Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: Week 3: Abstracting Your Article

Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash

This chapter was a much needed confidence boost for me–after reading it, I realized that I already had a fairly good handle on abstracts. It included so much of what I’ve taught my students when helping them with their literature searches. Skim reading abstracts is a vital skill when you’re trying to get a good understanding of “what’s been done” on and around your topic. You need to make sense of the hundreds (or thousands) of search results, and you don’t have time to (or need to) read everything. My ESL students, in particular, sometimes felt overwhelmed by the prospect of having to read countless academic books and journal articles, only to find that very few would turn out to be relevant for their project in the end. Many of my students thought that if you cited something, it meant you had read the whole thing–that is a big misconception about academia. We skim and cite. We use indexes and keyword searches to zoom in on just the relevant sentences or paragraphs or pages. We rarely read anything from cover to cover. Those overflowing bookcases in professors’ offices don’t mean what you think they mean–most of their books probably have some margin notes or underlining here and there, and haven’t been read cover to cover. It’s not because academics are lazy–we love reading! It’s because you don’t have to read something cover to cover for it to be useful in your own work.

That’s where abstracts come in. They are a little summary that highlights the argument and key findings, so you know whether it’s worthwhile for you to read further. They can give you a good enough idea of the content to decide whether it’s useful. Sometimes it’s useful in a negative sense, because it helps you to say “previous studies have focused on x, but overlooked y…and this is significant because…”. You can rely on an abstract and a quick skim read to cite examples of the thing you’re not doing, if you’re using that as part of your rationale/justification for the study. It shows the reader that you’re aware of other approaches and suggests that you have a good understanding of where your topic/approach sits in the broader field.

I loved the “talking your way to clarity” task–it made me realize how much talking about my work with friends/family has helped me, and how much talking with my students about their work helped them! It’s a bit like talk therapy in psychology–communicating your thoughts to somebody else helps you understand them better yourself.

Writing the abstract helps clarify your article’s focus and argument. Belcher recommends you start with the abstract and, since this article stems from a conference paper abstract I wrote back in 2018, I actually did start with the abstract in this case. The project has grown and changed over the past 2 years, but I was able to build on some of the basic ideas from that original abstract to write this one.

I also loved the task of reading abstracts to get an idea of what they should contain, what to leave out, and to consider the strengths and weaknesses of real life, published abstracts. For someone who doesn’t regularly skim the current issues of various journals in the field, it was also just a nice way to get a quick impression of what’s going on in research at the moment!

My abstract before doing the task of reading recent abstracts in journals:

In the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, Congressional Twitter became a site of partisan debate on gun policy. Survivors appeared on the news and challenged policy makers to take action, asserting that adults had failed in their duty to protect them, the children of America. Despite broad popular support for gun control measures such as universal background checks, Congressional inaction persisted after each mass shooting.  As survivors quickly became activists and organized the March for Our Lives, Parkland appeared to be a critical discourse moment for the gun debate in America. But how did Congress respond to this school shooting and the movement that followed?

This study conducted a critical discourse analysis of Congressional Twitter posts to identify dominant themes and frames, to categorize performances of empathy and calls to action, and to assess the state of the gun control vs. gun rights debate in the wake of Parkland. It found that members of Congress used the phrase “thoughts and prayers” in starkly partisan ways. While some Republicans expressed sympathy with “thoughts and prayers” on the platform, others avoided using the exact phrase. Many called the shooting “heart-breaking,” “tragic,” or said they were “praying for Parkland” instead. Democrats used the phrase “thoughts and prayers” in their criticism of inaction, describing “thoughts and prayers” as an insufficient response and calling for “real action” to prevent future shootings. In this paper, I argue that there was a distinct backlash against public figures using the phrase “thoughts and prayers” as a performative act of caring after Parkland. The study demonstrates that there was a discursive turn towards calls for action from both parties in the turn away from “thoughts and prayers”. Activists’ demands for action elicited significant Congressional Twitter responses from members of both parties, with partisan differences in terms of the actions endorsed. Overall, the study identifies Parkland as a critical moment for Congressional discourse on gun policy. It brought about a new way of responding to shootings, shifting from “thoughts and prayers” to calls for action.

I read 10 abstracts from current issues in 3 quite different journals in my field, from 3 different publishers. I quickly saw that each journal has a preferred style, and some abstracts were definitely stronger than others (also realized that I’m a harsh critic–I read 7 before really liking one!). They were all quite brief, around 200 words, and just one paragraph long. My draft abstract was 342, so one clear outcome of the task was that I knew it needed some trimming down. It also showed some interesting trends about word choice–the strongest ones used “show”, “demonstrate”, “highlight” instead of “examine” or “explore”, and nearly all of them used “argue” or “argument”. My earlier drafts included “examine”/”explore”, and I removed them during the week 2 chapter because they felt too descriptive. I tried to follow the rest of the checklist im my revisions and cuts, too.

Abstract draft after reading 10 abstracts:

In the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, Congressional Twitter became a site of partisan debate on gun policy. As survivors quickly became activists and challenged persistent Congressional inaction, Parkland appeared to be a critical discourse moment for the gun debate in America. But how did Congress respond to this school shooting and the movement that followed? This study used critical discourse analysis of Congressional Twitter posts to identify dominant themes and frames, to categorize performances of empathy and calls to action, and to assess the state of the gun debate in the wake of Parkland. The study identifies Parkland as a critical moment for Congressional discourse on gun policy, one which brought about a new way of reacting to mass shootings. In response to a distinct backlash against public figures using the phrase “thoughts and prayers” as a performative act, there was a discursive turn towards calls for action from both parties. While the actions endorsed were starkly partisan on Congressional Twitter, the findings suggest that Parkland’s March For Our Lives activists were successful in challenging Congress to move beyond “thoughts and prayers.”

This trimmed down version is 190 words, with far less detail about the findings. It’s clearer, neater and tidier. Although cutting it down was difficult, it made me focus on what was really going on. It’s like on makeover shows, when they give someone a drastic haircut and it makes their eyes pop!

Writing Your Journal Article In Twelve Weeks–Week 2: Argumentation Revisited

Since my last post about the workbook, I’ve gone away and worked on the study. Once I started looking at my data and playing around with it, and reading through the methods lit that I’d long neglected, I realized that all of this lovely data I’ve been collecting could be used for multiple studies with different approaches. In the past that might have made me feel overwhelmed and lost, but now I see it as a good thing. I drafted a book outline and saw where everything I want to do could fit together to make a coherent larger study. The book is the ultimate goal, but for now, I’m working on turning one part of it (discourse analysis) into a journal article-length paper that I can submit to ICA at the end of the month. It’s a great opportunity to get it peer-reviewed at an early stage, whether it gets accepted or not.

Now that I know what my evidence is saying, I’m able to revisit the argument stage in Week 2. A lot of interesting things came out of my data (hence the desire to turn it all into a book–it doesn’t fit in 1 or 2 journal articles), so I narrowed my focus down to a very specific claim about just one feature of the gun debate discourse: the phrase “thoughts and prayers”.

In the initial check of my 4,824 relevant tweets, the exact phrase “thoughts and prayers” appeared 85 times. 341 were coded as “thoughts and prayers” for their topic, so it was a common theme even without the exact wording. Members of Congress often avoided using the cliche phrase (this Slate article noted that several Republicans didn’t use it), instead saying they were “heartbroken” or calling it a “tragedy,” and often still saying that they were “praying for those affected” without using the now-maligned “thoughts and prayers.” Most of my 85 exact phrase matches were actually Democrats using it in a negative sense–“thoughts and prayers aren’t enough” or “we need more than thoughts and prayers, we need real action from Congress on gun violence,” etc. There was a clear partisan difference in the ways people used “thoughts and prayers”, and a clear backlash against the phrase–you could see it in memes, cartoons, in tweets from both Democrats and Republicans.

I used to draw these maps with students when I was helping them sort out their ideas–it helps to just get it down on paper and you can then see what’s strongest, what can be cut, what can be developed further, etc.

As it stands at the moment, my argument is that there was a backlash against T&P and a discursive turn towards calls to action from both parties (Republicans called for action in terms of increasing school security and arming teachers, Democrats called for gun control–but at the end of the day, they’re both “action” instead of just passive “T&P.”)

It definitely still needs some refining, and we’ll see how it develops as I use it to structure the paper! I loved Belcher’s discussion of argument-organized vs. evidence-organized writing, and I’m trying to bear that in mind as I deal with my evidence.

Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks–Week 1 task: Time Audit

One of the week 1 tasks is to schedule your writing time and create a plan. The recommended 15 min-2hr/day, 5 days a week sounds reasonable, and the workbook has lovely helpful charts you can use to assess actual vs. planned writing time–but what about situations like mine, with zero dedicated writing time? I decided to start with a time audit.

Before doing the time audit:

The thought of doing a time audit now, during the Coronavirus when I’m essentially a stay-at-home mom, is hilarious and daunting. We all supposedly have the same 24 hours each day to work with, but it definitely doesn’t feel like I have as much time as I used to, “in the before times.” Off the top of my head, I would estimate that I spend 50% of my waking hours dealing with food (meal planning, shopping, cooking, feeding baby, washing up), and 45% general childcare tasks (teaching George, trying to put the baby to sleep, changing clothes & nappies, playing, singing, etc.), with 5% “me time” that I spend scrolling social media, and working out/showering 3x/week. At the moment, there’s been close to zero writing time, and little reading time (one day I started reading an academic book while we were watching a movie, and George kept telling me to look at the screen!). It’ll be interesting to see what I actually do spend my time on. There may be significantly more social media time than that 5% figure…

How I’m doing my time audit:

-I set up the “screen time” feature on my phone (scariest step of all, because I know I’ve always wasted a lot of time on it, and in quarantine, it’s been my “only window to the outside world”, like the magic mirror in Beauty and the Beast)

-I’m writing down key times/activities with actual paper and pen throughout the day for a week (I don’t always have my phone on me, and besides, tracking it on my phone will only make my screen time sound worse!)

-Once I’ve tracked, I’ll make categories and a chart, and figure out what changes I can/should make.

  • 42% of my time on childcare/housework
  • 19% on meal prep/clean-up/grocery shopping
  • 13% talking with my husband
  • 11% on writing/research
  • 6% on TV/Movies
  • 5% “me time”–workouts, shower, getting dressed
  • 4% “Nursing & scrolling” (“me time” and childcare combined)

My screen time isn’t that bad—just under 13 hr/week. My messenger time includes video calls with my family in the States, which I thought would be about 4 hr/week. Instagram and Facebook serve the same purposes for me—keeping up with news, friends, family, memes, etc. Obviously, though, 13 hours could be reduced, and some of that time could be spent writing or reading.

After the time audit:

This wasn’t an ‘average’ week, because I genuinely tried to fit in as much writing/research time as possible. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I’ve accomplished. I finally downloaded a RMS for my citations (Zotero) and started using it (can’t imagine how much time I’ve wasted without one–I love it so far). I read more academic literature than I have in months–a whole book and a half! I drafted an outline for my article and finally started my formal coding process, moving my data from a mess of excel workbooks into SPSS.

That said, most of my time is spent with the kids–even some of my research time.

When I was categorizing my time notes, I realized just how much my childcare and housework tasks overlap. Laundry and dishes are very conducive to being paused for a nappy change or story time, and restarted later when I get a chance. I combined them in my analysis, because I soon saw how impossible it was to break it down minute-by-minute. There’s some food prep time mixed in with childcare time, too.

I also had to come up with a separate category for my combined childcare and “me time”activity, “Nursing & Scrolling”. At the end of a long day, baby Paul and I relax on the couch, and I nurse him while I scroll on my phone. He often falls asleep, and while on rare occasions I’m able to transfer him to his bouncer and keep him asleep, it’s easier to just let him sleep on me. I love the cuddles, and I know it won’t last forever–and it’s a guilt-free excuse to look at my phone!

Changes to make?

  • Keep working little and often, fitting it in when possible. I got so much more done than usual!
  • Multitasking is great for childcare/housework time, but not for research time. If I can’t focus properly, I might as well just come back to it later.
  • Cut back on Instagram/Facebook scrolling time. Change some of my “Nursing & scrolling” to “nursing & reading” time—even if it’s reading non-academic books.
  • Unsubscribe from e-mail mailing lists to cut down on the amount of time I spend checking & deleting junk mail.

Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: Week 1

This brilliant workbook was recommended to me by one of my best friends, and I’m finally getting around to using it. After reading the introduction and the Week 0 chapter on preparing a draft, I moved onto Week 1 and had so many “Aha!” moments…

The first exercise was to think about your feelings towards writing. My initial thought was that I am “all or nothing”—either it’s flowing and wonderful, or I’m stuck and giving up. I thought about the images I have of being a writer—Ernest Hemingway’s description of his little room in St Germain where he writes in A Moveable Feast, and how the writing would flow some days and he’d write a short story in an afternoon. (Every time we go to Paris, I look up at the top floor windows of buildings in the Latin Quarter and dream of renting a little room to write in like he did…) As a more academic example, I remembered my mentor Phil Taylor pointing at his computer and saying the keyboard was “covered in blood, sweat and tears” after writing his latest book.

So, after writing all of this out, on the next page, I saw that my image of a writer’s life is actually a common myth… Her description is almost exactly what I wrote 🤣

That last line is a key part of it for me. I have always resisted editing. All through school, I was told that I was “a natural writer” and I just didn’t think I needed to revise anything. If it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t getting typed in the first place. All of the years of praise for my writing reinforced my ideas about writing being a matter of natural talent, a gift—which also made me dismiss editing. If I’m a gifted writer, my work doesn’t need editing. I thought I was too good for editing and revisions. I even passed my PhD viva without corrections, which just further reinforced my unhealthy attitude towards editing! There are deeper issues here around perfectionism (see Brenè Brown) and being labelled “Gifted” (see this article from a few years ago in The Atlantic), but in terms of writing specifically, this workbook has really helped!

It may take me more like 12 months rather than 12 weeks to get through this workbook, as at the moment, I’m struggling to find time to write–even just for the 15 minutes a day it recommends. I’m hoping I’ll be able to make time in the evenings again soon. But even just reading what I should be doing is a step in the right direction, and it’s more than I was doing before!

Lockdown hits different for Moms…

The lockdown has been strange and difficult for everybody, but one demographic that has been particularly impacted is mothers.

I happen to be on maternity leave, luckily. I weren’t, I don’t know how I could possibly teach online, mark assessments, answer e-mails, etc. on top of caring for my baby, teaching my primary schooler, cooking, cleaning, laundry, dishes, etc. I’m exhausted just from doing the 50’s housewife thing, plus teaching one kid. Doing any research on top of all of that is unimaginable.

It looks like I’m not the only academic mom who’s completely absorbed with childcare/domestic concerns during the lockdown. This article in the Guardian shows how common it is—while journal article submissions from men have actually increased during the lockdown, women’s research outputs have dropped significantly.

Our work is the first thing to fall by the wayside in a crisis. One thing that struck me in the article, though, was that even an immunologist, somebody whose work has actual relevance for the crisis– who’s actually giving lectures on COVID-19–is facing the same challenges of balancing work and home responsibilities.

She is quick to point out that her husband has taken on a lot at home too, but because she earns less, and can be more flexible about when she works, the bulk of the childcare falls to her.

Anna Fazackerley, The Guardian

When I read that paragraph, it felt like my parenthood/career journey summed up, capturing the conflict between what makes sense and what feels right. I don’t want to complain–like this woman “is quick to point out,” my husband helps, too. I should be grateful–but then I think of the satirical “Man Who Has It All” posts like this:

Man Who Has It All

It makes sense to put my career on hold, to embrace maternity leave and quarantine homeschooling, to do the bulk of the housework, shopping and meal planning, etc. I’m happy to do it, most of the time.

But… I feel like an idiot and a failure for not having an established career—I’ve got a PhD, a few publications, but not a permanent contract or even a full-time post yet. And shouldn’t I be working on that? Shouldn’t the half-finished books and articles and proposals get some attention?

The Mom guilt voice says no, your kids are not going to be babies forever—embrace this time together! Your work can wait! (How unfair that men don’t seem to have an equivalent voice in their heads…)

The lockdown offers a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to embrace motherhood (or parenthood) and domesticity–whether you actually want to or not.

Pregnancy for Academics

3 weeks postpartum at PhD graduation–at the party, someone asked how I did it, how I combined research and pregnancy/childbirth. I did it by delaying my graduation ceremony, and finishing my PhD before even getting pregnant!

Between not teaching this term, doing up the new house and being pregnant, I’ve neglected this blog over the past couple of months. I’ve been meaning to post thoughts on pregnancy/parenting as an early-career academic, but it’s a big topic to tackle, and difficult to be reflective and inclusive when I really only have my own experiences to share. My maternity leave officially starts today, so I thought I’d have a go anyway and share some of my favourite pregnancy resources.

1) Pregnant Chicken

As a first-time mom who took an instant dislike to the tone of sites like “What to Expect” and “The Bump”, I was thrilled to find “Pregnant Chicken”. Brilliant, funny Canadian writer Amy Morrison is everything you’d want in a mom-friend–she clearly knows her stuff but keeps the tone upbeat and never preachy or judgmental. She strikes the perfect balance between information and entertainment.

Her week-by-week pregnancy calendar e-mails are the only ones I signed up for this time. My favourite posts are this very accurate sleep guide and this essential reading for new parents who are upset/confused/irritated by unsolicited comments & advice.

2) Evidence Based Birth

On a recent Birth Hour podcast, Evidence Based Birth‘s founder Rebecca Dekker, PhD, explained how the site and its resources grew out of her research into her own first birth experience. It was traumatic, for both her and the baby, and included a number of practices that are not supported by evidence. They were simply presented to her as necessary and “the way things are done,” and as a first time mother, she didn’t think to question them. The site presents evidence from actual medical research in a neutral, fact-based way that does not seek to promote any particular philosophy or approach to birth.

As an American in the UK, it’s been very interesting to me to look into the evidence as I try to work out why the NHS does what it does, and why their outcomes are so much better than those in the US healthcare system. This article on the evidence & ethics on circumcision is a great example–if I’d stayed in America, my sons would have been circumcised without a second thought. It’s “the way things are done” there, yet rare in many other countries. The NHS doesn’t perform them routinely.

3) Ina May Gaskin

I never thought I would go for a “natural” approach to childbirth–I always liked the joke that an epidural is “natural” because it’s natural to want pain relief. Two things changed my mind: 1) watching The Business of Being Born, and 2) reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I first heard about counterculture icon Ina May Gaskin in the documentary, and when I became pregnant I turned to her book to learn more. I donated the book after I had George, to pass on her wisdom to others, and then bought another copy when I became pregnant again. I love reading the positive birth stories–especially because we usually hear horror stories from others and in the media! One of my favourite concepts from Gaskin is the idea that women shouldn’t be afraid of giving birth–our bodies are made to do it, and animals don’t approach birth with fear. While there are plenty of scary things that can go wrong, it’s good to be reminded that most of the time, birth doesn’t require extensive medical interventions to get a healthy mom & baby at the end of the process. I’m not 100% on board with all of the ideas presented, but as they said at La Leche League meetings, “take what works for you and leave the rest.”

From whispers to bricks…

In 2008, when I came to Leeds for my Masters, I loved my department. I loved public diplomacy and political communication and the specific ways my department interpreted them, and I admired and respected the vast majority of the staff members. I found friends and mentors, met and fell in love with my now-husband, and I put together a PhD proposal with an amazing supervisor. Everything seemed to be happening for a reason and it all felt right.

After my supervisor’s death, and my other supervisors’ departure from academia, and other staff leaving the department, things changed. I started to sense some whispers, some clues that I no longer belonged in the department. Our international communication experts were replaced with people who interpreted it very differently, and the department abruptly shifted away from public diplomacy. I kept smiling through it all and felt confident that I would be fine. I wasn’t the only one–there were a few of us who were left behind, studying public diplomacy and propaganda in a department that no longer had expertise in those areas. We joked that we were “propaganda pandas”–an endangered species.

I ignored the whispers. I applied to jobs and didn’t get any after the PhD, and I took up short-term, part-time contracts in my department. I told myself it was worth it, to “keep my foot in the door” of academia, to be able to access the library, to have networking opportunities, etc. Apart from a couple of conferences, I have little to show for these 3 years and 10 months of short-term contracts.

Today I got a brick. Nobody in my department has told me directly that I’m definitely not getting my contact renewed–two weeks ago, I was told that they were still allocating teaching and would be in touch. Today, I saw my name in a departmental staff newsletter under the “goodbyes”, listed as one of the people who is leaving.

I’m pretty sure that’s a brick, from the department that’s changed so much over the past decade. I’m going to listen this time, and say goodbye back.

Out now! The Legacy of J. William Fulbright: Policy, Power and Ideology

The edited volume with my book chapter is now officially published! It’s listed on amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, Google Books, Jstor, and sometimes I’m even listed as a contributing author! I’m so excited to see it in print! I love the cover, too–it has a definite 1960s, retro feel to it, and the ’60’s were the Senator’s prime years.

This book came out of a fantastic conference I took part in at the University of Arkansas, 1-2 September 2015.

I’m hiding away behind Nancy Snow–it was such a great experience to finally meet her, talk about our mutual interests in exchange diplomacy, and share memories of Phil Taylor!

My chapter is much improved after being rewritten a couple of times since then, and it’s not the only thing that’s changed:

9 week old George in our conference hotel room…
Our walking, talking 4 year old George today!

I’m so proud of the editors and contributors for all of their hard work, and so grateful that I had the opportunity to take part in this project. It covers a great mix of biography, history, sociology and public diplomacy. All academic books try to emphasise their originality, but it really does add some new perspectives and insights on the Senator and on his namesake exchange program. My chapter and Alice Garner & Diane Kirkby’s chapter bring a discussion of gender to the collection that, until now, has been ignored in studies of the Fulbright Program. Well done everybody!

Summer Job: Writing Everything I Put Off While Teaching

My ambitious Summer Project List!

Summer is a strange time to be on campus–it’s so quiet and empty! After struggling through the exam weeks of crowded libraries and cafes, it feels like I’ve got the place to myself. The motion-activated lights in the hall outside my office keep coming on just for me when I come and go, as nobody else is around! I do love the empty libraries, but campus does seem a bit soul-less without the ~30,000 students around.

This week campus is livelier, thanks to the graduation ceremonies (I love seeing the proud parents and extended families–it’s so sweet!). Once they’ve wrapped up, the summer sessions for ESOL students will begin. Before you know it, things will start gearing up for the new academic year!

The speedy approach of September (less than 6 weeks to go!) is why I’ve been working hard on my publications this summer. On the first Monday in September, I’ll be getting around 30 Masters dissertations to mark, and my own projects will have to return to the back burner once again. I’m trying to wrap them up (or at least get them off to be reviewed) so they won’t be neglected for another term of teaching this autumn.

Turning my attention to writing really does feel like a completely different job–a summer job, like my students have. Academia really shouldn’t be this way–ideally, lecturers would be able to balance their time between teaching and research activities all year long, as the job descriptions say we do. But for myself and everybody I’ve spoken with, it’s how it is–teaching (if you’re really trying and you give a damn) is too demanding for us to get our own research done. My fellow early career colleagues all have long lists of publications we’re working on, in various stages of completion and with various deadlines. In the background there’s always the more ambitious goals of turning our old, neglected PhD thesis into a book or squeezing a journal article or two out of it. For me, for the past 4 years, that particular goal has been superseded by other, more “urgent” short-term deadlines, like conference papers. I recently decided not to submit an abstract for a conference, because I knew it would distract me from my “back burner” projects that need to be finished.

At the moment, my most pressing deadline is a rewrite of an article I’ve been trying to get published for about a year now. I’m struggling to face it again, but I’m determined to give it one more go. I hate getting negative reviews and I hate rewriting, but those are both things I need to get over…

Trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel…someday, it will be published somewhere, and it will be that much better for all the reviewing and rewriting…

Five Year Viva-versary

That’s the smile of a relieved PhD student!

Five years ago today, I passed my PhD viva without corrections and was officially done with grad school. June 18th is right up there with my wedding day and my son’s birthday in terms of memorable dates. In all 3 cases, the event had a long build-up with lots of preparation to do, when the day of it finally happening arrived it felt surreal, and the event itself went smoothly. Weddings, childbirth and PhD vivas are all high-stakes and emotive events, but it’s worth remembering that they’re all just one day in a much longer journey (marriage, parenting, career).

With the 5 year milestone approaching, I’ve been feeling very down on myself and disappointed with my lack of career progression lately. In the world of academia, both in terms of funding opportunities and jobs, the first 5 years after the PhD is awarded are considered your “early career” years. This early career status means you’re eligible for roles where it’s not expected for you to have a large track record of publications and research outputs. My “maternity leave” (I didn’t have formal mat leave, as I wasn’t working yet) gives me a little extra time, and according to some funding advice I’ve heard, my part-time employment status might give me more time before I lose my “early career” designation. But in my mind, I’ve officially lost that status today. It’s been 5 years. 5 years is long enough to get established–or at least I thought it would be, but here I am, still in my old department, still on a part-time & fixed-term contract, still lacking publications, and I’m 33 and I’ve never worked full-time. It’s cathartic to put that out there–and maybe other early career academics will read it and feel better about their situations.

This evening after work, I thought about all of the things I’ve done over the past 5 years that don’t make it onto the CV and publication list. Looking back on my accomplishments helped me be a bit kinder to myself.

  1. Had a baby–I underestimated how much it completely knocks you out and keeps you from doing anything that would conventionally be considered “productive”. Society needs to start recognizing that it IS productive. He’s now nearly 4–walks, talks, runs, eats well, he’s very healthy and bright, and he’s getting more and more independent every day. We did that!
3 weeks postpartum at my PhD graduation

2. I got my own office with my name on the door! Yes, I may only have a part-time, fixed-term contract, but I have one thing that many of my fellow precarious workers don’t have

3. I’ve presented my work at conferences around the world, and met wonderful mentors like R.S. Zaharna and Nancy Snow

So excited to meet one of my favorite public diplomacy scholars, Rhonda Zaharna at ICA in Prague last year (and how cool to get to go to Prague?!)

I’m not sure what the next five years will hold, but I’m hoping to get my PhD published as a book (in time for the Fulbright Program’s 75th anniversary in 2021), and do some new book-sized research (maybe expanding and developing the gun rhetoric study into something grant-worthy and publishable). I intend to keep having a personal life, too–it might be the cause of my slow progress, but it’s definitely worth it.