Fear the Blogs

So, my project for the summer is to restart, for about the umpteenth time, a book project about facing fear and anxiety over social media tools. Thankfully, I have two wonderful colleagues, Leslie Madsen-Brooks and Barbara Sawhill helping me out. We decided to dive in after our latest presentation on the topic and have set ourselves a fairly ambitious deadline to get something written. I suggested that we start with topics and ideas that we feel most close to, which is different for all of us, and see where that takes us. Since I wrote a whole dissertation on blogs, that’s where I started.

On Monday, I was at a social event with some folks I hadn’t seen in quite a while (hey, to any of you reading this!) and they, of course, asked how things are going. I told them that I’d just returned from a conference where I’d given a presentation. They asked, on what?, expecting me to say on something to do with technology in education. I said fear. They did a double take. I explained that my colleagues and I had decided that the underlying reason for much of the resistence to social software was fear. They said, oh, and I thought it was because I didn’t want to share my personal life with the world. I corrected them briefly that we weren’t talking about fear of setting up your Facebook profile, but of using social software in teaching and research, which can be done in a private setting or with other kinds of parameters that reduce exposure. We’re talking about using these tools professionally, in learning, not to talk about what kind of pajamas we’re wearing.

Only 9% of the population has created a blog, so I don’t expect creating and maintaining a blog to appeal to everyone, but just as very few students continue writing or doing math or thinking about sociology after they leave college, the experience of blogging can have lasting effects. I’m sure that students exposed to sociology look at the world differently than they would have otherwise. But, given the small number of people who do blog, I decided to start by writing about reading blogs. My husband has been a consumer of blogs since the dawn of Slashdot and he reads only a handful of blogs regularly, and he *loves* them. When he spouts off about something he read on a blog and starts making connections, I tell him he needs to get his own blog, and he agrees, but then he never does it. There are many more like him.

When I gave my talk at University of Mary Washington, it was reading of blogs I started with first. When I described my argument to my husband, explaining that I wanted to dispel the myth that all blogs were stupid, he said that would be simple, just have them read Tim Burke or Janet Stemwedel and you’re done. Of course, the problem is, that even showing them these blogs isn’t always enough to dispel their disdain for blogs. Those are outliers, they say. The rest are rubbish. And I wanted to take the argument a bit further. I wanted to say, hey, blogs are just as good as some peer reviewed material. Heresy! And I think they are in many cases for many situations, even within academe. At the very least, we can surely say that peer review is not above reproach. (See Janet’s blog for stories of cheating and tragedy in peer review.)

So I shouted out to my twitter faculty friends a question about whether they allow their students to read blogs. I got some funny responses about how much power faculty have to “allow” their students to do anything. So I rephrased it to ask if they’d let their students use blogs in academic work. Faculty on Twitter are necessarily more open to social media than many others, and so I got the expected answers. Many, in fact, required their students to read blogs, and many encouraged it, and used blogs as a way of teaching digital literacy and critical thinking skills. Which is what I usually say to the skeptics, and now I can point to actual real live faculty who use blogs in just that way.

Journalists are afraid that blogs are going to put them out of business and I started thinking, wondering, whether faculty had that fear as well. Despite my saying that blogs can be just as good as peer reviewed material, I think that unlike journalism, the audience for the two media are different people. And, I think, that students don’t actually read many blogs. But the faculty who do resist, the ones who ban not just blog reading, but using the Wikipedia, they seem to not trust their students to be able to make good judgements, and rather than teaching them how to, they keep them away from “bad” material. But what else might be at work there? That seems somehow too simple. Any skeptical faculty out there, or any people who work with skeptical faculty who have thoughts?

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College Rankings

Inside Higher Ed, among other sources, has been reporting on several incidents of institutions gaming the US News and World Report ranking system. No one should be surprised, today’s report says, especially when the stakes are so high. These incidents dovetail nicely with my own recent thoughts about college expectations for my kids. My brother-in-law is visiting this week and we took a stroll around campus while Mr. Geeky was in a meeting. He asked how much it cost to go to fancy pants liberal arts college. The total price tag, with room and board, is about $50k. He wanted to know why the hell it cost so much and what makes going to a place that costs that much so much better than a state school. For the record, he has 4 kids to get through school (10 years from now), with a huge amount of overlap, so cost is going to be a huge factor, as it is for many parents.

One key reason people want to go to expensive schools, of course, are all the intangible benefits: the connections you make, the name recognition, etc. I agree that the cost seems way out of sync, but it also gets you some tangible benefits as well. At an exclusive SLAC, you won’t have a class larger than 40 or 50 people (and those are the lecture classes). Most classes will have 15 or so people. That means your opportunities for engaging in class discussion, for the teacher knowing you and keeping an eye on your progress are vastly increased. Your faculty will be from “better” schools (they cost more as a result, though their pay is still less than other professionals). The faculty will also be more available for one-on-one consultation and in theory, will also be more focused on teaching and learning rather than research (though this is debatable). Even at schools like Harvard and Yale, one could argue that having the opportunity to work with the great minds of our time is a privilege worth paying for.*

So here’s the thing, yes, state schools can be just fine for many people. Mr. Geeky attended state school and went on to get a Ph.D. from said state school and ended up teaching at a presitigous liberal arts college. There are thousands of success stories like that. But it’s also true that some students would be lost in a large state school population and would not only not thrive, but might even fail. I knew that of myself after visiting a large state school I was considering. Not only did I not check out any of the classes (because my hosts were skipping classes), but I spent the entire time there really drunk. I figured I would spend 4 years drunk if I went there.

Rankings don’t tell you that. They might help you begin to make a list, but there are many other factors to consider. Location, demographics, class size, curriculum, general philosophy. Going to a school ranked below the top 25 isn’t going to ruin your life. It might not catapult you into that fabulous political career, but it will probably allow you a pretty good life.

*Of course, with many of those great minds’ lectures and course materials being made freely available, one can forgo the expense of Harvard and simply take advantage of the free offerings while attending state school.

Why Professors Can’t Justify the Liberal Arts

I thought this Inside Higher Ed article was an interesting discussion of they way that people outside the academy seem to value a liberal arts education more than those within it. Ho notes that many humanities faculty, despite having defenders among CEOs and business leaders, shun business, withdrawing from potential allies. Further, she notes, the reaction to Fish’s article a year ago, declaring that the humanities was irrelevant, pointed out that the cry that the humanities is irrelevant is mostly among scholars, who, one commenter says, “have professionalized their relationship with the humanities to the point of careerist cynicism.” Another similarly adds that the “humanities have been taken over by careerists, who speak and write only for each other.”

I do think there’s an attitude or awareness that writing a dissertation or scholarly monograph on some minor poet no one’s ever heard of isn’t really making the humanities relevant to students, and yet most humanists recognize that embarking on such tasks is necessary in order to get a job or get promoted. So there’s a real disconnect, which I know I and others have said again and again, between the work that gets one a job and the work that makes one relevant. The students in your class don’t know about the monograph you wrote and it may be that writing it gave you new insight into the subjects you teach. Pouring your heart and soul into a class doesn’t get you very far in the academic world. So there’s a real tension there. I don’t know how we resolve this.

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Tear down the Ivory Tower

So, I’m going to wade in here, where I’m not wanted, to talk about the article by Mark Taylor, in the New York Times. I liked the article. I thought it made some really good points. But around the blogosphere, there’ve been some misgivings, not unwarranted misgivings, but misgivings. Not unsurprisingly, Marc Bousquet is concerned about the treatment of the faculty and argues that jobs exist for faculty, but the university has shifted its labor force to part-timers or non-tenured people already. If they just opened those jobs up for full-time t-t faculty, the world would be a better place. Here’s my take on that argument, as an adjunct myself. There are indeed some places that rely too heavily on adjunct labor, with 75% of their classes being taught by adjuncts, but this is not the case everywhere. At least part-time work is available at colleges and universities, unlike at corporations. Would I like for those jobs to come with some benefits? Yes. Would I like for the pay to be reasonable? Yes. One of the problems in the college and university labor force is that, while many people think tenure is holding back higher ed from change, no one has come up with a good, viable solution that protects the employees (academic freedom, bargaining rights, etc.). And there’s the problem of mobility (or lack thereof). I know I’ve said this before, but if a manager gets laid off from a job, she doesn’t have to move halfway across the country to get another one (usually). An English professor doesn’t have that option, especially in a small town. Somehow, we have to deal with this. Either faculty will need to just understand that the possibility exists that they’ll have to move (and doesn’t this exist anyway?), or perhaps they’ll consider it a freedom to be able to move to another university without having to give up the hard work they’ve put in toward tenure. In many cases, whatever structure one comes up with in terms of long-term contracts will probably mean informal tenure anyway, the difference being, perhaps, certain standards have to be met.

Dean Dad takes on the suggestion that departments be eliminated. He describes the administrative nightmare this would cause, and wonder who the hell would do all the work of developing the curriculum for these programs. I think he’s thinking it will be him. At the SLAC’s I’m familiar with, some of this interdisciplinary work is being done informally, either by individual faculty or by “centers” or programs. The course I’m currently teaching is cross-listed in 5 different departments and programs. We’ve read materials in sociology, computer science, literature, film theory, psychology, cultural studies, and philosophy, to name a few. We brought in guest speakers and the work the students were required to do involved both traditional papers, blog writing, and a multimedia project. And let me just say, the planning alone was a buttload of work. So I see where DD is coming from. But I also see what a fabulous learning experience this was for students. I could envision parallel systems here, where students are required to take courses that are interdisciplinary, but still have majors. And these courses could be centered around a common theme, so that there’s a common language for the students, but it would be good to have the math majors talking to the English majors.

Finally, although Tim Burke agrees with much of what Taylor proposes, the online collaboration bit seems suspect to him. I think that the idea is actually a good one. The problem is many schools do not have the infrastructure necessary to make this possible, even expensive schools like the SLAC’s in my area. I like the idea, however, of less specialization, of feeling the need to cover every niche of every discipline. Maybe there’s a faculty member at another school who teaches a niche that no one at our school does and technology could facilitate having that person teach some of our students. Granted, smaller scale tools like Skype and other web conferencing tools can be used in some cases. But would those work for a large class? How many support staff would you need to support this kind of work if, say, 25% of your courses are taught this way? How would the distant students get access to the materials? Would they need accounts on certain systems? Most schools are not using something like OpenID or even any kind of open tool where students can just sign up for their own accounts, so unless the course is on the open web, there’s some overhead there for getting students access to the course. And then there’s the administrative overhead of figuring out the curriculum or at least approving it. Around here, we have around 100 colleges within a 50-mile radius. There are clusters of collaborations already, both formal and informal among the schools that have similar missions and/or are close to each other. Could these collaborations be expanded? Yes. Can technology help? Yes, but IT departments would need to shift to a different model on the academic side to make this work. Lock-down mode doesn’t work when you’re trying to collaborate across institutions.

My own feeling about the article is that I do want something to change. I don’t know if the elimination of departments works, but what about merging departments? What about creating a real interdisciplinary infrastructure instead of just giving lip service to it?

I especially like the idea of eliminating the traditional dissertation (oh, what I would have done if I could have used video!) and providing expanding opportunities for grad students. I would love to see career fairs for grad students where corporations, think tanks, museums, and other institutions who value the experience of Ph.D’s would come and recruit students. Instead what happens is graduate advisers, who only know the academy, tell you what schools to apply to. A Ph.D. who then takes a job outside the academy either does so because no academic jobs were forthcoming or feels like a sell-out.

Whatever we think of Taylor’s argument, I think there’s a general feeling that the structure at most colleges and universities is not serving the needs of the students (this may not be true at CC’s). The training that students receive, even at SLAC’s, is mostly training for an academic life that most won’t have even if that’s what they want. A broader, more interdisciplinary education has the potential of creating more knowledgeable citizens, who are better prepared to solve the world’s problems. There will still be some who choose to become faculty (and we will need them), but wouldn’t it be great if being an English major didn’t mean that you knew nothing about physics?

Cross-posted at Emerging Technologies Consulting

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Making the staff teach to save money

Heh. This article in the Chronicle (behind the paywall, sorry) explains how one college is getting their staff and administrators to teach classes in order to save money:

Ms. Townsley said officials were selecting teachers from a pool of staff members and administrators “who are professionally qualified and want to teach so that we maintain quality in the classroom.” The goal is to have them teach during the day, in the college’s evening program, or online. They will get time during their regular work day to teach, grade papers, and perform other teaching-related duties, she said. Those who don’t end up teaching will take on the duties of their co-workers who are.

“This just organically grew out of what we’d been doing,” said Alan J. Reinhardt, vice president and dean of academic affairs and one of the people who suggested the cost-cutting move to Ms. Townsley. With a vice president and dean of student services teaching in the psychology department, a director of development who writes for the college magazine and has taught in the English department, and a director of human resources who has taught human-resources courses both online and live, among others, the framework was already in place, Mr. Reinhardt says.

Getting teaching rolled into my job was something I continually argued for. I lost. Funny that for one college, it becomes a cost-saving strategy rather than something that might make staff jobs more interesting and give them important perspective on the teaching side of the college.

Academic Conferences

I attended and presented at my first purely academic conference since 2003. I popped my head into the MLA in 2006, but I’m not really counting that. Having attended technology conferences and workshops for the past 5 years, going to this conference was a bit of a shock. First, there was the fact that I didn’t know many people. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, but there were certainly groups of people who run into each other regularly. I’m sure this would change if I kept attending these kinds of conferences, so no big deal.

I’m used to going to conferences and being pretty wowed by the presentations, especially the keynotes. There have been exceptions (ELI 2008, cough, cough), but for the most part, presentations tend to be interesting and inspiring. I wasn’t all that thrilled with the keynotes at this confernece. Given the names of the presenters, I should have been, but alas, I just wasn’t. This may partly be due to my not being embedded in this discipline the way I am in the technology field, but I’m of the mind that a presentation should appeal broadly not narrowly. Even within a discipline, not everyone knows the ins and outs of every subfield or topic. The talk I liked the most was one that my disciplinary colleagues liked the least, in part because the speaker didn’t seem to understand the discipline/audience. I liked the broadness of the talk, the fact that it wasn’t entirely situated within the field. The panel presentations, given by mostly younger people in the field, were much better. More on this later.

Another thing that I’d forgotten about academic conferences was the ever-present name-tag glance. This happens at tech conferences, too, but my feeling has been that this is in the honest attempt to acquire a name, not to see if you’re at the “right” kind of institution. The name-tag glance was part of a generally feeling of competition I felt at the conference. There were lots of conversations about job openings and about people being “on the market” (a phrase that conjures prostitution for me for some reason). And there always seemed to be a kind of grandstanding going on at all times. People were constantly trying to give their “elevator speech” about their latest research. The grandstanding was especially apparent during Q & A at many sessions. The questions weren’t about the presentation per se, but were an attempt to showcase the questioners knowledge of the topic. I would contrast this to the tech conferences I attend where people are often on the lookout for collaborators and conversations center around mutual interests. Questions asked during presentations seek clarity so that the questioner can put the information presented into practice.

Another observation I made had to do with who was giving the keynotes. These tended to be the “older” people in the field, those who’ve been around for quite a while and who have made significant contributions. Of course, it is usual for these people to be the keynoters, but it would have been nice to see some of the “newer” folks doing the big talks rather than being relegated to the smaller panel presentations. There seemed to be a generational divide. It seems a shame to have to wait a generation to hear from some of the new contributors to the field.

Despite these criticisms, I still got something out of the conference. I saw some good talks and I had some very good conversations. I suspect that part of my criticism stems from my being out of the loop for a while. I’ve attained a comfort level with tech conferences that I just haven’t gotten to yet with academic ones.

The Gender Gap

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I’ve been working a lot lately. The beginnings of school years often show pretty clearly how much or how little either one of us does around the house. When the work hours bleed into the home hours, there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t get done. It’s not like Mr. Geeky comes home at 5, picks up the paper and yells into the kitchen to ask what’s for dinner. In fact, our post work hours are somewhat of a whirlwind of negotiating who’s dealing with what kid. I do the cooking, and it’s actually a refuge for me. The kids go off to their own corners and Mr. Geeky finishes up whatever he was working on when he had to leave to do the daycare pickup. After dinner, the kids and Mr. Geeky clean up. In theory, there’s much more housework to be done, but neither of us does it, relegating most of it to the weekend. Instead, we either have work to do, or we choose to spend a couple of hours relaxing. God forbid we relax!

The thing I keep returning to, though, is that I do wish our house were more organized and that we weren’t rushing around half the time to get enough laundry done or to sign papers or whatnot. The only way for this to happen in our current situation is for one or both of us to give up leisure. And that’s just not going to happen. We both value that too much. After spending the weekend trying to catch up on such things, this article in IHE was just the thing I needed. I’m reading through the first part and the whole time I’m thinking, “It’s because the guy doesn’t do housework; that’s why women leave these jobs.” And then, they finally get to it.

While universities and other employers have some of the responsibility for helping women advance, so too may their spouses. Preston cited a survey of married male and female scientists (not married to one another) in which each were asked what share of household chores was performed by their spouses. The female scientists estimated that their spouses performed an average of 34.7 percent of chores, while the men estimated that their spouses perform 65.1 percent of chores. Even assuming equal levels of honesty (and some women in the audience had their doubts about the men), that’s a gap that would have a significant burden on the women not faced by the men. (And the gaps are larger for childcare responsibilities.)

I’d say in our situation that I’m doing 40-50% of the housework while Mr. Geeky does 20-30%, leaving a gap of at least 20% and up to 40%, which sounds about right to me. Childcare is another story. During the year, it’s 50-50, in the summer, Mr. Geeky takes on most of it, so I have no complaints there. If I wanted to ramp up my career in any way, the house and possibly the kids would suffer unless Mr. Geeky stepped up to the plate. And he might, but he has his own demanding career; there’s only so much he could do even if he wanted to. We already have household help. I suppose we could increase that. I think this somewhat accounts for the doctors not having as many problems balancing things. They can afford help. Your average academic can only afford so much.

Another area that I find interesting that explains the gap is the difference in competition between women and men. In a test to measure how competitive women and men are, researchers found that men are definitely more competitive.

Women are much more likely to prefer the non-competitive approach and men gravitate overwhelmingly to the competition. Women are more likely, some studies have found, to go for the competition if it is single-sex and they are competing against other women.

Niederle noted that there could be logic to these choices if men did better on the mazes, but they don’t. The gaps in risk-taking are as much from men who overestimate themselves and figure they will win (when they don’t necessarily stand a chance) as from women who could win, but avoid the competition.

Some fields are full of competition, academe being one of them. Locally, one is often competing for resources, which is sometimes based on one’s success in “national” competitions for publication. What if one is just curious, interested in exploring different issues, sharing those explorations with students and, when appropriate, on a national stage via conferences and journals? Or what if one simply wants to read other people’s explorations and teach? Academe seems to have become a one size fits all operation. The beginning of the article stressed that different women want different things in terms of balance. When an industry only has one path for success, that can severely limit who chooses to take that path.

What is scholarship

Yesterday, I sent a link to my faculty of the “Top 100 Liberal Arts Bloggers.” I recognized quite a few of the names and thought that it might make interesting summer reading. I, in fact, billed it as such–like beach reading. I got a response pretty quickly from someone saying that he/she was disappointed that the blogs weren’t scholarship and that the list just confirmed that blogs are worthless.

Sigh.

Where do I begin? First of all, I would say that most academic blogs are not written with “traditional” scholarship in mind. If academic bloggers do address their field, they often do so with a lay audience in mind. As Michael Wesch said of his YouTube work, he’s reaching millions of people, different kinds of people than he would reach with his work published in an academic journal. In fact, that’s why I appreciate certain blogs, like the blogs at Scienceblogs. I get a sense of fields there’s no way I would understand if I read the journal articles. Another way that these blogs come at scholarship is by addressing issues in the news. Stories about science or economics can be expanded upon (or corrected) by experts. Is that or isn’t that scholarship?

Secondly, there’s more to life than scholarship, at least of the detailed kind I think my correspondent meant. Many of the academic blogs I read discuss work-life balance issues, problems within higher education more broadly, issues in their fields of study, politics, and yes, sometimes just plain old stuff. Is there anything wrong with that? Isn’t that somewhat interesting and something we should take time to think about? Shouldn’t we wrestle with the problems that an antiquated system brings to bear on current faculty? Shouldn’t we talk about what education means, what being an academic means, how to have a life and a life of the mind? But that’s not scholarship . . .

And so what if it’s not. So what if we can definitively say that in no way are blogs ever to be called scholarship? Do faculty not ever read the New York Times, the New Yorker, Harper’s, Time, Newsweek, watch the evening news, a movie or two? Are those bad things? Not intellectual enough? Are faculty not allowed entertainment?

I personally think we need to expand what we mean by scholarship anyway. I think we can still say that a certain kind of scholarship needs to be done (maybe), the kind written for the narrow group of people interested in a topic and published in journals reviewed and read by those same people. But I think there’s room for much more–critiques of the industry of higher education, discussions of teaching and grading practices, discussions of news or of peer-reviewed articles. I think blogs bring academics out of the ivory tower and I think that’s a good thing for both the academics and for the people who read their blogs. It ups the level of public discourse. I feel sorry for those who feel they should remain ensconced in the ivory tower and don’t engage with the world. Their work may become increasingly unknown and irrelevant.

Generation Alphabet

I’m getting all my good ideas from Dean Dad lately. Yesterday he writes about golf serving as a generational boundary. The comments are especially good and I’d recommend reading this one from Eyebrows McGee. He gets at some of the complexities behind Dean Dad’s discomfort with “Of course, there’ll be golf.” It’s about jobs, economics, and generations.

I’m a Gen X’er myself, though I’ve been called on to speak about the Millennials time and again and many of my behaviors fit more with that generation than my own. In theory, this makes sense since some people put the Gen X birth dates slightly before my own. Maybe I’m a Gen Y. I don’t know. I feel less and less young every year. I sense that there are many academic bloggers about my age, many of whom have written about their pain and sometimes final triumph in the academic world. We were all told in the 80s that a whole bunch of faculty will retire, enrollments will soar, and faculty jobs will be plentiful. We all know how that turned out. So I think there’s a certain amount of general frustration with how the academic job market turned out. It affects administrators as well, as Dean Dad and his commenters point out. In some places, there just isn’t a group of faculty that can be groomed for those upper level positions. When over half a department is made up of contingent faculty, there just isn’t as much to choose from.

I’m experiencing much the same thing on the staff side. There’s not as much of a generation gap in that we have a few managers actually younger than me (okay, 2), but many are 10-15 or more years older–not old enough to retire. I suspect this pattern persists across other institutions as well. Someone who gets stuck or “blocked,” as one commenter at DD’s put it, has to look for employment elsewhere. In the corporate world, this may simply mean going to the company across town. In academe, not so much. There may not be another college nearby, or if there is, there may not be a job that fits your skills. It’s not that this doesn’t happen to some corporate types, but it’s less common and, there are often better incentives to move when you’re a corporate manager–not just moving costs, but sometimes bonuses and housing allowances. Academe doesn’t make it easy to pull up stakes.

I’ll also say that I possess the “typical” restlessness of Gen X. We like change. We’re frustrated when people are slow to change, especially the baby boomers, who claimed they were going to change the world and then just settled in to play golf. We are the first generation to be less well-off than our parents (that’s true for me though not true for Mr. Geeky). People made us promises that dissipated into the thin air. That’s not to say that things are just horrible, but that perhaps the previous generation was a little too optimistic and too self-satisfied. I think, actually, that my generation and even the generations younger than me are a little more realistic and grounded. How’s that for broad, sweeping generalizations?

Academe and kids

Dean Dad comments on the IHE article from yesterday about studies showing that academics have fewer kids than other professionals. Dean Dad asks specifically how we make this work. Honestly, it’s gotten easier as the kids have gotten older, but it’s still hard. I especially feel guilty that I can’t be here when my kids get home from school to help them with their homework. I have taken a flexible schedule myself to be here a couple of days a week to meet my older son after school, but it still doesn’t feel like enough and there have been more than a few times when I’ve stayed over to finish something. The school schedule doesn’t help parents in any profession. I’ve discussed this many times before. I really wish the school schedule meshed better with the work schedule. It would go a long way to help many parents. It doesn’t do much for those doing shift work, but often those parents juggle anyway.

Something no one brought up was the fact that most academics find themselves far, far away from family, making it impossible to rely on them for childcare, especially for conference trips that are often a necessary part of the job. I see many of the friends in the neighborhood who have kids have family nearby. We went to grad school near my inlaws and I remember when Mr. Geeky went on the market, they did not understand why he didn’t just apply to his grad school or to another school nearby. They didn’t get that a) most people don’t get to work at a school where they went and b) you apply for jobs that are open. And the market’s just weird, anyway.

I’m actually grateful I’m not a lawyer or a doctor. I have one of each in my family. And while the doctor is on for a few days in a row and then off a few days in a row, he often can’t set his schedule (he works in an ER). He has to get people to fill in in order to take the vacation he wants to. If he needed to take care of a kid suddenly, he couldn’t just call in sick as easily as I might. My father, a lawyer who worked for himself, went in early and came home late while I was growing up. He seemed largely absent, which he says he now regrets. We kid him now about how he used to say at the dinner table “time is money.” We’d roll our eyes and tell him he’d lapsed into lawyerspeak and to get over himself.

The pressures that academics feel and especially the discrimination felt by many women is real and of a slightly different kind than that of doctors or lawyers. Some of the pressure is self-inflicted, a feeling that one wants to not just do okay, but do really well. But much comes from the tenure guidelines or course schedules, etc. Institutions could go a long way to alleviate some of those pressures by reducing some tenure guidelines or course loads–for everyone. Does every humanities department at every type of institution really need to requie a book for tenure? I’ve often said that maybe people could focus on what they’re good at instead of all having to do the exact.same.thing. Maybe you have a research star who doesn’t teach as well, but she’s balanced out with a teaching star who doesn’t do as much research. Because as I said in an earlier post, we all work too much. Life balance is good. Fine if there are a couple of stars who want all the rewards. The rest of the crowd may just want to be home in time for dinner.

Truthfully, no one tells you how hard and how much work it’s going to be to raise kids or to have a successful career. Doing both is not impossible, but it means giving some things up. I don’t have my kids in a million activities mainly because I don’t have time to cart them around. So maybe they won’t get into Harvard. I also don’t have a lot of extracurricular activities myself. Most of my “hobbies” are related to my work. I don’t have time to exercise. But I think we’re reasonably balanced–at least for now.