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

“Here’s an unpopular opinion,” wrote Viet Thanh Nguyen, professor of English, American studies, and comparative literature at the University of Southern California, in the New York Times in February 2021. “I like teaching on Zoom.” Although many professors were nervous about moving online in March 2020, after a few semesters of teaching through the Internet, reports are in, and they’re much less catastrophic than some people predicted. Here, from faculty with a few semesters under their belts, are a few key upsides of Zoom.

Human connections are different, but for some people, easier

Vikki Katz, a professor of communication and information at Rutgers University, surveyed thousands of undergrads about their remote-learning experiences and found that what was the most important for students trying to learn online was the accessibility of the faculty. “Whatever you can do to reduce that sense of distance…and keep the connection strong between you and them,”she said to the Chronicle of Higher Education, “is going to pay dividends.”

Liza Kaufman Hogan, a journalism professor with online teaching experience who wrote an essay to encourage colleagues new to the art at the beginning of the pandemic, said that although it was hard at first to connect with introverted students, “I looked for ways to connect with all the students on a personal level—and it paid off.” She described her efforts to engage with a particular student, who she thought ended up speaking “more in class than she might have in an in-person course.”

For some shyer students, the occasionally asynchronous nature of online connection, a mode they are accustomed to from their non-academic lives, really worked—especially when professors came up with creative ways to make it happen. Law professor Julian Davis Mortenson recommended on Twitter “asking students to record intro videos at the start of the semester.” He used “goofy ice breaker questions” that he also answered in a video, then left the option to respond open to those who were interested. “The results,” he wrote, “are delightful.”

More students may participate.

Nguyen mentioned that in a lecture he taught online to a hundred undergrads, he helped break up his lectures by asking six students per class to serve as his interlocutors during each class section. They’d be prepared ahead of time to speak, and he’d ask them questions throughout. “It turns out that the students are much less shy speaking on video than they might be before a live audience,” Nguyen wrote.

Then there’s the Zoom chat function. Veterans of workplace meetings that are silent on video but have lively chat rooms will recognize the advantage Zoom holds for online teachers who have students who are shy about speaking, but happy to type. This textual backchannel gives students a place to ask questions they can draft ahead of time, and allows professors the chance to respond to feedback as they go.

Breakout groups are better.

Students and professors noted that the practice of putting together “breakout groups”—little pods of five to ten students who exit the larger class to address a specific question, discuss a document, or do some finite amount of work—is much better online. In a big classroom, people must shift around physically, and then the room is full of the noise of other breakout groups. In Zoom, a small group is easy to form, and discussion can be clear for all to hear.

Guests can come from anywhere.

Money for flying in guest speakers to your average lecture course can be scarce, and it can be awkward to ask a subject-matter expert to virtually “attend” a live lecture, where they might be projected as a giant talking head on a screen to a room of restless people. On Zoom, for an online-only class, everyone is a head on a screen. The expert, who can appear between other obligations with minimal need to arrange time away from regular life, can relax a bit, and the playing field is leveled. 

Although many campuses are back to in-person instruction this fall, given how uncertain everything remains, it’s good to know that teaching on Zoom is not only possible, but sometimes—given the right combination of students and professors, and everybody’s willingness to play along—better. 

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.

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.

Christopher L. Caterine, who has a PhD in Classics from UVA, left academia for the corporate world after he and his wife, also an academic, decided staying together in the city of their choice was more important to them than pursuing two elusive tenure-track jobs. In Caterine’s new book, Leaving Academia: A Practical Guide, he tells us how he did it. The book is written in an engaging style; it’s forthcoming, incisive, and specific.

Here are a few high points of Caterine’s advice that might convince you, the prospective alt-ac job-seeker, that this one’s the book for you.

Success may happen slowly.

Caterine writes that his search took two years, and “meetings with more than 150 people,” before he found the job that was his first step out of academia. He had the time—he had what he calls a “‘good’ visiting assistant professorship that only carried a 3-3 teaching load,” when he undertook the search—so this wasn’t a disaster for his finances, but the details of his story show how winding the path to external employment may be. Takeaway: If you think you may be on your way out of academia, start sooner, rather than later.

If it feels hard, that’s because you’re leaving a vocation, not a job.

Caterine is especially attuned to the emotions that come along with abandoning the hope of an academic position. “In a very real way,” he writes, “we worry that we don’t know who we’ll be if we cease to be academics.” The emotional turmoil he felt throughout his search is well-described; the story of how he and his wife decided she should forgo a chance at a tenure-track job in an undesirable location hits especially close to home. “Like most academics,” he writes, “we’d been acculturated to think that significant life choices were outside our control.” Once they stepped out of that paradigm, they started to see how much they had been sacrificing.

Informational interviews can be simple.

Caterine demystifies the process for academics, who are highly unaccustomed to seeking out these kinds of informal professional contacts. He includes good questions to ask—two are, “What skills do you wish you had before you started in your current role?” and “What have people gone on to do after holding your position?”—along with descriptions of the way these questions helped him understand new industries during his own coffee chats.

Networking isn’t bad.

“I long considered networking perverse—an attempt to use people for personal gain when they should have been befriended for joy and companionship,” writes Caterine, voicing the thoughts of many purity-minded academics who think of non-academic hiring as somehow less meritocratic than what goes on inside academia. After a while, he writes, he figured out that building professional connections is a practice that benefits not just the job-seeker, but everyone who participates.

Reframe your academic work for public consumption with one easy trick.

I joke, because Caterine’s advice is more subtle than this, but this one recommendation from him really helped: “Emphasize how you study, rather than what you study.” He includes several examples of ways you can circumvent discussions of subject matter in favor of a focus on methodology, when framing your academic experience for resumes, cover letters, and interviews.

Put your fellowships on your resume.

Caterine includes several concrete examples of post-academic resumes, along with a few pieces of advice that were new to us. One was that alt-ac job-seekers should include the money they made in grad school, through fellowships, grants, and other supports, on their resumes. It’s a way to show people outside the academy, who might look on the decision to pursue a PhD with skepticism, that they didn’t go to school only to incur debt.

Pull back from academia, for your own good.

The most controversial section of the book will, as Caterine acknowledges, be the one where he talks about the alt-ac job-seeker’s strategic retreat from academic obligations. Caterine recommends the candidate diminish their attention to teaching and research deliverables as the alt-ac job search continues—so that somebody still working in academia, but looking for a job outside of it, might dedicate a free hour to seeking out another informational interview, rather than tweaking a syllabus or taking another pass at a conference paper.

More dramatically, Caterine advocates that the alt-ac job seeker who gets a job partway through a semester, while teaching in a contingent position as an adjunct or lecturer, should, as long as they have the legal right to do so, think about leaving the classroom in order to take the job offer—even if this grieves and inconveniences the students and the department. He sees this kind of move as a political act: “While this advice may not be popular in some circles, attempts to correct the gross imbalance afflicting the academic labor market have thus far failed. I believe it’s now warranted to apply a different sort of pressure.”

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.