Funding data collection on inequitable academic processes and practices

There are many aspects of the academic system that are unfair, inequitable, or just no longer fit for purpose in today’s world. Yet we are bound to work under these processes, which for many academics means we are either finding ways to work around them, working under them reluctantly, or leaving academia because of them.

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Normalise the ‘wanting to quit’ feels in academia

We don’t talk enough about thinking about quitting academia.

We tend to focus on the two extremes, the success stories in academia vs the reasons many people quit. But what about the more common middle ground?

Most of us think about quitting multiple times during our careers without following through. There are many reasons (financial, personal or professional) why an individual can’t or won’t quit, even if they think about doing it. But we rarely voice these feelings to friends or colleagues because of the stigma around quitting, the risk of not being taken seriously afterwards, or the potential for professional retaliation.

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How to cold call an academic if you’re a student

Academics receive a lot of unsolicited contact (cold calls) from students of all education stages, seeking advice or opportunities. I try to reply to most, but often I can’t – because it’s unclear what the student is asking and why they are contacting me.

Note, here I’m talking about students at other institutions that I’ve never met or have no prior connection with, not my existing students or students enrolled at the institution where I teach.

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Work-life balance and academic parents

I haven’t written here for a while because I’ve been busy hanging out with my new baby. I’ve also been busy thinking about how we still haven’t achieved a normalised work culture that truly supports parents/carers to build a career around their family. I’m writing from my perspective as a woman and a mother, but most of these points also apply to other parents and carers.

It’s well-documented that academia has entrenched problems with gender diversity at senior levels, partly because of women leaving/being forced out of academic careers due to their choices around having children. A lot has been done to address this, but there’s still a lot more to do.

We need systemic change, not piecemeal initiatives and more cupcakes. We need to normalise ‘having a family/life priorities’ at work. Instead of trying to help parents to maintain pre-baby levels of work productivity, academic work expectations have to change long-term to enable parents to truly find some work-life balance.

Forcing women to choose between relying on childcare to continue working vs. quitting work to care for their child is not equitable.

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Academic stereotypes: where are the positive stories?

I watched The Chair and did not like it. Sure, there were some good moments and important themes, but overall, I found it cliched and frustrating to sit through. North American academic stereotypes and norms already dominate global discourse on academia, even though they don’t always reflect the reality in other parts of the world.  

I was excited when I heard about the show. Academia narratives are rarely portrayed on TV, which I think is a missed opportunity to familiarise general audiences with a sector that is so often misunderstood. But it was just another version of the same clichés – university faculties are backward and stagnant, most academics are nasty, stupid, out of touch, or inappropriate, and social and cultural progress is just not possible in academia.

Imagine a different show reflecting the positive lived experiences of academics around the world, stories showing university departments can be progressive and supportive workplaces. Places where inspiring academics like Professor Kim and Dr McKay succeed in throwing out old stagnant systems and galvanise the next generation of citizens, thinkers, and leaders.

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Reviewer 4, 5 and 6? New reviewers on already revised papers

A fairly typical peer review process goes like this*. Author submits their paper to a journal. If it’s suitable to send to review, the handling editor sources a minimum of 2 or 3 relevant independent experts to review the paper. Very few papers are suitable for publication at first submission, so their review comments are returned to the author for consideration. Author revises the paper in response to the comments and resubmits the revised version. If the revisions are very minor and the response appropriate, the editor might make a decision immediately. Otherwise, this revised version is sent back to the original reviewers, who assess whether the authors have addressed the original comments appropriately and potentially pick up any new issues. The editor then makes the decision whether to accept (or reject) the paper or continue with further revisions.

This process can obviously take many months, but is fairly straightforward when it all goes smoothly.

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Boycotting peer review is just a kind of gatekeeping

The ‘boycott peer review’ hot takes are reappearing on social media. Long-time readers of my blog may remember my post on why I think boycotting peer review is unreasonable, written the last time this hot take was doing the rounds. In that post I mostly focused on the impacts on the system and the editors, which are important reasons not to boycott peer review.

But refusing to review papers also impacts the authors. This is obvious and should not have to be said, but it seems that it is often forgotten when academics shake their fists at Big Publishing.

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Academic blogs: knowing where your work ends up

This week, a syndicated article appeared across a number of online media platforms under various different headlines. It covers the doomsday insect apocalypse narrative and appears to cast doubt on the issue of insect decline, largely blaming media and ‘activists’ for promoting the hype. The author links to my blog posts on the insect apocalypse, my BioScience paper co-authored with Jasmine Janes & James O’Hanlon, and my American Scientist article as evidence against the hype, and some sections paraphrase or directly quote from my work. To the average reader, it could appear that I have talked to the author, and that I endorse the article. I did not, I do not, and I was not aware the article was being written.

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