The Queen of Spain, blogger extraordinaire, is giving away a free trip to BlogHer next summer. In case you have been hiding under a rock BlogHer is an amazing community site for women who blog and they run a fabulous conference each year (which I imagine to be like a giant blogger meetup!) She asks bloggers to write about:

Why you want to attend BlogHer and how you plan on supporting other women you know and love in 2009.

My friend Trillwing encouraged me to write something for the Queen of Spain, which makes a lot of sense because Trillwing is the one who got me involved in blogging in the first place.  Although Trillwing is someone I also know in person, this kind of friendship is typical of the type of support I have found through blogging. As a grad student, finding support at your own university, through your fellow students and professors, can be challenging. In academia there is a constant undercurrent of competition that sometimes leads towards a pointed indifference towards others. If you are lucky you may not experience any oververt backstabbing, but most likely will get very little useful advice or support from those around you either. Simple things like how to navigate through the burocracy to find work and support yourself financial during your degree or what the steps are to get from a thesis idea to a completed and turned in thesis are rarely spelled out for new grad students. If you are enrolled at a large public university like I was the shear number of different offices you need to visit to get yourself situated may seem daunting or exausting.

When I started blogging I was struggling though my graduate program feeling lost and unsupported. I began writing about my struggles and (somewhat obsessively) reading and commenting on the blogs of other academics. Though my blogging has never been extensive or very consistant, through blogging I have found support and friendship that was essential to my successful completion of my M.A. and my current (much better) position in a new PhD program at a new university.

Since graduating last summer, my blogging has slowed down to an occasional update. My new graduate program is such a far cry from my past experience (so much better) I don’t feel the need to write and think through my academic struggles as often. My struggles currently are of a different sort, mostly financial and related to my husband’s health. Beorn, my husband, is struggling with some sort of rheumatic disease, we still don’t have a diffinative diagnosis, but suspect rheumatoid arthritis. This time last year he was finishing his undergraduate degree (having gone back to school at 40) and working part time on campus. Now he can barely walk. I bought him a cane last week because I was worried he might fall down getting around the house. He can’t work because he’s so exhausted and in pain, so we are living on my TA salary and student loans.

I have felt reluctant to write about these struggles and yet I know that what has helped me about blogging has been reading about other people’s troubles and realize that I’m not the only one dealing with the strange and sometimes unintelligable culture of academia.  I have many friends outside of blogging, but none of my outside friends or family are academics, so they often don’t understand perplexing and unfamiliar ways of the natives. Fellow bloggy academics like, Inside the Philosophy Factory and JustMe, understand this foreign culture and at the same time are far away from the particulars of my program and my university, and so can give advice and support from a space of neutrality.

So here is what I have been considering writing about and doing in 2009 to support my fellow women (in academia and out.)

  • Continue to blog about my struggles in a reflective and honest way.
  • Write more about living on less. I have been poor for a long time and so have ideas for how to get by and enjoy life with less.
  • Organize a discussion group or  speaker series for women at my university about projecting self confindence and promoting yourself. I would like to write about it here as well. Often women have a self depreciating way of presenting ourselves that doesn’t help us get ahead.  We start our critiques or observations by apologizing or qualifying or statements. We secretly feel like frauds. This is something I actively work on in my own life and feel confindent talking about with other women. We don’t often don’t feel comfortable talking about these problems or think we are the only ones dealing with these challenges.
  • Present myself as a well rounded person rather than writing only about my academic persona – including science fiction, online gaming, gardening, hiking, cooking. I hope to find other bloggers and in person friends who share these interests and so we can support each other in leading balanced lives.