Tag Archives: academia

“Because those in a position to change the system do not” and other downsides of academia

I’m nearing the end of my PhD and starting to seek jobs, and I’ve been asked over and over again whether I’ll be staying on academia or I’ll be moving to industry. I haven’t signed a contract yet, so it’s still an open question for me. However, the fact that my own future is still nebulous might be why the following articles have stood out for me. They’re all about the downsides to academia, and reasons to leave it, written by women. The thing about these posts is that they’re not really just about academia: those of you in the tech industry are going to see some parallels. Those of you in other industries likely will too.

First, here’s a segment from Paraphernalian’s post about leaving the academy “Because: a manifesto

Because my talents, accomplishments, experiences, and hard work are not acknowledged or rewarded in this system.

Because I am not not nurtured, encouraged, or valued in this system.

Because those in a position to change the system do not.

Because I refuse to believe that a system that does not value me is the only one in which I can have worth.

Because I am enduring personal, financial, and professional hardship to no perceivable purpose.

Because I am being limited personally, financially, professionally, and creatively.

Because I already got what I came for–three advanced degrees and immersion in a subject I love.

Because I want to continue to love it.

And here’s a fragment from Laruian’s post about going to industry.

Here is the rub. I think many people are surprised that I didn’t go into academia… or, that I didn’t go to a research lab. Well, I don’t think. Many people said, “I’m surprised.” My advisor, in particular seems, well, for the lack of a better word, miffed.

Laurian lists several things that contributed to her decision:

  1. Teamwork. The odd joint grant is not the same as working with a team to produce a product.

    The problem is that from what I’ve seen in academia, when you become a professor there isn’t much team spirit. Yes, you collaborate on grants. Yes, sometimes you co-teach. But there doesn’t actually seem to be much team work. Meaning that what little benefits I see in being the second, third, or, god forbid, even a forth female faculty member are out weighed by the fact that most of my work is going to be individual.

  2. There’s no tenure track grind in industry.

    From what I’ve been told, you’ve got a whole bunch of stodgy white dudes in suits sitting around a table assessing if you are good enough for the university to invest in you for the rest of your career. It is fantastic if you get it. What job security! But, if you don’t, you no longer have a job.

  3. Sick of fighting the system

    In the ten years I’ve been gathering my various degrees the battle to change institutional policy has been one that has tired me out.

  4. Lack of role models

    My entire time at Virginia Tech I saw *one* female professor have a baby. I’m not just talking about in my department. I’m talking about the whole flipping university. One. Later I met a couple or women who have had kids while running for tenure here at Virginia Tech, but their stories were not encouraging. I had zero positive role models that said to me, “It is the best thing I’ve ever done and I have zero regrets.”

  5. Work with impact

    I can tell you what was my favorite moment of working at IBM Almaden. It was when the findings had been presented to Lotus, and they thought they were really important, valuable, and would contribute to future design. And then, when the final findings were given, and I get the same review. Ahhhh. Design with impact. What looked like a medium size user study actually made a difference and was implemented into the next Lotus. It was so different than what I’d experienced so far. The practicality of something that felt nebulous was a breath of fresh air. Academia doesn’t dabble much in practical.

And then the lack of impact and lack of collaboration is echoed again on College Ready Writing:

My academic research will not change the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love the authors I am currently studying, found fascinating all of the topics and areas I have previously written about. But at the end of the day, most people are not really interested in what I am doing, including most people in the academy or in my discipline.

Dr. Skallerup also asks some really valuable questions:

  • Are Academics really interested in “sharing”?

    While more and more scholars are using sites like Academia.edu or SlideShare, and even self-publishing, this type of sharing isn’t rewarded when it comes time for decisions on hiring, tenure and promotion. We are taught instead to hoard our research and findings to share with a potentially smaller audience in venues with more “prestige.” Why not work to improve Wikipedia in whatever field you specialize in? The entries on Dany Laferrière’s works are lacking, calling me to improve on them, hopefully introducing and informing a broader audience about the author. But because the medium is “crowdsourced” instead of peer-reviewed, career-wise, my work there would be meaningless.

  • Are we allowed to be ourselves?

    [B]rowse the blogs of junior faculty members, graduate students and recent PhD graduates and you will notice one thing – they are almost all anonymous. Why? Why can’t we blog about not just our narrow research interests but everything we are interested in or want to write about? Is academia that insecure that it can’t take a little criticism or allow for a professor to be more than a talking head in front of the classroom or byline on a book or article?

I really want to end on a positive note, but I’m not sure I can here without writing another whole essay worth, and besides, no one sent me articles about staying in academia this month, and what does that say? So instead, I’m going to end on a more thoughtful note, again from Dr. Skallerup:

My research may not change the world (or ever be read), but it is far from meaningless. My outside interests may be meaningless according to the academy, but may help change the world. Academia has such a narrow view of what is meaningful, and I, for one, have stopped listening to what higher ed narrowly thinks I should be and started defining it for myself.

Does my linkspam look big in this? (14th November, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention (twitter uses can use #geekfeminism). Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Double Major

I’m back in school, as some folks have probably already gathered from my microblogging. I’m finishing up a double major in Computer Science and Equity Studies at the University of Toronto, and if all goes according to plan I’ll be graduating in May 2011.

While this may sound like a strange combination, it makes perfect sense to me – I’m interested in equity issues within the STEM fields, especially computer science.

It turns out the combination of fields come in handy in unexpected ways some times. After proofreading a paper I wrote for a Women and Gender Studies class for me my friend Valerie suggested that some quantitative data might be useful in supporting one of my assertions. In my paper I argued that while early feminist scholarship on sexual harassment failed at intersectionality, more recent scholarship has embraced it. To support this, I wanted to compare the number of citations for Catherine MacKinnon’s Sexual harassment of working women: a case of sex discrimination to Kimberle Crenshaw’s Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. These are both profoundly influential works, but I wanted to quantify how their relative influence on scholarly work.

So I did what any self-respecting CS student would do – I wrote a script to scrape Google Scholar for citation numbers over time and made a graph comparing the two :)

For your edification, here’s scholargraph.pl:

# (c) 2010 Leigh Honeywell
# Licensed under the Simplified BSD License, reuse as you will!

use strict;
use LWP::Simple;
use LWP;

# set up LWP user agent and cookies; pretend to be Firefox 4 just to be cheeky
my $lua = LWP::UserAgent->new(
    keep_alive => 1,
    timeout    => 180,
    agent =>
"Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; rv:2.0b7pre) Gecko/20100921 Firefox/4.0b7pre"

# edit in your citation numbers from google scholar and the appropriate
# date ranges for what you're trying to do
my $crenshaw = getCites( "10759548619514288444", "1977", "2010" );
my $mackinnon = getCites( "2195253368518808933", "1977", "2010" );

sub getCites {
   (my $cite, my $startyear, my $endyear) = @_;

    for my $year ($startyear .. $endyear) {

        #construct the query URL using the above data
        my $post =
          $lua->get( "http://scholar.google.com/scholar?cites="
              . $cite
              . "&as_ylo="
              . $year
              . "&as_yhi="
              . $year );

        # scrape the returned page for the number of results
        if ( $post->content =~ m#of (?:about )?(d*)</b># ) {
            print $cite. "," . $year . "," . $1 . "n";
        elsif ( $post->content =~ m#did not match any articles# ) {
            print $cite. "," . $year . ",no resultsn";
        else {
            # some kinda error happened, most likely google caught me!
            print $cite. "," . $year . "errorn";
    # don't kill google's servers
return 0;

Oh and if you’re curious, Crenshaw’s paper was cited far more than MacKinnon’s, pretty much as soon as it was published. Intersectionality FTW!

And as these things always go, of course I spend the evening working on this only to find that there’s a Perl module as well.

From comments: hacking the patriarchy

The last linkspam has a comments thread about the difficulties geeky women can have exploring, explaining, attacking or changing sexist patterns in geekdom due to not having ready access to feminist or anti-oppression ideas and language.


Whenever I read about tech conference incidents which involve using the sexual objectification of women to teach technology to men, I find that the bloggers who protest have a lot of difficulty expressing themselves and articulating why it’s wrong. They often complain about the “sex†or “half-naked womenâ€, and the terms “sexual objectification†or “dehumanization†are not in their vocabulary. Commenters then accuse them of being prudish and against sex, and the point is lost.

I think the problem is that many women in tech are not versed in feminist vocabulary…


That is in fact one of the main reasons (in terms of personal motivation) why I set up the GF wiki — because I wanted to improve my feminist vocab and wanted somewhere to record and share what I learnt ;) Learning feminism 101 concepts etc has been really important to me these last couple of years. I find it almost funny when people assume that I have a degree in women’s studies or something. Nope, I just read and take notes and practice.

Skud again:

I think part of it is also disciplinary — that geek women are less likely to have taken the sort of studies at university that would give them the tools to think about this stuff… I’m not just talking about women’s studies, but also things like media studies, sociology, etc — most of which have pretty low prestige in geek circles.

This seems front page worthy! What tools has feminism given you, when did you pick them up and where are you putting them to use in geek feminism? Did geek intellectual hierarchies stand in your way at some point?

Pink sparkly linkspam (November 16th, 2009)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

My second shift

I just read this post by seperis, i miss ship wars like so much, and I had to stop, blink, say “YEAH!” out loud, then IM it to yatima and Sumana.

I want to say this–I don’t know where I am getting the time to do this. I just don’t. This is worse than a twenty-four credit hour semester, because it never fucking ends, it’s every semester and I don’t even get to graduate and no one gives me a class schedule, it just shows up suddenly and I’m in for a sixteen week course where I have to guess at the reading material and sometimes, I’m not even sure what I’m studying. There are many things I’ve learned in fandom that I appreciate, but I have to draw a line somewhere, and I have no idea where, because on top of spending time researching things that are actually important to me as a human being, and writing, and enjoying fannish meta, and chatting with friends, and I don’t know, actually interacting with my source text, I have to figure out now if some researchers are using my people as fodder for a exploitative book.

I checked my timesheet–apparently I am creating hours from air for this, because the day is still twenty-four hours long, but my fannish life is taking thirty-six all on its own, and I still haven’t finished reading History of the Jewish State or found my copy of What If for creative writing, and there’s a small but growing pile of books at the foot of my bed that I have yet to get to and I’m two hundred behind on my flist. I mean, this isn’t bad time management here; my time management is a damn miracle. It is creating time from a vortex of not-time.

She’s talking about SurveyFail, but for me it’s been geek feminism (small g, small f). Ever since OSCON (or a bit before) I’ve had this enormous, amorphous thing eating my life. I get emails. People point me at articles. People ask me to opine on all kinds of stuff. And it’s important, so I try to find time to do it, and to do it thoughtfully and with understanding.

But god DAMN it, my life’s work so far has been ones and zeroes. I never studied gender theory, or sociology, or politics, or any of that. I’m playing catch-up. The only way I’m staying even remotely ahead of the game is to wikify anything I learn so I don’t have to look it up twice.

That LWN thread with Bruce Perens? That ate a day of my life. A whole day. I talked to some of the other women involved afterwards, and I’m not the only one. Between the anger and frustration, the difficulty of following the damn thread without a comments RSS feed, and having to express ourselves clearly and provide supporting documentation (over and over and over again), we lost perhaps hundreds of woman-hours that could otherwise have been spent, oh, I dunno, WRITING SOME DAMN SOFTWARE.

This? This is my second shift.