unsolicited advice: a commencement speech-ish primer for women in grad school

As an academic, this term it’s been my privilege/challenge/paycheck to prepare first year graduate students for future work as teaching assistants. I don’t pretend that I am some sort of expert in this field, or that what I have to tell them is applicable to every graduate student in every department. But what I do know is that when I started to write down some notes about balancing TA work with graduate school requirements with being a human, I started something that sounded like it belonged in a commencement speech—broad, sweeping advice on work and life. And  this particular group of graduate students is overwhelming female, a factor that worked its way into my little speech.


I haven’t  said any of this to them—and I haven’t decided yet if I will. But I wanted to post it here, because it distills a few lesson I have learned over the years, and if it helps anyone even a little, that would mean a lot to me. At the very least, writing it has helped me.


On being a TA, a graduate student, and a human: unsolicited advice for women in academia

Let’s be frank: Rarely will anyone in this department (or any other for that matter) tell you to work less or, to go easier on yourself, or to take a break for goodness sake. But if you don’t do those things, and regularly, you risk burn out. So since I have this pseudo authoritative position from the department from which to tell you things, I am going to use it to say this to you now: Don’t be so hard on yourself.

The most obvious truth that no one really wants to admit about graduate school is that we all need a life, and we all need to make time for things outside of academic work, and we all need to acknowledge that even if you are employed as a TA, leading discussions/ going to lecture/grading assigments just can’t always be your top  priority. And the ironic thing about this is that the better you take care of yourself, the better your teaching can be. But no one is going to remind of this.  Few people you meet in these halls are going to tell  you that you should take care of yourself. Instead, they are going to (un)intentionally make you feel bad about taking care of yourself . They will say things like “how do you have time for [insert non academic activity here]?” Or, “I totally want to do [non-academic activity] but I’ve just got so much work to do.” And you are going to feel like everyone around you is working harder and better than you, and that if you just dropped a few of those frivolous activities from your schedule, you  might be able to work that much too.

So here is my counter response. We are not a bunch of disembodied brains. We are all bodies. We don’t have bodies—we are bodies. And bodies do weird, bad things when placed under too much stress. Your years in this program will likely put your brain AND  your body to the test.  So if I were you, I would prepare for this experience by figuring out what makes you feel your best, and then doing what you have to do to maintain it over the next few years. I don’t know if that’s exercising or hanging out with friends or playing with your pets or going on a trip, but whatever it is, defend your ability to keep doing it  as if your life depended on it. Hold onto it even when all of your academic responsibilities seem much more pressing. Don’t let TA work or any other part of grad school take over your time, because it will. It will expand to fill the time you give it. And it will exact its toll on your body-the only body you’ve got.

As women, there’s one additional aspect of this work/life balance that we often face: the small requests. In short, people at this university—undergrads, grad students, professors, staff— are going to ask you to do more things for themselves, or for others. They are going to ask that you help out in ways that seem small — a bit of mentoring here, a little (unpaid) service there, just a quick favor every now and again. They are not going to single you out for your gender on purpose— for the most part, they are going to do it subconsciously. These will  seem so small, and you will want to be the person who always helps out when asked. But these requests will add up.And if you let them, all the requests will eat away at the time you have for your own work and your own life. So make a decision now to be protective of your time. Don’t let anyone or anything have too much of you. Find your boundaries, hold on to them, and don’t anyone make you feel bad for enforcing them.

It can be the difference between shining bright and burning out.


International Women’s Day: Feminist links, Part 1

Today is International Women’s Day. Now I know what you’re thinking: we get a WHOLE DAY?! Yes, a whole day for 50%+ of the human population! A day for all teh ladiez.

But wait, that’s not all! We get a google doodle!

Sarcasm aside, today is as good a time as any to start sharing some of our favorite links on women, feminism, gender issues, et al. Some will be timeless classics to be read and forwarded to people when you get tired of, you know, explaining to them for the millionth time what institutional sexism looks like. Some will be current event-ish things that you may or may not remember the context of in a month’s time. And some are even funny!

But let’s start with some basics. For now.

Feminist classics

Shakesville’s Feminism 101

This ultimate compendium of feminist issues covers anything and everything you could think of and several things you would probably never think of. Within this collection of blog posts there are subcollections of posts on rape culture 101, helpful hints for dudes, and fat shaming. If all of this sounds like a brand new language to you, I suggest reading journey of an envious girl, which has a certain kind of resonance that is hard to describe but easy to appreciate when you read it.

The Original “Mansplainer”

The term “mansplaining” came up in a group of friends the other night and surprisingly few knew what it was. Thus the original link to Rebecca Solnit’s essay “Men Explain Things to Me.” She never used the term, but her story of a man trying to “explain” her own book to her (a book he coincidentally hadn’t read) while not realizing she was the author has become a classic. Also worth checking out: the academic mansplainer tumblr.

mansplaining Paul Ryan

As long as we’re calling this category “feminist classics,” we might as well go into women’s history mode and bust out some of the key texts of second wave feminism for you—yes, all free and accessible on the interwebs!

The Problem That Has No Name

The first, of course, is the first chapter of Betty Friedan’s 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Its post-WWII story of white, affluent, college-educated suburban housewives feeling trapped may seem like a world away now, but it’s still required reading if you want to understand what it was like when many ideas we take for granted could seem so pathbreaking.

Betty Friedan

Why I Want a Wife

Also required reading is Judy Syfers’ 1971 essay “Why I Want a Wife.” Believe it or not, most college students still get a kick out of reading it. Syfers’ humor and succinct summary of  married gender roles as she saw them is both witty and to the point.

image credit: tracynicolaus.blogspot.com

No More Miss America!

Finally, ya can’t leave out the radical feminist protest of the Miss America Pageant in 1968.The top ten list of things they were protesting began with “The Degrading Mindless-Boob-Girlie Symbol” and just got better from there. Although contrary to popular belief, no bras were ever burned—that would have been a fire hazard on the wooden boardwalk, so they only threw them into a freedom trashcan.

So, here we are!

pluck (n): spirited and determined courage

pluck (v):  to pick, pull, or grasp at

(image credit: http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/suffrage/history/votesforwomen.jpg)

Welcome to our blog! We are going to write some shit here and we will fix it later. The first thing to do when writing a blog is clearly to define “pluck.”

Why are we defining pluck? Because this is not a blog about plucking eyebrows or various body hairs, and we need to be very clear about that. This is not a hair focused blog. Apparently “pluck” the noun also means “the heart, liver, lungs, and trachea of a slaughtered animal especially as an item of food” and we just want to be clear that this not an pro- animal slaughtering blog. No animals were harmed in the writing of this post. In fact, a cat is sitting here, and she gives her full approval.

So, what is this blog? On to the Q and A!

Q: Who the hell are you?

A: We are a team of lady bloggers intent on sharing our hilarious and pithy conversations, critical commentary, witty observations, nerdy graphics, and occasional disdain with the peoples of the internets.

 Q: Why should anyone read this blog?

A: It’s not that internet is missing anything—smart people are saying things on the interwebs all the time. Here you’ll not only get additional opinions but exciting, thought provoking and hilarious content. Except content is almost too tame and vague of a word. I mean, we aim for true dialog here, which is why we are a collaborative blog from the start.

It’s easy to get into heated debates from the privacy of your own home, when you’re talking to a stranger on facebook or twitter or whatever. We decided on a wordpress blog and not a tumblr, for example, because we wanted a longer format where we get a chance to develop ideas and where you can give (appropriate) feedback in the form of comments.

This blog is your place for contemporary controversies, invented words, graphs about dating, all the puns, feminism with a sense of humor, food for thought: current events, food for thought: actual food, historical-ish perspectives, rhetorical musings, and an answer to the eternal question ‘what do women really want?’ Ok, kidding. Not the last one. Just everything else.

Q: So, is this a blog where you women just whine a lot?

A: No women whining—just women wining. Red wine, preferably. Because we are the kind of ladies you could have a glass of red and a good conversation with. A real conversation, with both talking and listening, intelligence and empathy, wit and depth. And sometimes that is harder to find than you think.

Q: So do you have any funny pictures of cats?  Memes?  Anything?

Why yes, we do. We have two of the pluckiest ladies ever for you. Need I point out the resemblance?


This blog hereby endorses the Clinton-Roslin ticket for 2016! So say we all.

As for cats, this is the best we can do:fuck the purrtriarchy

(image credit: http://jackbz.tumblr.com/)