Feminist Methods

Research and Funding

This blog post is in part processing a few research thoughts and working on research statements for my Feminist Research Methods course.

Last week was Grad Ed Week at Tech. Part of what that brought other than the wonderful free food that all grad students love, was the inductions of new members and associates for the Academy of Graduate Teaching (GTA) Excellence and Graduate School Awards. Of my classmates in Feminist Research Methods a few of us were recognized. Jordan Laney and I were named and inducted as two of the three Founding Fellows of the Academy. She also won a teaching award at the Awards Banquet while I was recognized for my service work.

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During the Awards Banquet those who won a lot of the awards were from lab disciplines and the qualifications that their letter writers presented was about the amount of grant money the grad students received and the number of publications they had. One person who won an award had received $85,000 in grant money for their research. Other grad students had over 10 publications. After the Banquet, I was left with amazement that grad students could have that many but also the realization that their disciplines have different opportunities than mine. No matter how I look at it, even if I include all the grants and fellowships on my list for the Feminist Research Methods assignment to practice writing applications for money, it would not equal $85,000. In a lot of ways doing feminist and critical work means that money is a little bit harder to come by to complete. There are of course ways to shift what you are doing to do the work, but I am not sure the only way to complete work is to do it where the money is. Limiting the work to only where the money is, limits the research questions being asked and who is being discussed.

10398574_10154152117878578_6151948063232028333_n      [Picture from Graduate School Awards banquet]

Additionally, to do thorough feminist and critical empirical work takes a lot of time to complete and not always as easily dividable into multiple publications as lab work can be with a lot of people working on multiple projects all together. It can be important to do slow scholarship, as I have discussed before, to ensure that the work is worthwhile and makes an impact on the world. What we do is not just about the number of publications that we get or how much money we bring in, as much as our advisors and society want to argue it is, it is also how much of a citizen to our university and the world we are being. Are we helping those around us and those who may not have had the same experiences we have had? We do not have to necessarily perpetuate the Publish or Perish mantra or continue to only work in the neoliberal rat-race. However, as I write this, a friend from another university posted on social media about a GoFundMe page to help pay for her travel, supplies, and compensation to participants for her dissertation work. Sometimes to do the work we want and feel led to do, we have to get creative in how we fund it! It also requires us to be able to translate our work to multiple audiences.

The rest of this post will be on my research, to work on how I present myself as a researcher. I am in this awkward period where a few projects have been wrapped up and are submitted to journals or are close to being submitted and am just getting started on my next projects (including my dissertation). I have not fully gotten in the swing of the publication pipeline. So, I am trying to figure out the best way to present not only the research that I have completed up to this point but also how to describe my dissertation work. I also have a tendency to expect everyone to be on the same train I am, so I welcome feedback from my classmates as to what I am presenting.

Research Statement: My overarching work is on gender and sexuality within the family context. This includes intimate and family relationships through kin altruism and kin networks, family diversity (including sexual minorities across the lifespan and singlehood), dating and partnership choices, and sexuality education through media and families. Most family scholars want to strengthen families, relationships, and sexual health. However, when people do not define family in the same way, we need to understand how diverse family structures function including their strengths and weaknesses. The more we understand all relationships, including families of non-genetic kin (families of choice), the more we can work with all families to be the best they can be with success broadly defined.

Future Research: I will continue to work in the above areas, with my primary focus in my next projects on sexual minority baby boomers. Much of the literature of older LGBQ adults discusses the health challenges the community faces, using minority stress theory as the guiding perspective (it’s where the money is). When the literature discusses families it is often in that LGBQ individuals don’t have children and are not married (neither necessarily true and becoming less and less true). There has been the discussion of families of choice and caretaking in the face of health crises, such as AIDS and cancer. So, the primary question overarching both projects is how does the literature and LGBQ older adults conceptualize family?

I am particularly interested in single lesbian baby-boomers. There has been a renewed focus on singlehood, particularly single women as seen in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day 2016 with the Washington Post doing a series on singlehood, movies of ever-single women (“Hello, My Name is Doris”), and a set of books being released about single women that goes beyond the discourse of “how to get a man” (see Bolick, 2015 and Traister, 2016). The entire fact that the primary discourse until recently surrounding singlehood has been about what is wrong with women and their approaches for not being married is problematic in that it perpetuates compulsory heterosexuality (Rich, 1983) and heteronormative discourses. Historically, lesbian women have always been considered single because their relationships were not recognized legally and frequently not recognized by their families of origin (Franzen, 1996). Thus, for lesbian single women, there are two discourses—those that are legally single and socially single. My focus will be on legally and socially single lesbian women of the baby-boomer generation. They came of age during a time that allowed for more women to be single and to be out as non-heterosexual. It is also the generation that is beginning to retire and face old-age. So, how do women who are lesbian identified, unmarried and uncoupled define family? How does their position as historically marginalized individuals plan for their later years and retirement?

 

Slow Scholarship and Building Community to Thrive in Graduate School

When I first started at Tech, for my PhD and after my masters, I wasn’t thinking about friends or colleagues. I was so focused on starting my new program and succeeding at what I came for. I had some “townie” friends still around, which were wonderful in reminding me to stop what I was doing work-wise and be present in having a social life. Different groups of friends—some near, some far are important as is family in whatever way we define that. But finding and giving support to one another as graduate students and as professionals is also important. This can be a challenge as people move in and out of town—the transient nature of a college town and this stage of our lives.
The further I get into graduate school, especially following a long break in my hometown without most people around, I have been thinking more and more about community. Though, it must have been on my mind for longer than I realize, because I spoke about it a lot with Cathy Grimes as we talked when she was writing the story about the Academy of GTA Excellence. Dean DePauw has been writing about challenging us all for thriving in graduate school rather than just surviving. Part of what she discusses is the community that the Graduate School can bring for students. Between reading Dean DePauw’s blog post, some of the books for pleasure I read over break, and even the readings we have already had in my Feminist Methods course this semester, I really think we all need community to thrive in graduate school and beyond as we enter into our career in academia or industry.
We live in a neoliberal society, and our universities are no different. Everything is about making money, being the best, being competitive—between each other and between institutions. We are all about being elite. We are about pride and self-promotion. We are all about output, rewards, maximizing our utility, impressing the world, and building up our CVs (Brooks, 2015). We like to compare ourselves to others, though we are especially good at comparing ourselves through others’ highlight reels that they choose to tell us about in person or through social media. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have a bad habit of looking at people’s CVs when they are public to compare myself to them. Especially newly hired assistant professors, so I have some idea of what I need to do to get a job once I am finished at Tech.
With the world of academia constantly shifting and those who are young and still entering into long-term academic employment, we are forced to be publicists for ourselves—yes, advocate for ourselves, but also promote ourselves via websites, blogs, cultivating our online presence. We are supposed to be known—but only for positive things and our academic work. So, when we are trying to be our best selves, which for many of us include trying not to be too prideful and to be humble, being forced into this public self-promotion is a challenge. Even as I write this, I am aware that it is a form of self-promotion. Yet, the part that I like about blogging and posting when I write to multiple places, is it helps to bridge some of the gaps of different colleges and institutions, where I can then begin conversations with people from multiple locations around the country and even the world. It is a way to build a community and network in a digital space, that then can bring community in a physical space. It allows people to broach conversations with you that they may not normally do so. It allows you to process through what is running through your head, as I am doing now.
Mountz et al. (2015) wrote about slowing down our work and our scholarship. That we should challenge the status quo of the academy. This can be in part by not competing with each other. We don’t need to be all about the quantitative areas of our life and work—a counting culture. We do not need to force self-surveillance and self-auditing. I think this includes not touting how many hours we worked that week. I fully admit that I am a workaholic and yes, I know how many hours I work on average, but that has more to do with knowing how many hours I need to be busy so that I am not bored and thus, grumpy.
We live in a society that focuses on and touts busyness. We like to tell each other how busy we are and often in frantic ways. It is nice and better when we get the chance to stop and spend time together, even if it is time to stop and spend time together working. It can be more important about slowing down or stopping to take the time to listen, converse, engage with each other. In this time to slow down we build community, we allow for creativity. We allow time to process everything that is going on. You never know what sort of connections you might make—personally and in your work. Dwight Eisenhower supposedly said that people should make mistakes slowly, as it was better to proceed to a decision gradually rather than rush into anything before its time. That life organized around self-restraint rather than self-expression (Brooks, 2015).
Some people take writing retreats—especially if a group is working on a project together and are at different institutions. But I don’t know that it has to be as big as taking a weekend or week to go somewhere to work together that can help build community, slowing down scholarship, etc. It can be as simple as sitting in a coffee shop working together at a table on your own thing in silent solidarity. It can be getting together with those who are in your program at someone’s home to chat, catch up, and eat goodies, and drink for those who do so. Though I think traveling together builds community faster and in a different way than hanging out can. But I also think that community is built in a multitude of ways. It can be through different groups we are involved with–including groups outside of the university world. For some people this is through religious organizations. I like having multiple groups of friends and community to turn to to help me slow down and process things. Not every friend or group can do and be everything for us.
With slowing down and coming together, we can make our work environments better and more supportive. We can listen to and read what others/each other have to say. It allows time to stop, reflect, reject, resist, subvert, and collaborate, allowing more reflexive academic cultures (Mountz et al., 2015). We can talk about work, we can talk about life—they are not clearly delineated unfortunately. We can step forward in discussing our dreams, our failures, and our fears to help each other do the same. We can come together to have these discussions and to work through our differences with care and grace.
Community is a challenge in our individualistic society. It is difficult to cultivate, to maintain, etc. Graduate school can be an incredibly lonely time. Added to the natural stress of being constantly challenged to go outside our comfort zone, the loneliness is all the more acute. We may have people we see regularly that we like, but do we have people we can turn to in crisis or as we are processing things? Do we have people who will stop with us and slow down, talk through what we are doing with work and with life? Or are we trying to compete with those we are around too much to get to know each other and see their point of view and benefits? I think this is part of why I have enjoyed traveling with my Graduate School colleagues in the last year—it allows us to slow down, talk, step outside our academic disciplines even for the 8-12 hours we are visiting campuses or in meetings.
In the end, it is about assisting each other, supporting one another, learning about one another’s work as we navigate this bizarre, stressful, yet thrilling period of our lives that we call graduate school.

Readings
Brooks, D. (2015). The road to character. New York: Random House.
DePauw, K. P. (2015). Thriving in graduate school. Retrieved from: https://blogs.lt.vt.edu/kpdtge/index.php/2015/12/01/thriving-in-graduate-school/
Mountz, A., Bonds, A., Mansfield, B.,…Curran, W. (2015). For slow scholarship: A feminist politics of resistance through collective action in the neoliberal university. ACME, International E-Journal for Critical Geographies.