Entries in women writing (2)


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.



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. 



I Attended the 2011 BlogHer Writers Conference!

Why I went

As someone new to the freelance writing world, I'm digging my hands into any new material shedding light on how to freelance and how to publish.  The BlogHer Writers '11 conference is the first conference hosted by BlogHer specific to addressing the question of how to turn blog writing into a book and though I've never been to any of their conferences this one seemed geared towards many of my questions as a new blogger who has considered publishing short stories.

Though most of the writing I currently do is for blogs or of the article format, I do have an interest in writing non-fiction stories.  Should I try to publish the non-fiction stories as tranditional story collection book? Should I just blog these stories?  Should I self-publish? 

All questions I hoped Blogher would help address!

What I Learned

Over the course of the day I attended the Welcome session, the General Session: Blogs to Books,  Publishing 101, Alternative Publishing Models: It's Not Only about the Printed Hardback and finally the Closing Session with three successful authors. And look at this lovely photo I took of Lisa Stone, Co-Founder and CEO of BlogHer speaking at the Welcome Session!

In the Blogs to Books general session the conference jumped right into addressing the blog to book publishing phenomenon. One of the panelists Patrick Mulligan of Gotham Books represented some of the more pop culture types books which have made it into the mainstream such as LOLcats and the Chuck Norris books. As you can imagine, the advice of much of the panelists was that these types of pop culture driven books are hit or miss, expensive to produce and have begun to over saturate the market. 

I was surprised to learn that editors do sincerely surf the internet reading blogs looking for well articulated material that might lead to some form of published material in traditional material.  Neeti Madan of Sterling Lord spoke about the question, "Should a book have a blog?" encouraged authors to only do so if they really plan to commit to the blog and to possibly keep blog posts in que to publish while on tour rather than taking time away from other valuable marketing work. Much credit was given to the amount of market research that can be developed based on comments on blog posts, number of readers and the degree to which you learn your audience by devloping a following as was explained by Marian Lizzi, Editor-in-Chief of Perigree Books.

In the Publishing 101 session I learned much about the agent, editor, publishing house steps to publishing. Judging by what I learned at the panel, self publishing has the benefit of being print on demand, but can cost a fair amont up front. I was pleased to hear that publishers are now looking to all sorts of formats to publish writing rather than simply the traditional book including e-books, podcasts, aps, and small short story collections to be printed on demand.

The Alternative Publishing Models panel (Katherine McCahill Digital Product Manager and Peter Harris of the Penguin Development Group prepare for the panel in this photo) was incredibly informative, including panelist Kamy Wicoff, the Editor and Founder/Publish SheWrites which is sure to be a priceless resource as a blogger. (Vote for her or Lisa Stone or any of your other favorites for the Women's Media Center 2011 Social Media Award.) Wicoff spoke of what an exciting time this is to publish because of all the new ways adventurous and creative writers can expand on traditional print models including the use of behind the scenes of making a book or even a radio show.


Who I Met

My day at the conference was hectic to say the least! After the morning sessions I rushed off to complete my day job (dog walking) leaving just enough time to make it back for the afternoon and closing sessions.

Because of my busy schedule I missed the lunch session and the small group mentoring session which was a real bummer! But nevertheless, I did make one connection during the conference Suzanna Raga who is a blogger, published author and lives in New York.  Addtionally I've met new writers via the #BlogHerWriters twitter hashtag.

So now what?

I'm glad to have learned the different layers to the book publishing process, something I new nearly nothing about before the conference.  Should I choose to publish, it won't likely be in a traditional book format and I'd likely go through a small press (I wish small presses were better represented at the conference!) rather than try to self-publish or reach out to the big publishers. After hearing the long journey's the three sucessful authors (pictured below are authors Ann Napolitano and Jean Kwok speaking with Jory Des Jardins of BlogHer) shared, I'm reminded of how much passion writing requires.  I'm comforted to know that others have many ups and downs in terms of being motivated to write and the publishing process, and that often you have to be your own biggest fan driving the project you're so determined to share.

For now I'll continue to blog and pitch to some magazine for possible print publication.  I'll explore the resources and contacts I've made through the conference. And I'm starting to become more comfortable calling myself a writer.