On the Virtues of (Feminist) Mentorship in Academia

While I was sitting out on my friend’s back porch the other day, I knew I had struck gold. The two of us were deep in conversation about my recent campus visit when I started to realize that I was being adopted as a mentee. While I gave a play-by-play account of the meetings, presentations, and dinners with potential colleagues, she listened attentively,  offered praise, and rolled her eyes at all the right moments. This person is not just a friend, but a new colleague who has, on her own account, put time and effort into my professional development over the past year.

In a way, this person and I arrived at the department at the same time. In August 2017, I transitioned from graduate student to temporary faculty member and she arrived as a tenure-track Assistant Professor in French. As a newcomer, she granted me the collegial respect that – I imagine – is harder for former professors and committee members to accord. 

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Source gallica.bnf.fr / BnF

As a short-term Lecturer, the department did not arrange any type of mentorship for me. I assume this is due to the transience of my position and the expectation that my thesis advisor would continue to work closely with me. The latter proved true, in part. When I have questions about interviews, campus visits, and publishing, I text or email my advisor, who is happy to respond with careful counsel. However, knowing that she has two other advisees and a rigorous research agenda of her own, I understand that she might not want me begging her to give feedback on my writing or to offer me life & job advice at every turn. 

And so, early in this grad student-to-faculty member transition, my introversion had me turning inward and online. But – blessed be the extroverts – there was one person who I couldn’t keep out of my office. I quickly accepted this as a stroke of good fortune, because this colleague was kind, funny, and smart. She was also someone who I respected because of the sincere, candid way in which she interacted with everyone in the department, regardless of their rank. What’s more, this person had fascinating research and her lack of a filter exposed me to behavioral issues and professional ladders in academia which my freshly-minted-PhD self had not yet fully experienced.  Continue reading “On the Virtues of (Feminist) Mentorship in Academia”

Good Company

When the school year ends, I always feel a bit bereft. I love the academic cycle, the fresh starts each fall and again with each term (small commas, brief breaths in the sentence that is the year). I need summer, but summer and I need time to reconnect on new terms each year.

I feel that way now; classes ended Friday and we’ll wrap faculty meetings this Thursday before finishing with a conference early next week. It’s a slow segue to summer.

A few weeks ago, Raquelle wrote about leisure reading as self-care and shared some of the titles she’s reading. Her experience resonated with me: when I finished my dissertation seven years ago, I couldn’t wait to read again. In grad school, I read often, but I’d rarely had time to pick up a book for fun. (Example: I read the Hunger Games books while in grad school, but my head was so full of history books that by the time the last one came out, I couldn’t remember the others. I also read it so hurriedly that even now, I can’t tell you a thing about it.)

 

blur book girl hands
Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

I got much better at reading for fun again after grad school, but in the past couple of years, I’ve slipped again. In the school year, I’m generally less likely to pick up a book on the weekend or before I go to sleep, often too exhausted to try. There are exceptions, like trimester and holiday breaks, or spring break, but my Goodreads profile tends to be less active in general than it was a few years ago.

Still, books are where I find myself and calm myself. They’re perfect for making the transition from teacher-on-the-go to teacher-at-rest.

Continue reading “Good Company”

Taking A Risk: Teaching Slavery & Race to Students 50+ Yrs Old in the US South

I’ve just finished teaching what has been one of my most thought-provoking and soul-stirring classes this spring: a class on comparative slavery & race.

In today’s political climate.

In the US South.

To students 50+ years of age.

I’m glad I didn’t think it through too carefully, when this opportunity came around. I love teaching in a public history context- taking all of my research and writing, and transforming it into a narrative and compelling cast of characters that I present without any presumption of prior knowledge in the subject. It’s a double challenge for me- to ensure rigorousness without overwhelming my listeners. It takes me longer than the traditional lecture format to prepare, but when it works, it’s so worth it.

However, had I thought it through for a moment, I might not have agreed to do this particular class.

Why?

My classroom was full of people who lived through Jim Crow right here in Nashville, TN, the hotbed of the Civil Rights Movement. They remember when whites and people of color had to use separate facilities and weren’t allowed to marry. They read about the Lunch Counter Sit-Ins downtown when they happened.  They were children and young adults in 1960, when one of our city’s most promising civil rights activists, James Lawson, was expelled from the University that signs my paychecks.

And they were different people then, than they are now. They have seen so much more.

In this class, my black and my white students sat next to each other (something they would not have done when they were enrolled in school the first time around) and listened to a whippersnapper (that’s me, I’m the whippersnapper) contextualize that history for them in a broader Atlantic framework and chronology.

It’s been so humbling. Continue reading “Taking A Risk: Teaching Slavery & Race to Students 50+ Yrs Old in the US South”

An Introduction and Becoming the Wave

FullSizeRenderALOHA readers of Smart Women Write! I am overjoyed to have the opportunity to connect with you and to write with a remarkable group of ladies on a regular basis.

I guess you could say that I stick out in terms of profile compared to the other ladies writing for Smart Women Write. You’re probably looking at my picture and thinking to yourself, “just how old is this girl anyways?” I am 20 years old (21 in a couple of months, woo!) living in a small town in southern New Hampshire.

As you can imagine, there is still a lot that I am figuring out in my life. With this being said, I feel as though I am at a pinnacle point in my life; I am beginning to now more than ever come to terms with the type of person I want to be in this vast world, a world where I am but a mere cog in the wheel.

Continue reading “An Introduction and Becoming the Wave”

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.

 

 

 

 

 

An Introduction and Leisure Reading as Self-Care

HELLO, readers of Smart Women Write! I am delighted to be a part of this amazing team of writers and excited to share pieces of my life and work that may feel relevant to, or generate some productive dissonance with, your own.

A quick backstory for my first-ever post: As a lover of French and newcomer to Nashville, I began frequenting the Department of French & Italian at Vanderbilt University nearly 7 years ago. After a few conversations with professors and an audited course, I ended up joining the program as a fully-funded graduate student with a stipend to teach and research French literature. I started graduate school in August 2012 and 5 mind-blowing (and, at times, soul-crushing) years later came out on the other end with a PhD in French Studies and a graduate certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies. (You can read more about me here.)

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Me, elated after my dissertation defense

There were many high adrenaline moments of fiery passion while I was crafting ideas and pouring my thoughts into notebooks and Word docs for the dissertation. But don’t let that smiling face to the right deceive you. There were also enormous amounts of anxiety and self-doubt. Imposter syndrome (the feeling that you aren’t up to snuff and everyone else is) often invades the graduate student psyche, and I found that writing about that emotional experience helped to alleviate, or at least observe, those negative feelings.

And so, while I like brainy, theoretical, research writing, this is not the only type of writing I do. In whatever journal I’ve chosen for the season (ShinolaMoleskine, etc.), I put pen to paper to analyze my dreams, recurring thoughts, emotions, relationships, record dinner and gift ideas, you name it. This type of writing has become a therapeutic activity for me, which was particularly useful while dissertating. It reminds me that my versatile voice and mood need not always be confined to academic style.

But also, reading about other peoples’ experiences on personal blogs or in places like Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Ed gave me the life-saving reassurance that I was not alone in having those intense emotions. This is one reason why I wanted to become a part of the fabulous SWW team. To pay it forward.  Continue reading “An Introduction and Leisure Reading as Self-Care”

3D Printing & The Digital Humanities

This semester, Vanderbilt’s new makerspace and center for innovation, the Wond’ry, approached us at the Slave Societies Digital Archive (SSDA) with space for an exhibit to showcase the unique and collaborative nature of the archive. In putting together the exhibit, another opportunity for collaboration emerged between SSDA, the Wond’ry, and three creative doctors of radiology at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital: the replication of sacred objects and art related to the archive, through 3D scanning and printing.

The Slave Societies Digital Archive preserves endangered documents related to Africans and African-descended peoples in slave societies from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The vast majority of records in the archive come from places in underserved areas of the Atlantic world with a high concentration of African-descended populations. Often the institutions lack funding to make their crumbling collections available to the public. SSDA teams take photographs of each page of these records in order to create a digital repository of unused primary sources for the history of Africans and their descendants in the Atlantic world. The exhibit at the Wond’ry displays the processes and workflow of the archive, and the populations whose stories await to be discovered within.

Bow with Devil
Dr. Hansen Bow using the 3D scanner at the radiology lab at VUMC.

Documents without context only tell a partial story. We wanted to show some of the objects that are important to the people found in our documents. The originals though, were too fragile to keep on display without supervision, and so Kevin Galloway at the Wond’ry suggested we try a collaborative approach. The doctors at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital Radiology Lab were excited to take on the challenge. The majority of their work with 3D scanning and printing involves medical models. SSDA’s objects, with their irregular shapes,  surfaces, and colors, proved to be a challenge.

Most interesting for me were the conversations that went into which features of reproductions are the most significant for communicating their cultural value to the viewer. The nature of scanning and printing with abs material on a 3D printer means that some details would have to be sacrificed, while others could be enhanced. At what point were the sacrifices and enhancements superficial, and at what point did they alter the meaning of the object? Continue reading “3D Printing & The Digital Humanities”