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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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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Writing Personal Statements (Hidden Curriculum Series #3)

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. In keeping with the applications theme, this new addition to the series is on the personal statement. 

Thanks to everyone on Instagram who helped with the decision!

A note on the personal statement

This post is about writing personal statements for funding applications, not grad school applications. I realize that there also exist “statements of purpose,” which are sometimes asked for in addition to a personal statement.

https://www.greedge.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/1-1.png
Image credit: GREedge (greedge.com)

In the case of funding applications, “personal statement” and “statement of purpose” are often used interchangeably. 

Take for example these two funding opportunities from my university:

#1: The statement of purpose must be single-spaced, 12pt font, and three pages maximum including any bibliography, citations, project timetable, graphics, etc. These should be written in language for non-specialists, should describe the proposed research project and discuss its rationale, objectives, design, timetable, feasibility, and methodology, as well as the projected benefits of this trip. If the applicant will be working with an established research project, a description of the organization and the activities in which he/she will be engaged must be included. Applicants should also discuss any language skills needed to conduct the proposed research.

#2: Students’ personal statement…should address the importance of the student’s work in the beginning two or three sentences. The statement should include the theoretical framework of the dissertation, its specific aims, methodologies (how the student is conducting the research), originality, and the significance and contribution of the project to the field…The statement should be written with an interdisciplinary faculty review panel in mind; i.e., reviewers will NOT necessarily be familiar with the technical vocabulary of a specific field.

The purposes of the funding opportunities are slightly different. One specifically supports international research and the other supports work on the dissertation (writing and/or research) more broadly, with an eye toward completion. 

However, the requirements for the statements are roughly the same. 

If you’re unsure of what to include in a statement, funding institutions usually spell out what sort of information they’re looking for in a personal statement/statement of purpose.

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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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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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