Monday
Jun262017

Let's talk about mental health in academia

 

This month I was interviewed for a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the "summer slump." The piece "More Than a ‘Summer Slump’: How the Loss of Structure Affects Academics" published on the 15th and highlighted my interview. The piece draws on a conversation started on Twitter by queer, feminist, academic Stephanie McKellop‏ (@McKellogs) who regularly engages in conversations about the academic environment. I replied to the tweet with thoughts from my experience as a doctoral candidate and was contacted for an interview.  

I wasn't sure how much I'd have to say but had no problem talking for almost 40 minutes about the mental health challenges that come with academia and the difficulty in knowing what is reasonable to expect for yourself in terms of self-care. This is something I've talked with many women about during my time as a doctoral student (see footnote) and is cetainly something that is magnified during the time as an unfunded doctoral candidate and during the summer months.

I'm incredibly grateful to see people participate in this frustrating and difficult conversation. As I said in my interview, the system doesn't incentivise people to speak-up about these challenges. And as is clear from the comments on The Chronicle FB page, as well as the Twitter harassment Stephanie McKellop faced, those who decide to talk about it often face a negative backlash including being told things like: "What a bunch of whiners! They have three months of completely free time to pursue their research programs, acquire new skills, study and learn anything they want. Isn't this what you go into academia *for*? It's a bit like a partner at a big mergers and acquisitions law firm complaining they don't quite know what to spend all that money on..." or "Oh shut up. It was a rare summer when I didn't write an article or most of a book." or "Made-up problem," as exemplified by the aforementioned FB page. Where to begin with the privielge and assumptions tied up in some of those comments!

As the article notes, I've been planning for this time of my career since before I started the doctoral program. I also have the financial support from my family, a loving parter and the ability to move to a more affordable city while I'm finishing my dissertation. Some folks in my cohort have children. Not everyone is white. Some people are living with disabiliites. Given that I have so many privileges working in my favor and still can recognize the gaps and challenges that students and professors face when it comes to mental health care, I'm aware it hits many marginalized folks even more severerely. This is not a made-up problem, it's an ignored or minimized problem.

After the article published I had many folks contact me on social media and over text to say that this story hit home for them, that they'd thought they were the only ones who faced this isolation and "slump". Importantly the article explains, "Many professors who spoke to The Chronicle learned to cope on their own, but are sharing ways young academics can create and attain their own social structure." Praise the digital age and social media!This article and responses to the article makes it clear why finding ways to communicate about mental health as a larger part of the experience of working in academia continues to be a risky but valuable endeavor.

 

Footnote:

My program funds the first three years for most students in the program during which we have classes as well as teaching assistant or research assitant placements. Most students finish their dissertation proposal by the beginning of their fourth year, and then begin/continue their research and writing of the dissertation until completion which hopefully is sooner rather than later but varies greatly as you can imagine! I plan to finish the program in five years, dedicating two years to the research and writing of the the dissertation. This means I'll be unfunded for two years of the program. 

 

Thursday
Mar232017

A trip to Baltimore with my favorite scholars: ISA 2017

This year the International Studies Association (ISA) Convention was held in Baltimore with the theme Understanding Change in World Politics. The name was apt from the perspective of this American citizen considering the state of turmoil the country has been in since the Trump election upset. To this point, the impact of the travel ban on who was able to attend or not was taken up by a reporter from Inside Higher Ed who came to the convention and also spoke to some ISA members who weren’t able to attend or chose not to attend as a boycott of the location for the convention. While in the past the bylines restricted ISA to only hold conventions in the US or Canada, this year they were changed to allow other locations.

My convention experience began with a pre-convention workshop with fellow Women, Peace and Security scholars and practitioners. I was especially excited to connect with Henri Myrttinen, Head of Gender in Peacebuilding, who shared with me a new report from International Alert “When merely existing is a risk: Sexual and gender minorities in conflict, displacement and peacebuilding.” It was fantastic to learn there are other folks concerned with refugees and the WPS agenda, a topic I’m just beginning to research for a possible chapter in my dissertation. I also got to see a hard copy of the Working Paper I wrote for the LSE Centre for WPS! 

I was fortunate to be on and attend some fantastic panels about queer scholars and queer subjects in international relations. On Friday I presented my conference paper on the panel Queer Subjectivities: Human Rights, Identity, and Political Agency. This presentation was an early draft of a possible chapter for my dissertation that will pertain to how sexual orientation and gender identity matters to asylum seekers using the WPS framework as a way of looking at this question. I also attended a panel/workshop hosted by LGBTQA caucus about being queer in the academy and future work the caucus might take on to support LGBTQA faculty and students. The founders of the caucus Mike Bosia, Cai Wilkinson and Sandy McEvoy reflected on what it took to start the caucus at ISA and what it's like being openly queer in the current political climate. In addition to the panels and workshop I attended a number of the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies (FTGS) events including the business meeting and awards banquet. The FTGS section at ISA has been an incredible resource to me. I’m now serving on the Executive Committee and attended my first meeting with the group right before catching a plane back to Boston. 

Due to the aforementioned post-election climate, at the last minute three panel sessions were added to the conference schedule to address questions of international studies in the age of Trump. I participated in the final of the three sessions. At this session, participants were particularly invested in findings ways to continue to have late-breaking panels like this at future conferences and to bring in local practitioners/activists to the convention which until this point has been a challenge or impossible. Throughout the conference in different sessions the question of how to engage with students in a time of increased hate crimes and discrimination was a topic from many scholars concerned with supporting students in this stressed environment. Faculty were able to share experiences and best practices they use on different campuses but it was clear most are overwhelmed and in need of more support for students.

After a few days of intense convention days I took an afternoon to explore Baltimore. I was able to check out the Baltimore Museum of Art that had a fantastic exhibit of Guerilla Girls art! A group of us also went to Red Emma’s Feminist Bookstore and Coffeehouse full of amazing books, activists and vegan food.

These conventions are overwhelming, but it’s always fantastic to have a chance to sit down with scholars who I otherwise only engage with through social media or academic email chains. I spent time with too many amazing people to list but every year I feel more welcome in a community of scholars doing important queer and feminist scholarship and I’m very much looking forward to seeing many of them again in San Francisco!

Friday
Mar102017

Tell Me About Your Job

Last month I started working for the website Inventing Heron. I interview folks about what they do for a job, how they got there and how it's a part of who they are outside of the office.

The first set of interviews I did was with a number of people working in different trades at the site of the new Brown Engineer building in Providence including Alexis who is a carpenter. Alexis, Carpenter I jumped right in with the Inventing Heron team, learning about fields I knew nothing about, keeping in mind what curiosities someone outside the job might have when reading a profile about this person and their job.

A bit more about Inventing Heron from the website:

Inventing Heron is a community of people sharing stories about work so young people, herons, can learn about different careers firsthand. It was created with the belief that storytelling is essential in the search for truth and humanity. So far, over 500 people have shared their stories on the site, ranging from mushroom farmers to astrophysicists.

Inventing Heron was founded in 2013 by Lindsay Kuhn, PhD student in materials science at Brown University, to encourage young people, especially women, to go into STEM, and to celebrate the everyday, hardworking person. From there a team comprised of mostly graduate students at Brown helped it materialize and grow.

 

Sophie, Senior Communications Manager

So far some of the folks I've interviewed include Dana about her work as a blogger for Mombian, Aaron about teaching liberal arts classes at Julliard, Jen about working as an applications analyst with the health services program EPIC, Sophie about her work as a communications manger with Jobs for for the Future, and Camille who does many things including being a digital strategist, art historian and black history historian.

I look forward to continuing to interviewing people I know doing fantastic work in a broad range of fields and meeting new people doing jobs I know nothing about! So often when we meet people we ask them, "so, what do you do?" and interviewing people for Inventing Heron has been an exciting way to ask that question in a more wholistic way.

Jen, Applications Analyst

Saturday
Dec312016

10 Defining Moments for me As a Writer in 2016

This year has been quite a busy one for me as an academic, but I've also been able to publish a few journalistic pieces I'm excited about. I  continued to write about abortion access and LGBT politics while developing the backbone for a research project I've had on my mind for the better part of five years.

1.In February I wrote the piece, "How We Are Failing Women and Girls in Humanitarian Emergencies" for Rewire about access to sexual and reproductive health care in humanitarian emergencies.

2. I published my first peer-reviewed academic journal article "Queering Women, Peace and Security" published in International Affairs March of this year! You can read it for free here.

3. I wrote and defended my dissertation proposal, marking a road map for completing the research project that inspired me to apply to PhD programs in January 2012.

4. I wrote my first piece with the Establishment, "Queerphobia in a Post Marriage Equality Nation" which was also cross-posted as a featured story on Huffington Post QueerVoices.

5. For my second story for The Establishment I wrote a piece about the challenges ahead for the newly appointed UN independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity at the UN.

6. I wrote my Institutional Review Board protocal which was then approved so I could begin interview for my dissertation!

7. I published the working paper "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity as Part of the WPS Project" for the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security. In the policy brief I build on ideas from the journal article I published in March and make five policy recommendations.

 8. After launching the working paper I wrote a blog post for the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security about the role of sexual orientation and gender identity in the Colombian peace negotiations.

9.I wrote my first piece for Insider Higher Ed, "Why Most of Us Won't Get Tenure" on the Condtionally Accepted column. It was republished by my graduate department.

10. I began writing my dissertation including the draft to a discourse analysis chapter and five interviews so far.

Here's to all to all the challenges and opportunities writing offers in 2017!

 

Monday
Dec262016

Publications with LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security 

This month I was fortunate to publish a working paper with the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security as well as a blog. According to their website the Centre is, " a leading academic space for scholars, practitioners, activists, policy-makers and students to develop strategies to promote justice, human rights and participation for women in conflict-affected situations around the world" and launched last year.

In my Working Paper Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity as Part of the WPS Project I developed 5 policy points from the ideas I wrote about in the International Affairs article "Queering Women, Peace and Security" published earlier this year. The piece was introduced by editors Laura J. Shepherd and Paul Kirby in "The New Politics of Women, Peace and Security."

In a blog post also published by the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security I explore how sexual orientation and gender identity were a part of the Colombia peace negotiations. In the coming months I'll continue to explore this topic in my research for my dissertation and look forward to connecting with LGBTQ organizations in Colombia to learn more about their work on the Colombian peace accords.

As an aside, I'm excited I was able to include an image (included in this post) from the Free & Equal campaign UN For LGBT Equality stamps that were launched in February. Check them out here!