It all started with a tweet (this post that is) calling for women in academia to share their stories. From a content-management perspective, I thought it was well planned: the month of march, when the UN promotes the International Women’s Day and some countries in the world like Romania even celebrate mother’s day.
Then it made me wonder: isn’t dedicating a month to women in academia counter-productive? After all, whether one studies for a degree or is already walking the sinuous, challenging path of a research/teaching (and consultancy) career, they do so on a daily basis, side-by-side their (male) colleagues. And wouldn’t these stories present women as a “special” group (like foreigners, junior staff, parents, you name it) and instead of recognizing their achievements harm them more? While it gives a sense of community and shared values, a women’s dedicated month, blog or research group also sets women apart calling attention to their gender rather than their academic outputs or contribution to academia. So, it’s like saying that their contribution, publications, even thoughts are more valuable because they are women…
As a woman in academia I had asked myself these questions many times and my approach so far has been to focus on the task at hand and strive to be the best at it. To me this meant a combination of learning and playing by the rules but also learning to push them and break them whenever possible.
Go for more than the minimum
For instance, as a PhD candidate (at least in the UK) you would be expected to complete your research and it would be recommended to you to attend a conference or two: to get some feedback on your research, establish a network of contacts and exercise your presentation skills. That is to my knowledge the minimum requirement. My advice to you is to push further. Do not just go to a conference but try to publish, turn your conference paper into a journal article or a book chapter. Having a publications record at the end of your PhD means that you are a researcher not that you have the potential of producing research. (And in the process, you will also learn how the peer review process works, you will learn to handle rejection and criticism – all extremely useful experiences to have as you prepare for your viva). In this sense keep an eye on the listservs, blogs, twitter accounts that are relevant to your field for calls for papers, contributions, special editions and so on.
Plan ahead and play for your next step
Similarly, during your PhD you might be advised to focus solely on your research and on graduating on time. This is very important and already a huge task in itself. However, if you check the job descriptions of current research or lecturing positions (jobs.ac.uk was my reference when I was in the UK), they require so much more than having completed on time. So my advice to you is to keep an eye from now on those jobs descriptions and do things from now that would tick those boxes: take a teaching assistantship part-time, get involved with the knowledge exchange department of your current university, organise a graduate conference and try to attend staff meetings at university… only by doing that will you truly know what you are to face when you graduate.
Become your own communication specialist
Speaking of graduation and the life after it, a solid research agenda, good outputs and a varied CV are still not enough. Competition is increasingly high in academia (check Times Higher Ed from once in a while to see how many PhD graduates truly end up in academia to get an idea) so making yourself visible and keeping track of your achievements is essential. While receiving praise and support from others is very good, sometimes you have to make it easy for them for it to happen. This is why it would be good if you would consider how you can promote yourself and how you can provide others with a platform to praise you, reach out to you and work with you. I would say be active on social media (pick your platforms and be consistent – LinkedIn, Twitter, Academia.edu, Slideshare.net, your own blog) and get visible on university’s research accounts but if that is not for you, then find your niche networks that can support you in reaching your goals.
Keep your passion alive
All that is hard work will keep you busy way beyond the PhD requirements. My secret to move on was to find a balance between projects where I felt I met people that supported my journey and projects where I had to push myself into uncharted territories. It made me feel that my time was well spent.
You are always “special” but play your “special” card strategically
As for your special status, whether it’s gender or anything else, I would say you are always special. What is important though is to figure when playing the “special” card strengthens your argument rather than being your sole argument.
Attendance at x international conference is in line with the university research dissemination plans; my participation as a (fill in here…. First year PhD, sole author, woman, international researcher) would…. (complete argument)
It worked for me and I hope, some of it at least, will work for you too.
Text and image credits: Ana Adi.
Professor of PR by day, lover of food and traveling by DNA” , Ana Adi is the Head of the Department of Corporate Communications at Quadriga University of Applied Sciences (Berlin, Germany). She defines herself as a digital humanist whose research covers, among others, digital storytelling and corporate digital discourses. Ana is a polyglot and has worked worked, taught and studied in the USA, Great Britain, Belgium, Bahrain, Thailand and Romania. You can read more about her work on her website or connect with her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Academia.edu.