Toxic Productivity in Academia and How to Overcome It

Expecting ourselves and others to continue working as normal – and sometimes even harder than normal – is not only unrealistic, it’s unsustainable. It’s downright cruel. It’s the definition of toxic productivity.

Who is the work you’re doing for? 

Is the work you’re doing (or that you’re asking others to do) really so important that it’s worth sacrificing your mental health and overall wellbeing? (Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka would say no, it isn’t.)

Simone Biles at the Tokyo Olympics
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Professional Development: Where to Start and Where to Look (Hidden Curriculum #5)

For those of you who are new here, the hidden curriculum includes a set of things we’re expected to know how to do, from attending a conference for the first time to applying for funding to going on the job market, without actually being taught them. This month I’m talking professional development and why it’s so important, especially for grad students.

The classroom at the BSA where I took my ceramic petrology class

Professional development and academics have always been at odds. 

Either you write your thesis or you take workshops and courses that make you a better job candidate. 

Either you spend your summer working on a field project or you participate in an internship that gives you first-hand experience in the field you want to work in. 

But you can never do both. Or so it seems.

The truth is that you can and should be able to do both. But there are structural constraints which make it difficult.

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BIPOC Features: Machal Gradoz

One of the things that I wanted to do with Notes From the Apotheke was to amplify the voices and contributions of BIPOC scholars in ancient studies, at all levels and from all backgrounds. BIPOC in the field are invited to reflect on what brought them to studying the ancient world, as well as offer their opinions on the future of the discipline and share any work they are especially proud of or excited about.

This month’s installment of the BIPOC feature series is written by my good friend and colleague Machal Gradoz!

Machal doing archaeological fieldwork
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Demystifying the Dissertation Chapter (Hidden Curriculum #4)

The hidden curriculum series is back! For those of you who are new here, the hidden curriculum includes a set of things we’re expected to know how to do, from attending a conference for the first time to applying for funding to going on the job market, without actually being taught them. Since I signed up for a Dissertation ECoach last term, I thought I’d share a few tips that I found most helpful from it.

Actually footage of me pretending to work on my dissertation

Dissertation ECoach – What is it?

The Dissertation ECoach is an interactive digital messaging tool that draws on dissertation writing strategies to affect graduate students’ writing practice. It was developed by several teaching and writing centers at the University of Michigan, and ran weekly for the duration of the Winter term (Jan-Apr). 

Through the ECoach portal, graduate students who are starting to write their dissertation receive personalized messages that influence a positive writing process. The personalized feedback that students receive helps them engage with more effective writing practices.

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3 Tips for More Anti-Racist Mentorship

This morning I participated in a plenary session for a workshop on anti-racist and decolonial curricula in archaeology hosted by the Columbia Center for Archaeology. In my talk, I framed the topic of anti-racist curricula in terms of mentorship, and the ways in which good mentorship could help alleviate the pressures placed on first-gen, marginalized, and underrepresented students in Classical Studies and archaeology by the hidden curriculum.

The Hidden Curriculum

The hidden curriculum is a set of skills or norms that individuals are expected to know, particularly in academia, without being formally taught them

On this blog, I have taken a particular interest in the hidden curriculum, and have made several blog posts illuminating different aspects of it.

Skills and norms which are part of the hidden curriculum include:

  • Preparing for fieldwork
  • Writing a dissertation (prospectus, chapter)
  • How and when to apply for funding
  • Writing conference abstracts and papers
  • What to wear and how to act when attending a conference
  • How to interview for a (usually academic) job

These range from seemingly simple skills to more complex ones. However, our assumptions about individuals’ knowledge of these skills and norms disproportionately harm students from marginalized backgrounds. These students feel they must put in twice the work to keep up with their peers.

Here are some ways that we can better support students throughout their academic careers.

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Burnout is Different for BIPOC

I bet we’ve all heard at least once in the past year that “your worth isn’t tied to your productivity.” The idea is that you shouldn’t let your work consume you to the point of burnout, which negatively affects all aspects of your health. 

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

It’s easy to say that “your worth isn’t tied to your productivity,” but much, much harder to put that idea into practice

This is especially true when we’re inundated daily with posts on social media that make us feel like we aren’t doing enough, even when we feel good about the (quality and quantity of) work we’re doing.

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Asking for Recommendation Letters (Hidden Curriculum #2)

Last month I began a series on “the hidden curriculum.” The hidden curriculum includes a set of things we’re expected to know how to do, from attending a conference for the first time to applying for funding to going on the job market, without actually being taught them. This second installment features tips on how to ask for recommendation letters (or references), which can form part of all kinds of applications!

Asking for recommendation letters can be scary but if you plan ahead, the process is smoother!
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5 Grad School Interview Questions You Should Be Asking

As we enter grad school interview season, it’s time to think about some questions that you should be asking on your (virtual) visits. 

These questions are primarily ones BIPOC prospective students should have in mind. I know that in light of the recent discourse sparked by a NYT op-ed featuring Prof. Dan-el Padilla Peralta, they might be uncertain about continuing their academic journey. 

These are also questions I wish I’d asked years ago during my own grad school interviews. But I believe these are generally important questions to ask for anyone who has a serious, invested interest in reforming the field.

There are many things I wish I had asked on my grad school interview

A Change in Perspective

The recent #ClassicsTwitter discourse shows that our problems can’t (and won’t) be solved overnight. Those of us who offer critiques are painted as fatalists. We want to “burn it all down” with (they assume) no regard for the future of the field or the people within it. 

When my eyes were opened to the extent of the toxicity of Classics months ago, I swore I’d never advocate for another BIPOC student to join the field. Some have considered such a stance to be ‘exclusionary’, but I just didn’t want anyone to go through what I went through.

In the intervening months I have become a little more optimistic about the future of Classics. Despite the near-constant debates about how exactly the field should be reformed – and, no, I don’t want to talk about potential name changes – I continue to love what I study. I made this blog for other BIPOC in Classics, ancient history, and archaeology who also love what they study, even if they hate the racist, elitist underpinnings of the discipline.

I don’t want to discourage BIPOC students from continuing their studies in grad school. But I don’t want them to blindly join a program (or field) that will be detrimental to their well-being, either.

I believe now that everyone should be able to make their own, informed choice about entering or leaving the field. In that vein, here are just a few questions relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion that you should be asking during a grad school interview.

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Tips for Applying for Funding (The Hidden Curriculum Series #1)

The concept of the “hidden curriculum” isn’t new. However, it becomes more and more problematic everyday. The hidden curriculum includes a set of things we’re expected to know how to do, from attending a conference for the first time to applying for funding to going on the job market, without actually being taught them (this handout by Amy Pistone lays out several of these).

As a first generation, Black graduate student, I think about the things I was never taught how to do a lot. This is because they’ve come up frequently in my academic journey and because they aren’t exactly things that I could’ve learned growing up.

After several months of obsessing over funding applications, I thought that sharing some tips for applying for funding would be a good place to start. It’s actually amazing how I’ve made it this far in my academic career without ever being taught how to do this.

Here are just a few pointers for those of you embarking on the harrowing journey of completing funding applications for the first time. It might be helpful for some of the more seasoned of you, too, since I feel like I’m learning new strategies every time funding season rolls back around.

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5 Ways To Continue Anti-Racism Work in Your Department in 2021

As we all settle back into our routines and Winter terms begin in earnest, I figured it was a good time to revisit the anti-racism work that (hopefully) began in many departments and institutions last year.

If you made meaningful progress toward creating an inclusive, anti-racist environment for your BIPOC students and colleagues, that’s great. But the work isn’t done.

Anti-racism work isn’t a box you can just check before getting on with your life. Racism isn’t something that can be eliminated overnight, or with a change in administration (Bye, Don!). So, if you’re in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions, here are a few things that you can do this year to continue your anti-racism work.

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