VANCOUVER ISLAND UNIVERSITY ALUMNI SHOWCASE
On March 9th, the day after International Women's Day, I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with three women to speak as a panelist during Vancouver Island University's (VIU) Alumni Showcase event. Unfortunately, I could not attend in person, but was happy to Skype in. The audience was made up of VIU alumni and current students. I was asked five questions, and thought I might impart some of my answers here to share with a wider audience.
Question 1: What aspect of your education at VIU do you utilize the most in your current career?
VIU is an exceptionally "community" based school where you are taught to work together and draw on each other to build your success. While at a lot of universities, I think students feel very individualized, very alone. This was not as much the case at VIU, which fostered a sense of togetherness. This is a very important skill in many types of jobs, but especially important in academia.
In my own career as a scholar, I work with my colleagues and we help each other in a variety of ways. Sometimes, this is editing work, grant proposals, workshopping ideas, but other times it being there for each other as part of an in-person or virtual writing group. Many people struggle in today's world alone, as many aspects of our culture foster an individualized approach to success and competition. I try to break down those tropes and expectations. I learned the importance of this during my time at VIU.
Question 2: What would you say is the most important skill needed to reach success in your professional life?
I'd say the most important skill needed to reach success in my life, both professionally and personally, has been resiliency and determination. While those may not be "skills" in the sense of being able to be taught them, but they are characteristics that I think have been vital.
In academia and many careers, critique, rejection, revision, and often failure are part of the fabric of the job in a sense. Finding ways to keep going is very difficult sometimes. To me, this has been through determination and just putting "one foot in front of the other." Or in the case of academia, writing one word after another. I sometimes joke and say, "don't think, do," and in a way, this has been true to how I work. I don't think about how I am going to get it all done and do it, I just do it. That isn't to say planning and preparation are not important, but the skill of just "keeping on going" has been important to me. This also isn't meant to praise overworking or denying your feelings, anxieties, emotion, and stress. But sometimes, I personally try to find ways bracket those and "do."
Question 3: What advice would you give to someone starting a new career?
I once heard a friend of mine, Salina, describe academia as entrepreneurial, and that has stuck with me ever since. While my career is in academia, I think this advice is relevant to most careers in the contemporary world. I think today, everyone has to be entrepreneurial, even in jobs that aren't inherently that way. In my career, that involves knocking on doors, talking to people, engaging ideas outside of your own personal research interests, being present.
This is difficult and not accessible for everyone as well. Not everyone has an "outgoing" personality. Not everyone has the social or cultural capital to be able to do this. I recognize that I am a white, able-bodied, middle-class woman. I can knock on doors and be received more easily than a lot of other people because of what I look like and who I am. So, if this is the case you are someone who experiences barriers and blocks because of inequalities (sexism, racism, classism, ableism, etc...), it may be that you draw on your network where you can, find an ally, find ways to access where you'd like to go. It's not always easy to create space for yourself (for a variety of structural reasons and inequalities), but for me, this has been my goal.
The second piece of advice i'd give to someone in ANY career (especially coming off the heels of my first piece of advice and my answer to the previous question), is to be gentle with yourself. Be okay with not being the best, being perfect, being able to do it all. Try not to be anxious about being anxious. Let yourself experience your emotions, your sadness, happiness, pride, nervousness, success etc... But, be gentle with yourself. You're probably working really hard and it's easy to get bogged down.
Question 4: What is your favourite aspect of your current career?
I'd say my favourite part are the social moments during my research. As a qualitative research, I often go to people's houses for interviews and I get to know them and their families momentarily. Sometimes I show up for interviews and the family isn't ready, so I will have dinner with them before we start talking more formally. The social moments of research are my favourite. I suppose putting the social back in sociology!
Question 5: Have you experienced any sexism in your career as a woman? How did you overcome it?
Yes. Sometimes overtly and sometimes subtly. Often, the subtle ones are more damming for me personally because those instances are more difficult to respond to. Subtle sexism is a lingering feeling, and it's difficult to know who to talk to or where it eminates from. Usually, in my career, I feel barriers as a women when I enter spaces that are highly masculine, providing little space for women's voices, women's experiences, women's research and feminist theory. In these moments, I often feel like I don't belong. In a sense, I get this feeling of being a fraud. This can be difficult to overcome because first, you have to identify that you're feeling this way. You feel like a fraud. Then second, you have to find the strength to remind yourself that you have a right to be there, physically and intellectually. This is difficult. So, if ever you feel like you don't belong there, I'd say you do. Try to remind yourself of that.