Thursday, 10 November 2016

Initial Election Thoughts

I was absolutely shocked and devastated by the election results on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, but now it's clear that we all should have seen it coming. It was Brexit all over again--the same divisive, angry rhetoric on both sides, the same class and race dividing lines, and of course, the same result.

I've been reading a lot of pieces that try to explain it, try to make sense of what happened, why the pollsters got it wrong again, and what happens next. I don't claim to understand it all, and I'm sure there isn't one single, simple explanation. Class, race and education seem to play a huge part in the new alt-right populist politics.  The media tends to focus on the working class, uneducated voters who support Trump and have certain lower socio-economic indicators--even the "Make America Great Again" hat is a class marker--it's a so-called "trucker hat". For Brexit, we saw the same type of media portrayal--voters who lived near closed-down factories and industries, like Stoke or Wales for instance, where there was high unemployment, went for Leave. But in both cases, there was a gap between the media portrayal and the reality as shown in exit polling. The majority of Americans who earned less than $50,000 a year voted for Clinton, and many Brexit supporters were retirees living in rural areas and villages in detached homes--not exactly poor or working class.

Many people have noted that these two elections have exposed an undercurrent of racism and bigotry in society. In the aftermath of Brexit, there was a spike in hate crimes and in the days leading up to the U.S. election, I feared a repeat of that--no matter who won. There have already been stories circulating on social media about racist and anti-Semitic vandalism, harrassment, verbal abuse, sexual assault, and other forms of hate crimes.

I'm not quite ready to make peace with this new reality. I'm disappointed that Clinton won the popular vote and lost the electoral college--it's like 2000 Gore v. Bush all over again, but without the Supreme Court decision. I'm going to struggle explaining it to my students. I can't picture Inauguration Day, or a State of the Union address with Trump not just taking part, but playing the starring role. I never watched The Apprentice and I don't want to watch him on C-Span, either.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Feedback Anxiety

As an early career academic, I don't have much experience with editors' comments, so I haven't developed a thick skin yet. Every little margin note & criticism is deeply painful to read. I agree with their comments, too--I don't challenge them, I just accept that they're right and I'm wrong and my work is crap. It sends me to a very hopeless, demotivated place where I struggle to see how I could possibly revise it again. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know how I got a PhD. Somebody clearly made a mistake.

The trouble is, I've already been feeling like a failure because my contract includes some TA work. I'm still doing the same thing I did when I was a PhD student. I love teaching and I'm extremely grateful to be employed, but it's a constant reminder that I have failed to get a post-doc position or a research assistantship or an entry-level lecturing post...One day I mentioned to Richard that I felt like a failed academic and he reminded me that it's not over yet--my career's just starting, it's too early to label it a failure. That said, the "early career" stage excuse can only cover five or so years. The 'what if's creep in and I panic about never establishing myself. And then I get feedback like this, asking for a total rewrite and I have no time to do it, between teaching and reading (no time for job searching or putting together new proposals). How are other academics managing to do all of this? Do they just never sleep or spend time interacting with other people? Is that what I'm doing wrong?

At the moment, I'm procrastinating over facing the comments and doing my rewrite of that women & FP chapter...I just wanted to put this out there and reflect on it all before I bury it deep again and move on with life. Does it get easier, this whole publication process? Will I always feel worthless when I read editors' comments? Should I give up on academia and move out to a sheep farm in the Dales?

Thursday, 20 October 2016

2016 Presidential Debates

Now that the final debate is over, I'm ready to comment on this whole hot mess. It's been a painful thing to watch these debates. They've been unlike any other debates we've ever seen--the constant interruptions and talking over each other, candidates not shaking hands at the start and end, name-calling, etc. We've never had one candidate dominate all three debates before, either--Clinton has been the clear winner of every debate, while her predecessors have often performed better in one format or the other, and the winner is often determined by style over substance. In this election, Clinton had both. She remained calm and poised, even when Trump raised his voice and became agitated. She rose above his insults and name-calling, and came back at him with well-crafted responses that often used his own words against him to prove her points. She tried to stick to the issues, particularly during the first debate, before more pressing personal issues arose with more recent revelations.

Clinton has used the debates very strategically and masterfully--more than anything else in her campaign, her debate performances have demonstrated her political skills. She refers to a person to illustrate a point, as we've seen so many other candidates do (McCain's Joe the Plumber in 2008, David Cameron's '40-year-old black man' in Plymouth in 2010), but it's not just any old anecdote. It's an interview, press release, viral video and TV advertisement that are already filmed, edited and ready to launch. Her mention of Alicia Machado at the first debate was absolutely brilliant--his awful nicknames for her demonstrated both her opponent's misogynist attitudes towards women ('Miss Piggy') and his racist stereotyping of Latinas ('Miss Housekeeping'). It absolutely threw him and got under his skin--not only was he visibly uncomfortable (asking 'where did you hear this?') at the debate, but he subsequently spent a week tweeting about it, trying to harm Machado's reputation and discredit her. Instead, it reinforced the image of him as a bully--an image that was humorous during the GOP primaries when his target was "Lyin' Ted" or "Little Marco", but the bully image took on a much more sinister, more universally repugnant quality when his target became any woman who's ever struggled with her weight (i.e. 99.9% of women).
I think the final comments of each candidate at the third debate really do sum up this whole election campaign. They were asked to keep it positive, and Clinton, first to give her remarks, did keep it very positive:

Hillary Clinton: 
I would like to say to everyone watching tonight that I’m reaching out to all Americans, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, because we need everybody to help make our country what it should be. To grow the economy, to make it fairer. To make it work for everyone. We need your talents, your skills, your commitment, your energy, your ambition. 
You know, I’ve been privileged to see the presidency up close, and I know the awesome responsibility of protecting our country and the incredible opportunity of working to try to make life better for all of you. I have made the cause of children and families, really my life’s work — that’s what my mission will be in the presidency. I will stand up for families against powerful interests, against corporations. I will do everything I can to make sure that you have good jobs with rising incomes. That your kids have good educations from preschool through college. I hope you will give me a chance to serve as your president.

She doesn't mention Donald Trump at all. She starts by echoing Obama's 2008 election night promise--'even if you didn't vote for me, I will be your President, too.' It's a lovely concept and an attempt to heal the wounds inflicted by this divisive, crazy election cycle. The emphasis on children and families plays to her strengths as the first female candidate--women are expected to know what they're talking about when it comes to children/families, so it lends her credibility (obviously that's all problematic for gender reasons, but let's ignore that for the sake of political strategy). It's an appeal to the voters, putting the decision in their hands and empowering them--"I hope you will give me a chance to serve as your president"--hope, a chance, to serve.

Trump's comments took the opposite tactic: he stayed on the attack and kept his tone decidedly negative.

Donald Trump:
She’s raising the money from the people she wants to control. Doesn’t work that way. But when I started this campaign, I started it very strongly, it’s called Make America Great Again. We’re going to make America great. We have a depleted military. It has to be helped, it has to be fixed. We have the greatest people on earth on our military.
We don’t take care of our veterans. We take care of illegal immigrants, people who come into the country illegally, better than we take care of our vets. That can’t happen. Our policemen and women are disrespected. We need law and order, but we need justice too. Our inner cities are a disaster. You get shot walking to the store. They have no education, they have no jobs. I will do more for African Americans and Latinos than she can ever do in ten lifetimes.All she’s done is talk to the African Americans and to the Latinos. But they get the vote and then they come back and say ‘we’ll see you in four years.’
We are going to make America strong again and we are going to make America great again, and it has to start now. We cannot take four more years of Barack Obama, and that’s what you get when you get her.

He opens with an accusation, and it's not even particularly clear what he's accusing her of. He says he'll make America great, then criticizes the state of the military, veterans affairs, immigration, "inner cities" (Trumpspeak for areas where minorities live). He says a Clinton presidency would be four more years of Obama's policies as if that were a bad thing--his approval rating is currently at its second-term high, so I don't think the American people will have too much of a problem with that.

And finally, here's my official prediction. I've left Utah blank because I think McMullin genuinely could win, which means Utah's electoral votes go to neither Trump nor Clinton.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Women and the Fulbright Program

This week I submitted my revisions to the organizers of a forthcoming edited volume on Fulbright, based on the papers from last September's Fulbright Legacy conference at the University of Arkansas. My chapter's working title is "Fulbright Women in the Global Intellectual Elite"--it looks at women's contributions as grantees, administrators and as accompanying spouses of Fulbrighters.

I've got to say, I really enjoyed this one. There were so many stories and examples that I didn't have room to include (and I still went over the word limit...)--women whose time abroad changed their whole life trajectory, who accomplished amazing things, who were the first woman in their various fields. Ruth J. Simmons didn't make it into the final version, but she's definitely going in my book's women section. Her journey is brilliant--daughter of a Texas sharecropper, scholarship student at Dillard University, went on to earn a Masters and a doctorate from Harvard, and became the first African-American President of an Ivy League university. I love having extra material for future projects--this paper gave me about 2k words over the limit to tuck away in my 'leftovers' file!

I'm always relieved to finish a paper and submit it--hitting that 'send' button makes me feel 10 years younger--and I usually celebrate by taking the rest of the day off. This particular paper, though, has been really inspiring and rekindled my enthusiasm for my book edits. I went straight from sending off the paper to starting a new document and collating all of my new and revised bits and pieces.

This week I've run into another problem of access, just like I did back in 2011. It's so disheartening to be told that you can't do what you wanted to do, what you envisioned your project would include. It made me feel like my efforts on that particular sub-project had been a waste of time--something I have very little of to begin with these days. It's still up in the air, so I don't know what's going to happen with it, but at the moment it's frustrating and I just feel like I'm being thwarted at every turn: I can't get a job without publications so I try to work on those, and now I'm running into barriers with my publication.

After venting and having a little pity party, though, I decided to just carry on with whichever other bits I can work on in the meantime. I'm updating my lit review (the trouble with updating a PhD thesis is that I did my lit review in my first year, and a lot more research has been published since 2011...) and rethinking my "theoretical basis" chapter (which I never liked but it was a hoop I had to jump through to get my supervisors' approval...I'm not axing it altogether, though, because I've found some interesting new lit to add to it!).

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Certain Demise of US PD in the (tiny) Hands of a President Trump...

I try not to dwell on the possibility of a President Trump too much--it's too painful and our efforts are better spent trying to prevent it from happening, rather than speculating about how horrible it would be. There are so many things to fear about a Trump presidency at home--racism, bigotry, homophobia, Islamophobia, sexism, etc.--that I think the media often ignores all of the scary things he would do overseas. He admires dictators, dismisses our allies in NATO, wants to ban Muslims from entering the US and build a wall on the Mexican border, among other outrageous statements. I have complete faith that the ban and wall are not going to happen, but one thing I'm equally sure of is the demise of U.S. public diplomacy under a President Trump. 

This morning I watched a brief interview with Madeleine Albright on MSNBC's Morning Joe. She made some excellent points about his "America First" foreign policy (if you can even call it a proposed "policy"...we haven't seen much in the way of concrete, clearly articulated policy statements coming from his campaign so far...). Secretary Albright pointed out that in the late 1930's, the U.S. was following an "America First" policy then, too--and she reminded us of that policy's disastrous effects on her native Czechoslovakia.

Tara D. Sonenshine, former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, wrote a great piece last month on the USC PD blog & Huffington Post about Trump's recent comments re: NATO.

"With careless rhetoric, Donald Trump risks destroying America’s power and credibility around the world at a time when Russian belligerence is high, and when Europe is struggling to contain the spillover from the Syrian war."

Since that time, he's only grown more and more outlandish in his statements--asking the Russian (or Chinese, he's not picky) hackers to find Clinton's missing e-mails, which constitutes treason. He's now said he was being 'sarcastic' and 'just joking', but nobody was laughing. 

"Asked if he was concerned that he was apparently encouraging Russia to spy on an American political party, he added: “It gives me no pause. If Russia or China or any of those country gets those emails, I’ve got to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.”" (Independent article)

The way he so casually throws country names around, as if Russia and China are interchangeable, demonstrates just how ignorant, and willfully ignorant, he is about the world. This is not the kind of person who has any interest in public diplomacy. Trump would hate "soft power" because it has the word "soft" in its name. He prefers "strong"--it's one of the most-used adjectives in his 200-word vocabulary. He would see it as a waste of time and money--'Why do you need to talk to foreigners? Who cares what they think of the US? America First!'

(Another reason the "America First" line sends shivers down my spine: MP Jo Cox's assassin shouted "Britain First"...that's the kind of simplistic, nationalistic, xenophobic rhetoric we're dealing with here) 

I want to say I'm confident that he won't win in November. The crazy, offensive things he says and does every day, the high-ranking Republicans refusing to support him--surely he can't win. But the polls are still too close. The latest Politico poll, taken after both conventions had wrapped up, has Clinton just 6 points ahead, 50% to 44%. After seeing both conventions, hearing both of Michelle Obama's speeches, listening to Chachi and Duck Dynasty vs. Katy Perry and Meryl Streep, watching fear-mongering vs. hope-mongering--only 50% of Americans support Clinton? 

How can public diplomacy practitioners explain that one to the world?

Monday, 1 August 2016

The Fulbright Program at 70

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Fulbright Act, the modest little amendment to the 1944 Surplus War Property Act that created America's oldest, largest and best-known educational and cultural exchange program.

The size & scope of the program has grown exponentially. In the first two years after the legislation was passed, exchange agreements were made with only nine countries. This wasn't for other countries' lack of interest in exchanges--the agreements were complicated to negotiate and could only be enacted in countries which held surplus World War II property, the only funding source available for these earliest exchanges. Today, the program is active in more than 160 countries around the world, and is funded by a combination (varying country by country) of U.S. congressional appropriations, domestic private donations, foreign government appropriations and foreign private donations. Participation figures have increased significantly, as well. The number of Fulbright grants went from just 84 in its first year to 4,182 by 1953, a nearly fifty-fold increase. Today, approximately 8,000 grants are awarded each year.

The context in which these exchanges operate has changed dramatically over the past seventy years. International students are no longer a rarity on the world's campuses. American news, media & consumer products are available nearly everywhere U.S. grantees go. When international students decide to go to the U.S., they have pre-formed ideas about their destination from American pop culture (to a much greater extent than they did in the 1940s and '50s). Among the many other effects of globalization, it has greatly influenced the educational exchange experience.

This 70th anniversary highlights the need for the history of the Fulbright Program to be updated. Today, I've launched a survey of Fulbright Program administrators around the world, asking for their thoughts on the purpose and impact of the exchange program. Their responses will contribute to my examination of the current state of the program in my forthcoming book. I'm aiming to submit my revisions back to my publisher by the end of the year, so expect further progress updates here on the blog.

For any Fulbright Program administrators, past or present, who are interested in contributing their thoughts, here is a link to the brief survey:

Thank you very much for your interest!

Monday, 25 July 2016


The European Union's exchange programme, the European Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students (ERASMUS), has had over 3.3 million participants since its establishment in 1987 (European Commission, 2014). The programme offers an interesting contrast with the Fulbright Program. The U.S. has, at times, struggled to balance foreign policy impacts on the programme with calls to preserve its apolitical, academic nature. The European Union, on the other hand, created its exchange program with explicitly political aims. It was part of a greater ‘People’s Europe’ project in the 1980's, created to strengthen public support for integration and foster a European identity amongst the young people who participated in the study abroad programme. Most studies have found that ERASMUS students feel more 'European' after the exchange experience, and often go on to internationally-oriented careers (Papatsiba, 2005; Teichler and Janson, 2007; Mitchell, 2012; etc.).

 In 2010, a surprising study found ERASMUS participants reporting lower levels of European identity at the end of their sojourn. Emmanuel Sigalas, the author from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, offers two potential explanations for this unexpected result. One possibility is that participants began the sojourn with a strong European identity, which meant “there is more scope for deterioration rather than improvement.” (Sigalas, 2010, p. 260). The more convincing explanation, however, is that the host country may have had a significant effect: the incoming students in this particular study were in the UK. “It is important to note that incoming students came to study in one of the most Eurosceptic countries of the EU, where…people are amongst the least likely in Europe to identify as European.” (ibid., pp. 260-261). 
Now, the interesting part about this finding, given the Brexit results: four out of the nine UK universities included in the study were located in places that voted to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum. This suggests that students may have been exposed to Eurosceptic attitudes during their sojourn, which could undermine attempts to forge a European identity. In hindsight, it appears that Sigalas' findings might be explained by the simple fact that his subjects went to places like Keele and Southampton, which voted to leave (69% and 53%, respectively).

On a related note, The Guardian had a piece on the uncertain post-Brexit future of ERASMUS yesterday.  The exchange programme relies on basic EU tenets, free movement of people and capital, to operate across the 27 member states. The UK might join the list of countries outside of the EU that participate in ERASMUS fully: Iceland, Macedonia, Liechtenstein, Norway and Turkey. Alternatively, it might go the way of Switzerland and be a "partner country" not a "programme country" (the long list of partner countries, from Albania to Zimbabwe, have a more limited scope in terms of the types of exchanges that they can host). I'm sure the ERASMUS generation who voted to remain in the EU are hoping for Britain to keep its "partner" status.

A couple of interesting bits from the article:

"Ironically, Erasmus has its genesis in the UK: its founding father was Dr. Hywel Ceri Jones, among the early senior British appointments to the EEC, to head its first education and training department. He had worked with Professor Asa Briggs at Britain’s first European Studies department at Sussex University, which inspired the European pilot in 1976, he explained this week: “the idea that the internationalisation of study had to be open to all disciplines, not just languages. So we brought in the scientists, social sciences and arts”.
Dr. Ceri Jones, who went on to become Director General for employment and social policy at the European Commission, told the Observer: “Erasmus will still flourish in Europe, but UK universities have been a powerful magnet, because of the English language. I feel bereaved by Brexit, and if it leads to the end of freedom of movement and exclusion of the UK from Erasmus, this would be devastating – a tragedy of staggering proportions for universities throughout the country, for the structured internationalisation of our academic institutions, which is what Erasmus is all about”."

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

CPAC Conference, Brexit and Trump

Closing discussion with Lance Bennett and Hendrik Bang

For the past two days I've been at a conference at the University of York, marking the launch of their Sociology department's new research centre, the Centre for Political Youth Culture and Communication (CPAC). It was a fantastic conference, with a wide range of studies and approaches from various disciplines. The keynotes were given by stars of political communication--Lance Bennett, Donatella della Porta, and Hendrik Bang. I met some lovely people, including two PhD students from my own department whom I hadn't met before, and had a "small world" encounter with Sabine Lang, whose introductory European Studies course I took at UW about nine years ago now. That class made a big impression on me--confirming that I wanted to do European Studies, sending me to Bath on the Euromasters exchange, and, of course, living in Europe for the past 8 years.

There was a lot of talk about Brexit at the conference. It's very timely to be discussing youth and political participation, as 75% of 18-25 year olds voted to remain in the EU, while the over 65's voted overwhelmingly to leave (I saw the figure 90% in Hendrik Bang's talk). This division is so sad for the UK, for Europe, and really for the world in general. We still don't know exactly what's going to happen, or when--to be fair, it's only been 3 weeks tomorrow, it just feels like longer! It was clear that all of the experts there--from political science, sociology, political communication, etc.--were all very concerned about the future.

There was also a lot of talk about Trump, speaking of concern--this week's Republican National Convention is a train wreck. So awful, but we can't look away. You can clearly see how divided the party is, and how those in charge are trying their best to just soldier on, regardless of how they feel about Trump. His 60 Minutes interview with Mike Pence demonstrated that Trump really is the narcissistic, bigoted playground bully we thought he was. He barely let the man get a word in--Penn and Teller have a more equitable relationship. Melania Trump's (speech writers') plagiarism of Michelle Obama's 2008 DNC speech is a symptom of a larger problem--they clearly just don't know what they're doing. They need handlers, political strategists--where's their Karl Rove? But the truth is, they're not getting that kind of support for two reasons:
1) Bullies don't ask for, nor accept, help.
2) the RNC doesn't want him to win. They know he's dangerous for the party, the country, the world, and they're not going to help him.

Both Brexit and Trump have vitally important public diplomacy implications. The world watched the referendum and they're watching the US, too. Britain's reputation will suffer over this. As John Oliver said, after showing a clip of a racist UKIP-affiliated woman, not everything sounds smarter in a British accent. The pound is weaker, there's been a rise in hate crime and some universities have already seen a decrease in internationally collaborative projects due to fears of Brexit's impact on funding. European students are already pulling out of UK universities. These instant, detrimental impacts on UK academia show why everyone at the conference was so worried--even the Australians, Brazilians and Americans I spoke with, who are already non-EU, are worried, because we know it's a global issue.

America's global reputation is already suffering with Trump as a candidate--and the public diplomacy fallout of a Trump presidency would be far worse. It's also suffering because of America's gun culture. As a British woman said to me yesterday, why can't they do anything to sort it? "They" includes President Obama, the 535 members of Congress, the American people through grassroots organisations--anybody. Why can't anybody do anything--"anything" being universal background checks, preventing felons and domestic abusers and 'no fly list' people from getting guns, banning assault weapons--anything. When the news about The United States is always another shooting victim(s)--be it a black man, a police officer, a gay man or a first grader--and nobody does anything to keep it from happening again, that doesn't look good to the rest of the world. If you want to "Make America Great Again", passing some common sense gun control legislation would be a great place to start.

I'd like to close with something more positive, but to be fair, the conference closed with a talk from Hendrik Bang on political participation"After Brexit", and it wasn't all that optimistic. I suppose there is hope, though, in the fact that the youth DO want international cooperation, and DO believe in the EU's motto, Unity in Diversity. This generation, and the future leaders who are currently growing developing in it, will support a very different agenda to that of their grandparents.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Two Years On

Today's been two years since my viva.

On the one hand, some days I feel like an absolute failure because I'm not employed full-time yet and I haven't published my dissertation yet, and I only have two journal articles published (and they're not even in top journals). I look at and beat myself up for not being qualified to apply for anything. My mind goes to a dark place and I regret doing the PhD--I tell myself it was a waste of time, I have over $200k in debt and I can't even find a job. I look at George, my only accomplishment of the past 2 years, and think it was all pointless. I spend most of my days reading Dr. Seuss instead of being Dr. Bettie.

On the other hand, I've got the "Dr." title and they can't take that away from me. My hard work and $200k+ has bought me the right to use that title, even if I never work again for the rest of my life. I've got a manuscript under revision for publication and a couple of working papers for future journal articles (and they'll be sent to top journals, too!). I occasionally see posts to apply for and they ignite that fire inside me again. They get me excited about research proposals and they make me dream about relocating and new possibilities. I look at George and think how cool it is for him to grow up with academic parents. I love spending my days having picnic lunches with him on the University quad, taking photos of him with red brick backdrops, reading journal articles with him snuggled up against me sleeping.

Two whole years/only two years...

Friday, 20 May 2016

What working from home really looks like...

The baby's sleeping on me in the Ergo, leaving my hands free to type and the cat is sat on the side of the laptop. She'll ignore me all day until I try to get some work done...

Today I had a working from home breakthrough: I left the baby to play on the floor by himself while I answered a few emails. Yes, he pulled all of the contents of the shelving unit out and yes, he put a lot of inedible things in his mouth, but amazingly, nothing was broken or damaged. It was just messy, and for once I just let him make a mess instead of trying to clean up after him constantly (which is futile). And even though I feared that I might be neglecting him, George was having a great time--he's not as needy as I assumed. When I was done with my emails, I tidied up and we went for a walk. I was able to enjoy spending time with him more now that I had a zero inbox and nothing hanging over my head.

I'm loving this age--he's finally able to entertain himself for a bit. He's sleeping better now, too, which means I'm sleeping better and am finally able to think again. We're only up once in the night now, around 4 am, which still sounds horrible but trust me, it's a huge improvement. I'm starting to feel a little bit optimistic about getting back to writing again.

Now if I can just get the cat to stop sitting on my notes...

Monday, 11 April 2016

2016 Primaries...View from Britain

I've had a few people ask me recently for my thoughts on Trump and the primaries in general.

The US 2016 Presidential Election is shaping up to be a fascinating train wreck. The Republicans started the primaries with a massive field of candidates, some with serious credentials and some hard to take seriously. The early debates, with over a dozen participants, were fun to watch and laugh at, at first. Behind the late night TV jokes, though, there is the chilling reality that these candidates actually believe the outrageous things they say, and some (very few but vocal) Americans actually agree with them. Bigotry, homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, sexism, ableism, anti-immigration...Even though Donald Trump is the most visible bigot of the group, he's not the only one with these ideas. Other candidates who aren't getting as much coverage have similarly offensive positions. Ted Cruz wants to build a wall, end funding for Planned Parenthood, believes in an "America-first foreign policy" and has defended the Second Amendment in Supreme Court cases as an attorney. I'm with Lindsey Graham, who said choosing between Trump and Cruz is like choosing between being shot or poisoned.

The Democrats started with just Hillary Clinton--the one we didn't pick in 2008, but she got the consolation prize of being Secretary of State and having the chance to run again in 2016. I'm 100% certain that she thought she would just walk to the DNC this summer and accept the nomination. She must be so irritated by Bernie Sanders' success. At the moment, she still leads in the delegate count and she may still get the nomination--but it certainly hasn't been the easy journey she expected. Bernie Sanders is hugely popular with the kids, the hipsters and the Democrats Abroad. He's a Democratic Socialist, and many Americans abroad know what it's like to live in places with the types of programs he's proposing, like universal healthcare and free tuition. We know how his ideas work in practice--we know that they can and do work, and that they're not just the rantings of a crazy old man.

At the moment, I'm not ready to make any precise predictions, but I will say this: whether it's Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders against either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, I genuinely think the Democrats are going to win. The U.S. economy is doing well--unemployment is half of what it was when Obama took office, gas prices are less than half of what they were then, and I saw a headline the other day saying the economy is like it was in the boom times of 1998/99 under Bill Clinton. When the economy is doing well, the incumbents win. Also, the GOP is increasingly divided, with a lot of animosity directed to both Trump and Cruz. Neither of them are going to get enough support to win in the general election. I'm nervous but cautiously optimistic about November...

Monday, 7 March 2016

PhD and Motherhood

I've accidentally become a feminist scholar. It happened in the early stages of pregnancy, when I was so tired I couldn't keep my eyes open in the library. It happened when I brought my 9 week old baby to a conference and had to spend every coffee break breastfeeding and pumping (simultaneously) instead of networking. It happened when I realized that I'm still doing most of the domestic work even on days when I work outside the home (the so-called 'second shift') and that I have to get up with the baby all night whether I work the next day or not. As a married couple, we're about as first-world, middle class, egalitarian and liberal as they get, yet these inequalities are still there.

My students and colleagues from China have also really opened my eyes to the need for feminism. The first time I met one of my MA students, she said "I heard you were married--wow, that's great!" as if I had accomplished something really remarkable. (Also, who's telling students my marital status? Haha!) When I announced my pregnancy to a Chinese friend, he was very happy for me and said that in China, a woman is considered "complete" once she has a baby. Yikes...I knew it was meant well, but it seemed to discount other achievements. To be honest, I don't think of marriage or motherhood as an achievement. Marriage can't be considered an accomplishment when the divorce rate is so high, and having kids can't be considered an accomplishment when teen pregnancy rates are so high.

That said, motherhood impacts your career like no other life choice. It's well documented in the literature that having children impacts women's careers in academia. "Women who have children soon after receiving their PhD are much less likely to achieve tenure than men who have children at the same point in their career" (Williams, 2005, p. 91). It's unusual for PhD moms to completely stay at home, though---this Pew study found only 6% of mothers with PhDs are opting out of the workforce. The most common path seems to be the one of non-tenure track and part-time positions, like my temporary part-time contract. It works for my family situation at the moment, but I would love to have a full-time position (and I'll continue looking for one in the meantime).

Balancing my new responsibilities is tough, but parenthood isn't the terribly difficult ordeal that so much comedy makes it out to be. Really. The hard parts--childbirth, sleepless nights, cleaning up bodily fluids, etc.--are just a normal part of the job description. We knew what we were getting ourselves into, and we can't complain because we chose to do it. Our parents did it for us and now it's our turn to do it for the next generation. It really doesn't have to be so awful!

It's ok, you don't have to be a tired octopus to be a good parent.

Humor like this perpetuates the damaging, sexist "mommy brain" stereotype

Besides, there are definitely more ups than downs. He makes me smile and laugh every single day and I love watching him grow and learn new skills, and seeing his personality starting to take shape. The film "Inside Out" really influenced my thinking about parenting, actually--I was watching it on a flight while holding my sleeping 10-week old, and I kept thinking about how his experiences are going to shape him, just as my childhood shaped me. It's a lot of pressure, of course, to think that you're responsible for building your kid's mental "Goofball Island" and "Family Island", but it's a pretty amazing thing, too.

I'm just not sure how we can ever resolve the "second shift" and tenure-track problems, though...

Teaching reflections

Now that I'm on the other side of the student-teacher dyad, I've realized that my teachers always knew when I wasn't giving them my best work. All through school, I really thought that I'd pulled it off--the term papers written the night before the deadline, the projects thrown together after weeks of procrastination, the MA dissertation that I wrote in about 3 weeks--I thought I had them fooled because my grades were decent. But now that I've had a student do it to me, submit something well below what he/she is capable of, I realize that they must have seen through me, too. I really felt disappointed (even slightly insulted--did he/she think I couldn't tell it had been carelessly thrown together?) and had a hard time figuring out how to word my feedback. In the end, I kept it brief and gave specific instructions for our next meeting. Let's move on and pretend that weak effort didn't happen--just make it better next time.

Overall I loved my extended student years and I don't regret much, but I do regret not consistently giving my best. I used to try harder for teachers I liked, for example, or for subjects that I liked better than others. In practice, this meant I gave brilliant book reports in AP Spanish literature while I scored a one (failing grade) on the AP Calculus exam. In my first term at UW, I scraped through linguistics with a TA I didn't like and I aced a history of science elective with a lovely British professor.

What if I'm teaching the class the student doesn't like? What if I'm the teacher they don't like? How do I get them to do their best work while also staying likable and approachable? This is  much more reflective experience than I ever thought it would be. I love working with students again, and it's teaching me a lot about education & life in general.

In other news, today I've submitted an abstract for a symposium at University of York. My proposed paper is on the political impacts of study abroad participation. I got quite into it when I was coming up with the abstract so I'm going to turn it into an actual research project, whether or not it gets accepted for the symposium.  I was recently rejected for the Oxford Junior Research Fellowship and a Sheffield postdoc position, so I've been meaning to come up with a new research project proposal and this one sounds quite interesting so far.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Students as Customers

Last Monday I went to Brotherton library with my new staff card and read academic literature, taking proper notes and everything, for the first time in ages. It was wonderful. There's something about having less time that really makes you take advantage of the limited time you do have. In my student days, my attention would wander and I'd get distracted from my reading, because I had little else to do that day. Now, my 2-hour trip to the library is the only time I have to go there, and I needed to get some reading done because I knew it would be my only chance all week (and it has been--I checked out 3 books and haven't looked at them again since!). I was more focused than I had been in years!

Another reason for this improved attention span and dedication to my work is that my free time now costs real money. Going to the library means paying somebody else to look after George, and my one day a week of childcare costs £48. I have to make the most of that time and get as much done as possible to make it worthwhile. It's costing me a lot to study now, which got me thinking about our students under the new £9,000/year fees.

Over the past couple of years, since the £9k tuition fee was introduced, there's been a noticeable increase in the 'student as customer' mentality. It's prevalent amongst students, their parents, higher education administrators, and even some educators. Students demand more when they think of themselves as customers. They want course readings to be scanned as PDFs instead of having to find them in the library, they want lectures to be recorded and put online (along with the powerpoint slides), and most significantly, they don't want to study any material that won't be assessed. The other day on the bus, I overheard a student complaining to a friend, "I wish they would just teach us what's on the exam." I wanted to say something, but didn't know where to start...

In America, the mentality of student-customers has been around for many years. It's not all bad--I've seen it used to encourage attendance, in fact. Some professors remind their students that each lecture is costing them $100+, so they'd better attend in order to get their money's worth. If only our students looked at it that way, rather than demanding customer satisfaction...