This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large.

Grad students have trouble with mental health, and if you’ve been one, you know it—which is why sociologist Katia Levecque’s work on high levels of risk for psychiatric disorders like depression in Ph.D. students went viral in 2017. The part where you work really hard for low pay for years is bad enough, but when you’re on the job market, looking for a place at the bottom of the academic ladder as one of hundreds of applicants for scarce positions—all while trying to establish a rooted life as a (maybe not-so) young adult—the feelings of precarity can be overwhelming.

What can be done? As Levecque said in an interview with “Science” this year, the problem is a complex one: “It’s not all the fault of the academic structure and culture, and it’s not all the fault of the individual.” We should all advocate for better working conditions and employment terms for early-career researchers. But working on an individual level, here are some things that you can do to manage the flood of feelings of uncertainty that the job market can bring.

Try to reach out and touch a world that’s not academia.

If you are overwhelmed by the prospect of putting together an entire second job search for an alt-ac position (fair!), do some small things that can connect you with a non-academic career. Follow professionals in the field on Twitter, and eavesdrop on what they’re saying about the ins and outs of their job. (They may also share ads for positions in the field, which is a bonus—you can see what requirements are de rigueur, and try to tailor your resume to fit.) Asking some of these people for informational interviews can be another good option; as the blog Beyond the Professoriate says, such chats are lower-stakes, and they can be “a fantastic way to stay motivated during your job search.” 

Go on a walk.

There is apparently science behind this common prescription for relieving stress. When you are anxious, and don’t know what’s coming, you become afraid, and your vision gets narrow; when you’re walking, you’re naturally scanning the horizon, and that side-to-side action of the eyes calms your brain. This isn’t about endorphins (though those help) or vitamin D from sunlight (that’s good too); it’s about forcing a reorientation to your situation. 

Don’t overdo it.

As Anna Meier writes in a blog post about being on the academic job market, you may have many opportunities extended to you to practice your job talk or have your materials reviewed by others in your program or university. Try to figure out which of these artificially imposed external deadlines will be helpful in developing your material and nailing your presentation, and which will not. “Do things that scare you a little,” she writes. “Don’t do things when you know they’re going to send you into an anxiety spiral and not actually help you.”

Try super hard to resist projecting outcomes.

As a friend said recently of her husband’s academic job search (which will affect her future town of residence): “I can’t seem to keep myself from hitting Zillow every time he gets an interview at an institution.” This kind of projection may be difficult to avoid, and some of us are better at compartmentalization than others—but try. As Tal Yarkoni wrote in 2012 about his strategy for staying on track while on the job market: “Spending as little of my time as possible thinking about my future employment status, and as much of it as possible concentrating on my research and personal life.”

Envision a long-term project outside of work.

In a new book, Dedicated: The Case for Commitment in an Age of Infinite Browsing, civic advocate Pete Davis argues that long-term happiness for people, and health for their communities, becomes possible when people commit to projects for decades at a time. He calls these people “long-haulers.” 

One reason an academic job search is so dispiriting is that many people who enter Ph.D programs intend for academia to be their “long-haul” project. Look at the CV of somebody who got a good tenured position a few decades ago, was supported in their research and is now in their sixties; that person is a long-hauler. That’s the kind of CV that inspires committed grad students who love academia to go for it. But when jobs are so scarce, academia may not be able to serve as your long-haul project.

One way to maintain mental health during an uncertain job search is to re-invest in other things that you plan to do your whole life long. Cooking, gardening, writing that’s not related to your Ph.D research, spending time with children you plan to see grow up (plus these other COVID hobbies)—these are all long-haul projects that can bring you solace, when the job market goes up and down. 

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large.

Last year, researchers who study academic publishing began warning of productivity gaps due to the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, foreseeing a lagging effect in publications and research activities that might hit female and marginalized faculty the hardest. And as online teaching demands grew, some faculty wondered whether, and to what degree, they would be penalized for some students’ dissatisfaction with the state of affairs. 

In 2021, institutions have begun instituting policy around accounting for these COVID impacts in tenure and promotion. Faculty putting together tenure, promotion, and review/reappointment (RPT) materials have encountered guidance they might use in producing a new kind of academic document: the COVID impact statement. Here’s how four institutions that extended this option for faculty to put their pandemic experience on record recommended the statements be composed, distributed, and considered, in the process of promoting faculty to the next level. 

Who needed to write a COVID impact statement? 

The choice to include a COVID statement was framed as optional by three of the four institutions whose policies are under review here. Michigan State, after noting the optional nature of filing a COVID statement, added: “[Faculty and staff] are encouraged to document their progress and challenges on an ongoing basis…Examples of what you have done and aimed to do during this time will ensure institutional memory by conveying the impact of the pandemic on your work.” Clemson, which required faculty to include a statement in dossiers submitted for annual reviews and RPT reviews pertaining to activities carried out between 2020 and 2022, added: “Faculty may opt to write a very brief statement if they feel the pandemic had minimal or no effect on their work.”

What’s in the document:

Institutions brainstormed long lists of possible impacts to research and teaching that faculty and staff could include in their COVID impact statements—or, if no separate statement was recommended, within their standard narrative statements. Such possible impacts generally fell into a few categories. 

Research: NYU suggested including “disruptions to research and creative work, and how they were addressed.” Penn State recommended addressing a list of possible research impacts, including “encountering travel and field restrictions”; “book contracts/publications delayed due to accessibility/press closures/other restrictions”; “alterations in time devoted to research and creative accomplishments due to increased teaching, service, or pandemic safety responsibilities.” 

Money: NYU suggested faculty mention “changes in resources to support your work.” Each institution recommended that faculty state disruptions to such arrangements as grants, visiting fellowships, and research funds. 

Teaching and advising: Institutions, many of whom suspended the requirement to submit student and peer teaching evaluations for the spring of 2020, singled out teaching as an area where evaluators might have to give quite a bit of latitude to faculty. Penn State mentioned a long list of possible impacts in these areas, including “Assisting students to adjust to remote instruction”; “modifying courses to be inclusive”; and “encountering challenges with technology.” 
Service: Michigan State recognized that service responsibilities might have “greatly increased” for some faculty, “especially for those doing community outreach and engagement,” while other external service obligations, like journal editorship or chairing academic conference sessions, might have changed in unpredictable ways.

Personal matters: 

As you might expect, policy-makers had to phrase their recommendations around documenting more personal impacts of the pandemic carefully. This is the most unusual part of the exercise of writing a COVID statement, and some people engaged in the process from the faculty side found it difficult. (As one academic observed on Twitter, “COVID impact statements feel risky because academia asks us to pretend we aren’t full people and to write hero narratives about our work only. So to do that but also detail personal, community, and family challenges all of a sudden is terrifying.”) 

Clemson noted that it would be “appropriate” for faculty to write about the “emotional labor and impact they have recently experienced supporting their mental health and wellness needs, as well as the needs of others,” but hastened to stipulate that this wasn’t required. “Note,” the document went on, “that this statement is not considered confidential.” Michigan State suggested writers catalog personal circumstances that might have led to reduced productivity, like “lack of infrastructure at home to support virtual work (e.g. technology access/lack of access, overloaded bandwidth, lack of quiet space, etc.)” and personal circumstances like deaths in the family, homeschooling, and “financial stress caused by the elevated costs of childcare, eldercare, and/or healthcare.”

Who will see it: 

NYU directed faculty that the COVID impact statement might be shared with internal and external reviewers. “At a minimum, the information will be treated neutrally; at a maximum, it may positively impact your review.” Clemson, and other institutions, also included language that RPT committees might use in explaining the COVID impact statement to external reviewers. 

As institutions made clear, evaluators at every level would have to adjust to include the COVID statement as part of their process. MSU, for one, announced that they would be convening advisory groups across the university to help evaluators learn how to consider pandemic-related faculty information in promotion. This seems wise, since the COVID impact statement will be a part of the RPT process for years to come, as the events of 2020-2021 continue to affect faculty’s lives and work. As with all things COVID, we’re in uncharted territory, and everything is strange; best to document it as we can. 

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large.

Before March of 2020, the virtual interview—a fairer and more ecological method, some have argued, of screening candidates in the first round of job searches—had made some inroads as part of the academic hiring process. The months between March 2020 and the present have been an intense laboratory for the practice, as hiring institutions have had to move everything online, including residency interviews for medical students and campus visits for final-round candidates for faculty jobs. After a year of this natural experiment in virtual interviewing, the Internet is full of new advice for candidates and committees who will do this in future.

For The Candidate

Some COVID-generated advice to candidates doing their interviews over Skype or Zoom is familiar. “Control what you can control” during a virtual interview, Bertin M. Louis, Jr. wrote in a series of columns offering advice for interviewees early in the pandemic. Dress properly, find ways to convey enthusiasm about the position, and pre-prepare answers to the kinds of generic questions that institutions often pose. In a letter sent to Karen Kelsky in response to an urgent call for counsel for candidates facing virtual campus visits last spring, one veteran of such a visit recommended getting as professional a setup as the interviewee can afford—microphone, ring light, and tripod for a webcam. Another thought being at a computer that’s wired directly into the Internet—no wifi router in between—would eliminate another possible source of instability.

Rehearsal of the job talk and its technical aspects, everyone agreed, is key. The candidate should rehearse every screen share and transition more than they think could possibly be necessary. Keep a glass of water, a notebook to take physical notes, your phone in case there’s an internet problem, all nearby, another recommended, adding, “wear contacts if you can; avoid glasses because of the glare.” The advice to be found in this treasure trove—a collection of documents for medical students facing COVID-safe virtual interviews for their residencies—echoes many of these practical points.

The social parts of virtual interviewing, some argued, can also be practiced. Another letter-writer to Kelsky, with a lot of experience teaching and facilitating groups over Zoom, pointed out that eye contact with interviewers—maintained through looking at the camera, not at the screen—was important, and a “learned skill.” “I suggest not only running through your spiel via the platform you’ll be using, but also spending a few hours with different people you don’t know well talking via the platform….With strangers, if you can,” this advice-giver suggested.

For The Institution

Creating conditions for the fairest possible virtual interview process is an institution’s responsibility, and during the pandemic, committee members have been scrambling to meet it. In a best-practices document meant for search committees, Case Western Reserve University offered some advice for those in charge of constructing the experience from the institutional side. Make sure the committee has no more than six members, so that the candidate and the committee can really interact; pick a moderator for that committee, so that things go smoothly. Build in multiple fail-safes for tech issues: make sure everyone has an alternative method of contact; leave space between interviews if doing more than one in a row; test the sound and use headphones. In a response to Kelsky’s call for advice on virtual campus visits, a chair of a search committee recommended a lot of extra breaks for the candidate to recharge, and “making the norms explicit to candidate as well as faculty and students.” “Give them your cell phone number; be patient,” the respondent emphasized. 

In an article summarizing advice to radiology students, their faculty advisors, and the search committees looking to virtually screen a large number of applicants for residencies, Tirath Y. Patel and co-authors recommended that institutions should use a central administrator, “to schedule and proctor the interview day grid.” To avoid problems with “Zoom bombing” (that’s when an unwanted intruder disrupts a videoconference), there should be somebody present at each interview who knows how to handle these security challenges. Looking on the bright side, Patel and co-authors thought one advantage of the virtual process might be the ability to tap a wider pool of interviewers: “residency alumni, retired faculty, and offsite residents and faculty.” 

In fact, there’s a lot of hope out there that the experiences of 2020-21 will lead to progress. “I am confident that our hiring process not only led to the best choice, but that it screened out aspects of academic hiring that have long bothered me for how they replicate forms of privilege and implicit bias,” wrote Brian T. Edwards in the Chronicle of Higher Education, recounting the story of how he and his colleagues hired a candidate into a senior administrative position without ever meeting her in person. “Driven out of necessity, the way we structured our search process helped us focus more on the talents of the candidates and the likelihood of their success in the job than on the superficial aspects of traditional interviews which tend to leave cultural self-replication unchallenged.”

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large.

For many people in the academic world, the coronavirus pandemic sparked a recommitment to hobbies—those time-obliterating pastimes so often set aside, in normal days, in favor of socializing, traveling to conferences, and commuting to and from campus. In June of last year, Lee Skallerup Bessette, a learning design specialist with a university center for teaching, wrote about pruning tomatoes, sewing, and baking bread, in between getting some writing done. “It’s nearly impossible to think about anything else while stitching,” said Megan Koeman-Eding, a coordinator for a college advising office, of her new affinity for cross-stitch—a hobby that had the side benefit of keeping her mind off the news. And Crystal Wilkinson, a professor of English, recently wrote a beautiful essay for Oxford American on her whole family’s rediscovery of cooking and vegetable gardening during the pandemic. This year, Wilkinson wrote, “I worry and cook in the confines of my kitchen just like my grandmother did.” 

Daredevils in Quarantine

While some focused on producing food and fabric art for their homes, others looked for thrills where they could. Cydney Scott, a photographer for Boston University, did a photo essay on members of the BU community who had taken up new hobbies—or rediscovered old ones—during the pandemic. Among her subjects was Scott Bunch, a professor of engineering who’s begun skateboarding—or, rather, gotten back into it after decades away. Scott also photographed Bill Dupee, an analyst/consultant for BU’s Questrom School of Business, who built a whole flight simulator, “complete with instruments, controls, and even rudder pedals.” The septuagenarian reported communing with his son across the Internet, “flying” together, even as they were separated by the pandemic.

When Academics Branch Out

For others, COVID times have offered chances to play around with hobbies that are tangential to—but ended up enriching—their academic work. Archaeologist Sara Ann Knutson wrote that she had taken up photography, and that “the practice has taught me to really ‘see’ light. Now I cannot stop thinking anthropologically about light forms.” A Ph.D student in biology, Rhett Rautsaw, created an eye-catching illustration that landed on the March 2021 cover of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution—the same issue that also published a paper with Rautsaw as lead author. 

Some of these pandemic dabblings got wonderfully nerdy. Sarah Stang, a librarian and consultant, posted a picture of a tray of white crystals: “I’m at the ‘making of my own sea salt from sea water’ stage of pandemic hobbies.” (For those thinking of following suit, proximity to a coastline is probably required.) And Victoria Yell, another Ph.D student in biology, posted an amazing spreadsheet documenting her recent coffee-making efforts. “I know what you’re thinking: ‘but Victoria, making a beverage isn’t a hobby…’”, she joked. “I got a manual espresso maker, and it has made me realize that my career in science has had an irreversible impact on how I conduct everyday life.”

Or Maybe Just The Porch

If you didn’t do any of this tinkering, perfecting, and building—if you spent the COVID times working, wrangling kids, caregiving, healing, or grieving—you aren’t alone there, either. Taylor G. Petrey, a professor of religion, joked that his COVID hobbies ranged from “baking, getting dogs” to “regulating kids’ screen time; Fortnite.” And some found self-soothing to be a full-time hobby, in itself. “People took up all these productive COVID hobbies,” said Darcy Hartman, a lecturer in economics. “My new hobbies—swinging, hammocking, and hot tubbing.” And that, too, is more than fine.

What hobbies, if any, did you adopt during the pandemic? Connect with us on Twitter to join the conversation

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large.

What is TikTok, besides the latest social-media craze seemingly custom-designed to make everyone over 23 feel past their expiration date? And is it at all relevant to faculty life? For some professors, the video-sharing app, which has people record themselves doing dances or lip-synch challenges (or, sometimes, singing sea shanties in gorgeous harmony), has proved to be a real creative outlet—and a good place to spread a bit of knowledge, outside of the classroom. Here are a few fun faculty to follow.

@dr_inna (Inna Kanevsky, psychology professor): Kanevsky’s popular feed (693.2K followers as we’re writing this) fact-checks viral tidbits about psychology and other scientific matters, answers questions, and demystifies the nuts and bolts of doing science. For fact-checking, Kanevsky takes advantage of TikTok’s “stitch” function, adding her own professorial commentary onto popular videos.

@professorcasey (Casey Fiesler, professor of information science): Fiesler, who studies tech ethics, puts up cheerful explainers about matters of intellectual property and popular culture, answers questions about social media, and even analyzes the app itself, as in a recent TikTok that presented the research case for native captioning.

@juliustheprofessor (Julius Bailey, professor of religion): Bailey answers questions about religion, talks about faculty life, and makes a lot of visual jokes about grading. (The dice-roll one is particularly good.) 

@ms.christinacosta (Christina Costa, psychology Ph.D candidate): Costa, who studies the brain, was diagnosed with a brain tumor last year—an irony she’s taken in stride in many funny TikToks since. Her feed is a mix of information TikToks about college learning, and “inside” views of her cancer treatment, all leavened with a healthy dose of humor. 

@theprofessormom (“Dr. B.,” political scientist): The purple-haired professor answers questions about international relations as a subfield, talks about teaching on Zoom, and brings her expertise to bear on topics in the news, as in this recent commentary on COVID vaccine hoarding. 

@drgtown (Serena Gramling, professor of nursing): Professor humor mixes with hospital humor in Gramling’s feed, which is fiercely pro-student, pro-vaccine, and pro-nurse. 

@drdre4000 (Andre Korrie, rank not publicly available): “Chemist, King, Skinny Legend,” this account’s bio reads; the videos, often co-starring students, shine with love for the many hijinks of lab life. 

@professorbren (Rachel Brenner, professor of psychology): As this retrospective TikTok demonstrates, Brenner got really, really into the format in the last year, and her enthusiasm for it shines through. Brenner’s prolific feed is full of commentary on the tenure track, gender politics, and creative responses to TikTok challenges. 

As lighthearted time-sucks go, TikTok is a great one. Add one—or all!—of these faculty members to your “following” mix, to get a little academia in your feed!

What online networking tactics and groups have been fulfilling and valuable for you this year? Share your recommendations and stories with us on Twitter.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large.

The idea of adding more online work to your to-do list may be anathema in 2020, but for academics who find themselves at points in their careers where they really need to make connections, online networking has been an unexpected blessing this pandemic year. “In this new world, [social media and blogging] looks more and more like THE essential toolkit for networking,” wrote Neville Morley in a blog post on COVID-era academic networking. Here’s some quick advice for academics looking to connect more between now and whenever it is that we can again gather in hotel conference rooms to chat over subpar coffee.

Be kind

“Absolutely basic principles,” wrote Morley about academic engagement on Twitter, should be: “Don’t pull rank, don’t dump on people, and if you have lots of followers take some responsibility for their engagement with people who engage with you.” This is not a COVID-specific bit of advice; the best academic networking, Robin Bernstein wrote in the Chronicle a few years ago, is “radically sincere, deep, and generous.” But when everyone is feeling pretty fragile for one reason or another, the advice to “be kind” goes double. See how you can be helpful, and reach out to peers, not just more powerful people; horizontal networking also yields benefits.

Get the basics nailed down

During this time, if you have the bandwidth, make sure your online presence is complete, and that you own it—you should have at least one website or page that’s not tied to your current university. Select—or take—a good headshot to use across platforms; there are many tips for doing this at home to be found online. (At least one platform—LinkedIn—says that profiles with photos attached get many more views than profiles without.) Pick through your previous writing and presentations, gather up the gems, and put the best stuff on that page that you own. Make sure your CV is updated, wherever it can be found.

Find your people

Other standard advice for academic Twitter users pre-COVID still applies: Tap into subject-specific Twitter lists maintained by people you already follow in order to find new connections; lurk on the outskirts of conversations, see who’s the most constructive and interesting, and follow them; look at hashtags for topics that interest you, and find people that way. If you attend virtual conferences, which are a particular artifact of the COVID era, take advantage of any of concurrent Twitter events that are going on.

Sign up for virtual events

Some scholarly organizations have convened Zoom chats for people interested in connecting around a topic. Check with your associations to see if there are any you could join. Even if you can’t find a time that feels natural to speak up during the Zoom, try to find a way to participate in the chat: sharing links, for example, or adding corroboration to a comment. After the event is over, make sure to connect with participants whose work you found interesting on Twitter or LinkedIn, to continue the conversation.

Think outside the Twitter box

LinkedIn, wrote Eva Lantsoght in a post about why academics should use the tool, “can be a source of consistency as you switch institutions.” Lantsoght recommends using LinkedIn to keep connected with people who change their emails often, as many academics do. She advocates linking out to Slideshare to show off presentations; participating in groups by asking and answering questions; and making sure to keep your profile up to date. And for researchers whose work requires them to connect to people who work outside of the academy, or who may look for jobs outside of academia, LinkedIn is the place to be.

As we all live more in front of screens this year, it’s important to be even more intentional with our time online. These recommendations for online networking will help you build community among academics, whether looking for new positions, research opportunities, or simply connection.

What online networking tactics and groups have been fulfilling and valuable for you this year? Share your recommendations and stories with us on Twitter.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large.

Impact on research time

“Almost overnight, COVID-19 turned me into an elementary school teacher, a housekeeper, a hairdresser, and a professional worrier — all things I am terrible at, with the exception of the latter,” wrote economist Olga Shurchkov on Medium in April. Looking back at her post seven months on, as many academics with children have gone more than half a year without the benefit of open schools or childcare, and mothers across the economy have borne the brunt of COVID-related disruptions, onlookers are worrying that the hairline fissures in academic mothers’ CVs that began opening up in spring and early summer may be developing into full-blown cracks.

In April, editors for three journals in political science and philosophy reported evidence that the volume of female authors’ submissions had declined since COVID-19. For many, anecdotal reports from journal editors were the first sign that something was wrong. More systematic studies followed. A team surveyed American and European scientists, starting in April, to see how COVID-19 was affecting their usage of time; the results were published in September. Those who chose to respond to the survey (a self-selecting group, to be sure) reported that overall, their working hours had dipped—in average, the group that used to work 61 hours a week was now working 54. Influencing this average was a  much bigger portion of the surveyed scientists that were working 42 hours a week or fewer, as opposed to before the pandemic hit. 

Time-pressed scientists seemed to be reducing hours devoted to research, rather than teaching or administrative tasks. And female scientists, scientists with kids under five, and especially female scientists with kids under five were the hardest-hit when it came to losing research hours. The survey results were echoed by other work on U.S. faculty members, among whom the professors with kids in the 0-5 age range reported having the hardest time doing work—a finding that anyone who’s taken full-time care of a kid under 5 could probably have predicted. 

Tracking the rates of publication

Studies tracking rates of publication followed these time-use surveys. In May, a group of researchers reported on their look at 11 pre-print repositories and three platforms for registered reports in the sciences. Assigning gender to authors’ names using an algorithm, the group analyzed more than 300,000 submissions. Importantly, the researchers looked at author order, showing that the numbers of women in first-author positions had dropped, when compared to the previous two months and the same two months in 2019. In those fields, the group pointed out, first authorship often gets assigned to a junior scholar; the implication is that junior women’s productivity was taking the biggest hit. Women’s names were also less commonly associated with work done on COVID-19—the very work that, of course, was being rapidly produced in response to the pandemic.

Also in May, a group of economists reported the results of their study of rates of submissions of preprints and working papers in that field, breaking down the data by seniority level and gender, and looking in particular at whether women were authoring preprints analyzing COVID-19. Which economists, the group wondered, were able to jump on the interesting research situation the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns has produced? For economists, the pandemic is a natural experiment of epic proportions, but the people who find themselves equipped to take advantage, this group argues, are not those who have children at home, and/or are more cautious about abandoning previous research to start something new.  “It is mostly senior male economists who are currently exploiting the myriad research questions arising from the COVID-19 shock,” wrote the group. 

Since the flush of springtime and summertime interest in COVID’s effect on women doing academic research, institutions have been looking for solutions. An organization called 500 Women Scientists has called for funding agencies to give grad students and postdocs gap funding, departments to offer teaching releases, and for institutions to reduce the use of student teaching evaluations in considering decisions around hiring and promotion, since caregiving academics with little time to give seem more likely to get dinged on evals when students get dissatisfied with online teaching.

But of all the interventions, a common-sense approach to evaluating the parts of mothers’ CVs that represent 2020 (and 2021) may be the hardest to implement, but the most beneficial. One academic and mother who spoke to Science about her situation mentioned that she was having trouble imagining how she would represent the pandemic in official documentation summarizing her research career. “I can’t give as many talks, I can’t participate in conferences, I can’t do trainings, I’ve had to shut down collaborations,” she said. “How am I supposed to account for this on my CV?” In her case, as in so many others, a little understanding might go a long way. 

What has been the pandemic’s impact on your research? Share with us on Twitter.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large.

How are faculty doing, emotionally speaking, right now?

For many, the answer is “profoundly burned out.” “Anyone else feel like they’ve been working non-stop since March and are about to crash?” asked Arcelia Gutiérrez, a professor of Latinx studies at the University of Kentucky, on Twitter recently. ”And we have no breaks this semester, and we’re already on week 8 of the semester.” In a piece in EdSurge about faculty burnout, Kevin R. McClure, a professor of higher education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, noted that many faculty’s lack of time off in the summer of 2020 added to the feeling of stress that people were feeling in August, facing the fall semester. “Summer is normally a time of restoration for faculty and staff, and many believed if they could just finish the spring semester, they would have a chance to recover”—but a summer devoid of travel plans and childcare, and full of work to set up online or hybrid learning for the following semester, simply didn’t do the trick. 

Faculty and staff reported to McClure that it wasn’t just the fact that the summer was full of work that has left them feeling tapped out, but also the nature of the work. Endless meetings about an ever-changing and hopeless situation; hard work put into plans that may never be implemented; lack of communication from leaders, who were, themselves, overwhelmed—the summer, and the beginning of the fall semester, have seemed never-ending. Commenting to Inside Higher Ed about the piece, McClure said that he had received a pile of feedback after it published: “What I heard over and over again was people saying, ‘That’s me. This is how I feel.’” 

Much self-reported faculty stress comes from a perceived disconnect between people’s personal situations and the amount of work the university continues to expect. This pandemic academic life—no childcare and school, for parents; huge teaching burdens for those who are adjusting to new platforms; no travel for research; restricted access to materials—is not normal, five scientists wrote in a group plea published in Science in late August. “With the start of the semester upon us, we continue to receive a massive influx of emails from colleagues detailing service expectations, research disruptions, and complex new policies,” they wrote. “All of this can feel incredibly overwhelming.” The group argued for transparency, respect for personal needs, and aggressive triaging of what’s necessary: “Don’t hold yourselves, or your students, to the same standards as 2019.” 

What can be done?

Some senior professors have urged their fellows to step up, this semester and this year. Nicholas H. Snow, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Seton Hall University, argued on Inside Higher Ed that research scholars should “make teaching and serving undergraduate students your highest priority” this year. “Our institutions and our undergraduates need us. They need all of us. They need us to be accessible and inclusive,” Snow insisted, urging his senior colleagues to “go to your funding agency; get a no-cost extension…ask them to allow your postdocs to join with us in the classroom.” This was the time, Snow thought, for the “haves” of academia to put research goals aside and put their shoulders to the wheel. 


A sentiment many faculty share—one that, for some, is a saving grace—is the sense of common cause with their students. “Doing my best, kids—and I know you are, too,” tweeted classicist Christopher Polt, of Boston College, with a modified Spiderman meme attached. (For those unfamiliar, the meme usually features two Spidermen pointing at each other, and is used to signify a recognition of sameness. In Polt’s version, a single Spiderman, the “professor,” points at a group of students—the whole group recognizing one other as going through the same turmoil.) In replies to the viral tweet, professors described feeling a cathartic sense of identification with their students, who are having many of the same problems as faculty: lack of childcare, exposure to COVID, spotty internet, family stress.

A little bit of grace and recognition goes a long way, in the fall of 2020.

How are you navigating these times as a faculty member? How could institutions better support you in your work? Share with us on Twitter.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, containing advice on how to support grad students, now more than ever.

American grad students, who are already living on small stipends and facing soft job markets, have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Access to research materials is difficult, with labs and libraries closed and travel curtailed for the foreseeable future. Students with caregiving responsibilities may find themselves with very little time to work with the materials they do have with them. And in many fields, thanks to hiring freezes, the job market has gone from “pretty bad, but you might swing something, if you’re lucky” to apocalyptic—adding a new layer of fear to their pandemic experience. Yet many report that they don’t feel supported by their departments at this time. What can you, a faculty member who works with grad students, do to help?

Don’t assume that “grad student” = young and unencumbered 

If you think of grad students as cloistered and research-driven—garret-dwelling or lab-bound,  without much of a life beyond their work—it might seem that, for them, the pandemic is simply a fine time to get a lot done, without those pesky happy hours interfering. But that’s not necessarily the case. We’ve all heard the famous “Isaac Newton invented calculus while hiding out from the plague” story, but that story isn’t entirely true—and besides, Isaac Newton had no toddlers. Grad students may be caring for children, parents, or sick family members; some may have more time to work, but some may have way less. 

Try to provide as much clarity as you can 

Some of the worst impacts on grad students seem to be related to confusion around expectations. 

  • Some STEM grad students don’t know if they’re supposed to be physically present in their labs
  • Humanities grad students don’t know whether they’ll be given extensions on their funding packages
  • Nobody knows what will happen with the job market in 2021

Several of these unknowns are true unknowns, and some could be clarified by institutions. 

Reporting for Inside Higher Ed, Colleen Flaherty wrote that many departments want to be clearer with their students, but don’t, themselves, have clarity from administrations on what’s going to be expected of grad students during this time. If that’s the case, faculty should try to let grad students know that they are aware of these questions, and that the department is pushing to get them answered ASAP.

Try to make extensions and allowances standard

As with so many things related to the impact of the coronavirus, the impacts on individual grad students are going to be very hard to quantify. It might be better to simply adopt a universal policy relating to coronavirus disruptions, than to make people account in a granular way for what’s happened to them during this strange period. 

Jan Tattenberg, a doctoral student in history at the University of Oxford, argued that systems like his department’s—they require students to log how they spent their time during the pandemic in order to petition for extensions based on harm done to research and productivity—fail to take into account the mental health impacts of isolation during a global pandemic.

“I will lose work time because I will wonder if any of it is worth it, given the state of the world right now,” he tweeted. “I will lose work time because I miss my friends. And I don’t know how I quantify any of this. Or if any of it would be accepted.” 

Consider their immediate financial need

Finally, programs should appreciate the wrench the pandemic has thrown into plans that students may have put in place to support themselves during the summer break—a notably bad time for grad school funding, in the best of years. If there is a way to use institutional funds to provide short-term teleworking jobs, or simple grants in aid, to students who need summer coverage, it should be considered. “Individual faculty,” Duke professor Gabriel Rosenberg suggested in a tweet, “who have fungible research funds previously earmarked for (now impossible) travel and archival work should consider creating and self-funding flexible RAships”—especially if those funds have expiration dates. 

What are some ways you are supporting graduate students right now? Share with us on Twitter.

This blog post continues our series, Scholar at Large, written by an academic who is now on the tenure track at Nevada State College.

Graduate programs are increasingly modernizing their professionalization toward a more inclusive humanities job market. This is definitely promising for upcoming and recent PhDs, even while many of these programs are still being taught by faculty who have little to no experience beyond their academic silos. At the same time, is this shift exacerbating a gap between generations of academics? What can current faculty do to incorporate more inclusive humanities work into their own practices, and enhance their abilities to speak to humanities work more broadly?

Recently, I was reminded of how conferences can provide scholars at any level, and with any title, the opportunity to “learn new tricks.” I presented at both the American Studies Association and the National Humanities Conference (a collaboration between the National Humanities Alliance and the Federation of State Humanities Councils), occurring concurrently in Honolulu.  Both spaces were largely composed of professionals with the same credentials—scholars, academics, educators with advanced degrees. Yet I was struck by how distinct the conversations felt between these two communities. 

This difference was very generative for me and reminded me of the work I did while exploring non-traditional academic careers: 

  • I was able to make the way I relay my research more inclusive (and thus generate better ideas from the conversations)
  • I was forced to push the agility of my thinking and communication
  • I broadened the way I approached building my networks in my field  

I walked away from that week wanting to encourage current faculty and graduate students to approach conferencing more creatively than we tend to be trained to do. Creative conferencing is a great way to boost your knowledge of broader humanities work—and in turn to connect with humanities practitioners that will make your scholarship more robust (and have more sustaining impact). At the same time, you’ll be actively practicing the same skills that you want to instill in your students.

Creative conferencing helps us understand what being an “agile thinker” means in practice

At traditional academic conferences, there is often an assumed “starting position” of knowledge, of politics, of priorities. While that shared starting position is an important part of how knowledge is developed in a field, it can also perpetuate a field’s insularity. Bringing my work to two different kinds of conferences gave me access to more inclusive and challenging conversations, which in turn sharpened my ideas and the contributions I make to my field.  

Though I presented the same core material at each conference, I had to think differently about how I framed my work. I was placing my work in conversation with different kinds of humanities practitioners (not just professors, but folks who work with communities and K-12 teachers, folks supporting initiatives like The Lemon Project), which encouraged me to draw new connections between others’ work and my own. I had to practice recognizing and making my work relevant for the different starting points, pressures, and stakes related to doing humanities work for each audience.

Creative conferencing helps us identify new modes of academic collaboration

Despite the fundamental overlap in the commitments and the backgrounds of the attendees of each conference, the conversations at each conference tended to remain siloed in either the theoretical or the pragmatic. I found this gap astounding; it seems that there should be no reason for it other than the ways that professors determine “academic work” to look and sound like something very particular. Purposefully going to conferences that enable us to meet with and collaborative with other humanities practitioners is a great way to close that gap. My own work will only improve the more I am able to think of its theoretical components and pragmatic applications as inextricably co-formative (as praxis).

Creative conferencing reveals networks we didn’t know we had (or even needed)

Conferencing across these venues also helped me think differently about how and who I was networking, and toward what ends. In one conference I’m connecting with folks who may expand my knowledge of my scholarly fields or pedagogical praxis, or who might potentially publish my book. In another I’m meeting and connecting with folks who, for instance, have expertise in public engagement work, who are starting institutes at their universities, or who are running initiatives related to equity in search committees. Working and dialoguing across these networks made me consider how I think about the different sectors of my own work—how they overlap and how I may be more creative in integrating them. 

Now that I’ve started my job as a professor, I find that my academic and intellectual investments are shaped by pragmatic and institutional issues in a way that I simply was not cognizant of while attending a well-endowed and large university for graduate school. The more that I am able to understand my academic work in these terms, the more potential I have to both be good at my job and enrich the work of the humanities as a whole. The “alt ac” moves folks are talking about right now are not just for those coming up in the academy; they’re for all of us already in the tower, too. 

Author bio: Dr. Molly Appel is an Assistant Professor of English at Nevada State College, where she teaches courses on composition and literature. Her work focuses largely on how literature works as a space of teaching and learning for human rights and social justice in the Americas. You find her on Twitter @mollyappel.

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