Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bad Female Academic: Loving Research AND Teaching

It's no secret that I love to teach. This blog is a testament to how much I love teaching. This is a complex statement to make as a female academic; because of my mother-hen tendencies, I could/can be seen as being too maternal, and thus a less serious "academic" in the broad sense. A good female academic keeps her professional distance and teaches because she has to.


I absolutely and positively adore my research. In fact, as my husband recently pointed out to me, I actually get more satisfaction from being a successful researcher (publications, awards, etc) than I do from being a successful teacher (excellent evaluations, etc). I am so excited to be spending my summer doing research and writing, even though I don't have to because I am "just" an instructor and only required to teach. I put myself forward and won a summer research fellowship precisely because I have an excellent research portfolio to go along with my teaching success.

Good female academics, especially those off the tenure-track who also happen to be trailing spouses, don't strive for research excellence; we should be grateful that we have a job with benefits. But good female academics, on or off the tenure track, need to be careful about how successful they are in their research when they teach at primarily undergraduate teaching colleges, like the one I teach at or the one that Dr. Crazy teaches at as well. She herself recently won...something (it's not entirely clear) that celebrated her research excellence and was (initially) ignored. You can read about it here and here.

Now, I'm not saying that this is the culture in my department, but there is something disturbing about this attitude towards research excellence:
But that doesn’t change the culture of my department.  The culture of my department is one in which mediocrity is celebrated, because it’s not threatening, and excellence is downplayed, because it might make people “feel bad.”  The culture of my department is such that when you do something great, people act like you did a violence to them, like you’re a “braggart” or that you’re somehow “less than” they are.  The prevailing attitude is something along the lines of, “I’m a great teacher because I’m shitty at research.  I don’t publish because I’m committed to my students.  I don’t have a reputation in my field because I’m so committed to our university.”
There is an assumed conflict between being a good researcher and being a good teacher. Now, Dr. Crazy doesn't mention this, but one can imagine that it becomes doubly threatening when the young female academic is outpacing her senior male colleagues. Good female academics know their place.

I am not a good female academic. I value my research as much as my teaching, and I'm pretty good at both. I'll probably never win a national research or teaching award, but I have been recognized as providing good work in my field(s). I am unapologetic in my quest for recognition and the money that goes with it. Politically, this is probably a terrible move, but I think (hope) that it will help my career in the long run.

Because, as I will examine in my next Bad Female Academic post, I am also ambitious.

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