Entries in writing (6)


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. 



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!



My doctoral student confession: I miss freelance writing

This semester I finish my second year of doctoral work and true story: I miss freelance writing.

The last article I wrote was published in December which seems like a world away for a freelance writer who was pitching editors several times a week regularly and everyday at one point. I wrote pitch letters in my head as a went to sleep and got to work on them when I woke up. Today that freelance writing energy is consumed with writing academic articles, conference preperation, classwork and a dissertation proposal as a doctoral student (not to mention having a relationship with friends and family and self-care) and it has me kinda bummed. 

The opportunity to take grad classes, work as a teaching assistant and write a dissertation as a funded student is amazing. I've met some kick ass faculty who have been at the forefront of bringing coversations about gender into the classroom. I've made connections at conferences I simply didn't have access to prior to becoming part of a doctoral program. I'm very passionate about my research; I love that I'm paid to research a topic I care about so deeply and my job is to develop those ideas into the best piece of research I can to make a contribution to this world. This is definitely a gift I never thought I'd have.

But I miss freelance writing! I want to take my curiosity and turn it into an article to put out in the world in a matter of weeks. I love being able to take issues I care about, pitch amazing publications I respect and write those stories. I appreciate getting feedback from an editor and shaping a piece of writing into something that we both mold into a final publication. I like seeing that dozens (occassionaly hundreds or thousands) of people have engaged with the interviews I collect from activists and academics. I get motivation to keep doing this work from the community of people, friends and strangers, who respond to something I've written. And dammit, I like that after years of writing for free my work is finally valued (read: paid) by a number of publications I respect immensely. 

My primary job after I defend my dissertation proposal at some point this year will be to write a dissertation. There are many reasons to place my dissertation as the first priortiy, not the least of which is the fact that my funding ends after three years in the program (as in, one year after I finish classes this May). Realistically I need to put the best of my writing energy into researching and writing a dissertation.

One of the criticisms of academic writing is that no one reads it. Some people are asking if academics should be writing for popular media. From where I stand as a writer, a queer, a feminist, and an activist I can truly appreciate the education and experience in academic writing and teaching I'm recieving now and at the same time acknowledge I can't wait to be pitching popular media again. I engage on Twitter everyday and promote writing by amazing writers for popular media platforms who I've learned so much from and have enjoyed being in community with as a freelance writer.

When I began my doctoral program I always knew I wanted to continue to write for popular media, but for now that writing will have to wait.



My Recent LGBT Politics Stories on RollingStone.com (& My Response to the Current Cover Photo Controversy) 


What an exciting time for LGBT politics! Shortly after the recent news of the SCOTUS decisions on DOMA and Proposition 8, I published my first piece for the Politics section at RollingStone.com--10 Dumbest Things Ever Said About Same-Sex Marriage.  I was thrilled to then publish a piece reporting on LGBT organizations responding to the invalidation of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act -- After Some Celebrating, LGBT Organizations Talk Voting Rights.  

I'm currently on vacation in New Orleans but the viral story about the cover of the current issue of Rolling Stone managed to find me at a dark club playing bounce music at 3 am on a Thursday night. I was caught off guard by a stranger questioning me about my thoughts on the cover photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston bomber. As a recent transplant to Boston and a newly contributing writer to RollingStone.com obviously this story was particularly relevant and interesting.

Considering my experience with the editor I've worked with in just this short time at RS.com, and the pieces published in the RS.com politics section, I immediately gave the benefit of the doubt to Rolling Stone. The response piece from Matt Taibbi, a Boston native, raises valid points about what I agree is largely a misunderstanding of the intentions of the story and cover photo. (Not the least of which is the fact that the New York Times also used the photo on their cover.)

Media outlets like Rolling Stone provide valuable investigative journalism reaching a large readership who might not read about these important issues in any in-depth way otherwise. Our media landscape is shifting beneath our feet and any print publication who can access and capture the eyes of this 140 character culture is likely to be alterative. Please understand I don't mean the outlets will be desperate, cheap or irresponsibile. I mean to say as journalists work in more creative ways to find means of making a living in the changing world of journalism and readers consume information in new ways, many traditional assumptions about journalism no longer hold true.

Hitting the nail on the head, Taibbi writes: 

"One could even go so far as to say that in recent years, when investigative journalism has been so dramatically de-emphasized at the major newspapers and at the big television news networks, Rolling Stone's role as a source of hard-news reporting has been magnified. In other words, we're more than ever a hard news outlet in a business where long-form reporting is becoming more scarce."

Most working journalists, especially those who aren't white, male or with any credentials from an ivy league school, could likely attest to this reality. 
I believe the cover photo was published in good faith. I'm excited to continue writing for RS.com about LGBT politics in the future.



I Wrote for PolicyMic for a Month

I spent a month writing on-call for PolicyMic. a website geared towards millenials. PolicyMic seeks to change the tone of political dialogue as their website explains:

"PolicyMic is all about the spirit of debate. We're fed up with hyper-partisanship in the media and deafening and extreme media personalities on both sides. We're giving a platform to the next generation of pundits and reporters who are ready for productive discussion and a new kind of dialogue. Success and prestige on our site won't be driven by how loudly you speak, but by how thoughtfully you participate."

During my time writing for PolicyMic I wrote about peacekeeping troops in Congo, "Why I'm Bolwing for Abortion" and "Ag-Gag" legislation among other things. I also wrote a couple pieces about the Supreme Court's consideration of gay marriage.

PolicyMic is an interesting platform to engage with both sides of the political aisle.   While I ultimately decided it wasn't for me as far as pursuing an internship, it's a great platform to get started writing online. Unlike other places you might write, PolicyMic does take the time to edit and give feedback on posts. Valuable! They are also wrangling posts from some pretty big poltical names, including  Condolezza Rice, and creating a unique space for dialogue. 

Be sure to sign up to Samantha Meir's feminist weekly e-mail. And consider writing for PolicyMic yourself!