School/Work – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Phishing in Open Access Waters Thu, 31 Jan 2013 14:00:52 +0000 1. “As an American academic publishing group, we wish to become your friends”

Today, I received one email which claimed that the university administrator had suspended my email and that I needed to click on a dodgy looking link to reset my account, and another email which invited me to publish in Journalism and Mass Communication. I quote:

This is Journalism and Mass Communication (ISSN 2160-6579), an academic journal published across the United States by David Publishing Company, 9460 Telstar Ave Suite 5, EL Monte, CA 91731, USA.

We have learnt your paper “Conjuring Aura in the Age of Digital Reproduction: The Discursive Work of DVD Bonus Materials” in Society For Cinema and Media conference 2010 .

We are very interested in your paper and would like to publish your paper in Journalism and Mass Communication. If you have the idea of making our journal a vehicle for your research interests, please send electronic version of your papers or books (MS Word Format and APA Style) to us via email. Attachment is the sample of the journal. More detailed information, please visit at

Hope that we can keep in touch by email and publish some papers or books for you and your friends. As an American academic publishing group, we wish to become your friends. If you are interested in our journal, we also want to invite you to be our reviewers or editorial board members.

Both, of course, are phishing. The grammar in the first email was even better than in the one supposedly from a comm scholar. I followed the link, and it looks to be a journal, to be clear, but many of the titles have bad grammar, its board members include grad students, and the abstracts mostly fall into the category of papers I’d reject on contact.

Welcome to the world of predatory open access.

To be clear, I have no beef with open access (OA) in and of itself. Many smart people have put a lot of careful thought into how to make OA work ethically, and how it could beat our current system (see here for a great resource). But a lot of unscrupulous people have also put careful thought into how to exploit OA and the sentiment and concerns that led to it. As the wave of OA and the rhetoric of it being the ultimate Good Thing in publishing – a wonderful new monetary structure that will save academia, finally allow non-academics to read my much-anticipated latest paper on paratexts, and bring balance to the Force – rises, it’s worth stopping to think about the dangers in these waters. (Others have done this better than I — see the links above — but not in Antenna).


2. “the authors should pay some fee to us”

As I play the role of Roy Scheider in Jaws, let me offer a few thoughts along these lines, most of which are directed at predatory OA (POA?), but that apply to OA in general:

First, let’s be clear that journals needn’t cost much money. Editors don’t get paid much. Nobody who writes for journals gets paid to do so. Nobody who reviews for them gets paid. And if the journal is online-only, its only real costs are servers, and perhaps proofing and typesetting. So any model that requires big dollars coming from anyone is one of which we should be intensely suspicious, and one away from which we should be moving. We may not like to see universities charged crazy sums, but nor should we accept any model that simply shifts those crazy sums to others: if a corner store charged $1000 for a stick of gum, the problem wouldn’t be solved simply by finding someone else to pay the $1000. “Green” OA journals such as International Journal of Communication are much closer to the answer: largely clean-running journals that pay little but cost little.

Any monetary structure that charges article writers worries me. A lot. Maybe I don’t deserve to be paid for my work, but it strikes me as absolutely illogical that I should be the one needing to pay. It’s deficit financing in a world without reruns, a model that would rightfully be scoffed at by any other content industry (we may not like to think of ourselves as a content industry, but that just makes us even more naïve marks for the likes of David Publishing Company and its friends). Hopefully I could get UW to defray those costs. But (a) why should they? and (b) how about academics who don’t have grants or research funds to pay these (aka those in the humanities)? And when many of those who most need to publish are getting paid a pittance, if at all, charging them is simply wrong (the submission fee at many places is approximately a month’s salary for some lecturers or adjuncts, and more for grad students, who you can bet aren’t being paid by their unis to publish).

It’s also worth slowing down to analyze whether OA journals even are “open” to all. I would love for my work to be more accessible to anyone. But building an open access structure and imagining that this is enough, that the readers will come, is naïve. Kevin Costner was wrong. Take Antenna as an example: we’re free, we’re available to all, and we’re even written more accessibly than most journal articles, but most of the readership still comes from academia. We’d need to put a lot more work into making this truly bridge an academic-lay divide. (But we’re all busy, and that’s why we don’t, alas). So too with many OA journals – when I hear the excited rhetoric about making everything accessible, I worry that too many people are patting themselves on the back for building baseball diamonds in Iowa, but when many publishers are profiting immensely from selling us the sod to build these diamonds, we should be sure they’re for more than just ghosts.

Finally, if somewhat an aside, it’s worth nothing that in media studies, much of our work is already accessible. Much of the best work in our field is in books. There are some wonderful edited collections out there, filled with material that is every bit as rigorous, every bit as cutting-edge, as that which you find in journals. So in our field, as part of the OA movement, I’d like to see a concerted push to respect edited collections and chapters in them, and then see those books as the vanguard of open access. Make sure Personnel and Tenure committees hear this. Make sure hiring committees hear it.

To reiterate, I’m not opposed to OA, but if emails like the one above are a sign of the open access waters ahead, clearly we need continual scanning of these waters before swimming in them.


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Dear Search Committees, Tue, 07 Aug 2012 13:00:45 +0000 It’s almost job season again, which means that it’s almost advice season again. Grad students and job seekers will soon be inundated with advice, some coming to them for fun, some for profit.

Search committees need advice too. So I submit this letter to search committees in the US and Canada. It probably doesn’t apply to committees in Europe and elsewhere, since the expectations and protocols are different.


3 August 2012

Dear Search Committees,

Soon, I’ll be writing you letters. Right now, I’m writing with some requests.

1. Consider requesting less from people in their initial applications. How much of an initial dossier do you really need? When I go through a set of applications, it’s usually obvious to me from a letter and CV that a good proportion of the applicants in a pile aren’t a good fit for the job. Sure, there are still many people left over after that, but couldn’t you ask for additional information then? Do the student evaluations and statement of research philosophy really matter if you advertised a transnational media studies position and someone writes in with an organizational communication CV (but they took a postcolonial seminar once)?

2. Consider accepting as much of the dossier as possible in electronic form. As someone who writes dozens and sometimes hundreds of letters in a year, it makes a huge difference to me and to my printer when letters can be sent electronically. If your HR department requires paper recommendations to make an offer, request them for finalists only. But imagine how convenient it would be to have electronic dossiers for candidates: no more running around trying to figure out who has that file you need.

3. At every stage, consider telling candidates as much as possible about what you want. Do you want them to design new courses or to teach ones already on the books? Do you hope they’ll build a new lab or bridge two areas of the program? Unsure of what you want? Why not tell the candidates and let them make their best pitch possible? Let them know what’s important in the letter or interview.

4. A Skype interview is a phone interview with video, nothing more. Every Skype interview I hear about from applicants has a bizarre or wacky component to it. No two are remotely similar.  Phone interviews and campus interviews are genres and have predictable protocols. Skype interviews are about as predictable as an LSD-enhanced disc jockey on a 1970s freeform FM radio station.

Skype interviews are not substitutes for on-campus interviews where candidates give research presentations and have lengthy discussions with committees. They are also not occasions to submit candidates to surprising challenges. Keep them short and to the point, and treat them like phone interviews: you’re getting a sense of the person at the other end, and they’re getting a sense of you. That’s it. If you want to get to know the candidate better, invite them to campus. Please don’t add tech support, camera, mic work and troubleshooting bad connections to candidates’ stress.

5. Send out rejection letters as soon as you can. Sure, you’ve got to hold onto your finalists and maybe a few others as you’re sorting out who will actually be offered the job—and whether they will accept—but most of the people in the pile could get their letters right away. A swift and kind letter is one of the most humane things you can do for your candidates who aren’t going to be hired.

6. For on-campus interviews, consider having a formal interview with the entire committee, or even the entire department. The formal interview is a great place for everyone to ask their questions of the candidate, and for the candidate to respond once, in front of the group, so that everyone hears the same thing. It makes deliberations easier, and it also helps clarify which questions are really important.

7. Also, consider keeping the on-campus interviews to about a day in length (plus meals).  Are all the meetings really necessary to decide if the person will be hired or to properly recruit them?

8. Be good hosts on the interview. Sure, it’s nice to go out to dinner on your school’s dime, but make it a place where the candidate can actually eat something, and make an effort to include them in the conversation. And I don’t mean by firing more interview questions at them about how they will deal with late student papers. Also, if there are unexpected things that go against conventional interview wisdom, please tell all candidates up front. For instance, when I was running searches here in Montreal, I made a point of telling candidates not to wear nice shoes, or to bring indoor and outdoor shoes, since they’d be walking through snow banks and slush pools.

9. Don’t ask candidates to front the costs of the interview. For instance: don’t make them buy their plane ticket. Ideally, the only reimbursements they should have to submit at the end would be cab fare if you live in that kind of place. Unless you’re making a senior hire, odds are that your candidates are broke, and while your school may be as well, if you’re interviewing them, you’re probably acting like you’re not broke. So why not keep up the act? It’s the decent thing to do.

To sum up: try and be a little kinder to your candidates this year. Ask them all the difficult questions you can think of; challenge them as part of the job talks or the interview. That’s all fair, and good for everyone. But try to make the rest of the process as humane as possible. Not only will they appreciate it, you’ll feel better about the process and do your department’s reputation a service at the same time.



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The Google+ Assignment—Evaluation Sat, 07 Apr 2012 14:13:44 +0000 Back in January, I blogged here about the goals and the early stages of my first experiment with a social media assignment. Over the course of the semester in my class about TV genres, each student has created a Google+ profile in the persona of their assigned genre. Points are assigned based on how often they post, how detailed the generic history and context are on their home page, and the frequency and detail with which they interact with other genres in the class. In this post, I’ll evaluate how well the assignment worked, both for me and for the students.

The assignment’s goals were to have students present historical research into a specific genre and analyze how contemporary iterations of their genre interact with one another. Ideally, it would also link learning with social technologies students are already using, and spur students to consume social media more critically. As with all experiments there was some success and some failure.

In the success column, the most invested students have demonstrated that not only have they researched their genre’s history, current status including critical reception and ratings, and identified common themes or preoccupations in the genre, but also that they are capable of applying and synthesizing their research into cogent, creative output. Additionally, students who are scornful of the word “fan” readily admit to seeking out transmedia content from games to webisodes, fan videos, and general web-based snarkery, so this assignment has lead them to reevaluate their ideas of fans and fannish practices as well.

In the failure column, the interaction among students works best when I plant questions or suggest areas of overlap they might discuss with their fellow genres. Because the assignment is cumulative for the semester, it’s also easy for less eager students to check out when there is no threat of imminent grading. And much like Miranda Banks warned me when, based on her own experience, she counseled me not to do this assignment, it is enormously time consuming to read, participate in, and grade—and I only have 17 students.

In the end, the question is, would I assign this project again? Yes, absolutely. Despite the hours it takes, grading Google+ is enjoyable. The students report enjoying it too. In addition to research and analysis, it requires creativity, humor, collaboration, and peer response. When it works, students return to it throughout the semester, building their profiles and interactions based on new information from class materials and discussions.  It does not sacrifice the all-important practice of writing, but allows for practice in less formal modes of writing and in distinguishing between platforms and audiences, which is a skill many of my students struggle with.

In response to this Chronicle of Higher Ed piece decrying the possibility of new, non-monograph formats for scholarly work in the humanities, Mark Sample blogged about the idea of serial concentration. Both of these pieces are about scholarly rather than student work, but Sample’s argument applies here as well. He describes series of shorter pieces working as a process to build ideas and receive continuous peer feedback (very unlike the monograph or traditional research essay mode), which is exactly what happens when a social media assignment works well. All research and writing assignments would ideally involve drafting and feedback from peers and instructors before arriving at a final product. But most courses have content to get through, so writing by necessity becomes a method of evaluation rather than a pedagogical process. This kind of serialized thinking, writing, and creating builds that process into the assignment itself, ideally making this a learning project in addition to a reporting project.


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Ready to Chat? Tue, 06 Dec 2011 14:52:04 +0000 We met in graduate school at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1995 and soon formed the unexplainable but undeniable bond of best friendship. Melissa left for Columbia, Missouri in 2002 and Nina left a year later for Boston. Both of us were ABD and under self- and job-imposed pressure to finish. We both knew exactly one person in our new towns, and we were both facing completely unfamiliar personal circumstances: new colleagues, institutions, career phases, relationships, and homes.

When we left graduate school we lost the community and camaraderie of our peers. As many contributors to the work/life series have pointed out, academic life after graduate school is fraught with stress, anxiety, and loneliness. The structures of the academy are isolating, rewarding independent work over collaboration, single instruction over team-teaching, and competition for resources over collective models of support.

To minimize the impact of the distance, we committed to a weekly one-hour “appointment”: first on the phone, and then on video chat. Truthfully, the chat began as a way to maintain our friendship, but quickly became a way for us to continue to reap the benefits of our mutually supportive work relationship. At the beginning of each semester we find one hour in our weekly schedules to chat. The semester usually starts with a discussion of goals for the term, which we then break into week-by-week tasks. Each chat hour begins with a conversation about the goals we completed the previous week and ends with The List of priority tasks for the upcoming week. Any time remaining we use to discuss work and personal happenings (the fun part!).

The benefits of our weekly chats are many. First and foremost, we keep in frequent contact, which has sustained our long distance friendship for nearly 10 years. We also reap many professional rewards: most important, we have in each other a safe colleague, outside of our departments, with whom to discuss workplace tensions and career moves. Discussion of the conflicts and politics that come with academic life allows us to put things in context, blow off a little steam, and strategize, before (or instead of) taking action. Because many academic environments lack support and encouragement, we celebrate even the most minor of accomplishments and cheerlead each other through difficult tasks. Accountability is another major advantage of our weekly chats. Because we “report” weekly to someone who knows our short- and long-term goals, we are better able to stay on task. If we don’t, we’ll have to explain why! One of the most important functions of our weekly chats is to use each other as a sounding board. In the past, we have both failed to say no to colleagues’ requests that took time and attention away from our professional goals. Through our chats, we have learned (for the most part) to postpone saying yes to requests without talking to each other first. We sometimes take on tasks we shouldn’t, but The List has helped us become more skilled at saying no.

Our weekly chat ritual is not a panacea for all the difficulties we face in our academic lives. In fact, the chats themselves present challenges worth noting for readers considering a similar support ritual. For the chats to work we have to hold each other accountable, which can be very hard to do. This isn’t a punitive system, and we care so much for each other and deeply empathize with all that gets in the way of our goals. It is important to find gentle but firm ways to remind each other of our goals and the consequences of not moving forward.

It is also hard if one of us is feeling off track and the other is soaring through The List. We try to recognize that any set back is temporary and recall times when the situation was reversed. Perhaps most difficult, however, is when our weekly chats suffer gaps and misconnects. Though we are committed to protecting our time, unavoidable conflicts occur. Rescheduling is a nightmare; failure to find a common hour in our overloaded schedules often means we miss a week. We have also dealt with long hiatuses between chats for several months and the impact to our motivation and confidence is acutely felt during these absences. We haven’t mastered how to deal with these gaps, but have found it useful to make a mega-list with a week-by-week breakdown and send an email update, even if our chat partner is unable to respond.

Our weekly chat ritual may not work for everyone, but if you’re looking for companionship to help you stay on task, we definitely recommend you give it a try!


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How to be an Independent Scholar Tue, 08 Nov 2011 15:00:32 +0000

Becoming an independent scholar is quite easy: one merely needs to defend one’s dissertation without a secure job prospect in sight. The next step, as affiliation privileges cease to exist, is to contend with university firewalls and forms where one suddenly has to define one’s identity beyond the clearly demarcated hierarchies of grad student, assistant, and associate professor. Continuing one’s job search into year two or three while teaching as adjunct instructor is generally accepted as merely a stepping stone. It is equivalent to eating Ramen noodles, and only worthy of being acknowledged once a position is secured and everyone gathers with their new colleagues to share job market horror stories.

But staying an independent scholar is actually quite hard: it requires the continuing desire to do research without the non-monetary but nevertheless quite real remunerations university positions afford. Depending on one’s institution, research constitutes different percentages of the expected workload, but most places encourage (if not demand) research and publication as part of the job description—and therefore as part of what’s done in exchange for a paycheck. As an independent scholar, however, research and publishing serves no quantifiable purpose. In a way, it’s love for learning and passion for knowledge in its purest form—or at least that idea is how I sometimes comfort myself.

In reality, though, it means that for the independent scholar, research is not and can never be part of one’s paid labor. It usually doesn’t feed into upper class teaching, as the general wisdom for the necessity of research at the university level goes. It doesn’t create lines on a vita necessary for tenure and promotion. And it doesn’t justify time spent away from one’s real jobs—be they family responsibilities, adjunct teaching, or some other way to keep yourself fed, housed, and comfortable. Being an independent scholar means that research and academic writing must be redefined as pleasure: I research instead of watching TV or reading a book; I write instead of meeting with friends or going shopping; I edit and do professional activities at the cost of my family time.

That’s the reason, I think, why there are so few of us: trying to do research without access to libraries is difficult as is trying to maintain a collegial network without being able to go to conferences. But both are possible with the Internet, online communication, and networks; email, blogs, social networks, IM, Skype—all allow us to remain in touch and to create and maintain a community of likeminded scholars without ever leaving our house or hometown. The real difficulty is in weighing, each and every time, whether you rather want to go to the pool with your kids or write another 500 words, and whether it is really worth it. I love what I do! I love researching and learning; I love brainstorming and writing; and most of all, I love sharing and debating my ideas. I am well aware of the conceptual value of academic scholarship above and beyond the CV line, the academic pecking order, and the minimal monetary or time rewards research often yields. It is a daily decision, however, to return to the open document and the virtual library—not because I have to, but because I want to.

And that, in the end, is why I am an independent scholar: I love the friends and colleagues I’ve made and the intellectual community I’ve been given. I love mentoring younger scholars and seeing their achievements and successes. I love the ability to write what and where I like with no concerns of a upsetting or displeasing anyone who could harm my career. And, I admit, I sometimes love the self-righteousness I feel in knowing I have no vested interest, that my research is as neutral as it can be. Working in fan studies, where academics motives are questioned often, I can easily and openly declare my alliances with my fellow fans.

Wherever we end up after grad school, R1 or community college, liberal arts college or regional university, whether we are lucky or strike out, sacrifice everything for our career or make other life choices, I don’t think we can do what we do without a deep passion not only for our subject but learning in general. As an independent scholar, that’s what I get to keep; that’s why I make this choice, over and over again, to continue to read, research, write, and publish.


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Moving Tue, 01 Nov 2011 13:00:41 +0000 Rarely does one consult the Chronicle and find that the perfect job has been posted at a university two blocks away from one’s home. Instead, therefore, academic life requires that one be able to move on command. Ben Aslinger’s recent post on the life of the single academic underlines some of the stresses and loneliness that accompany such a life, or I think of a good friend who survived a starter job in a godforsaken town by turning to wine, cheese, and Frasier reruns.

So I thought I’d write about moving. See, I’ve done it a lot. I moved countries when I was 5. And 8. And 10. And 12, 15, 21, 22, 24, and 28, before moving within the US two further times since then. None of the moves, moreover, was ever truly a choice; rather, first it was my father’s job and career opportunities that decided where we’d go, then my own. It’s not just moving that I know, therefore – it’s moving by assignment, and with the anticipation of moving later.

One of the hardest things about moving around is feeling like one can’t put down roots since one’s bound to be moving on later. I’ve had moments in my life when I felt it wasn’t worth the hassle to meet new people, get involved in my community, and truly belong, lest I simply needed to uproot and do it all again a year later. This damages the personal life, of course, and can freeze up the love life if one lives in fear of a long distance relationship. I think of the theme song from the great Canadian show, The Littlest Hobo (“maybe tomorrow I’ll wanna settle down, / until tomorrow I’ll just keep moving on”).

Certainly, the anticipation is the killer. There’s a horrible J. J. Abrams multiple realities thing that happens, as you start to think of all the places you might go (where will hire you, where you may have to settle) and create alternate versions of your future, some of which are then plucked rudely from the vine by a job search that doesn’t pan out. And once you arrive, you may find yourself feeling somewhat ethereal, living in a dream existence, rather than in the world you’d prefer. Add a partner and/or kids, and a great deal of guilt may accompany the process, as you feel as though you’re consigning them to hardship, but the hardship may be no less acute when single.

My thoughts on surviving the process:

Most importantly, the key to adapting to this life is to shift one’s way of thinking about moving. In particular, I wish we’d all just get over the silly notion that humans are “meant” to live in one place in perpetuity. It’s no more “traditional” or “natural” a way of existing than is staying in the same home for ten generations. Nomads are hardly a creation of the last few years! Indeed, while some bemoan “having to” move, for every person I’ve met who has pitied me for my moves, I’ve met someone else who is intensely jealous, focusing instead on how I get to move. With each new place come new experiences and friends and possibilities to grow and/or reassert who one wants to be; we all fall into ruts and routines, and a new location is a wonderful invitation to crawl out of the worst of them. Before one bemoans one’s moving existence, one should think about how many people in the world would love to leave where they live (cf. Friday Night Lights), but can’t.

If you’re carrying guilt about what this means for your partner, bear in mind that moving can bring a couple closer together. I’m always hearing couples say they struggle to find time for each other, but moving together requires you to be a better support system for each other.

If you’re carrying guilt about what this means for your kids, don’t. I hate when people look down their noses at my parents for moving me as a child, since I learned so very much from the process. The first day of school anywhere new was always horrible, yes, but inevitably it took a small amount of time to acclimate. Wisdom and maturity are gained through life experiences, so your children will likely mature faster; after acclimating they’ll likely feel more confident in their abilities to tackle new things; and from the days before they acclimate, they’ll know what it feels like to be an outsider, something that everyone should know (especially every American), as it calls for one to be kinder to other outsiders. As an added bonus, they may also get new accents that will amuse you and relatives (my extended family still talk wistfully of the days when my brother and I lived in Australia).

In general, though, I’d recommend that you avoid as much as possible the urge to cocoon yourself. You might wonder what’s the point of volunteering, joining a sports team, or even making friends, since you might see yourself as moving again soon. But that’s where the worst damage of moving would be done – through self-pity. If you don’t allow yourself to like a place and its people, of course you won’t, so find ways to invest in the community. In particular, find time in your first week (don’t wait much longer) to visit local museums (the quirkier the focus, the better) and do local activities. Get tickets to a local sports event. And go see a band play, or something like that. Submerge yourself in locality so that it doesn’t seem all that foreign, and so that you may actually know things other locals don’t (one trip to the Wisconsin Historical Museum and I knew lots of ‘Sconnie tidbits that lifetime residents don’t) and thus you won’t feel so foreign.

Don’t let mediated rhetoric about place convince you, either, that you absolutely need to be in New York, or Boston, or Seattle, and not somewhere small and relatively unknown. Get on Craigslist or a real estate website and see how much house or apartment you can get for your money in different places, and you’ll realize that NYC might give you great city life, but your extra 3000 square feet and beauty of home in the place you just made lots of jokes about living in might end up meaning a lot more on a daily basis.

And my big but simple tip: don’t move at the end of the summer. Moving before school starts can be a little lonelier, so you’ll need to let new colleagues know you’re around, and you’ll need to be prepared to make the first move in suggesting you get together. But moving when you’re not teaching or doing mad-prep allows you (and your family, if you have one) time to settle in and enjoy your new home, so that you don’t resent the place for all its newness as much as you will when you’re trying to navigate that newness while doing all the things that a new job entails.


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Dual Academic Couples and Long Distance Living Tue, 25 Oct 2011 12:30:43 +0000 In 2008, the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University published a report on dual academic couples, confirming what many of us in academia already know: there are a lot of professors married to other professors. In fact, 36 percent of the U.S. professoriate are academic couples, in which both partners are professors.

I’m in one of these couples. So are many of my friends and colleagues, as well as many of my wife’s friends and colleagues. What separates my wife and me from many of the dual academic couples we know, however, is that we’re not at the same institution. We’re not even in the same state.

My wife is a tenured professor (and now, department chair) at a prestigious small liberal arts college in North Carolina. I am an assistant professor (up for tenure this year) in a large state university in Virginia. It’s a seven hour drive between our campuses. As the crow flies—or, in my case, as US Airways flies—it’s an hour flight, accompanied on both ends by two extra hours of driving, parking, line-waiting, and so on. I typically squeeze in all my classes and meetings between Tuesday and Thursday, and the rest of the time I spend back at home with my wife and our two sons, ages four and seven.

This is what my work week looks like: on Monday I volunteer at my youngest son’s co-op preschool and spend the afternoon hanging out with him and my other son. On Tuesday I wake up at 5am, drive 30 miles to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, fly at dawn to Washington Dulles International Airport, get myself over to George Mason’s campus, where I teach, advise, write, grade, collaborate, eat, and occasionally sleep until Thursday at 7:45pm, when I fly back to Charlotte, making it home in the best of times by 10:30pm. In the worst of times—say, flight delays due to inclement weather—I might not get back until 2am or even until Friday morning. Then on Friday I attempt more work while the kids are at school, but it’s not unusual for this work to be derailed by all the life-management tasks I put off during the rest of the week—doctor appointments, paying bills, getting the car repaired, or, as happened last Friday, staying home with my feverish and vomiting older boy and taking care of him. Saturday and Sunday are a blur of spending time with my family, working around the house and yard, and catching up on all the reading, grading, and writing I’ve fallen behind on.

Then the following week I repeat the entire schedule. And the week after that. And so on.

The only aspect of this commute that makes it tolerable is that I love my job. I’m good at my job. I thrive at my job. And I’m surrounded by kind, generous colleagues at an institution that values my unconventional teaching and research. My wife likewise loves her job and is committed through and through to the project of undergraduate liberal arts education.

And yet.

It’s a grueling, brain-frying, wallet-emptying, time-wasting, body-breaking, soul-draining way to live.

It’s incredibly hard on myself, schizophrenically split between two commitments—work and family—that I both take seriously. It’s incredibly hard on my wife, who for three days a week is essentially a single working mother. And it’s incredibly hard on my children, who, I am relieved to say, don’t seem to hold it against me.

Commuting even creates difficulties for the institutions for whom we work. The Stanford report on dual academic couple notes:

Couples who do not find positions at the same or neighboring institution(s) often commute (or one may drop out of academia altogether). When professors face long  commutes, universities tend to lose in terms of faculty research, contact hours with students, committee work, and, most importantly, in terms of the kind of serendipitous intellectual exchange that happens when people run into each other informally. Faculty tend to lose in terms of time spent with family and with scholarly colleagues. (Schiebinger et al., p. 68; emphasis added)

Commuting is no way to work. It’s also no way to live. And yet I’m surprised by how many of us there are. Probably every professor knows at least one couple in a similar situation. And I hear many tales of other professors who once had difficult commutes but who are now in the same city or even better, at the same institution as their spouses or partners.

When I hear about these couples who have managed to end their commutes and continue building their careers, I experience a moment of hopefulness. I am truly happy for these couples, and their examples encourage me. But only for a moment. Lately, every story of academic commuting misery that has a happy ending only discourages me. I have a deep, gnawing sense of dread that if my commute were going to end, it would have done so already. My wife and I have been a dual academic couple since 2005. That’s a long time to be commuting. And of course we have both tried the obvious ways to end this commuting. To no avail. Despite doing everything right, we can’t help feeling we are doing something wrong. If we haven’t somehow managed to find ourselves in the same city let alone the same institution by now, then it must be we’re doing something wrong.

I can tell myself that I’m being irrational, that landing a job—any job—in academia is a lottery, as Jason Mittell put it in an earlier column on Antenna. But the problem with irrationality is that even the suggestion that one is being irrational can itself seem irrational in the face of the mounting evidence.

What do I do when I am buffeted by irrational thoughts, weary pessimism, and the general bleakness that goes along with years of commuting?

I think about the word commute.

I look past the historical origins of this word that describes how I keep my job, a word, it turns out, which is a shortened form of commutation ticket—in the 19th century, a ticket issued by a railway company for repeat travel over the same route during a period of time. (Incidentally, no airline I ever encountered has commutation tickets.) This etymology of commute, which highlights its sooty industrial age machine-like repetition, does me no good. It does my wife no good, nor my sons.

Instead, I think about the verb commute, which is not an abbreviated legacy of some 19th century suburbanite’s daily life, but a deeper, more powerful word. Commute: from the Latin commūtā-re, meaning to change altogether, to alter wholly. And that is my only hope, that one day, and one day soon, my commute will itself commute, changing altogether. Wholly altered.


Schiebinger, Londa, Andrea Davies Henderson, and Shannon K. Gilmartin. Dual-Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know. Stanford University: Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, 2008.

I strongly encourage any administrators reading this column to take a look at the full report (PDF) of Dual-Career Academic Couples, which offers guidelines and best practices for hiring academic couples, as well as significant reasons why it makes logistical, pedagogical, and economical sense to do so.

[Crazy Sad Face Drawing by my son, Niko]


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Single Motherhood and the Faculty Life Tue, 11 Oct 2011 12:00:03 +0000 I represent a mixture of two of the perspectives covered so far in Antenna’s excellent work-life series: I am both single and a parent. Exactly five years ago and at the precise time that my tenure file was being voted on by my department’s committee on personnel, I was in the hospital recovering from the birth of my son. My tenure clock and biological clock have always been eerily and problematically matched, as is the case for many women in academia. As I entered my late 30s without a partner, though, I decided that I had to act on my desire to be a mother or risk losing out on the experience of parenting a biological child. In October 2006, I became a single, soon-to-be-tenured mom.

The balancing act that has followed has much in common with what both Jason Mittell and Eleanor Seitz have described in previous columns. I’ve had to learn how to be both an active and engaged parent for my son and a productive and present faculty member, which has been challenging and has often left me feeling as though I’m doing a poor job on both fronts.  The difficulties of academics who choose to become mothers have been discussed elsewhere and studies on the consequences of our choice have revealed depressing statistics on the negative impact of parenthood on the careers of female academics in comparison to our male counterparts.  Motherhood and academia are in many ways an uneasy mix. And even more so when it comes to single motherhood.

My own experience surely speaks to how difficult it is for female academics to identify the ideal time in which to start their families: Is it graduate school? Immediately after graduation? During the first years on the tenure-track? Wait until post-tenure? None of these options felt exactly right for me (especially considering I didn’t have a long-term partner willing to commit to fatherhood for much of that time) until I was up against a wall and had to make a choice about what was best for my future self and family. For most women, in fact, it will likely feel as though there really is no right time, since our biological clocks start winding down just as we feel the worst of the job insecurity and workload begin to lift. Mary Ann Mason, law professor and co-director of the Economics and Family Security Center at Berkeley, refers to the ages of 30-40 as the “make or break years”, a time when almost too much has to be decided and accomplished by women both personally and professionally.

I should note that there are some unique circumstances to my life that make single parenting less stressful for me personally than it might be for many others.  I work in a family-friendly department in a Research 1 institution with a teaching load of 2/2 and a generous maternity leave policy. My tenure provides a rare and coveted level of job security. I have subsidized housing on campus and in a neighborhood zoned for excellent public schools. I also have an incredibly supportive network of friends—many of whom also live close-by in faculty housing. All of these factors, combined with the flexible schedule that being an academic affords, means my work is conducive in many ways to my life as a single parent.

That said, the many practical difficulties of being a single faculty parent still play out in my everyday life. Besides the financial burden, the most challenging aspect of my choice has been fitting in as much research, writing, administrative work, teaching and class prep possible into a 40 hour a week schedule—the time when my son is in school/daycare. While I can technically squeeze some work in at night, once my son is asleep, and on the weekends, it is incredibly difficult to accomplish anything at those times that requires my full attention and/or any level of intellectual energy. (Not to mention that I often need those hours for more basic life-management tasks like paying bills and cleaning.)

I can also only attend talks on campus, which are often scheduled after 5pm, if I chose to sacrifice both time with my son and money to pay for a babysitter, which is why I often take a pass. Conferences and research trips also involve much finagling and uncomfortable decisions, as I have to leave my son with friends or transport him back and forth to his grandparents in Florida in order to travel alone. (Some of my single mom friends chose to bring along a babysitter or family member to watch their children while travelling for work.)

Another struggle for me as a single parent involves trying to protect my time on campus without feeling as though I am avoiding or short-changing my colleagues, students, and myself. I don’t enjoy having to tell people that I can’t meet them for coffee or lunch or spend a big chunk of time conversing with them in my office. However, I often have to do just that, as every hour not working in the office is an hour that I will have to make-up post-bedtime when I am in a state of utter exhaustion.  In general, my tight schedule means that, for now, I am losing out on much of the social and intellectual life that I had prior to becoming a parent. However, I am banking on the idea that at least some of that will return once my son gets older, since, as I’m quickly learning, the early childhood years are astonishingly fleeting.

In exchange for all the juggling and social, professional and financial costs, I have a life that is richer, more intimate, and more complex thanks to the presence of my son in my life. For now, I am avoiding the workaholic trap that Ben described in his column that is often the fate of the single academic and experiencing more joy and satisfaction in my personal life than I ever had before. Single motherhood was not my first choice for how I envisioned creating a family and it likely is not a workable option for every single female academic approaching the end of her childbearing years. However, even with all of the struggle, balancing, and strict time management involved, it has turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made.


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All the Single Academics Wed, 05 Oct 2011 12:49:39 +0000

I’m glad that Antenna is starting a work-life column series, and I’m excited about what this series can do to help us understand the personal and professional joys and struggles that academics who inhabit different identities and have different lifestyles face. I’m especially hopeful that these columns can help demolish some stereotypes and assumptions we hold about how easy or hard other academics have it. I’ve already learned from Jason Mittell more about what my colleagues with children face as they navigate academic life.

This piece attempts to synthesize my own personal experiences with stories from colleagues who will remain anonymous. It is not meant to be, nor should it be taken, as an autobiographical account of my experience, but rather as a set of anecdotes that challenge the stereotypes that single academics can write all the time (or any time we want), are free from family responsibility, and somehow have it “easier” than other academics.

When you’re on the job market, you worry a lot about where you’ll end up. You don’t want to be the only single person in the village, and you’re afraid that even if you end up loving your job in a small town that you’ll feel personally trapped (or at the least that you chose your professional life over your personal life). And if you’re single and LGBT, you worry about being the only “gay in the village.”

When you move to a job in a new town, you move alone. Sure, you have friends that will help you put items in your ABF Relocube or moving van and hopefully someone to help you move things into your new place of residence, but when all is said and done, you are alone. If you live alone, and chances are you will at least for your first year in a new town, you’ll come home to an empty apartment, which can be sometimes be really eerie, haunting, and depressing after a really long day at your university.

Achieving a work-life balance is hard. It’s easy to become a workaholic if there’s no one to force you not to be one.

I know that married couples, partners, and roommates frequently divide chores, but there’s just you, so you are responsible for cleaning, cooking, doing the dishes, boxing lunch, finishing that lesson plan, answering those student emails, and polishing up that journal article that you’ve been meaning to send out. Maybe that’s why there are dust bunnies in the corner of my living room that are starting to look like life-size rabbits.

Single academics have to create support systems from scratch every time they relocate. Establishing a new community of friends and a social network in your town becomes a full-time job, especially if you are lucky enough to be in a tenure track or tenured position. You are in the process of making a life and a home, and while you know you’ll be happiest if you adjust to your new surroundings quickly, making your new town home can seem an arduous process.  You may feel that you have to accept every invitation to dinner, drinks, parties, picnics, and the movies in your first year in a new town. It’s okay to say no because you’re too busy. It’s also okay to say no because you’ve crafted a night in the week where you don’t work and you don’t worry; you just sit in front of the television watching Netflix while eating pizza.

Your personal life may be largely invisible to your colleagues. I know single academics who are the primary caregivers for parents, siblings, or close relatives who live hundreds of miles away, or who have deep ties, duties, and commitments to people who are not visible like partners and children when teaching schedules, committee assignments, and other departmental duties are divided up. It can be harder to speak up for yourself when the reasons behind particular schedule requests or needs are not visible on the left ring finger or pictures on your office desk.

There are other scenarios I could share, but I’d like Antenna’s readers to chime in with their stories. I don’t think anyone has it “easy,” and I think this series can show us how we have it “hard” in different ways so that we can be more savvy and sympathetic colleagues.


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A Step Toward Fixing Peer Reviews: Sign Them Tue, 27 Sep 2011 17:23:09 +0000 It is common to hear laments about the quality of peer review, the problems with the system, the lack of quality control and the capriciousness of reviewers. Like any author, I have my war stories, though the real war stories more resemble the incredible revelations by Carole Blair, Julie Brown and Leslie Baxter in their classic essay “Disciplining the Feminine,” where they chronicle feminist-bating in what is clearly a corrupt review process. Countless other authors have made similar points about the politics of peer review (see Blair, Brown, and Baxter 1994; Schwartzman 1997; Fitzpatrick 2011).

Even so, there is much to defend in peer review. I like that in our business, authors have to have their work reviewed by readers who are, if not strangers, at least chosen by an editor with vision for a publication and not the author. I like that there is a difference between self-publication and other kinds of publication. Authors are not necessarily always the best judges of their own ideas or their own prose (and I would include myself in this group). But clearly, it is time for reform.

So how do we keep some of the good parts of the system while changing the problematic ones? One of the main features of peer review, and one of the most criticized, is the unfortunately-named “double-blind” process, where authors and reviewers do not know one another’s identities. I say it is unfortunately named because it partakes of all sorts of problematic constructs of blindness and sight. It oversells the importance of vision, and it assumes that the blind can’t identify things, which is patently ridiculous. These notions have been well criticized by Georgina Kleege (2005) in her analysis of the “hypothetical blind man” of philosophy, but “hypothetical” (as she calls him) also wreaks havoc in our scholarly world as well. We assume certain things of “blind” review that are untrue in practice. Many of us have been able to guess the identity of the author we are “blind” reviewing, and many of us have been able to guess the identity of our “blinded” reviews. Blindness is supposed to indicate objectivity, where the words on the page signify for just what they are. But of course they never do: we all have our critical hobby-horses, our preferred and, well, not preferred approaches to theory and method.

There are many proposals to transform institutions of peer review, and perhaps in time some will come to fruition. But there is a simple step that every concerned reviewer could take, right now, to make the process better, fairer, more useful and more human.

Reviewers, sign your reviews, and tell your editors that you decline anonymity.

This would have a few immediate effects. First, authors could read the reviews against the reviewer’s work, which would help them understand where the comments are coming from. Second, they would also get to see who is performing gatekeeping functions for the journal or press, which would help them evaluate it as a potential publication outlet and make editors accountable for their decisions. Third, it would make reviewers responsible not only for their words but for their tone since their names would be attached to it. This would result in fewer irresponsible reviews dashed off that are of little help to the author, and fewer “seek and destroy” operations. It would pressure reviewers to more carefully consider the author’s standpoint. It might even, in some cases, nurture some of that solidarity that Richard Rorty says scientists have over humanists as a result of their consensus on first principles.

I have begun the process over the past year and largely been successful. It is easy with book manuscripts where you know the authors’ names—you can just send them the review. With journals it’s a little trickier. And I have found that journal editors have wildly differing interpretations of what the “ethics” of disclosure might be, under what conditions I am allowed to attach my name to the review, and so forth. That in itself is revealing because it shows there is no clear consensus on the advantages or usefulness of the anonymization process. My choice has had no effect on my acceptance/rejection rate, but it has led to some interesting conversations. It has also forced me to be both fair and careful in my reviews. I think I was before, but now even moreso. Perhaps there are also people out there silently cursing me, I don’t know. But the beauty of tenure is that it doesn’t matter as much.

Of course the mere proposition of authors signing their reviews is a tremendous pain in the ass for everyone involved. Editors aren’t going to want to reveal the names of their reviewers because of the likely flak from authors. Reviewers aren’t going to want to spend the extra time or be accountable for saying “no” on a journal submission or book project (despite the fact that we do that all the time to students who know very well who we are). Authors may underestimate the value of a review from a person they don’t know. And reviewers without the security of tenure may not want their names out there in case vindictive senior colleagues get wind of their rejections.

My proposal is not a panacea, and it certainly won’t solve lots of other problems in publishing. It probably introduces lots of problems I haven’t even considered yet (which is why this is a blog post and why I won’t be responsible for anything bad that happens as a result of my proposal). I’m not even 100% convinced it’s a good idea. But naming has a way of imposing responsibility, and that seems like a good reason to give it a try. We could just limit it to tenured faculty to begin with and see how it works.

And unlike so many fixes to the peer-review system, we can try it out right now. All you have to do is sign your reviews.

Blair, Carole, Julie Brown, and Leslie Baxter. 1994. “Disciplining the Feminine.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 80 (November): 383-409. doi:10.1080/00335639409384084.
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. 2011. Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. NYU Press.
Kleege, Georgina. 2005. “Blindness and Visual Culture: An Eyewitness Account.” Journal of Visual Culture 4 (2): 179 -190. doi:10.1177/1470412905054672.
Schwartzman, Roy. 1997. “Peer Review as the Enforcement of Orthodoxy.” Southern Communication Journal 63: 69-75.

Jonathan Sterne just edited a big collection of essays entitled “The Politics of Academic Labor in Communication Studies,” where 21 authors ask us to confront and deal with the big issues we now face in a changing landscape: from defunding of universities to feed the war machine, to the politics of careers, to tyranny of powerpoint, along with a host of proposals and programs for organizing. It appears any day now in the International Journal of Communication at


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