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The Coach's Guide for Women Professors: Who Want a Successful Career and a Well-Balanced Life
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Graduate schools produce a good number of well-educated women who then go on to become successful professors, published authors, and administrators in institutions of higher learning. Women in academe are expected to do it all, do it well, and have well-balanced lives outside the work place. Graduate schools do not prepare women for the numerous challenges they encounter in the various facets of academic life. This book identifies challenges and issues related to women’s lives in academe and suggests practical and studied tactics to help women thrive in the academic world and in their own lives.
Rena Seltzer has extensive experience as an academic coach and has gathered a compelling amount of data and first-hand experiences from women professors. She acknowledges that surviving in academia is not easy, especially for women and under-represented minorities. Oftentimes, women feel isolated and are not aware that some of the challenges they face are not uniquely their own. By identifying such challenges, Rena Seltzer achieves the goal of bringing awareness to these common experiences. In addition to identifying these challenges at the different stages of academic life, the book offers a deeper analysis of the issues and obstacles of academic life as well as provides practical advice on how to overcome them.
In ten chapters, Seltzer addresses the following topics: How to have more time; Establishing a productive writing practice; Teaching; Work-life balance; Networking and social support; Tenure, promotion, and the academic job market; Authority, voice, and influence; Negotiation; Life after tenure; and Leadership.
The book includes numerous practical tactics, from how to phrase effective emails to how to say no to attractive projects and roles that would overtax an already crowded schedule. This ability to say “no” when appropriate leads to a more productive and balanced life, thereby reducing stress. Each chapter offers a variety of further sources the reader may wish to investigate. The author’s style is engaging and friendly, and her voice comes through as wise and reassuring. Chapters can conveniently be read independently, as fits the reader’s interest.
While the book addresses topics shared by most women across academic disciplines, it can be particularly useful for faculty who teach religious studies or theology since these fields rely heavily on self-reflection and self-giving. The balance between such theologically and pastorally motivated attitudes and the demands of academic and non-academic life is especially challenging.
Anecdotally, all female academics I have shared this book with have expressed great interest in it and admitted they would like or need to read it. One said, “I wish this book was around when I started out!” The book is recommended to all women in academia but also to any faculty at any stage in her or his career who is experiencing some of the same challenges.
Teacher, Scholar, Mother: Re-Envisioning Motherhood in the Academy
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Teacher, Scholar, Mother accomplishes its stated goal – to re-envision motherhood in the Academy. The grim statistics facing women in the Academy who are (or wish to be) mothers are not mere numbers, but a lived reality for many, either personally or through the lives of colleagues. These facts mirror institutional, social, and cultural inequities that cause “the consistent talent leak in the professional pipeline” (Young, ix) which forces so many scholar-mothers to leave the Academy. While this grim reality may not be changing fast enough, the essays in this volume offer fresh and innovative perspectives that address these challenges with fortitude and vision; therefore, this book is a must-read for those in the field of higher education – administrators, male and female colleagues, teacher-scholar-mothers, and graduate students.
The seven essays in “Section 1: Motherhood, Feminism, and Gendered Work” explore the “pipeline problem” through multiple theoretical and disciplinary approaches. Andrea Hunt argues that the normative ideologies reinforcing separate models of gendered work need to change to integrative models which can “help lay the groundwork for a new model of academic life and work-family balance” (10). Tracy Rundstrom Williams’ essay examines the confusing rhetoric and divisive language on breastfeeding which can undermine women’s confidence. “Mama’s Boy” poignantly discusses issues of masculinity, mothering, and white privilege through an interview conducted by feminist scholar Catherine MacGillivray with her son Merlin, a conversation that continues with an added interlocutor – Merlin’s step-father, Jason Fly – in “Mama’s Boy II” (section 3). Erin Tremblay Ponnou-Delaffon turns to Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophy on encountering the Other as a model to re-envision reading, writing, teaching, and parenting. Susan Iverson and Christin Seher’s qualitative study of mothers’ sabbatical experiences accounts for disciplinary distinctions between Humanities and STEM faculty and suggests that faculty professional development must consider needs of academic mothers in sabbatical planning. Brook Sattler, Jennifer Turns, and Cynthia Atman explore motherhood from an engineering design perspective as an opportunity for reflection and self-authorship. Dustin Harp’s essay critically analyzes how media consumption shapes our lives and understandings of gender and identity.
The five essays in “Section 2: Identity and Performance in Academic Motherhood” document case studies of teacher-mother-scholars. Sara Childers’s essay queries the performative alignment between the objects and actions of motherhood and scholarship. Reflecting on her own subject position, M. Cristina Alcalde’s piece engages literature on non-violent masculinities to develop theories to create a safer world for today’s youth. Allison Antink-Meyer shows how the epistemology of science can be a bridge to connect the historical gap between the culture of academia and family-life. Erin Graybill Ellis and Jessica Smartt Gullion’s ground-breaking study examines how graduate student mothers negotiate the conflicting roles of “good mother” and “good graduate student.” The final contribution in this section, by Caroline Smith and Celeste Hanna, argues that Betty Draper of AMC’s television series, Mad Men, should be recognized as a cultural icon rather than the world’s worst mother.
The essays in Section 3 give voice to topics frequently silenced in the Academy. Elisabeth Kraus poignantly shares her experiences to give new life to the narrative of stillbirth. Marissa McClure’s article “s/m/othering” addresses infertility and cultural constructions of motherhood through artistic practice and academia. Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum’s article, written in a mix of prose and verse, voices institutional and cultural biases that can support and also hinder mother-scholars in Ghana and the U.S. In “Dropped Stitches,” Martha Kalnin Diede weaves together stories of female monsters, challenges of motherhood in the Academy, and fighting cancer. Layne Parish Craig analyzes narratives on IVF and Assisted Reproduction Therapy (ART) that disrupt the heteronormative focus on infertility. The essays in the section are especially welcome as fresh approaches to underrepresented topics in the Academy.
Read as a whole, these essays are greater than the sum of the parts despite the fact that the arrangement of the articles seems extemporaneous – for example, the addendum interview by MacGillivray in section 3, and Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum’s article on identity and performance which would have been more suited to section 2. This minor point aside, Teacher, Scholar, Mother is a refreshing must-read that intelligently re-envisions motherhood in the Academy.
A Guide for Women in Religion: Making Your Way from A-Z, Revised Edition
Date Reviewed: April 23, 2015
For many women, the transition into and through a career is not nearly as straight as a recitation from A to Z. To their eternal credit, Hunt, Ali, and Moultrie emphasize in almost every entry of their Guide for Women in Religion that the path for women is neither linear nor chronological. Despite vast political, legal, cultural, educational, and professional changes by and for women in the most recent decades, women are best served approaching their education and careers in this academic field of religion and religious studies equipped with this valuable, updated Guide for Women in Religion.
Feminist theologian, professor, and human rights activist Dr. Mary L. Hunt edited the first edition of A Guide for Women in Religion in 2004 (Palgrave). That book’s existence was necessitated by some of the troubling realities that women face in the academic world of religion and religious studies; sadly, from undergraduate through tenured professorships, many – if not most – women encounter some form of the intersections of “sexism, racism, Christian hegemony, economic injustice, Postcolonialism, and discrimination based on sexual choices” (1). The authors note that encountering any of these issues can be made all the more difficult by women in power positions who replicate many of the abusive behaviors that are deeply entrenched in academic cultures (18, 131), behaviors which have for far too long tolerated, ignored and even sometimes rewarded. The second edition (2014) builds on a fine first edition, and offers an updated Resource section (201-04) that tackles the integration of technology and its implications for women in the field (especially as it relates to online teaching ), and extends advice that is applicable to an audience that spans from the first-year, undergraduate student to the emerita professor.
In addition to an “Editor’s Introduction to the Revised Edition” (1-2), the “Introduction to the Original Guide” (3-8) is also retained, which provides useful history for the Guide’s original purpose: as more women entered the field, dominant realities that prevented female success resulted in increased questioning and subsequent development for women to “network, discuss common concerns, and share skills” (4). One of the many changes and tools introduced in the 1970s and 1980s was the Guide to the Perplexing: A Survival Manual for Women in Religious Studies (Oxford University Press). This vital guide was written to encourage pro-active approaches for female students and scholars, to educate women and men on the realities that women face in the field, and – perhaps most valuable – to name the isolating hardships that, for women, often result in self-blame, self-criticism, and loss of confidence.
One of the more valuable and important insights that this book highlights is the way in which Christian hegemony dominates the field of religion (especially 35-37) and the multiple ways hegemony is manifest, from stages as vast as the AAR/SBL guild to the intimacy of the classroom. Made all the more challenging by Postcolonial understandings of religions as systems of belief which stand in opposition to one another (127-28), and all the more confusing when institutions welcome feminism within limits (35), women in the field of religion encounter Christian hegemony at the same time questions of social justice, diversity, race, and gender are being vigorously engaged (36).
Guides such as this are not just useful, they are essential. Academia is, as the authors of the previous Guide wrote in 1992, a “minefield of stereotypes and prejudices,” (Guide to the Perplexing, 30) and hostilities that women face continue to be (not so) clear and present dangers. Consequently, this updated Guide for Women in Religion continues to remain relevant and necessary, despite the sweeping achievements of women in the field. While it is obvious that women engaged in the study or work of religion are the primary audience of this book, individuals of all gender identities would do well to pay heed to its contents; ignoring the importance of this guide for all people in the field of religion and religious studies does a disservice to the primary audience.