Thursday, 4 September 2014

Street Harassment and Study Abroad

Lately I've seen a few articles and campaigns about street harassment, the everyday ways that women are harassed in public (propositions, comments about appearance, being told to smile, etc.). 'Cards Against Harassment' is my favourite one, in which a woman politely confronts men who catcall her and gives them a card with a link to her website for more info, with the tagline "It's not a compliment, it's harassment." On Twitter, the hashtag #ThatsWhatHeSaid is a collection of real comments and interactions women have had. Many of them, interestingly enough, have to do with race--creepers are not p.c. when it comes to catcalling, with remarks like, "that's a fine ass, for a white girl." More interestingly for the purposes of this blog, some of the comments are international encounters.


Experiences like these can negatively colour a visitor's impression of the country and its people.

The question of catcalling/street harassment is highly relevant for exchange participants. Getting unwanted attention is never a pleasant experience, particularly when you're many miles from home and perhaps a bit vulnerable. My first experiences with street harassment were during my university years, and I remember several instances that took place during my first months in the UK. I didn't always understand what guys were saying, either, thanks to a combination of slang and accents (in Glasgow, I just smiled and carried on walking, no clue what he'd said...). If I had these kinds of difficulties, as a native speaker of the local language, I can only imagine how difficult it must be for people facing a language barrier.

An American friend studying architecture in Rome was lost and asked a man for directions, and he replied "I can tell you how to get to my place." When she found a police officer, she got the directions she needed but received no sympathy about the first creep--"Well, can you blame him? You're beautiful!" Although she generally enjoyed her term in Rome, she was disappointed to have the stereotype of lecherous Italian men proved true (Berlusconi does nothing to help that image, either...).

My most recent example of street harassment was a couple of days after my PhD viva. I was walking through Headingley in the morning and had to pass a group of (drunk already at 10 am?) rugby fans, and was told "You're gorgeous!" When I didn't respond and kept walking, he yelled "Bitch!" It was a bit of a wake-up call, actually--even after earning a PhD, to a drunk man in the street I was just another woman to harass.

Street harassment is a negative aspect of local culture in countries all over the world. Local women may become immune to it, after many years of ignoring it, but for an international student or tourist, unwanted attention can have long-term effects on their impressions of the host country.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Job versus Career

It's been two months today since my viva, so I thought I'd check back in. People have been asking whether I've found work yet. A woman at church asked if I was "going to work or stay in academia?" (I didn't realise the two were mutually exclusive...here I've been trying to work in academia!)

I get embarrassed when I have to explain that no, I haven't. I'm currently waiting to hear the outcomes of a few applications, and still checking jobs sites and e-mails for more opportunities. It's embarrassing and shameful for me to not be working, but at the end of the day, building a career in academia is a marathon, not a sprint. I'm taking a long-range view of things.

Technically speaking, I could find a job--I could be out there every day handing my CV out in shops and pubs, filling out online applications and talking to contacts in the area. I could find something--but I'm not looking for just a job. I'm taking this 2 month break to work on my career, taking advantage of this time to write and read again, and draft new project proposals.

Some days are better than others. Today's been pretty bright and productive--I found another post-doc and applied for it, and I'm planning a library day tomorrow. Other days have been pretty low--meeting new people is embarrassing, as I wonder how long I can keep saying "I recently finished my PhD and I'm applying for post-docs". What's the expiration date on the term 'recently'? Would 3 months be too long, or 6 months, or a year?

I've seen brilliant colleagues finish their PhDs and find jobs, but not careers. They teach full-time on temporary contracts, but they jump from one job to the next and have no time to work on publications or to come up with new projects. I'm trying not to make that mistake, but it's hard to be unemployed. Even if I know it's better in the long run, I still feel bad about it. I have the luxury of not being the breadwinner, but having a roof over my head and food to eat adds another layer of shame and guilt to the whole post-doc unemployment thing.

When I was staying at my mom's between the MA and PhD, I didn't get a summer job. My mom was fine with that--she enjoyed having me home for the 4 months, and I cooked and organised the garage, and mowed the lawn, etc. I got a lot of reading done and spent a lot of quality time with my mom and local friends. It was a nice summer, but it'll always have a shadow over it for me. My sister, who lived across the country at the time, wasn't fine with it, and said, "Well, I hope you're not planning on living with mom after the PhD." It still hurts. Mainly, because it's true--here I am, after the PhD, and although I'm not dependent upon my mom, I'm dependent upon my husband. I wanted to prove her wrong. All of these years, I've been working hard and hoping to show her that she was wrong.

At the end of the day, I genuinely love working in academia and I know this is what I'm meant to do with my life. Patience is key. I'll keep using 'recently' for as long as it takes...

Friday, 1 August 2014

Class of 2004


My ten-year high school reunion is coming up in 2 weeks.

In the States, the high school reunion is a big cultural thing. My grandma always went to hers, including her 60th. Before Facebook, the reunion was the only time you'd ever catch up with old classmates (apart from any close friends). My year was the first to have Facebook upon graduating (the site started in 2004), so we're an interesting new phenomenon. What does a reunion look like when you've actually already been in touch with everyone you like, and already chosen to not maintain contact with those you don't like? Does it increase or decrease awkwardness when you meet again in real life? My guess would be increase--there's an unspoken reason you're not connected on social media. For those who are connected, it might be creepy to realise how much you actually know about each other. Facebook has allowed me to see so much of the last 10 years--the college partying days, gap year travelling, birthdays, relationship status changes, career moves, family deaths and births, ultrasound pics, pets, weddings, baby showers, etc.. There are people who I haven't seen since high school, but I've seen all of these life moments. It's way too much information, really.

My high school classmates have put together a Facebook group for the reunion information, so I've been able to click through the members' profiles. I've been reminded why I'm not in touch with most of these people...Lots of anti-Obama, pro-gun sentiment, and there seems to be a relationship between educational attainment level and proximity to our rural hometown...Some folks never left the farm.

Quick things I've learned about my class, ten years later

1) I'm not the first person to get a PhD.
Last spring, I was absolutely gutted to read in my hometown newspaper (online) that Carly Dorsey (now Carly Roberts) finished her PhD before me.  
Carly is on the front row, far left (and two people in this photo are now pregnant...)

She's got a job at Purdue University, too, which is one that I considered for undergrad and I quite like West Lafayette, Indiana. I'm happy for her, but it was surprising. She was always very intelligent and driven, but I had the impression that her ambition suited a career in business or law, not academia. In my case, there was never any doubt that I'd go for a PhD--I wore tweed, took every AP class I could (I even did an independent study AP Spanish Literature that wasn't technically offered), and aimed for the Ivy League. Yet somebody else beat me to it--that stings!

2) Everybody's pregnant.
 Ok, more like 10 or 12 in a class of 300. But seriously, it feels like everybody. It's that time of life. The average age to get married in the U.S. is 27 for women and 29 for men, and most couples have a kid within the first 3 years of marriage. Also, 58% of first births are to unwed mothers, and women without college degrees are more likely to have a kid before marriage, so there's that to factor in, too. At any rate, there were at least five or six "declines" on the event page from women who were due this summer/fall and couldn't fly after 7 months. In terms of the most kids in 10 years, there are two women from my class with 4 kids each (no multiples, either!).

3) For the most part, people look the same...
Most people really do still look like themselves. Some have changed their hairstyle, gained or lost weight, swapped glasses for contacts, grown facial hair, etc. but generally, you'd still recognise them if you saw them walking down the street...


4) There are few surprises.
Apart from Carly Dorsey, nobody else has really surprised me. The cute couple who were voted "most adorable couple"--they're happily married with two kids. The Future Business Leaders of America president is a banker. The sweet, kind girl from church youth group is a Kindergarten teacher, married, with a baby on the way. The racist, sexist jock is still single and looks drunk in his profile picture.


5) Political views seem to emerge at some point between 18-28 years.
Amongst my classmates, I can remember very few people who actually said they were Democrats or Republicans. Most people threw around labels without really understanding them (like the "Anarchy! Anarchy! I don't know what it means, but I love it!" line from Talladega Nights). Ten years and three elections later, people are much more outspoken about their views. Now that they pay taxes, they care about tax policies. Now that they need a job, they care about unemployment. Now that they have kids, they care about education. What's been interesting for me, though, has been the high number of people with anti-Obama sentiments all over their FB walls. I knew that not everybody was pro-Obama like I am, but I was surprised to see the extent to which people post and re-post this stuff. When W. was president, I disliked him and his politics but I never let him take up that much of my time. I read lefty news sources and studied international relations, and turned my energy towards repairing the damage to America's image, rather than just complaining about it. I've seen a lot of racist crap, especially, which reminds me why I was never friends with these particular people in the first place.

If I could afford an extra transatlantic trip this month, I'd love to be there...Maybe I'll make it to the 20th in 2024 :)

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

It's been a long time coming...

This is what a newly minted PhD looks like:
 
So thrilled!
I passed my viva with no corrections, a brilliant result that puts me in the company of my friends Jace and Tracey, and about 6% of the University of Leeds' PhD candidates.
The viva exam itself was a crazy experience--even after practicing questions, attending a workshop and having a mock viva, there were still some surprises. Nick Cull found a few glaring gaps in my admin section, and brought them up first, before he'd said anything positive about my work. When I'd met him in the past (two conferences), he'd been smiley and given me a hug, so I naively thought he'd be equally smiley this time. That expectation completely ignored the fact that he's a brilliant scholar, though, and would want to do his job as external examiner properly--no hugs this time, and he kept a poker-face until the viva was over. I really didn't know what result to expect. The viva only lasted 1 hour, and when they sent me out for their deliberations, it was the longest few minutes of my life. I was pretty confident that I'd passed (Nick suggested it would be fairly easy to make it into a book, so it must be good enough for a PhD, right?), but I was still kicking myself over the gaps he'd highlighted in the admin section. I also wasn't sure how well I'd come across with some of Kate's more general, philosophical questions. I'd been in historical writing mode for so long, looking for evidence to prove various points that I really hadn't sat back and thought about my own opinions. Do I believe in internationalism? I don't know...it's a nice idea, but we haven't been able to abolish war with internationalist thinking so far. I ended up answering her question with something vaguely coherent about my shift from being an internationalist to being more critical/cynical, but that I'm definitely not a hardcore realist. Honestly, I don't want to label myself with any -isms. They're all flawed. This is why I don't do theory! Also, how much of an informed worldview am I expected to have at the age of 28?

At any rate, they called me back in and congratulated me, and welcomed me into the club. My supervisors and friends, lecturers and fellow PhD students all came in and celebrated with champagne. It's such a surreal experience--one minute, you're on the edge of your seat, unsure of whether the past 3 1/2 years of work have achieved anything, and the next, you're drinking and hugging everybody in sight.

The viva (and following celebration) was held in Phil Taylor's old office. The last time I'd been in there, I'd been looking over his books and crying, a few months after his death when we were told we could take any books we wanted. The penultimate time, I was sitting on the couch with Phil talking about the psychological side of my study--in his words, "figuring out why some people get on" with each other and why others don't. It's a much larger question than any PhD could sort out, but it's the kind of big picture question that you should be discussing in your first weeks as a research student. Phil loved these questions, too--they're made for earnest conversations down the pub.

The morning after the viva, I read congratulatory messages on Facebook, wrote e-mails to Gary and Robin to thank them for their help and to share the viva story, and started making a list of all of my post-PhD to-dos, both leisure things I've been putting off (like tackling a reading list of Hemingway's recommendations) and all of the things I can do now to finally start my career (job search, publications). The past couple of days, I've been at the MeCCSA conference at ICS (not presenting, just having a good time watching presentations and networking). For the first time in my life, literally, I asked questions during the Q&A. The PhD has boosted my confidence, apparently. It's just a bit sad that it took getting a PhD to get me to ask a question at a postgrad conference...

I've also learned in the week since the viva that there are 2 kinds of people in this world: those who say "Congratulations!" and those who say "What's next?". Now, for high school, the "what's next" makes a lot of sense--18 year old kids do need to have a plan, and generally, they do have one in place by June. But for a PhD, that question is a reminder that the academic job market is fiercely competitive and a newly-minted PhD doesn't have the publications or experience that it takes to get an interview, much less land an actual job. So far, it's only been a handful of people who've asked that question, and I think they were just making small talk (apart from one person, who is actually just really mean...). The rest all know better, and have just said "Congrats, Dr. Molly!"

So, on that note, what's next? First things first, I'm well-aware that getting publications out there is not only key to getting an academic job, but it's also going to take awhile. There's a lot of down-time when you're waiting to get comments from editors/reviewers, so my plan is to get cracking on them straight away. I can use the down-time to carry out my job search and/or work part-time. I've got a list of journal articles that I want to do, using leftover archive material that didn't make it into the thesis and taking some new approaches. I have 6 months of library access, so I'm going to take full advantage of it and work on some articles, a book chapter for an edited volume with Gary Rawnsley, and my book. Nick Cull has been amazingly helpful on the book front, and I'm hoping to get the thesis published in time for the Fulbright Program's 70th anniverary in 2016. In the meantime, I've scheduled in time for the job search, trawling jobs.ac.uk and other websites. I'm going to work on a new, stronger post-doc proposal, too, so I can apply for the same type of 3-year post-docs that I went for (unsuccessfully, obviously) last autumn. Plenty to do, but on the bright side, now I'm finally free to do it!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Forms of Diplomacy Conference

I've just returned from the Forms of Diplomacy conference at University of Toulouse II--Le Mirail. It had such an interesting assortment of perspectives, from 17th century Anglo-French peacemaking in Scandinavia to America's jazz cultural diplomacy in 1960's Kabul. Several people came up and introduced themselves to me after having read my abstract--I don't think that had happened to me at previous conferences, and it felt great! Talking to people at the conference gave me a chance to summarise my research for non-specialist academic audiences, too. Perfect prep for the viva!

As a post-conference/pre-viva exam treat, I stayed over the weekend in Toulouse. The food is incredible, the architecture is beautiful (la ville rose!) and the museums are excellent (and mostly free!). It was too hot for me, though--32C/90F, which is far beyond my preferred summertime temps of 20C/70F (i.e. Leeds and Seattle).

Tomorrow is my viva exam! Thanks to my lovely weekend away, I'm feeling refreshed and confident. Someone at the conference told me that she'd gone for a spa visit & massage before her viva--well, for me, a trip to France is just as effective! My mock viva went well. None of the questions were necessarily surprising, so that's a good sign. I'm confident and genuinely excited about it. How often in your career do you get to talk about your favourite research area with senior academics who've read your work? 

I've been reflecting on the whole crazy journey again, and how much my project's changed (and how much I've changed) in the past 3 1/2 years. I think facing my supervision challenges (Phil's death, Robin leaving ICS, non-specialist supervision) and juggling various commitments with my research (working part-time, organising and presenting at conferences, getting married and renovating our flat) have actually, in the end, made my project stronger. At times I've been sick of my subject, but I noticed during my mock viva that I still really do love my research. I'm still happy to talk about it. I still have further questions--whether it is effective, and why, and how, and under which circumstances...

Wish me luck for tomorrow, and I hope to have good news to announce soon!

Friday, 9 May 2014

The Anti-Climax of Submission for Examination

(image from CakeWrecks)
I'm currently in the awkward stage of "PhD submitted, awaiting viva." Obviously I'm thrilled to finally be done writing up, but it's also too early to actually celebrate--I still have to pass the viva, make any further corrections and submit the final, hardbound copies. It's frustrating to be this close to being finished, but not quite there, like being at mile 25 of the marathon. It's a huge accomplishment, of course, but you're not done yet!

As Tom Petty says, the waiting is the hardest part. I'm keeping myself busy over the next few weeks. Next Friday I've got the symposium in Canterbury, I'm doing exam invigilation 19 May-6 June, then I have the conference in Toulouse 12-13 June, and the viva is 18 June.

I went to a "Preparing for your Viva" workshop this week and it definitely boosted my confidence. We did mock vivas in groups and I actually just enjoyed talking about my work. Even though I have my off days when I don't feel good enough, for the most part I'm enthusiastic about my research and confident about fielding questions. It also felt good to be in the company of other people who are finishing up, and a few who are in the "submitted, awaiting" no-man's-land with me. We talked about the job search, how filling out applications can feel like a full-time job and how disheartening the whole process is. The job search might be why I'm feeling this sense of anti-climax--it's frustrating to see friends who completed a year or more ago still struggling to find work.

On a somewhat unrelated note--I had another reminder today why I can't wait to get out of here. A friend complimented me on my dress and said that I looked like I had lost weight. I thanked her for the compliment, and said that I'm working on it. She kindly said I didn't need to lose any weight, and I explained that technically, BMI-wise, I do--I'm on the border between overweight and obese. She was surprised to hear this, but a colleague sitting nearby chose this moment to chime in and agree, to talk about the health risks associated with a high BMI and tell me about every extreme diet that her nutritionist friends in her home country supposedly recommend. I hate this place. I'm seething inside, but I'm always outwardly polite and just smile and nod. I always give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe in her culture it's acceptable to call each other fat. Maybe she means well. At any rate, I didn't ask for this conversation to take place, I know I'm overweight, I always have been overweight, and I'm trying to quietly do something about it. I don't need to hear from the ill-informed peanut gallery. More importantly, who cares about my weight--I just submitted my PhD! Let's celebrate that, instead of critiquing my appearance. <End rant>

Friday, 11 April 2014

It's Not So Bad...Really!

When I first talked about doing a PhD, I was warned that it was "a lonely process". Throughout the PhD, I've seen news articles like this one about how we suffer, and this one about how doing a PhD is probably a waste of time.

Articles like these make me wonder whether I've been doing this wrong or something, because I really haven't suffered in the ways they describe, and I (naively?) don't think it's been a waste of time.

Yes, it's been challenging--as it should be. If it were easy, they wouldn't give you a title when you finish.

But it hasn't caused feelings of loneliness, isolation, depression, etc. I've had a few times when I was a bit down, a bit anti-social, but on the whole, it's been fine. It's been easier than high school, when I was desperate to get into the Ivy League and wore myself out with five AP classes, choir, extra foreign language classes, Future Business Leaders of America, National Honor Society, Science Team, and all of the other personal stresses that a seventeen year old faces (helping my mother care for her parents, crushes and heartaches, etc.). Maybe suffering back then has given me a different perspective on it now.

And I certainly don't think it's been a waste of time. I don't think education is ever a waste of time, but putting that aside, I just don't buy into this doom & gloom about the future of academia. The field will change, just like every other field does, but that doesn't mean it's not worth pursuing a career in academia. I hate being told that my dreams aren't worth pursuing because the field is too competitive, they're overproducing PhDs, etc. Professional athletes, musicians and artists don't give up on their dreams just because they're in competitive fields.

Academics are extremely privileged. They are paid to think and to express their ideas--it's incredible. If you were to talk to laborers in the developing world about "PhD Stress: Don't Suffer in Silence", they would shake their heads in disbelief (and possibly punch you in the face). It is an extremely cushy job (if you can even call it a job) and I'm tired of hearing how terrible it is.

Unless I've been doing it wrong all along, and it really should have been much more difficult...I guess we'll find out at my viva!