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My recent trip to Big Conference gave me a lot to think about in terms of how academics present themselves. Apparently Girl Scholar has been having similar thoughts.

The Adventures of Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar: Keeping up appearances

“Really, though, my question is: when did academia become a glamour profession? It seems to me that there was a time when professors were expected to be a bit dumpy. Sure, there was That One Professor that everyone had a crush on, but that was exceptional.

One of the funn(i)est things about Big Conference is guessing what people specialize in by their dress and personal appearance. I guess what fascinates me is whether or not it’s a good idea to imitate the dress of important scholars you admire. I’m sure that if you are the student of an important scholar s/he would be flattered to find that you take after them in terms of dress. I’m going to give you some of the obvious categories for my discipline, which I think I will call “head studies” in contrast to my earlier attempts in the field of “hairdressing.” Please don’t think I’m making fun, my observations about people’s appearance do not lesson my impression of them as scholars. I’m just insecure about my place in academia and my identity, so I make these observations:

Old School, Old Boy: This is an older gentleman in a full suit with tie (sometimes a bow tie.) Grey haired and confident, he and his cohort chat while relaxing in the lounge areas of the conference. In “head studies” this person is always a white male.

The Techie: This is our version of the geek. Khakis and a blue shirt, glasses. A neat, short haircut. Also invariably a man, although younger.

The Outdoorsperson: S/he is unconcerned about appearances. Clothing tends towards jeans or khakis and flannel shirts, all slightly ill-fitting. This person doesn’t get haircuts frequently. Her or his hair is long and looks slightly unkempt. Beards are common for men. You can also tell this type by their skin. They tend to have slightly leathery or freckled skin from spending a lot of time outside.

The Rock Star (male): This guy is smart and he knows it. He has lots of hair gel, tight black pants, sunglasses and a leather jacket.

The Rock Star (female): She could be old or young, but she always has a short, spiky haircut, usually covered in gel. Like the male Rock Star, she tends towards fashionable, tailored clothing. She generally wears close fitting pants, black boots, a tailored jacket (often red) and an elegantly tied scarf.

I know there are more types, but those are the ones that stand out in my mind. Each of these types is associated with a particular sub-discipline, but I won’t go into that.

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Check out this post from YoungFemaleScientist: Insidious, hard to quantify, Gender Discrimination. (It’s long.)

I don’t know why we keep expecting men to get it. Seriously, it’s rare for a white man in a position of power, even those who are supposedly enlightened to get their privilege. It does happen, for example, my current boss is an awesome mentor to graduate students of all genders, races, and so on, but it’s rare. In some sense I don’t blame them, privilege is difficult to see. As a white woman I rarely notice my white privilege, except when a person of color talks about their experiences of discrimination.

It really isn’t that mysterious. Imagine older, male mentor and young, somewhat geeky, but still “nubile”(I hate that word) female grad student working long hours together in the lab or slaving over ancient tombs. If this was a movie, what happens next? William Deresiewicz knows.

If you were an older male professor faced with uncomfortably attractive young grad students, what would your reaction be? Make sure the office door stays open. Whatever you do, don’t go out to drinks after work. Keep things professional. Would the same be true with your male grad students?

I know, I’m being hetero-normative, but it’s not a question of actual impropriety, it’s just appearances. The point is the privilege is invisible. You are a male grad student and you “hang out” with your adviser. Your adviser thinks of you as a younger version of himself, people who are different, who think differently make him uncomfortable. Most likely he doesn’t realize this. He can’t help his feelings, but they affect his attitude towards his students, how much time he spends with them, how enthusiastic he is.

I happens, even when there is no conscious intention to discriminate. Networking opportunities become limited. Older faculty are uncomfortable. Young men and women don’t see what’s going wrong.


Some grad student friends and I (my work buddies) were having lunch this week and began discussing the expense of going to the major conferences in our fields. Now, each of us is in very somewhat different fields, but their conclusion was that going to the major conference in your field each year wasn’t that important. Last year I attended the large conference in my field for the first time and a very small conference, not directly within my field, but related to my master’s research methodologically.

Attending the large conference was stimulating because I was exposed to sub-fields and “star” scholars that I never would have understood otherwise. I got much more of a sense of what is hot in my field than I could from reading journals. The large conference was mostly a total bust in terms of networking though. I felt terribly out of place the entire time. The paper sessions didn’t allow enough time for questions and people weren’t very open to people waylaying them after their talk. The conference was so huge that I felt completely lost and dwarfed by the event.

The small conference was much more fun. My friend and I got to talk to some experienced researchers using similar methodologies. People actually attended our paper session despite the fact that it was scheduled for the last afternoon of the conference.

This year I’m going to major conference again, only this year it’s going to be much more expensive since I have to pay for travel and airfare. This year I’m presenting my thesis research. So in the coming years, as I’m developing my dissertation research, how often do I need to attend the major conference in my field?

The thing is, it’s fr*cking expensive.
$500 for airfare
$300/night for a hotel room (Ok, you could share, but still.)
$20+/day for food
$25/haircut
$75 clothing to make me look less like a homeless person

Total= $1300 (minimally)

That’s almost a month’s wages for me.

Second question. There’s small conference coming up in June at Visitation U. It’s interdisciplinary, but very much related to my interests. I emailed the organizer to get more info about cost. He suggested that I might moderate one of the panels. How worth it is moderating? I guess it would give me something to do if I want to go to the conference anyway. If I only have money and time to attend one or two conferences a year how should I choose? This small conference seems like it would be better for networking, but it seems that I’m going to have to sample a variety of small conferences until I find the few that I really fit with. Last year I attended one small conference I really loved and one that I never want to go to again. I never would have guess which was which without attending each.

I talked on the phone the other night with my potential adviser at Great White North. I really like her. I wish it wasn’t so intimidating for Beorn and I to move out of the country because I have a feeling that she would be a great adviser. JustMe makes a good point about the risk of going out of the country in terms of funding. GWN has offered me good funding for the entire degree, more years than I want the PhD to take me, but being married complicates things. It might take a while for us to establish residency and until then Beorn couldn’t work. He didn’t apply to any schools near there, so he would have to reapply and get funding because we certainly couldn’t afford international student fees without help. Either way his future there would be very shaky.

At least I’m not facing having to return to my home country for 3+ years without my spouse. A friend of a friend here at BAU has to leave the country once he finishes his PhD. If he was straight he could just marry his long time partner and stay, but instead they face years of separation. This is why gay marriage is an important issue. Marriage is making legal in the eyes of the state your status as a family. It gives important legal rights. Separating voluntarily to pursue career opportunities is difficult enough, imagine having no choice. Being deported.

Maybe I’m feeling a little dramatic tonight because I just listened to This American Life. The latest episode includes a segment on the bug adminstration deporting widows because their spouses died before they could have an interview with immigration. That is the kind of crap that makes me want to leave the country.

Here’s what I have accomplished so far today-

1. I wrote up some more of the “results” section of my thesis. The thesis seems to be looking up. Earlier in the week I felt I didn’t have anything interesting to say and my committee was going to be bored to death, now I have found a least a few interesting insights. Yay!

2. I spent a ton of time investigating WordPress. I’m starting to get the hang of it and there are a ton of plug-ins that allow you do a sorts of fun stuff. This makes me feel productive, because my job on campus is considering using WordPress to manage their website.

3. Went shopping for the pets and some groceries. Beorn and I also got some smoothies. Yum.

4. Now I’m cooking some dal and rice while drinking a glass of Zin and playing Lord of the Rings Online. In a little while I’m going to heat up some nan from Trader Joe’s to go with the dal and rice.

That’s the answer to whatever question you are about to ask me. No, my thesis still isn’t finished. No, my work computer isn’t fixed yet. No, I haven’t decided where to go to finish my PhD.

The department at Visitation U. is smallish, but seems strong both academically and socially. I like that. The gossip, which I can’t say much about, has to do with the personalities and advising styles of particular professors there. I like the fact that the grad students were willing to give me their perspectives on the problems. In a way it was funny, because they were so dramatic about revealing the problems and then the problems seemed so minor, so run of the mill, considering my experiences at B.A.U. and what I read about in the academic blog-o-sphere, that I almost had to laugh.

Visitation U. is in a nice, smallish city or largish town, depending how you look at it. Rent and living expenses there would be around 2/3 of what we pay now at B.A.U. Of course, my TA salary there would be 2/3 ‘s of what I make now at B.A.U. There are lots of recreation opportunities, good Asian restaurants (have I blogged about Beorn’s addiction to sushi?), and it’s in the same region I’m proposing to study for my dissertation.

The alternative is Great White North U. They are offering me significantly more money, but they are located in a large city, rent and expenses would be higher. Also, at least for the first year, a significant amount of that money would have to be spent paying international student fees. The department there is larger, which could be a major benefit for me: more grad students interested in similar issues, and a more dynamic environment. The climate, latitude, and large urban environment make it a less appealing place to live though. Also, it’s not in the region I’m planning to study, meaning my research would have to involve extended, expensive trips to that region.

I think what is making me so grumpy these days is a mourning process. I had planned to stay here at B.A.U. to finish the PhD. If I was staying I could start studying for my comprehensive exams any time now. Starting over is going to cost me a year, at least, possibly two. I feel sad about all of this, sad that I wasted so much time trying to make things work here, and sad that I’m leaving. (Oh god! I’m breaking up with my university.) Does that mean that whatever new university I choose is a rebound relationship?