Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Best Advice I Can Give to Women in Academia

Yeah, there's lots of great advice out there about networking and how to navigate sexual harassment and women in academic leadership positions and work-life balance and long-distance marriages and feminist pedagogy and all this. There are special issues faced by women of color, trans women, lesbian women. And probably someday I'll touch on some of these. And if I don't, be assured that there is a cottage industry out there in advice columns (hand over heart for Ms. Mentor, probably our first adviser) and books. And it's all good. But if I had to give just one bit of gendered advice, it boils down to something pretty simple:

Build and treasure friendships -- real friendships -- with other female academics, especially those a few years further down the personal and professional road. [1]

[really large chunk cut out here because I realized in retrospect that I was lecturing, and thus burying the point in excess verbiage]

Of course you should have male friends and non-academic friends (as many of the latter as you can get). But other women in the biz know how the personal and the professional overlap and swallow each other and such in a very special way.
Why write about this today? Because in the past week, I have e-mailed back and forth with Historiann (who I've spend lots of F2F time with), and have spent an hour on the phone with former blogger Squadratomagico (thanks, internets!), and there are the others who don't have online personas so I won't presume to name them (but I hope they know who they are). But after each of these interactions -- ones that are mentorly but also personal and funny and irreverent and snarky and sometimes swear-filled (okay, that's mostly my contribution) -- I remember how profoundly grateful I am to have these wonderful women (among others) in my life, and how we have kept each other sane-ish through some trying professional and personal times.

So, I guess this is really a mash-note to the lifeline that is a circle of lady-friends, a thank you to all you glorious, fun, irreverent, and really intelligent academic women, and a hope for myself that I can be a part of making things better for other women in the way you have for me.

Yours in sisterhood,


[1] Corollary: be open to being that further-down-the-road friend to others.


Flavia said...


squadrato said...

Aww, It was great to catch up! A wonderful hour indeed.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I cannot agree more. My academic women friends get me and I get them. I just wish that we spent more time together outside of work. I tend to get lonely without activities outside work. We spend a good amount of time together at the office -- especially since I team teach 2/3 of my load. But it's not the same as outside work time.

Sarah C said...

As one of your newer friends, I can say this: you have very quickly become that futher-down-the-road friend for me. I met you, what early July? And now when I have something that needs an academic friend's ear - I know I can come to you. So THANK YOU for not just saying this, but modeling it too!! And thank you for your friendship!

Susan said...

YES! I so value my women friends -- and it's becoming clear that we need each other. A conference I go to has a regular dinner of "women who dine (and drink) well", and at an upcoming conference, a friend said, "I need an evening with women."

This is probably related to the data that women perceive gender as more of an issue as they get older.

Historiann said...

Hey, thanks! Sorry I'm late to the party (AGAIN.)

Depending on one's field and what one's home department looks like, getting together with a group of women at conferences (as Susan suggests above) might be your only opportunity to talk to so many women in your field at one time. That's not the case with me any longer, thank goodness--but quite frankly, I'm not sure what male colleagues have to offer me as men (as opposed to "as colleagues"), whereas women's experiences in academia seem to have so much more in common.

It's too bad I blew my own cover by starting a blog clearly linked to my RL identity, but I would have loved to have published an edited collection of stories from every woman in academia who had an affair with a professor early on in her career or were sexually harassed by someone (or both! Lucky gals.) I can't tell you how many women have this common experience in their intellectually formative years, whereas I don't think it's common among men at all.

Historiann said...

**I should say "from every woman in academia I KNOW PERSONALLY. . . " If I published an anthology of every woman in academia's experience with affairs and/or sexual harassment, it would literally be an unending project!