On the road again

Two years ago I moved house for the 8th time. It was the fourth time I’d moved for a job and the second time I’d moved overseas.

As an academic, moving is an occupational hazard. Almost every academic I know has moved at least once in their career. Some have moved states to do their PhDs, others have moved countries for postdocs. Some have moved to big cities for promotions, others have moved to small towns for tenure.  Moving allows us to collaborate with new people, develop new skills, and explore new ideas. And, depending on where you end up, it can make for holidays in some pretty cool destinations!

Overseas or interstate moves, however, are not for the faint-hearted. If you’re contemplating making a move, here are my Top 10 Tips for making it there without sacrificing your physical or mental health.

(1) Talk to as many people as you can, at every stage of the process. Don’t wait until you’ve been offered the job to find out about the place you’ll be living and the people you’ll be working with. Visit if you can and make the most of Skype & Google if you can’t. Things to consider include the climate, the language or culture, and whether you can pursue your hobbies there (swimming pools and yoga studios were important to me). If you are moving with a partner or children, employment opportunities and schools will also need to be considered, as will access to doctors if you have a medical condition.

(2) Accept that you will need to put your research/teaching/supervision on hold while you move. Advise colleagues, industry partners, and students of your plans as early as possible and work with them to minimise disruptions to ongoing projects and ensure continuity of supervision for ongoing students.

(3) Back up all your data and review ethical and legal requirements for the storage and movement of data. Depending on the nature of your research you may have to leave hard copy data behind and if you’re taking it with you it may take time to make all the necessary arrangements.

(4) Ask for and accept help. This piece of advice was given to me by the wonderful Dr Kylie Smith, who made the move from Australia to the USA. When I asked Kylie how she survived the move, she said “This is not the time to be shy or proud. This is the time to ask for help and accept it when it’s offered.”

(5) Make lists. From visa applications and mail redirection to finding somewhere to live and getting your hair cut for the last time, the number of things you need to do before you leave is overwhelming and you will not be able to hold it all in your head. Make lists and work through them systematically. If you are moving with a partner or children, delegate. If you’re moving alone, breathe!

(6) Have a farewell. If you’re an extrovert this might be a given, but it’s also important if you’re an introvert. The idea of a party where I’m the centre of attention is my idea of hell. I’d much rather slip quietly out the door, while no-one’s looking, after a nice dinner with a few friends. But it’s not about me (or you!). A party is an opportunity for the people who care about you to say good-bye and to feel acknowledged for the role they’ve played in getting you to where you are or, more importantly, where you’re going.

(7) Engage in plenty of self-care. Moving is exhausting, both physically and mentally, and it’s important that you find time to rest, relax, and care for yourself. In the craziest week of my move (a week in which my old job ended, I moved out of my house, I moved in with friends, I put tenants in my house, I flew to another city for Christmas with my family, and I applied for my British visa), I did 7 yoga classes in six days. Although this presented a small logistical challenge, it was essential for keeping my body strong and my mind calm.

(8) Throw money at the problem. If you can afford it, pay for help. Whether that’s paying the moving company to pack your belongings, or paying someone to clean your house, out-sourcing a few jobs can really take the pressure off. If you can’t afford to pay professionals, invite your friends around for a working bee. If you supply the beer and chips, they’ll supply the labour. Trust me!

(9) Reduce, recycle, re-gift. As you pack up your office and your home, you’ll discover a mountain of things you no longer need or can’t take with you. From staplers to mattresses, almost everything you don’t want can have another life and throwing things into landfill should always be a last resort. Charities will welcome donations of good quality clothes, books, furniture, and household items. Most cities will have a company that recycles mattresses for a small fee, with the majority returning any profits to charities. Craft or sporting supplies can be donated to local childcare centres or schools, while food and toiletries can be donated to organisations that support refugees, homeless people, and families doing it tough. Your colleagues will happily take your stationery and your friends will gladly accept those two bottles of rum you claimed were for baking.

(10) Have fun! In the busy-ness and craziness of moving, it can be easy to misplace your excitement. Take a moment to stop and reflect on the wonderful opportunity you’ve been given and the fabulous new adventure upon which you are about to embark!

 

Have your recently moved for an academic job? Got other tips? Share them in the comments!

What’s care got to do with it?

I haven’t posted anything here for a while. But it’s not because I didn’t have anything to say. It’s because I’ve been trying to practice what I preach.

I spend the vast majority of my professional life talking about care – who gets it, who doesn’t, why it’s important, what happens when there’s not enough, and what happens when there’s too much. And although my research generally focuses on care for others, this year I turned my attention to self-care. Because the great irony of doing good research on the care of others, is that it often comes at the expense of caring for yourself.

Co-written with my Australian colleagues Sarah Pinto and Sharon McDonough, my latest paper explores the the importance of self-care for academics. It is a call-to-arms for academics who’ve neglected themselves in the pursuit of their work and a critique of the neoliberal systems that demand this kind of self-neglect. It is a to-do list for rediscovering self-care and a reminder that resistance comes in many forms. It’s also a poem. Because why the heck not!

You can read it here, or contact me for a copy. And then forgive me for not posting. I’ve been doing some much needed self-care.

This year I will…

As one year ends and the next begins, newspapers and social media will be flooded with articles about how to make and keep New Year’s resolutions. I don’t do resolutions, but since moving to the UK two years ago, I have starting doing themes.

In 2016 the theme was ‘Settling In’. I gave myself permission to spend the year getting settled in a new country, a new job, a new house, and a new community. In 2017 the theme was ‘Kicking Arse’. I gave myself permission to spend the year working around the clock to expand my international collaborations, apply for major research funding, and develop and deliver new modules for my students.

Ever the over-achiever, however, I’ve been a little too good at working to a theme. In 2016 that wasn’t a problem. Settling in is a good thing. I fully embraced British life and now I have a wonderful community of friends and colleagues in my adopted home. In 2017, however, it was slightly less functional. Although I totally kicked arse, it came at the cost of my health. In order to achieve my professional goals, I sacrificed my nights, my weekends, my holidays, my swimming, and my yoga. And now I’m knackered. As someone with an autoimmune disease, I really can’t afford to sacrifice rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. My professional goals are important, but the work is not sustainable if my body can’t keep up.

So my theme for 2018 is ‘Find the Stillness’. I am going to give myself permission to spend the year being content with wherever I’m at. This will be a year of making peace with body’s limitations and rejoicing in its strengths. It will be a year of striving to achieve my professional goals and accepting that I will never achieve them as soon as I’d like or exactly how I’d planned. It will be a year of finding the calm in the storm through swimming, yoga, reading, knitting, and meditation. And most importantly, it will be a year of surrounding myself with people who see the value in stillness. Because stillness is not stagnation. Rather, it is the start of all great things. And as Pico Iyer says, “In an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing is so luxurious as paying attention. In an age of constant movement, nothing is so urgent as sitting still.”

What’s your theme for 2018?

Yes, but…

I just finished reading Mary Beard’s Women and Power: A Manifesto. Although I admire Beard’s work, her ability to make history accessible, and her persistence in the face of blatant misogyny, this is not a manifesto. It is a brief and fascinating account of the problematic relationship between women and power all the way from the Greeks and Romans to Theresa May and Hilary Clinton. But it is not a manifesto. It offers no suggestions for how we might move forward, no fundamental principles around which women might unite, and no call to arms for the men who wish to support us. It simply tells us what we already know: women are screwed.

The systemic and persistent gender problems in academia have been the topic of many a discussion amongst my female colleagues over the last few weeks. We are all facing the same problems, but have no collective voice and no power to create change. When I pointed out some blatant gender discrimination in a recent staff meeting, not one other woman spoke up. But six approached me afterwards to thank me for what I’d said and share their experience of the exact same discrimination. Likewise, when we express our concerns to men in power, each incident is seen as an unfortunate one-off. There is no appreciation of the cumulative effect of these incidents over the course of a career. When I pointed out recently that all but one of the staff teaching on a module I convene are women, a senior male academic told me it was “an accident”. It is no accident. It is the direct result of a system in which women must be team players, but it’s every man for himself.

It was in this context that I eagerly read Women and Power and that several of my colleagues asked if they could borrow it when I was done.  But sadly Beard’s book provides no rallying point for me or my academic colleagues. And we’re the privileged ones. White, middle class, PhD-educated, and in continuing, well-paid appointments. There is even less in Beard’s book for our non-academic sisters who make minimum wage cleaning university toilets or providing administrative support, and almost nothing for women whose disadvantage is compounded by their ethnicity, sexuality, or disability.

As the female history teacher in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys says “What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket!” Women and Power is a timely and well-crafted reminder that although a lot has changed for women, much remains the same. A manifesto is exactly what we need, but this ain’t it.

Fit Your Own Mask First

Academic travel is pain and anyone who says differently is selling something.

Apologies to Cary Elwes for bastardising his great line, but I’ve recently returned from the worst trip in 12 years of professional travel and I’m feeling a little tender. The Princess Bride was on the TV in one of the five hotels I slept in over the last fortnight. Or maybe it was in one of the two airports I was forced to sit in overnight because an airline had cancelled my flight or a hotel had lost my booking. It’s hard to remember because so much went wrong on this trip. But somewhere between Exeter, Gatwick, Tampa, Oklahoma City, San Francisco, Tampa, Gatwick and Exeter, I watched the Princess Bride and the line about pain resonated.

Travel is essential for academic work. It is the key to building relationships, conducting truly collaborative research, learning about the latest developments in your field, and disseminating research findings. And when it’s good, it’s really good. But when it’s bad, it’s painful. The financial costs are never fully covered (and frequently not covered at all), the preparation and recovery time is often longer than the trip itself, work piles up while you’re away (so you return to what’s affectionately known as a shit-storm), you eat bad food, you eat expensive food, your exercise options are limited, the time difference cuts you off from friends and family, the language barrier (if you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language) is exhausting, and you never fly business class. Raul Pacheco-Vega and Pamela Gay have both written recently about the toll that academic travel takes on personal finances and the environment. In addition to these, it also takes a toll on physical health, mental health, and personal relationships.

When I returned from my most recent trip it was three days before I could get out of bed without crying. The extended stress of the trip – physical, psychological, and financial – was more than I could cope with and my body simply shut down. On a recent trip to Sweden a colleague, on hearing that I was travelling for two weeks, asked how old my children were. The question was so problematic I didn’t even know where to begin. She was making at least one (though most likely two) of the following three assumptions: (1) My children were old enough to stay home without me for two weeks; (2) I had a husband who didn’t travel for work and was at home with the children; (3) I was a bad mother for leaving my children behind. What she didn’t realise is that I’m single and childless, another consequence of more than a decade of academic travel.

My sister and I frequently remind each other to ‘fit your own mask first’. Stolen from the safety demonstration on every flight, it has become our shorthand for dealing with the complexities of our highly dysfunctional family. It’s also a good mantra for academic travel.

So in the interests of fitting my own mask first, I’ve put together some rules for academic travel. Rules I intend to follow from here on, to minimise the toll of travelling for research.

  1. No travelling for work unless someone else is paying and the trip is fully costed.
  2. No more than one destination per trip.
  3. No more than three international trips per year.
  4. No less than one month between trips.
  5. No cheap fares or hotel deals. Fully refundable/changeable or you don’t go.
  6. Do not sacrifice personal holidays for professional travel.

Have you got any other tips for keeping your physical, mental and financial health in check when you travel for research? Leave me a comment!

 

Non-Required Reading: Redux

A few years ago I wrote a post about the importance of reading for pleasure in academia and suggested a non-required reading list for PhD students. The basic premise was that although great writing comes from great reading, great reads are rarely found in academic journals. Instead, if students want to write well, they need to immerse themselves in quality fiction, narrative non-fiction, essays, feature writing, memoir, and poetry. In short, phrasebanks are not the answer to poor academic prose, Shakespeare is!

There’s been a lot of interest in my Non-Required Reading List recently, so I thought I would revisit it. But rather than making the list prescriptive, as I did last time, I thought I would offer a simple framework and a list of resources. This would give students and supervisors more flexibility in how they approach the list and allow the resources to grow over time as I discover and remember other great reads (or you suggest them!).

Framework
Every month you should aim to read four long-form articles of your choice from Long Reads, The Atlantic, or Mosaic, and one quality work of fiction, non-fiction, or poetry.

Resources
Fiction:

Non-Fiction:

Poetry:

 

Can you recommend other great reads that should be added to the Resources? Or have you got feedback on how you or your students have used the Non-Required Reading List? Leave me a comment!

 

Care: A Reading List

There’s a piece of street art in my home town that says “The more I think about it, the bigger it gets”. I was reminded of it during a recent visit to Keele University when a conversation with colleagues turned to recreational reading. I always have a book on the go and I’ve written before about the importance of good reading for good academic writing, but the conversation at Keele made me realise how much my recreational reading overlaps with my professional interests, particularly my interest in care. And it’s not deliberate, it’s just that once you start thinking about care, you see it everywhere. The more you think about it, the bigger it gets.

Not everything I’ve read, however, has been good. I’ve read many books that, while undoubtedly cathartic for the author to write, should never have been published for general consumption. So I wanted to celebrate the good books. The books that are both beautifully written and true to the experiences of carers (both family & professional). The books that expand your mind and tear at your heart. The books that I regularly recommend to friends, strangers, students, and colleagues.

I hope to continue to add to this list over time, as I read new books and remember old ones, but I’d also welcome your suggestions. What’s the best thing you’ve read that explores the concept of care?

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Home is Burning by Dan Marshall

Shtum by Jem Lester

The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Bettyville by George Hodgman

The Spare Room by Helen Garner

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum