Woman on a Mission: My Search for Community in an Academic Gig Economy

By Lynn Clement

The trajectory of my career has been driven by the firm belief that access to education in the arts should not be a luxury and my pursuit of this mission has lead me to teach at local community colleges. Working in this setting allows me the extraordinary opportunity to meet people of different backgrounds, with myriad academic interests and life experiences, all which improve my teaching and strengthen the approach to my discipline.  However, an adjunct professor, in particular, forges odd professional relationships.  Due to shifting, and often conflicting, schedules with our colleagues, it can be lonely work.  While I value deeply the interactions I have experienced in the adjunct faculty lounge, finding alternative communities in which to support professional creativity, development, and collaboration is also essential and can be found in unlikely places. FB_IMG_1515115484807

Not long ago I turned to Twitter in my quest for community (and cute dog pictures) and have found people there that have provided helpful insight and support. Sure, social media is a large briquette in our current political dumpster fire, but that doesn’t mean these forums are entirely unhelpful.  I started following museums, academic journals, and education organizations and from there was able to find other professionals to follow.  From their posts I get access to relevant and timely articles, information on conferences, symposiums, calls for papers, grant opportunities, and the like.

Without access to social media sites like Twitter, Linkdin, and Instagram I never would have come across important and supportive ways to amplify my voice, like Smart Women Write. It is through these communities that I attempt to use the power of words to convey the power of art.  And I’m not alone.  It’s through Twitter that I also learned of HistorioBlogs like Age of Revolutions, important art organizations like Arts Emergency, and scholars like @medievalpoc, all of whom are working to change the discourse of the art world.  They have impacted my work immensely.

My one constant as a professor is that I will meet new people every 16 weeks.  Despite their ultimate physical absence, students can leave a lasting impression. While negative experiences cause permanent amendments in your syllabus (“I guess I have to put that in writing”), positive experiences cause long-lasting growth in your life. I often recall the most invested and passionate students I’ve had the pleasure to teach. One, a successful engineer, with several advanced degrees already, was taking my class to learn something entirely unfamiliar, to attempt something entirely untried, to search for innovation in an unknown subject.  It was an approach to self-examination and self-improvement that I would first envy, and then model.

The courage I witness in my students inspires me to further my own professional development. For example, I am learning the programming language called Python.  I have reached the point in my career where I feel I can do more to make art education inclusive and broaden its reach through new media and technology.  I have my students to thank for this inspiration and motivation.

This motivation has also lead me to various professional events throughout the year.  Time and money are difficult to come by, but I’ve found that attending (semi) local conferences, symposiums, and lectures can offer great personal and professional development in addition to inspiring creative collaboration.  In addition, many offer live feeds or recordings of the presentations if you are unable to attend in person.

I recently had the opIMG_20180412_110542353_HDR.jpgportunity to attend a symposium entitled, “Searching Through Seeing: Optimizing Computer Vision Technology for the Arts” at the Frick Collection in New York focusing on the ways in which art historical inquiry (and even creativity) can be advanced through computer learning.  My trip included a 4 am wake up, several miles of walking, a crowded Friday night train, and amazing presentations by leaders in the fields of digital art history and computer programming. I ended my day dirty, hungry, and exhausted, but I also had a notebook full of quality research leads, names, and email addresses.  Many of those people were looking for professional contacts just like me.  Perhaps adjuncts are not the only group who are searching for community.

This is also one of the reasons that I was ecstatic to become part of Smart Women Write.  I look forward to writing more about my experiences as an adjunct art history professor, about my experimentation with technology, about my personal and professional interests, goals, and passions, and, like Raquelle’s fantastic post from last week, my own approach to self-care. In doing so it is my hope that you will also find community here.






Introducing: Raquelle Bostow

Dear smart women (& others) who write,

I’m so incredibly pleased to introduce to you the newest member of team SWW!

raquelle b&w

Raquelle Bostow is a truly dangerous woman who has experience as managing editor for Holly Tucker’s Wonders & Marvels, and is in the process of launching a restaurant review site.  Like Tanya and I, she’s got a passion for the public humanities, working to find ways in which to use her writing experience and training to form partnerships with people and organizations that could use it. She sees education not as something that just happens in the classroom, but an ongoing process that happens within the self, and in every interaction.

She is currently a university lecturer in French who is on the job market. She’s looking at both traditional academic jobs, as well as “alt-ac” and “non-ac” positions that will let her utilize her skills in languages and in gender studies. She’ll bring us posts about what that process looks like, how to find mentors for each part of that process, self-care when not on the tenure track, her experience with writing groups, and foreign language teaching.

When I sat down with her for coffee, her vibe was so SWW it wasn’t even funny. She’s resilient, creative, hard-working, and determined to use her training to be thoughtful and reflective. She applies her insights to problems in the wider world, and that’s why we think you will love what she has to say.

I can’t wait!

-Angela Sutton

The Pirate Enthusiast

I’m Angela Sutton, and I write for my job and for fun. Luckily, right now there is a lot of overlap between the two.

I am a postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University’s new Digital Humanities Center. My job involves a continuous discovery of the ways humanists can use digital tools and methods of inquiry to learn new things about our fields. I do coding with the TEI for the Corpus Baudelaire project, various types of geographical imaging, and my favorite: working with the ESSSS digital archive (@ESSSSArchive) to help curate endangered documents concerning Africans and their descendants in the Americas.

Sutton Swedish National Archive
At the Swedish National Archives in Stockholm, smiling because I found the document that would illustrate a key point in chapter 2 of my book. Also pirates.

I’m very fortunate that this job necessitates lots and lots of writing. My main writing gig involves transforming my doctoral dissertation into an academic manuscript tentatively titled Gold Coast Rivalries:  Northern Europeans and West Africans in the 17th Century Atlantic Slave Trade. It discusses the competitive mercantile culture various European and African slave traders created on the 17th century Gold Coast  (what is currently Ghana), and what that means for our understanding of the Atlantic slave trade. For this, I analyze 17th century archival sources from England, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden. I also get to experiment with various making technologies to explore and illustrate these phenomena. Spoiler: There are lots of pirates.

Other parts of my job that involve writing are grant proposals, book proposals, writing copy for websites,  as well as conference presentations, and articles for historic journals. In my teaching, I write lectures, lesson plans, handouts, study guides, and exams.

I also write in my personal life. I just finished a book proposal and sample chapters for a trade project on piracy. It is represented by Erik Hane of Red Sofa Literary. I also enjoy fiction writing (my preferred genre is Young Adult, which is also what I love to read), and have in the past freelanced both fiction and non-fiction for a wide variety of publications.  I’ve also written for various consulting projects, including an indy film project about the (in)famous John Paul Jones.

Every day I see the ways writing in all of these different formats has allowed me to develop my skills, and each time I transfer them to a different form of writing, the process gets easier. I don’t know what all the future holds, but I’m confident writing will remain a part of it. If you’ve reached this far, it was destined we become twitter buddies- come find me!

The Explorer

Hello folks! I’m Bryna Campbell, and I have a PhD in Art History and Archaeology from Washington University in St. Louis, but currently live in the Pacific Northwest, a place I’ll no doubt write about because it’s been a constant source of creative inspiration. Since graduating with my doctorate a year and a half ago, I’ve been on an expedition of sorts to find a meaningful and rewarding post-ac career. In this introduction, I’m embracing the identity of Explorer for that reason, and sharing some of the ways that writing has played a role in my post-PhD adventures.

FullSizeRenderFor me, writing is an infinitely rewarding if challenging practice that helps me to learn a little bit more about myself every time I work on it. I try do it as often as possible, even if that sometimes means just jotting down a few pages in a journal before going off to do something else. I like try out different genres in my writing. Most of all, I try to let myself feel deeply as I write, because when I do I find discover deeper truths about myself.

I haven’t always thought writing in this way. If you had asked how “the writing” was going when I was working on my dissertation, I’d have probably looked at you bug-eyed as I twitched a bit and grunted the words fine under my breath. Only after completely my PhD did I begin the process that led to how I think of writing now.

This paradigm shift began about a year ago when I decided to co-create The Art and Place Blog, a collective space where I work with others to engage my interests in themes of art and community, ecology, regional identity, gender, and politics. I began with the simple goal of working on writing about art for a non-academic audience. I find that I like writing in this way more than traditional academic writing. I enjoy thinking about the intersections between art, community, and the public.  There, I also serve as the founding editor and thus enjoy working with others as they develop their posts.

About six months ago, I began to edge further away from traditional academic writing with a creative online project, Un/Settled, which I co-write with my brother, another budding writer. This collaboration has been even more generative for my post-PhD journey. At Un/Settled we each explore the complexities of having grown up in the rural midwest and having left it – and the attendant feelings of longing, frustration, and loss, that comes with this experience.  I  look forward to sharing the risks and rewards of collaborating with someone I know so intimately, as well as talking about what’s drawn me to write less about art history and more about personal life. One result worth noting: I’ve started on a longer writing project about my maternal grandfather, a nomadic figure of sorts who never seemed to settle down. This project is in its beginning stages now, but I’ll share more about this project as it evolves.

I still do academic stuff too! I teach art history and gender studies classes at a university in Portland, Oregon. In that capacity, I write syllabi, regular lectures, assignments, tests, and the most difficult of genres – constructive and thoughtful comments on students’ work. I also have a short essay coming out in an anthology later this year about an artist named Joe Jones, a politically leftist midwestern rebel rouser from the 1930s who sparked some of the ideas that have taken root in The Art and Place Blog. On top of all this, I am married to a wonderful husband and have a six-year-old kid who surprises me everyday with his wickedly wonderful imagination.

I come to Smart Women Write to talk about the writing practice and to grow and learn…and maybe to nudge myself gently, or sometimes not so gently, to get my work done. Onward. Let’s all get writing!

The Teacher

Let’s start with the basics:

I’m Tanya Roth, and I completed my PhD in American history at Washington University in St. Louis in 2011. My research specialty is women in the Cold War military. These days, I teach at an independent K-12 schoolRoth Supreme Court in the St. Louis area, and I really love it. (There’s not much opportunity to talk about military women in the Cold War, but my background does come in handy.)

I still struggle to call myself a writer, even after spending years blogging and writing a dissertation, a novel draft, short stories, and now, the manuscript for my book. I was a reader first, and my love of writing came from that. I grew up in a house filled with books, a tradition I maintain in my home office where I write. (I don’t keep count any more because they just seem to multiply daily.) Once I became a history teacher, I turned my classroom into overflow shelving, which seems appropriate since classrooms are great places for history books.

For more than five years now, I’ve been helping high school students discover the more fascinating parts of American and world history. I also love helping my students learn to write well; teaching writing is one of the best things I get to do as a history teacher. I’m head over heels for my career, and I’ve had the privilege to work with amazing students. When I started working on my book this year, I discovered that this experience has also made me a better writer. As a teacher, you think all the time about how to make things accessible – but this is always a work in progress..

I’m also a little taken with my family, which includes my husband (a geotechnical engineer), my three-year-old son (he’s still working on what he wants to be when he grows up), and my dog (he thinks he’ll be human when he grows up, but we did name him Sirius, so we deserve it). They’re all important, and as it turns out, they play a not-so-insignificant role in navigating my writing life these days. Right now, writing is hard to do when the school year is full swing and I’m running ten directions from activity to activity.

But at the same time, I’m eager to write more than lesson plans. For about a year now, I’ve been diving back into the writing life, learning how to balance teaching, family, and writing. I’ve got a long way to go, but my biggest accomplishment so far has included a first draft of my book, which makes me pretty happy.

At the moment, the book is tentatively titled Flirting with Equality: American Women in the Cold War Military. In it, I uncover all the contradictions and complexities of women’s military service from the end of World War II through the 1980s. For a moment after World War II, it looked like American women might become the nation’s next best military weapon. It didn’t quite turn out that way, but when Congress passed legislation to put women permanently into the military starting in 1948, they set the stage for exactly the types of debates we see today about women’s proper roles in national defense. Even more than that, my work shows how ideas about what women’s place in society, politics, and the workforce have changed in the past seventy-five years.

Next up: find an agent, and keep writing all kinds of things, from nonfiction to short stories to personal essays. I have a few ideas under my hat that I’m ready to pull out. I’d like to explore some historical fiction and draft some personal essays. Now that I’m further along with the book, I plan to write a few articles. At the moment, I’m also feeling pretty inspired by Ray Bradbury’s advice to write a short story every week, which may turn into my new goal. Follow along here to find out!



Welcome to Smart Women Write, a collaborative blog we’ve created to foster community and forge connections between women writers like us. Our mission is to offer resources and ideas, and most of all, to explore the vast and complex – fitful but also joyful – process of writing itself.

The three of us come to writing by way of grad school, where not that long ago, each of us was working in our respective program on a PhD. Tanya and Angela hold PhDs in history and Bryna, a PhD in art history. All three of us have clocked too many hours of dissertation writing to count. Our paths since grad school have been different, but we each work to blend what we did then with what we do today in our respective “day jobs.”  And we all still write. A lot.

At Smart Women Write you’ll sometimes find us writing about those day jobs. You’ll find us talking about the challenges of finding time to write. You’ll find some of us talking about how we manage to write while also raising kids, or about how we work to find balance between work and life. We’ve moved beyond term papers and dissertations to use our skills for bigger and bolder projects, both inside and out of our original PhD specialties. At Smart Women Write you’ll also learn more about what and why we write.

We’ll offer our thoughts, and we hope you’ll share yours too! Because we are also here to learn from you. Happy writing!