Academic Abby: Questions and Answers

 

Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession

Academic Advice Column

Now archived: Ask "Academic Abby" was a project where women in the profession volunteered to answer your questions about professional concerns. Giving members an opportunity to have their question answered privately or have it published so that other members could learn from your experience. At this time the project is on hiatus and below are answers to questions sent to Academic Abby between 2001-2013.
E-mail abby@aarweb.org.
 


Posted April 24, 2013

Dear Abby,
Pressed for cash and hearing of the glories of online texts, our institution is seriously thinking about doing away with textbooks in favor of all embedded material. Additionally, they are seriously contemplating that all this must be "texts" freely available on the internet. In the meantime, we're expected to submit all our syllabi for the fall in the next two weeks as well as have our plans for assessment in place & approved. How does one handle such potentially massive changes in such short time when still dealing with all the normal workload (normal load here is 5 courses a semester)?

Signed,
Anxious in Texas

Dear Anxious,
You ask about how to manage a massive institutional change in a short period of time. There are personal and institutional dimensions to your question. Is it possible for you, or allies with secure positions, to suggest that the administration hold off on any change until it can be implemented thoughtfully? If you raise possible concerns (for example, about fair use and copyrights), will they think twice? At a personal level, if the change is inevitable, there are several strategies that you might employ to address your administrative demands.

Strategies for Making the Move to Electronic Materials:

  1. As you make changes to your fall syllabi, I suggest looking at the AAR-Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion Syllabi Project for syllabi that use online resources effectively. 
  2. Discuss with your campus librarian electronic databases that would be beneficial for your subject material (like JSTOR, ATLA, Proquest).  This trip to the librarian can help you find texts in the public domain as well as texts made freely available by their authors on university access sites, http://www.academia.edu/ pages, etc.
  3. Be aware of copyright access so that you know what you are allowed to use for your course and what “freely available” will mean for your campus community. 
  4. Discuss with your department having access to research assistants or masters or doctoral students that can do the research for you.  If these types of researchers are not available in your department, find out if your department has access to work-study students or other forms of resource assistance.
  5. Keep in mind any weblink that you put in your syllabus must be rechecked when the course begins to make sure it still works.
  6. Leave space to adjust for potential bumps in the road as students adjust to e-material as well.  Some students may prefer videos, blogs, songs, multi-media, etc. in courses but not properly prepare for non-print materials.

You might also reframe your current extra work by recognizing that there are certain benefits to putting more materials online for a course.  The students save money (which could increase the number of students who are able to access your course material and prepare for class), students with disabilities can often read off a computer more easily, and ultimately you will be participating in the democratization of access to academic knowledge.

Good luck,
Abby


Posted December 19, 2012

Dear Abby,
I am a female junior faculty member with a short list of publications (3 articles, 3 book reviews, and a translation project). I plan to publish my first book this year. Unfortunately, I may also be getting a divorce and I am faced with the dilemma of what to do with my name. (I currently have my husband's name). Do you think that my publisher will be adverse to having a different name on my book than my publication record? Is it better to change it now, rather than down the line if say I were to get remarried? Will it impact my book if no one recognizes that it is me who wrote it? Is it better to change it early in my publishing career than later? Or should I just keep it and deal with the emotional aspects of repeating it every day for the sake of publishing/career continuity? Thank you!

Signed,
Why Did I Ever Change It?

Dear Why,
The most important issue here is whether you want to take back your birth name. If you do, and it sounds like you do, the sooner you do it, the better. I cannot imagine that the publisher will have an objection to your using a different name. Undoubtedly, they agreed to publish your book because they were interested in its subject and believed in its quality, and that is not changed by your changing your name.

It is not uncommon for female academics to change names. Valerie Saiving’s well-known article was originally published under Valerie Saiving Goldstein, and there are many other examples. Sometimes an author will put a past name in parentheses to lessen the confusion. But it sounds as if this is the perfect moment for you to make the transition as you are publishing your first major work. You can indicate on your vita the name you used for your other publications.

Good luck with this,
Abby


Posted October 24, 2012

Dear Abby,
I am on the job market this year and expect (or, should I say hope!) to have some interviews at the AAR conference. If I make it to a second level interview on-site, I have some concerns. I have a 1yr old son who I still nurse (all day and all night) so he needs to come with me. And, if the baby is with me, so will also a caretaker for the baby so that I can focus on my interview duties. How should I inform the schools that I will be bringing along some guests with me? Or, should I try to keep it from them? Also, should I be responsible for paying for any additional costs?

Yours,
Dr. Mom

Dear Dr. Mom,
Congratulations on getting interviews at the AAR conference and good luck securing follow-up campus interviews. You are absolutely right to be thinking about possible complications associated with traveling as a nursing mother. One of the co-authors of Professor Mommy (reviewed here: http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/when-enough-is-good-enough-a-review-of-professor-mommy/39946) recounts a crazed job interview situation complicated by the need to pump, given the infant left behind. In retrospect, she realizes that trying to hide the fact of her young child created unnecessary stress. Many other new mothers, however, believe — with some justification — that asking for accommodations during the interview process might subtly prejudice some faculty against them.

Whether you travel with your child or not, you will have to prepare for disruptions to your usual nursing schedule. Campus visits typically involve long days of back-to-back meetings with faculty, students, and deans, not to mention the job talk and possible classroom lecture. There will likely be a few meals scattered in there. If you are lucky, attentive faculty members will remember bathroom breaks and possibly give you half an hour to breathe deeply before your public talk. If you want to carve out space during your interview visits to nurse your child, you will need to make that clear during your scheduling discussions. Or, even if you note that your child will be accompanying you, you may want to plan to nurse only at night, once safely back at your hotel. It's one thing to let the chair know you'll be accompanied by a child and her or his caregiver; quite another to have them meet you in the department lounge in between meetings. However unfair it may be, it is also the case that some faculty who would consider it reasonable for you to travel with and nurse a four-month old will disapprove of breastfeeding a toddler. On the other hand, if you are very open about your choices, it is likely you will only get offers from welcoming and supportive departments.

Whatever you decide about openness, you cannot expect any institution to pay travel costs for your child or caregiver, though they can probably share your lodgings without additional expense.

Best of luck,
Abby


Posted July 18, 2012

Dear Abby,
How much do academics use LinkedIn and similar sites? Everything I hear about them is framed in terms of the business world, where there is perhaps more speed and flexibility in the hiring process. For tenure-track teaching jobs, institutions conduct national searches through established channels. Is there any benefit to my having a LinkedIn page in addition to my CV, references, and publications? What if I am looking for other kinds of jobs - adjunct work, academic support jobs, library jobs, and so forth? Do academic institutions use LinkedIn to look for candidates?

Sincerely,
Semi-Luddite

Dear Semi-Luddite,
A survey of colleagues suggests that academia has been slower to embrace online social networking than many other fields. At least at present, a profile on LinkedIn may help you more with certain jobs outside of the academy. If you do maintain a profile on LinkedIn, Academia.edu, or another site, your CV and other related information should be consistent across sites. Many institutions will undertake a basic web search for you once you have applied for a job. Given how much information about us may be found on the web, you do want to exercise as much control as you can over the information about you that may be found in a standard "Google" search. A website easily locatable via search engines, with syllabi, CV, links to publications, and maybe even a blog if that interests you, would be far more useful than LinkedIn.

Good luck in your future online ventures,
Abby


Posted April 9, 2012

Dear Abby,
I recently graduated with a Ph.D. in Religious Studies. As I have begun to send out applications, I have often thought that my C.V. would look more compelling if I were to leave off the M.Div. degree I obtained many years ago. Is this ok to do, or am I ethically compelled to list all degrees obtained?

Sincerely,
Unsure Applicant

Dear Unsure,
A CV lists relevant professional accomplishments. People of good will can differ over what is relevant, how comprehensive a CV should be, and how much one ought to tailor a CV for particular purposes. Some people list all their newspaper op-eds; others only articles in refereed journals. Some list dissertation title and doctoral advisors; others think once the dissertation has been published in book form, earlier information should be stricken. It may help to note that some grants require one to trim a CV to a certain number of pages, forcing one to be selective. Leaving something off a CV is not inherently a problem. If your MDiv is not relevant to the jobs you're seeking or the work you're currently doing, you can omit it in good conscience. Do think about, though, whether those three years will leave a gap in the chronology of your career that you'll be asked to explain.

Good luck,
Abby


Posted April 4, 2012

Dear Abby,
I am a Ph.D. student in religious studies. I have recently learned of the existence of a "guys' night" in our department-- a weekly social meeting to which one has to be male to be invited. As I understand from talking to a male colleague, the group is mainly students and alums, but a few of the male faculty members are on the email list as well (whether or how much they attend is unclear to me). I don't have a problem with the idea of men meeting together. As a female student, I have found it very enriching to meet with my female colleagues to discuss issues that relate to gender, so I can well imagine the value for men. However, when I hear that networking is taking place, specifically of the type that would potentially give some students more access than others to information, job opportunities, relationship-building, etc., I am concerned. Not only are women obviously not invited, but not all the men in the department have been invited either. The fact that our department chair, who is also my advisor, is one of the faculty in this group, has me doubly unsure as to how to bring up this concern.

Signed,
Calling for Parity at Parties

Dear Calling for Parity,
First of all, let me say how disturbed and saddened I am by the many ways that things have changed so little over the last decades. I had hoped that the situation you are describing would have long been an impossibility.

I can think of several ways that you might respond: a) You might want to begin by having a further conversation with the colleague who told you about the meeting to find out how the group started, how the invitees were chosen, and what its purposes are. If it was meant to be a male consciousness-raising group, for example, that’s very different from a networking group. b) Is there a female faculty member you could talk with about your concerns in order to reflect, strategize, and maybe get some inside information? c) Does your university have an ombudsperson who can offer information, strategies, and possibly mediation? Such a person may also know whether this has been a problem in the past or in other departments. d) You mention that you are in conversation with your female colleagues. Do they share your concerns? It’s always more effective to get together with others to try to bring about changes in a department’s ethos. Indeed, if there are men who have been excluded, you may also want to include them in the conversation. e) It is unclear from what you say whether your advisor has gone to these meetings. Ultimately, it will be important to talk with him. If you don’t know how involved he is, it should be possible to inquire in a fairly neutral way, making clear your concerns. If you know that he has attended these meetings, it would be preferable to talk with him along with a couple of other students in the department so it’s clear that your concerns are shared. f) Try some guerilla theatre. Show up at a meeting of the group with an ally from inside and other women and men who have not been invited. Maybe you can carry signs that say: 1962 or 2012? or It’s 2012: Duh!

Good luck to you, and let us know what happens.
Abby


Posted March 7, 2012

Dear Academic Abby,
I graduated last March with a Ph.D. in theology and culture from an Evangelical seminary. I also received my bachelor's and master's degrees from Evangelical schools. Over the last year and a half, however, I have deconverted, if you will, from Christianity and now consider myself agnostic tending toward atheist. Considering my Evangelical educational background, I feel like this has put me in an extremely difficult position vocationally. On paper, my background is best suited for Evangelical theological schools; but in reality, I could not teach at such places because of the faith commitments those schools expect faculty to agree to, nor do I want to teach at such schools. What do you recommend? Do I try to focus on publishing and making a name for myself in ways which are not constrained by my Christian past (e.g. writing on religion and culture, doing book reviews, presenting papers, etc. from my current perspective)? Do I have a realistic chance at getting hired at a state university or even a non-religious liberal arts college given the schools I've attended? Please help!

Yours,
Born Again Agnostic

Dear Born Again Agnostic,
You are in a tough situation. It’s hard to say what your chances are of being hired at the kind of place where you would like to teach, especially in this tough job market.

Probably the best way forward is not so much to deliberately set about publishing articles that counter your education as to follow your genuine interests now. What do you want to be pursuing? Apply for the jobs you would like to have and be forthright about your background. It’s entirely appropriate to say in a cover letter much of what you said here: that while your background might indicate that you belong in an Evangelical school, your beliefs and interests have since changed. Then lay out what you do want to study and teach and your qualifications for doing so. If you intend to turn your dissertation into a first book, you might talk about how you intend to reframe it from your new perspective. This would both underscore the ways in which you have changed and help establish a new scholarly trajectory that would be appropriate for a secular institution.

As time goes on, your current work will become increasingly important and the significance of your education to employers will recede.

Good luck to you,
Abby


Posted March 7, 2012

Dear Academic Abby,
Is it inappropriate to submit conference presentation proposals drawn from an article one is also submitting to journals? It seems impossible not to do this, yet what if the article is accepted for publication and the proposal is also accepted for a conference presentation such that the print version comes out before the conference?

This would be an over-the-moon best case scenario for my CV, but I am wondering how it would be received by those attending the conference? Thank you in advance for any response you are able to provide.

Yours,
Already Worrying about Success Which Has Not Arrived!

Dear Already Worrying,
It is fine to propose a paper for a conference using material which is under review at a journal. I would not worry too much over the scenario you speculate about - an article actually appearing in print between the time you submit a conference proposal (and have it accepted) and the time the conference takes place. First, journals have long lead times. A year is not unusual from the time you first submit an article for review until it is published, and several months or more can elapse between acceptance and publication. Second, although we like to think that the scholarly world waits on tenterhooks for our pearls of wisdom to appear, the reality is even if your article were to have appeared, most people in a conference audience would probably not have yet read it. In the unlikely event that your paper is published before your conference presentation, you can take steps to build on that achievement rather than merely repeat yourself. Conference presentations typically accommodate up to ten pages of material, perhaps a third the length of a journal article. Thus, it is often the framing as much as the findings that matter. You can allude to the publication (“as I recently argued elsewhere ...”) and then take a slightly different angle on the material, pursuing new connections or implications, possibly expanding into the territory of your next article. In doing so, you introduce your work to those in the audience who have not read the article and bring new ideas to the fore for those who have.

Wishing you success in publications and presentations,
Abby


Posted January 13, 2012

Dear Academic Abby,
I have an upcoming on-campus interview for a tenure-track position. During the time of the interview, I will be about 6 months pregnant. How do I inform the hiring committee of my pregnancy? (The initial interview was a very formal phone interview.) Your advice is greatly appreciated.

Signed,
A Graduate Student in the Southeast

Dear Graduate Student,
I assume that your pregnancy will be obvious when you arrive, so the question is how to tell them in advance. Is that correct? What about just sending an e-mail before the interview saying something like: I didn’t want you to be surprised by the fact that I am six months pregnant. I am expecting a baby in … but plan to begin teaching in the fall.

All the best to you,
Abby


Posted October 14, 2011

Dear Academic Abby,
When applying for jobs when you currently have one, should one use letterhead of your current position?

Thanks,
In Letterhead Limbo

Dear In Letterhead Limbo,
As a general rule, you should not use your current school's letterhead to apply for a new job. In a similar vein, it's better not to use your institutional email account. (Your CV will show your current position, which of course you should discuss in your cover letter.) However, an exception to both the letterhead and the email rule might be if you're employed in a fixed-term position (one year "visiting lecturer" or post-doctoral fellow) where everyone at your current institution knows you're going to be leaving and expects you to be applying for other jobs.

Good luck!
Abby


Posted September 29, 2011

Dear Academic Abby,
I am a PhD candidate who will be going on the job market this year for the first time. A year or so ago I contributed a book review to a well known journal. I was very interested in the premise of the book, but found it to be unevenly executed and, on the whole, disappointing. When I submitted the review, I worried a bit that it could cost me the goodwill of the book’s authors, but I decided that not giving my real opinion would be academic cowardice — so I sent it in. Now (of course) the exact scenario that I worried about has come to pass and there is a job that I want to apply for in the department where some of the book’s authors teach. My question is: should I leave the book review off of the CV that I submit to them? I don’t have any idea who is on the search committee (it is a large department, and chances are good that none of them are). But if I were on a committee and saw that an applicant had reviewed my book, I would look it up. I don’t think I said anything that was unfair, but it was critical, and if I were that committee member it would not favorably dispose me to the young job applicant. On the other hand, taking it off of my CV definitely seems like academic cowardice — if I’m afraid to stand behind my words, then I shouldn’t have written them in the first place — and also potentially embarrassing if by some chance the person is on the committee, did happen to read the review, and connects my name to it, then sees that I left it off the CV. What do you think I should do?

Thanks,
Regretful Reviewer

Dear Regretful Reviewer,
You articulate very well a dilemma facing young academics: publishing reviews — particularly in prestigious journals — is a good way to begin to build a CV, but there is always a danger of antagonizing a more senior scholar with a critical review.

It seems as if you know what to do. You had the courage and integrity to write a critical review; you should now include the review on your CV. As you yourself point out, if the author in question is on the committee or should see the vita, it will look worse not to include it. Most authors are careful to follow reviews, so it is likely that the person will have seen it. This does not necessarily mean that you won’t be considered for the job. Scholars vary in their fairness, their sensitivity to critical reviews, and their enjoyment of good arguments.

One way of avoiding the conflict you’re experiencing in the future is to agree to review only those books you honestly think are good. Of course, if everyone followed this policy, book reviewing would be less useful to the scholarly community. But there is nothing wrong with protecting yourself at a vulnerable stage in your career.

Good luck to you,
Abby


Posted September 9, 2011

Dear Academic Abby,
Do you have any advice on how much overlap is appropriate in publications? For instance, I have just given a paper that will likely be published in two years but want to make use of the material as part of a longer article for a journal. Should I rewrite this material or can I keep it reasonably intact? Also, knowing that response times for submitted articles can be long, what is the best strategy to prevent articles from sitting on my desk while avoiding submitting the same article to multiple journals?

Signed,
Quizzical about Publishing

Dear Quizzical,
I don’t think there is any rule about overlap. There are people who publish significant sections of articles or books over and over, and there are people who try to frame things differently or use different language even when they are dealing with issues they have addressed before. I have always felt that if you are citing yourself verbatim, that ought to be acknowledged. If you are untenured and your published articles contain substantial repetitions, then that could be held against you. Also, given the lead time at many journals, a paper appearing in two years might come out roughly the same time as a journal article, which is potentially awkward. You can always summarize your argument in one place and footnote the other.

It is not acceptable to submit the same article to multiple journals simultaneously, but it is an excellent idea to have a list of three or four journals that might be appropriate for a particular piece. Then if the first journal rejects it, you can see whether the readers offer any advice that you want to implement and, rather than stewing, quickly send the article on to the next journal on your list. You want to be clear in each case, however, that you meet the submission guidelines — in terms of length, notation, topic, etc. — for each particular journal.

Some journals have reputations for quick turn-around, others for keeping people waiting. You may want to consult with colleagues about the journals you have in mind. If you do not hear from a journal within three months, it is entirely appropriate to politely inquire when you might hear from them.

Abby


Posted May 23, 2011

Dear Academic Abby,
I have several journal articles (no books), great teaching evaluations, and I just received tenure. The thing is, my spouse and I dislike the area the college is in, and the workload is pretty rough. Conventional wisdom says it is extremely difficult to move once you have tenure. Any advice on what to focus on professionally in the coming years in order to open up some possibilities? What do search committees look for in mid-career positions?

Signed,
Halfway There

Dear Halfway There,
First of all, congratulations on your tenure; it’s exciting to have reached this watershed moment. At the same time, for faculty members who would rather be elsewhere, tenure can undoubtedly feel like a trap.

Especially if you are applying to other teaching-oriented institutions, great teaching evaluations are certainly a plus. But it is very difficult to move with tenure without a book. Your professional efforts over the next few years are best focused in that direction. Perhaps one or more of your articles could form the core of a book.

Sometimes, people who are unhappy at their institutions give up tenure in order to move. Obviously, it is a serious drag to begin the process again (although you would normally receive at least some credit for the years you have put in), but it can be worth it to be happily settled for the long haul. Only you can decide on your priorities in this regard. But in this situation too, it would be important to have a book to strengthen your case for tenure a second time.

Good luck to you,
Abby


Posted May 23, 2011

Dear Academic Abby,
Our institution is in the middle of a teachout. We have employed many adjuncts in the extension that is being closed. Are these adjuncts free to take their course syllabi, remove the name of our institution, and teach them for someone else. Or does my institution “own” the syllabi? Has anyone ruled on this issue in the past?

Signed,
Wondering about Syllabi

Dear Wondering,
I’m not sure from your question whether your institution has made an issue of this, but professors bring syllabi from one institution to another all the time. It’s hard to imagine not continuing to use at least parts of syllabi that have been successful. Even in the case of a common syllabus that a professor is assigned, unless there are specific copyright stipulations (which would be highly unusual), there is no reason a teacher cannot teach a course elsewhere. People regularly share their syllabi and borrow from those of others. That’s part of the point of the AAR’s Syllabus Project, which will soon be merged with the Wabash Center’s Internet Guide to Religion.

Abby


Posted April 27, 2011

Dear Academic Abby,
I am beginning my second year as an adjunct instructor of ethics at a small, private (but not religious) college. Last year I covered gay marriage as one of six current ethical issues in American life. I hold in-class debates on the issues, assigning students to the "pro" or "con” side, so that many students have to take positions which they do not personally hold. Due to a student complaint, I have been asked to remove this lesson from my curriculum because "gay marriage should not be a debatable issue."

I feel censored for several obvious reasons, but my tenuous position as a semester-to-semester professor does not leave me confident to oppose the Dean. I have discussed with my program director that I am an enormous advocate for gay rights, and I personally agree with gay marriage, but it nevertheless remains a current ethical issue in America--hence the 45 states that do not allow gay marriage--and should therefore be discussed in class if we want to change people's minds.

Additionally, I feel the classroom is a safe environment to discuss differences, and at this particular school the male student body is not necessarily tolerant of different sexualities. Studies show that individuals who personally know a gay person will tend to favor gay rights, but the suppression of such a topic is only driving the issue underground, and has been the cause of at least one student leaving the school on account of his sexuality.

What can I do to keep the gay rights conversation alive, without violating the Dean's wishes?

Signed,
An activist without a platform

Dear Activist Without a Platform,
First of all, let me affirm your view that the classroom is precisely the right environment to address controversial issues and that it is absolutely appropriate to ask students to debate the question of gay marriage. I agree that debates are an excellent way to get students to open up to positions that challenge their previously held beliefs. It has been my experience that students are more willing to do this when they feel that a variety of perspectives are being presented.

That said, as an adjunct--and especially a relatively new adjunct--you are certainly in a very vulnerable position. It seems as if your dean is more concerned with avoiding complaints than with defending values fundamental to education. You mentioned that you spoke with your program director—a wise move. What was her/his response? Perhaps, if the program director thinks this makes sense, the next step would be to have a conversation with the dean to see what was in his or her mind and to share your own point of view in a nonconfrontational way.

You will want to weigh carefully the dangers and possible benefits of speaking with the dean. If you decide to do so, it might be useful to frame your argument for using same-sex marriage as one of your case studies in a way that highlights your educational rationale rather than activist objectives. You might emphasize the importance of using a contentious topic about which there are widely diverging basic assumptions as a way of teaching students that differences of opinion can be approached in a rational, empathetic, and above all informed way. You also could share the AAUP report on “Freedom in the Classroom” (http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/comm/rep/A/class.htm), but it might well cost you your job. Do you want to continue teaching at this institution? How difficult would it be to find another adjunct position?

There are possibly extra-curricular ways that you could keep the conversation alive without violating the dean’s wishes. Are there student clubs, for example, that might sponsor a speaker or a conversation? Is there a club on L/G/B/T issues? Are there students interested in starting one? Might your program be willing to invite someone to speak? Of course, you need to decide whether, as someone who is probably being underpaid to teach a particular course or courses, you want to be involved in activities outside the classroom. There is nothing shameful about seeking other forums to express your activism than the one in which you’re trying to earn a living.

In short, there is no easy answer to the question you raise, but there are avenues to explore. Good luck to you.

Abby


Posted February 24, 2011

Dearest Academic Abby,
I am an MA student and new to the field of religious studies (I hold a B.S.). I am overwhelmed and frustrated by the demanding writing standards in the field and find myself at a loss and in the dark most of the time. English is my second language and the combination of reading and writing is beginning to be disheartening. Other than annoying my professors with this matter, what other resources or suggestions would you advise me pursue in order to improve my writing for this field specifically.

Signed,
Losing Hope

Dear Losing Hope,
You are right to be concerned about the importance of reading and writing for the field of Religious Studies. Kudos for taking steps to address your lack of preparation so that you can excel in your MA program. There are many excellent references for things like grammar which will be helpful to you as a non-native speaker (and reader and writer) of English. One standard work is Kate Turabian, A Manual for Writers; another good choice is Jay Silverman, Elaine Hughes, and Diana Roberts Weinbroer's Rules of Thumb: A Guide for Writers. But as a first step for writing in the humanities and social sciences, you may find Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein’s guide, “They Say / I Say": The Moves that Matter in Persuasive Writing, a good place to start both for understanding readings that are assigned to you and in crafting your own papers. Another great reference for writing is William Zinsser, On Writing Well. It is not only concerned with writing for courses, but its advice should apply there too.

As for not bothering your professors with your concerns, that is precisely what you should do. It is part of their job. They will have noticed your difficulties with writing and will appreciate your taking steps to improve your skills. You can ask whether they are willing to discuss paper outlines with you or read drafts of your papers and make suggestions.

You should also find out whether your university has a writing center where help is available to students. Many universities have these centers, where students can bring drafts of papers or talk through conceptualizing them. Writing center staff members can help you with individual assignments and, in doing so, teach you how to approach the process.

Good luck,
Abby


Posted February 18, 2010

Dear Academic Abby,
I am nearing the point in my doctoral education at which I will need to begin the job search. In some ways, I am very excited. However, I have one pressing concern. I am a lesbian, and my partner and I have recently married. Up to this point, I have never disclosed anything about my personal life to anyone in my academic department. As of now, I do not plan on being "out" during my job search, especially since my academic work does not involve LGBT issues. However, I am concerned that once I find a job, the need to be out in my new academic community will be more pressing--especially since my partner and I intend to have a child within the next few years, and it will be difficult to hide an entire family from my colleagues. Could you offer me any advice on being an out lesbian within the religion academy? How concerned should I be about the potential effect of being more open about my sexual orientation once I find a job?

Signed,
Concerned Scholar, Wife, and Mother-to-be

Dear Concerned,
Congratulations on your recent marriage. Especially since you make clear that you are not generally out in your academic life, you are probably correct that it makes sense not to come out at a job interview unless you receive clear signals that it is fine. But being out once you have a job is a different matter. You don’t say anything about your graduate program or the kind of job you are looking for. If you are seeking work at a conservative Christian institution, you may have to remain closeted. But at any liberal seminary, most secular institutions, and probably many Catholic colleges and universities (though certainly not all), being out in itself is unlikely to be a problem. (This is not to say that people who write on LGBTIQ issues or who are gay activists do not face repercussions.) Indeed, once you are hired, colleagues may well want to get to know you as a person. Informal gatherings can be important to institutional socialization, and people who aren’t forthcoming about their families can appear “uncollegial.” (See Stacey Floyd-Thomas’s article on the problems surrounding collegiality in the October 2009 RSN.)

As you interview for jobs, you will want to look carefully at the options open to you, weighing the need to have a job with the desire to be out and comfortable. Would you want to be at an institution where you can’t be out? Do you need to temporarily take a job at a place where you can’t be out while hoping for a job where you can be out? As you speak informally with students and faculty members at different institutions, what sense do you get of the diversity of the campuses and of the norms and expectations concerning sexuality and family life? It would be helpful to contact LGBT centers or organizations at the schools you are considering to discuss the environment for LGBT people and to get the names of queer faculty members with whom you might speak. Stress the need for anonymity as you talk with such people.

There are also a couple of legal issues that it’s important to be aware of. As you undoubtedly know, your marriage is not recognized by most states or by the federal government. That means that, unless you find a job in one of the few states that recognizes gay marriage, your partner would not necessarily be eligible for health and other benefits. If you are depending on your job for health coverage, you will need to check out whether any institution you are considering has domestic partner benefits. Sometimes you can find such information on a school’s website. You can also do a bit of advance digging by calling Human Resources offices without mentioning your name and saying that you are thinking of applying for a position (no need to say in what) and would like to know if they have domestic partner benefits. You can also raise the question with Human Resources after you are offered a job and before you decide to accept it. Moreover, even if a state and institution recognizes your marriage, you will still have to pay federal taxes on any benefits given your partner. Thus Human Resources at least will need to know of your situation.

Best of luck with job search,
Abby


Posted May 30, 2007

Dear Academic Abby,
Graduate guides often advise students to start early in 'networking' and 'getting involved' in professional organizations. How and where do you do this? What's the point of networking anyway? And how are studetns supposed to have time for this extra-curricular activity in the midst of demanding graduate programs?

Signed,
Overworked and Underpaid

Dear Desperate:
In my view, an M.A. student needs to focus on courses, preparation for exams, and perhaps a Master's thesis. Sometimes MA students are ready and willing to submit papers for conferences, but most are not, and really at this stage it is not necessary. I do think MA students should talk with professors about which conferences they attend, and should get in the habit of checking conference websites, reading calls-for-papers, and even attending the annual meetings, if possible.

Ph.D. students really do need to begin submitting paper proposals, attending conferences, and networking, because at this stage the job market is looming palpably. Conference participation and networking are ways of establishing yourself as a serious thinker and gaining the friends and peers who will help you throughout your career.There are many graduate student conferences every year, many of which will be relatively local for you; these are great for introducing you to conference culture, and for meeting colleagues at or near your own level of intellectual development. But I also encourage you to take the plunge into the national conferences that best platform the kind of research you are preparing yourself to do. Again, I suggest you choose conferences in consultation with professors you respect.

Why network? Because this is how you will meet other established and new professors in your fields of study, as well as other graduate students like yourself. Networking is not some abstract 'good' in and of itself, but refers to the vibrant, strenuous, and inspiring relationships we have with other intellectuals who are interested in the kinds of things we are interested in. Sometimes the overlapping interest is directly tied to the books we hope to write; other times, the overlap lies more in our shared concerns about gender or race, or in shared administrative obligations, such as developing undergraduate curricula, departmental policies, or the like. The academy, like our seminar classrooms, operates through dialogue, and through the push-pull between interest and need. Networking is, in a sense, developing your own on-going 'seminar of the academy'.

Finding the time for conferences and networking is difficult. But, then, juggling the multiple demands of academic life always will be difficult. In part, your ability and desire to attend conferences should align with your career goals. For some teaching positions the institution will *expect* you to be active professionally; figuring out how to juggle this expectation in graduate school will thus serve you well in obtaining such a position. For other teaching careers, institutions will praise you for attending conferences, but will not necessarily expect it, and for still others the institutions will discourage you from spending your time in that way. Let your own career goals help you decide how to parse your time, then.

Abby


Posted May 30, 2007

Dear Academic Abby,
I am wrapping up my M.A. in Religious Studies and want to explore admission to PhD or ThD programs (my current school does not offer doctoral degrees), however I have no clue what my chances of being admitted to a good program are. I have a good GPA (3.94) but have spent most of my spare time in ministry, not academia (conferences, etc.). How do I figure out where I stand in the scary world of doctoral admissions?

Signed,
Pondering the Future

Dear Pondering:
Congratulations on wrapping up your MA in Religious Studies with such a terrific GPA. I do not think your current lack of academic conference participation or other marks of early professionalization will matter as much to admissions committees as other aspects of your application. Conferences are fun to attend and important in the long run for developing a network of colleagues and contacts, but there are other matters to focus on right now. Most admissions committees are looking for a pool of candidates that best 'fit' their Religion or Theology Department. To determine 'fit', they will look at your overall GPA and GRE scores, certainly, but they also will reflect on such facets as the curriculum you have taken, exams you have passed, the narrative you provide in your personal statement, your writing sample (if requested), and your letters of recommendation. Let me say a word about each of these.

Your personal statment is very important. In it you will, among other things, tell the committee what topics or problems you wish to pursue in your doctoral program. The committee will compare these stated goals to the curriculum you have taken and the exams you have passed to get a basic sense of how prepared you are to tackle those topics, while still recognizing that you will continue to grow and change during your doctoral studies. The committee also will reflect on how well your stated goals match the current expertise of the departmental faculty, again with the understanding that there will always be some fluidity and change in both faculty and graduate student interests. I strongly suggest you research potential graduate programs thoroughly, and make certain that the issues most important to you are ones addressed by the current faculty of the Departments to which you apply.

If the Department asks for a writing sample (or even if it doesn't overtly discourage your sending one), it too will function as a way for the committee to determine how well your candidacy matches current faculty interests and general graduate student competency. Consider sending a sample from a paper written for one of your recommenders--and tell that professor you have done so (you might even give him/her another copy of that paper). Do have a friend proof-read the sample before you send it!

Finally, letters of recommendation are crucially important for drawing out your intellectual profile, potential and character. Choose your recommenders carefully, and, if your institution allows it, designate someone to be a reader of your dossier. A reader cannot tell you the content of your letters, but s/he can advise you to keep or delete certain letters. Best of luck in finding a program that will help you reach your intellectual goals!

Abby


Posted November 9, 2006

Dear Academic Abby,
I have heard from reputable sources that job candidates who take adjunct positions can be blacklisted by research universities as unfit for a professorship. On the other hand, teaching universities such as small liberal arts colleges often require prior teaching experience from job candidates. How can I get some teaching experience without getting blacklisted?

Signed,
Desperately Seeking Something

Dear Desperate:
You understand the importance of teaching: even research universities want to know that a candidate has some strength as a teacher and therefore a tenure-track colleague who can keep students happy. But teaching as an adjunct is only a problem if that is ALL you have done: a small liberal arts college might not mind, but a research university certainly will (although "blacklisted," a word with unfortunate connotations, most often happens for other types of offenses, say, repeated sexual harassment and not necessarily adjunct work.) Research universities are interested in hiring people who are able to do cross cutting, excellent research that will significantly shape a candidate's discipline and, thereby, add to the school's reputation. Being a strong researcher and well-respected, published scholar can overcome just about any pesky flaw at major research universities.

Abby


Posted September 12, 2006

Dear Academic Abby,
My department is very lacking in collegiality. There are various factions and disputes among the dozen or so faculty members – some of them concerning the nature of our discipline and the methods of study and scholarship in it. How can I negotiate my way through all of these minefields without being drawn into their fights, especially since I must work with at least half of these faculty members in taking classes, passing comps, and forming my dissertation committee?

Signed,
Tiptoeing through the Tulips

Dear Tiptoeing:
You have a responsibility to yourself and to the university community to maintain a professional demeanor and discourse – even if others are acting in an unprofessional manner. Stick to your academic game plan. When you meet with people keep your end of the conversation focused on your academic needs, goals and the substance of your work. You may need to address divergent faculty perspectives on a given topic or issue in your coursework and exams: Understand each side and be able to discuss each with academic integrity, even if ultimately you argue for one perspective over the other. As you move through the program you should strive for a sophisticated understanding of the faculty 'lay of the land,' which will enable you to choose wisely for your dissertation committee, which should not have warring parties on it. Check into the possibility of having a faculty member in a related field as a reader on your committee, which could help you avoid conflicts. Good luck!

Abby


Posted April 7, 2003

Dear Academic Abby,
I'm nearing graduation. I've heard that many women get stuck with part-time contract postions and are rarely able to obtain full-time tenure-track teacing positions. Are there specific pitfalls I should look for? How do I know if a part-time or contract position is the experience I need for a career or just the beginning of a dead-end pattern?

Signed,
Paranoid

Dear Paranoid,
First of all, congratulations on nearing graduation. That alone helps you avoid one of the major pitfalls of getting stuck in part-time positions. It often happens that students take part-time jobs to make ends meet before completing the dissertation, and then they cannot focus on getting their writing done. Having a Ph.D. in hand is important for success.

Taking a part-time position when you have a degree in hand can have mixed results. The good news is that you will be getting experience that will enhance your marketability. You will be able to talk more knowledgeably with a search committee about how you would structure a syllabus, work with students, etc. But do not let the demands of teaching keep you from writing. Just as it is difficult to write a dissertation while teaching, it will also be difficult to write articles or a book, but it is important for you to try to get something published because that will also help your marketability.

One "pitfall" in a part-time job is being lulled into believing that it may turn into a full-time, tenure-track position. This is especially true if you have been hired at a school that is conducting a search in your field. You might not work as hard to publish, make contacts, attend conferences, etc. because you come to think that since the faculty members know you, they will want to keep you around. It is certainly appropriate for you to apply for the full-time job that is open, but the search process for a colleague involves complex dynamics. Even if you are currently teaching in the very area that the search is trying to fill, there is no guarantee that you will be the successful candidate.

Finally, there are women who do obtain full-time, tenure-track positions. Some are hired right after they graduate. Others work in part-time jobs first. The most important thing you can do to become one of them is to keep working on those things that will make you a desirable candidate. Good luck!

Abby


Posted March 14, 2001

Dear Academic Abby,
I'm applying to doctoral programs and I'm concerned about highlighting my involvement with various les-bi-gay academic conferences. I've given several papers and facilitated two panels. Should I be worried about this or not?

Signed,
RCQ

Dear RCQ,
Working on gay and lesbian subjects in the field of religion is most welcome in some places, and most unwelcome in others. You may decide that you only want to apply to places where all your professors will be respectful of your scholarly interests, in which case you should include these items. You may also decide to omit these items from your application if you do some research and learn that there are department members who would not welcome you. But if you plan to do research in this area, it would be best to apply to schools where there is a faculty member who works in this area.

Abby