Profgrrrrl has a very specific and useful post about how to answer that question, you know, the “how’s your work going” question. I’ve come to the same conclusions as she has, but not without previously falling into most of the traps she describes. The “Oh I’m so busy” trap (boring) or the launch-on-long-monologue-about-struggles monologue. Yes, they’re both really rather self-defeating and really won’t help. And that probably goes for students too. I think part of the problem is that as a student, at least when I was a student, a lot of the time you were supposed to do the “oh god my thesis is going terribly I’ll never finish” thing to co-students. It was part of our solidarity thing. Like the way you weren’t supposed to admit to getting good grades in high school. (Or was that just Norway or my suburb or something?) That’s really not a very constructive way of talking with colleagues who’ll be cooperating with you and participating in assessing your work, though.

Profgrrrrl also mentions how young female academics get the message we should dress frumpily and try to look older and as un-gendered as possible, well, I’ve definitely had that feeling too, not that anyone ever said so – when all your colleagues at meetings outside of your department are twenty years older than you and almost all male, you do feel like dying your hair grey and wearing a pant-suit and tie. Definitely not a way to help academia be more friendly to young women, though.

3 thoughts on “self-presentation as academic discipline

  1. JosÈ Angel

    Hah hah, Jill! You’re too cruel (well, you and this strategical interactionist, Profgrrrl), you should leave the poor graduate students some ground to stand on, now they will be feeling self-conscious, and will be lacking any rituals of complaint, and it’s such a cold world without that in the corridors of academia… Anyway, the post is great in suggesting some workable alternatives, or at least in widening the range of possible answers, or evasions, to the harmless questions. There are no harmless questions in departmental interaction!

  2. Jill

    Oh dear. You’re right… actually I discovered it really sucked asking a colleague how his work was going after having written this…. Though I was genuinely interested and also wanted to know whether there was anything I could/should do to help.

  3. Shaded

    Sounds to me like these ladies are spending too much time fitting in. My advise: be yourself, rock the boat and bring the unique energy young intelligent women have.

    Academia needs this. You’re representing more than academia as a minority female educator. You’re representing all the ladies that did not make it to your level who should have.

    These snoots need to realize how messed up their priorities are. The world would not be in the condition it currently is in, if women predominately ran academia for the past 100 years, or even 50 years.

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