teaching her article on the subject in my classes.”

To help your recommenders write detailed letters, you can provide them with tailored information that is easy to access. I suggest giving your recommender a packet that contains materials such as:

  1. A personalized letter that: a) thanks them for agreeing to write for you, b) reminds them the particular reason you have asked them to write and c) reminds them of the various ways you have interacted professionally. For example: “We first met in 2007 when I took your course on X, you sat on my comprehensive exam in 2010, we were on a panel together in 2011,” and so forth. Or it might be: “We worked together on X research project in 2012 and served on X committee together for three semesters.”
  2. A copy of the official description of the opportunity for which you are applying.
  3. A copy of your up-to-date CV.
  4. A copy of your letter of application, personal statement or research proposal.
  5. If you are a student asking a professor or former professor for a letter, it is good to include a paper that you wrote for that professor with the professor’s comments and grade on it. I realize this might not be possible, and that it would have been helpful to have this advice earlier.
  6. If you are a graduate student writing a dissertation, you might send a chapter of your dissertation.
  7. A very clear statement of how and when to submit the requested recommendations.

It is important to give this information to your recommender in a format that is extremely easy to see and cross-reference. Ask your recommender if she would prefer digital or electronic copies of your materials.

Follow Up

A few days before the letter is due, send a friendly email reminder, which can be as simple as “This is a friendly reminder that the recommendation letter for X is due on X.” After the deadline has passed or you receive notification that the letter has been received, send a handwritten thank-you note. If someone writes multiple letters of reference for you, it is appropriate to send a small gift, such as a small package of good chocolates, in appreciation.

These steps — selecting recommenders, asking for a strong letter, providing information and following up — will improve a marginalized scholar’s chances of getting a selection of outstanding letters of recommendation.

Editing Advice for Marginalized Scholars

shannon craigo-snellNote: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed. Shannon Craigo-Snell is professor of theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is the author of The Empty Church: Theater, Theology and Bodily Hope (Oxford, 2014). Her forthcoming book, No Innocent Bystanders: Becoming an Ally in the Struggle for Justice, co-authored with Christopher Doucot, will be released in 2017. She is involved in activism as well as a variety of academic organizations.

——

In my previous blog post, I noted that marginalized scholars cannot rely on being likable to excel in academe — that is, we cannot expect our colleagues to hire us, grant us tenure, promote us or otherwise advance us professionally because we remind them of themselves. Marginalized scholars cannot depend on the habit of academics who reproduce themselves. Instead, I offered advice for my fellow unlikable and marginalized academics to succeed on their own accord.

In this essay, I will provide suggestions on editing one’s scholarly writing. Scholars who look, think and/or write like the dominant academics in their field often have support and mentoring to help them move from ideas to publications. For the rest of us, the path can be treacherous. Editing is one vital part of the journey. There are several different types or layers of editing, each with a role to play.

Self-Editing (a.k.a. Revising). By the time we complete graduate work, we have all learned to edit our own writing well. When time is short, it will be tempting to skip or shorten this step. Don’t! It is common for scholars in the humanities to spend as much time revising a piece of work as they did writing it. After you are a well-established scholar, you might decide to publish something quickly that has not been repeatedly revised. However, in the early phase of your career, one sloppy piece of writing could provide the excuse to deny promotion. And the quantity of your publications will not make up for their poor quality. Further, implicit bias against marginalized scholars often manifests in vague statements that an author’s work is “unsophisticated.” Poorly edited work can be used to prop up such claims.

Peer Editing. There is no replacement for having someone else read and edit your work. If I have done something regrettable — made a logical misstep or repeatedly misspelled a famous scholar’s name, for example — I would much rather hear that from a friend than from a stranger. That means it is vitally important to cultivate mutual editing relationships with peers.

I recommend finding friends or colleagues who are willing to read and comment on your work before you submit it for publication. Cultivating such relationships means more than asking a friend to read your work at the last minute before a deadline. It means being willing to drop everything and read your friend’s work before their deadline, too. Over time, you will become sharp and attuned readers for one another, able to speak incisively about each other’s work. If you were fortunate enough to begin such friendships in graduate school, cherish and nourish them. If you have not found these relationships yet, actively seek them out among colleagues in your general field.

Some people create more formal writing groups for this purpose. If that works for you, terrific. However, beware of any relationships or groups that feel competitive, as this is not helpful in editing. The ideal peer-editor is someone whose work you admire, whose judgment you trust, and who wants you to succeed.

In the early part of my career, I was too naïve to recognize the importance of peer editing and too nervous about my own unpolished work to share it widely. Then two incredible colleagues moved into offices near my own: Ludger Viefhues-Bailey, who is ridiculously brilliant on all things philosophical and theoretical, and Stephen Davis, who, in addition to being a wonderful scholar of ancient Christianity, has a gift for transition sentences and paragraph structure. When I was bold enough to ask them to read my work and comment, the quality of my writing increased significantly. Although preparing work for publication is easier and faster at this point in my career, I still always ask friends to review my work before submitting it.

Freelance editing. As a young scholar, I did not know that many of my senior colleagues employed freelance editors to improve their work. Although freelance editors are a key element to the productivity of many well-known academics, their availability and use is often not publicized. Consulting a freelance editor is exactly the kind of tip often passed to scholars in the dominant culture.

In various fields in the humanities, there are people who are both knowledgeable in the relevant disciplines and experienced editors. Perhaps they finished their Ph.D. and then decided not to pursue a teaching career. Or perhaps they worked for years in academic publishing and then decided to strike out on their own. By whatever path, there are people with incredible skills and knowledge who edit for a living.

For a fee, freelance editors can help you polish a paper, take the dissertation flavor out of a manuscript or smooth out a book chapter. Even more vital, some editors can look at a chunk of your work and help you discern what part of it could be shaped into an article, or perhaps what direction this work should be steered in to create a publishable book. That is called developmental editing. Typically more expensive than polishing a manuscript, that type of editing can be incredibly useful to scholars on the margins. Developmental editors know the field — including what has been published and what journals or presses are publishing work in this area — and they have the experience to help you shape, organize and present your own work well. The best way I know to find a freelance editor is to ask colleagues in your field.

The kind of shepherding toward publication that is often given to academics in the dominant culture can be purchased by anyone. It does cost money. It is part of the inequity of academe that the scholars who need this the most are least able to afford it.

Editing by Publishers. When you submit an article for publication in a peer-reviewed journal or a manuscript to an academic press, you will likely receive feedback from other academics in your field writing under conditions of anonymity. These comments can be minimal (a simple yes or no), extremely detailed and useful, and incredibly painful. If you receive comments from an external reviewer that feel harsh or hurtful, I recommend allowing yourself to feel angry and upset, then learning all you can from the comments. Even unfair and biased comments have something to teach about how an argument can be misread.

Trusted colleagues can help you know how seriously to take any given remark. In general, you do not need to respond to each and every critique by your reviewers. The publisher will want to know that you have taken the reviewers’ remarks seriously and attempted to improve your work. You can have some integrity as an author by noting that implementing certain changes would either detract from or even diminish the quality and contribution of your paper; it’s just important that you at least acknowledge the suggestion and explain why you didn’t use it.

Once a piece of writing is accepted for publication, it will likely be edited before it goes into print. However, the level of editing varies so widely that it is unwise to rely on this alone. Also, you might not know how much or how little editing will be offered by the publisher until close to publication, when deadlines are tight.

Given the pressure to publish quickly and often, multiple layers of editing can seem counterproductive. For marginalized scholars in particular, it’s not. Except for the extreme perfectionists among us, every moment spent editing is worthwhile.

On Being (Un)Likable In Academia

shannon craigo-snellNote: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed. Shannon Craigo-Snell is a professor of theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is the author of The Empty Church: Theater, Theology and Bodily Hope (Oxford University Press, 2014). Her latest book, No Innocent Bystanders: Becoming an Ally in the Struggle for Justice (Westminster John Knox) is co-authored with activist Christopher Doucot and scheduled for release in March 2017.

Unlikable

I will never be likable.

I learned this several years ago at a dinner party celebrating the publication of a senior scholar’s magnum opus. The guest list included four male scholars and their wives, plus my husband and me. I was keenly aware of being the only female scholar present at the party, as well as the youngest person in the room.

After dinner, when all the other wives went into the kitchen to clear up, my husband winked at me as he joined them and I retired to the living room with the men. I was having fun, and perhaps a bit too much wine, and after a while, I turned to the distinguished elder scholar next to me and asked why a peer of mine at another institution had gotten tenure with so few publications.

“What was that about?” I asked.

The white-haired gentleman smiled amiably and answered, “He’s just so damn likable!”

Suddenly I was stone-cold sober. I was grateful, in a way, that my colleague had said it out loud. There is no pure academic meritocracy, and even philosophical thinkers resort to fuzzy concepts such as likability to tip the scales in favor of some over others. The young, white, straight cisgender man we were discussing could be charming indeed. But in this context, likability meant that my older, white, straight, cisgender male colleague felt comfortable in his presence. The young man was presumably likable, in part, because he reminded the old man of himself, which made the world seem stable, the norm normal and the future a steady stream forward from the past. Promoting one affirmed the other.

No one will ever call me likable. Even as a straight, white, cisgender woman, I still present — in both my work and my being — a discomfiting challenge to the ways of the past and the values of patriarchy. There are very few senior female scholars who would see me as a younger version of themselves. What few there are — those mentors from whom I have learned so much — are not interested in homogenous self-reproduction. They believe that academic excellence is fostered by different perspectives and stultified by the continuing dominance of one tradition.

This dinner party conversation crystallized something I had read about for years and witnessed firsthand throughout graduate school and the long slog toward tenure. Kind, thoughtful academics — people who supposedly reject racism, sexism and heterosexism — reproduce existing power structures through implicit bias that makes them find some people more likable than others. Such scholars would not consciously withhold opportunities from women, people of color or LGBTQ people. Yet unconsciously, in myriad tiny ways, they tilt toward people they perceive to be like themselves. Doors are offhandedly opened, names generously mentioned and obstacles casually removed.

If you are reading this column, you probably aren’t “likable,” either. Without that extra push of likability, and often without senior scholars like us who can mentor us along the way, we have to work harder and smarter to succeed in academe. The goal, as I see it, is not to become likable, but rather to learn to smooth our own paths in small ways. In this and future essays, I will offer concrete suggestions to this end in four different areas: secretarial work, editing, letters of recommendation and keeping track of work. Take only what is useful and all with a grain of salt.

On the Importance of Secretarial Work

Never underestimate the value of good secretarial work in academe, and by that I mean secretarial work very broadly defined: that is, all the effort put in to create clear, well-organized communication outside the actual production of research. Typos and errors can kill any application, and the margin of error is smaller for female scholars and scholars of color. A tenure file filled with solid scholarship can be sunk by disorganization. Conversely, a clear and elegant presentation can do wonders.

Also, under the heading of secretarial work more broadly construed, embrace extra correspondence and organization in service to your own work. Four specific points:

First, appreciate the secretaries and administrative assistants you encounter. Much of the world runs due to women (and a few men) behind desks who are never paid or respected enough for their efforts. Be appreciative, respectful and inquisitive. Do not take these people for granted or underestimate their professional expertise.

Unfortunately, some senior scholars treat administrative assistants as servants. Newer scholars can emulate that behavior when they, consciously or unconsciously, accept the hierarchical thinking upon which it is based. Don’t. In addition to being excellent colleagues, secretaries and administrative assistants have saved my sorry ass with knowledge, kindness and generosity. And at least once with a pilfered bottle of the dean’s good wine.

Second, if you would like secretarial work done that is beyond the norm for the administrative assistants in your place of employment, do it yourself.

For example, at one institution where I worked, when a professor was up for promotion, the department had the administrative assistant send an email to outside reviewers with attachments containing copies of published articles and a CV. I found that to be very clunky and unappealing, and I knew of peer institutions that sent hard copies of books and articles. I joined forces with another faculty member up for promotion, and we thought about what would be ideal.

In the end, I sent each reviewer a copy of my book and an old-fashioned three-ring binder with color-coded tabs. The first thing in the binder was my CV. Each tab after that coordinated with items on my CV, so that if a reviewer saw a title of an article, she could easily flip to it. A flash drive with all the documents in electronic format was clipped to one of the rings inside the binder.

I later heard that at least one of the reviewers appreciated it. That level of effort was above and beyond what was typical for the administrative assistants in my department, so I talked with them about what I wanted, asked them to do a small part and did the rest myself. It was extra work, time and money that I decided was a worthwhile investment in my own career.

Third, correspondence can be useful in connecting with other scholars. When you publish an essay that refers to the work of another scholar in your field, it is not a bad idea to mail them an offprint. A long letter is not necessary — just a Post-it note saying, “I thought this might be of interest.” This can be helpful in making sure that, when it is time for review, there are scholars who are already familiar with your work.

Fourth, when you publish a book, consider investing the money to purchase a number of copies with your author’s discount and send them to various colleagues in your field. That will help scholars to get to know your work and signal to particular ones that you see your own scholarship in conversation with theirs. It might spark someone to use the book in class or to write a review. And what academic does not appreciate a free book?

Paying attention to the administrative assistants in your workplace, and to your own secretarial skills of organization and correspondence, is one small way that “unlikable” scholars (i.e., those of us on the margins of academe) can smooth our own paths.