creative writing, Creative Writing PhD, Creativity, Doctoral completion, Early Career Reseacher, Graduation ceremony, PhD completion, Post Doctoral Study, post submission blues, Publishing academic research, publishing the novel, the creative life

Happy Anniversary PhD: A Year of Living Post Doctorate

IMG_0368

My mother, who is not Greek, recalls nostalgically that for the first year after she married into my father’s Greek family she was referred to as ‘nifi’ – or bride. After the first anniversary however, it was, she says “no more nifi’. Brides were now a fully paid up member of the married set, no longer a precious newlywed, and afforded no special treatment. It’s a bit like that post PhD. I am at the end of my first year post graduation. After December, I’ll no longer have ‘just got’ my doctorate. The anniversary is nearly here.

I know that next year I won’t be a special new graduate. The clock, in fact, is ticking on how much I can achieve until my PhD becomes, well, irrelevant. As publishers are quick to point out, a writer only gets one chance at newness. Everyone loves a bride, a puppy, a debut author, a recent graduate.

Happy anniversary PhD. Now what?

I think it takes at least a year after graduating to overcome the exhaustion of completing a doctorate. My brother (the other Dr Tsitas in the family) warned me not to make any major life decisions for at least two months after submission. He was right. It’s an enormous achievement to have submitted and passed – and the actual graduation is a highpoint of course.

And then what?

Unlike Bella’s rapid transformation in The Twilight Saga – Breaking Dawn – when she becomes a vampire, the process of becoming who you are post doctorate takes longer, alas. If only we could wake up transformed from our experience, remade somehow from our doctoral journey.

Life isn’t like Bella’s transformation. Change comes in spurts, identity forms from experience and confidence is hard earned – especially in creative writing. I’ve met many people who graduated with a PhD in creative writing – from different universities, at the same time as me, and the story is the same. Some have sent the manuscript of their creative project confidently out to every publisher around, only to be knocked back time and time again. Others have applied for writing grants and submitted to competitions confident that four years of research would stand them in good stead.

Nothing. Even with a polished piece manuscript, it’s a hard slog, especially for those who have opted for the notoriously hard to crack literary fiction market. And while I know those who have had creative non fiction published, they are quick to point out that the rewards are hardly financially lucrative.

Let’s put it this way – even with a book published, a successful graduate in creative writing on their first PhD anniversary may find themselves in a sessional teaching position – that’s if they are lucky – and wondering what’s next?

For many there is the anxiety and grind of trying to find a job post doctorate – and I am not talking about a coveted, academic job – simply any full time job that will pay and lift them out of poverty. You have to wonder at the wisdom of spending years on research and playing your part in advancing knowledge when it is not rewarded by society. In fact, it is actively punished. Many PhD graduates sadly omit their highest degree from their resume when not applying for academic jobs.

The only thing that comes close to this disparity of effort and reward is working in the creative arts. Society rewards those who make money, while perversely holding to contempt those who have sacrificed to pursue research.

Although I suffered the post doctoral slump and exhaustion as hard as anyone else in my first year post doctorate, at least I wasn’t in the black hole that so many find themselves in. I already had an interesting full time job in a university, so I wasn’t fretting about why I did the doctorate if it didn’t magically produce an academic job.

And while I haven’t got the creative project out widely to publishers, I have had all the chapters of my exegesis presented at conferences and published in academic books and journals and am ready to pitch the research as a book, and send the novel to publishers.

It really is a long, hard slog to find your place post doctorate, and on the eve of my first anniversary, I am pretty happy with where I am.

I have always seen the doctorate as the long game – like long tail marketing, it has a slow burn pay off in every aspect. Although it is hard to see the reason you did a doctorate after the initial euphoria of submission has passed, especially if it doesn’t lead to an academic job. But I have discovered the following things in my year of living post doctorate.

In your honeymoon period post doctorate you can:

IMG_4434

  •  Watch box sets of all the TV series you didn’t have time for while studying. Then realise you don’t have the energy or concentration to follow a story arc over 60 episodes of anything and no one wants to talk to you about Mad Men anyway as that’s ancient history.
  • Read for enjoyment and indeed enjoy non academic books so much you keep forgetting to get off at your train stop (or, in one case, forget to get on a plane).
  • Go back to the gym/yoga/walking/running and immediately have to see a physiotherapist to repair damage from lack of core strength gained sitting on your bum for four years
  • Embrace the school ground again and actually talk to other parents at school functions – and realise that you have nothing to say to them anymore.
  • Defend your thesis so well in public that you you bludgeon everyone with a lengthy explanation of your research. Everyone. Such as the person you meet at the dog wash. The guy who delivers the box of fresh vegetables. Your hairdresser.
  • Change all your business cards to the title Dr. And don’t care if people think you are a wanker for doing it. You have earned it!

Indeed, I think there is a certain settling in period, or honeymoon period, post thesis that lasts from when you graduate to when the new batch of doctoral candidates graduate. In that year, you and those around you are getting used to your new status, and your new pace of life.

And in the age of everyone it seems getting a doctorate, how do you make your achievement stand out, how do you justify the years and sacrifices spent on obtaining your goal?

In an excellent post in The Thesis Whisperer by Associate Prof Martin Davies Principal Fellow in Higher Education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne, and a Senior Learning Advisor at Federation University Australia, he talks about what he learnt from one doctorate that was transferable to the second.

Yes, I know. The idea of doing a second doctorate seems inconceivable that first year post doctorate. A bit like having another baby less than 18 months after giving birth. But just as there are women who have large families, there are people who do two doctorates. Mind you, a year post doctorate is a little like getting through that first year with a new baby – you start to sleep through the night again, go back to the gym, see friends and enjoy life. I imagine it’s as hard to go back to doctoral study as it is to unfold those ugly maternity clothes and imagine swelling up into them again…

If you have spent your first year post doctorate wondering why you spent four years of your life on deferred gratification, stress, overwork and anxiety, and are wondering if you will ever see any rewards from your efforts, the following tips gleaned from Associate Prof Martin Davies blog post may be useful.

2013-09-12 14.26.29

 After a doctorate, you now know how to:

  • Manage a large project over a long time period, with an immanent deadline, and with virtually no assistance.
  • Take on a project and finish it on time, and without help.
  • Transfer the skills developed in doing a PhD – such as academic literacy, constructing an argument, marshalling evidence, citing sources, and so on, to anything else one does in the academic domain.
  • Write an academic book between 80-120,000 words in length, and on any topic.
  • Construct an argument on a unique topic of your own choosing
  • “Narrow down” a topic within a few weeks to something manageable, and interesting, and focus.

Happy anniversary PhD.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Academic conferences, academic publications, creative writing, Early Career Reseacher, Publishing academic research

The doctorate unbound: publications versus the bound volume

2013-09-09 16.03.09

I was excited to see a fellow doctoral traveller’s thesis photographed on Facebook, leather bound, and with gold lettering. She is now a Dr, and her twinkling gold letters on the leather bound cover were a joy to behold. In contrast, my university ran a mile from having to store a hard copy of my doctoral research, uploading it instead onto a server.

I wasn’t that fussed, actually. While the newly minted Dr. I congratulated on Facebook had her doctorate conferred in London, and that might be the way things are done there, I see my university’s logic in the doctorate unbound. Literally and metaphorically.

Sure, I wanted to see my academic articles in print, of course, but not printed in a bound volume that I had achieved by taking it to the printers. I wanted those words critiqued by peer reviewers apart from my examiners, and accepted for publication in academic journals and/or book chapters.

However, I know of others who have long held the fantasy of getting their doctoral thesis bound, despite the fact that their university simply doesn’t want it. They went ahead and had it printed up anyway, fulfilling the long held dream of seeing their names in gold on the cover.

Of course, whether or not it is a requirement to have a bound volume of the doctorate for ready for submission, candidates are aware that what they hand in surely isn’t the last word on their research.

I think that eschewing the concept (and fetish) of the bound submission if possible reminds us that our doctoral research is the beginning of the journey.

It’s also important to remember that ‘research active’ isn’t just what happens after you land (if ever) an academic job. You should be presenting and publishing your research throughout your candidature – enough so that when you finally submit, your work is already in the public sphere.

Okay – maybe this doesn’t apply to STEM candidates (I’ve heard that their research is akin to state secrets) but sharing your work and progress, exposing your ideas and writing to the cold light of day – and an audience – are all part of doing a doctorate in creative writing.

 

Evelyn Tsitas chapter "Boundary Transgressions: the Human-Animal Chimera in Science Fiction"
Evelyn Tsitas chapter “Boundary Transgressions: the Human-Animal Chimera in Science Fiction”

 

I had my taste of the printed thesis back in the analogue years, when I was required to present my fourth year undergraduate fine arts mini thesis (10,000 words) this way. I have a copy of it in my unpacked books somewhere. There is no doubt a (very dusty) copy in the university archives. The research (on semiotics and 1980s art magazines) is bound, sealed, delivered. Who looks at it? No one. And it’s not enough to drag it from the shelves yourself, flicking through the pages of that hard grind of study that produced the tome. Research should be set free. It is the springboard to other research, and doesn’t live in between the printed pages of a book expensively printed by an academic printer.

IMG_1217

Of course, if your university demands you print the thesis as part of your submission requirements, you must print it. But if all that is required is an electronic version? Well then, I say print that disk or upload to USB and move on.

Granted, handing in a disk to the Graduate Research Office with my ‘final’ version as the rite of passage after being passed by examiners lacked a certain romance. But I can see it saves on storage space, and the work is searchable by the world at large.

It’s actually a tough call to publish as you progress through your doctoral studies. While my aims were to always have the thesis published and presented in stages, showing my research to the world in tentative steps, that required being judged for it all along. I remember my first presentations at conferences; sure, there were some tough questions, but I have to say the academy was welcoming. I made many friends and contacts across the globe in my key research areas when I presented at three Inter-disciplinary.Net conferences at Oxford University through my doctorate.  These are wonderful for the emerging academic and demand that everyone fully participate – a big difference to conferences where senior academics adopt an arrogant Fi-Fo (Fly in/Fly out) attitude of presenting their paper, listening to no one, and having a tax-right off holiday.

 

Evelyn Tsitas chapter " Strange Erotic Encounters: Speculative Fiction and the Trope of Bestiality"
Evelyn Tsitas chapter ” Strange Erotic Encounters: Speculative Fiction and the Trope of Bestiality”

 

Coming as I did from the media world and demands of daily journalism, I was amazed by the slow progress of academic publishing. Factor in the endless waiting after a paper is accepted and the endless waiting after submission to see if it might be accepted – the wheels turn at a pace which I’d say was glacial. Except in this era of global warming, glaciers can melt faster than the response time from many academic publications.

When a paper was accepted, it was a major cause for celebration – and rewrites! Each editor or editorial team has a particular style, and some desire more input than others. My exegesis chapters grew up to become real papers, and these have been pushed, pulled, restructured, massaged and cut back. Others have required lengthy additions, a refocus, and some demanded – hardly anything. What I can say is that I responded to all requests for changes, and made them. You can’t afford to be precious with your work, or arrogant.

That’s not to say it was easy! Sometimes the space between submitted paper; accepted paper and editorial request for changes can be lengthy indeed – a year or more. You move on, other work priorities take over, and it’s hard to get back into that headspace again. Not to mention the fact that several of my papers were accepted while I was frantically finishing my doctorate, and others were reworked at the beginning of this year – after I had officially graduated, and also moved house. All my notes – and books – were stacked in boxes in the basement…

Evelyn Tsitas chapter "Monstrous Breeding Grounds: Creation, Isolation and Suffering at Noble’s Island, Hailsham and Rankstadt"
Evelyn Tsitas chapter “Monstrous Breeding Grounds: Creation, Isolation and Suffering at Noble’s Island, Hailsham and Rankstadt”

That meant putting in all my time after work and on weekends going back to the exegesis. Not an easy task – or welcome one! And it meant that many other things I wanted to do with my creative writing were put on the backburner while I did these papers. It often felt like the equivalent of sticking a hot fork into my eye – utterly painful and pointless. But in the end, I can proudly say that four chapters of my exegesis have now been published, as well as presented at conferences in Australia and overseas. I find this more satisfying than getting the ‘final’ version of my exegesis printed in a leather bound book. Because the chapters have evolved since my doctoral submission.

And there is more to come. The well of four years of doctoral study has not dried up – the exegesis is a research gift that keeps on giving.

As part of my creative writing doctorate, I needed to explore the process of how the research impacted on my creative writing, and the methodology used to tackle the hybrid that is the creative writing doctorate. I’ve submitted an abstract based on this chapter for a conference next year in London. Fingers crossed.

Likewise, my final exegesis chapter on further explorations in my research has become the basis for an abstract I have submitted to another conference mid next year. Once must plan ahead!

 

Evelyn Tsitas chapter "Are We Not Men? When the Human-Animal Cyborg Talks Back"
Evelyn Tsitas chapter “Are We Not Men? When the Human-Animal Cyborg Talks Back”

 

I still feel I have several other abstracts lurking and papers arising from my exegesis, because it isn’t ‘finished’ as such, but the foundation of my continual research into issues of hybridity, identity, human-animal relations and monstrosity. My exegesis, like Frankenstein’s creature, is unbound. And that’s why it literally is unbound, as I do not want my research to be boxed in, held between the covers, and regarded as “complete”.

The next step is to develop the research into a book sparked by my ideas, and I am hoping that the fact that the work has been published and approved, as it were, by the academy in one form will give me the authority to present a different version of the work for a wider audience. As my supervisor often reminded me, it’s hard for me to totally remove myself from my past as a tabloid journalist.…always seeking a large audience, always aiming to make complex work accessible and interesting.

And what’s wrong with that? 

Indeed, the journey from thesis to book demands doctoral candidates look beyond their academic research, and consider marketing, product placement, competitors, unique point of view, their own author profile and potential audience.

Evelyn Tsitas two short stories "Xenos" and "Undeceive"

Evelyn Tsitas short story “Xenos”

As this is a blog about the creative writing doctorate, the question you are probably asking as you read this post is the same as my youngest son’s. “When are you publishing the creative component – the novel???!” I am working on it! So far, I have had the middle chapter of my doctoral novel published – in the collected short story book “Scarlet Stiletto: The Second Cut”.  My short story “Xenos” won the the Scarlet Stiletto Award-Dorothy Porter Prize for Innovation in Crime Writing and became the inspiration – and anchoring chapter – for my doctoral creative work.

But just like doing a creative writing PhD, there are two sides to the postdoctoral story as well – the exegesis and the creative. Getting the academic research published requires a different set of skills and part of the brain than writing the novel and getting it published. There will be many blog posts to come on the novel’s journey, don’t worry.

At the moment, while pitching the novel to publishers I am happy with having the exegesis out in the world. Unbound.

Roll Call: My exegesis chapters – and final publications

1. “Boundary Transgressions and the trope of the mad scientist” – became  “Boundary Transgressions: the Human-Animal Chimera in Science Fiction” in Vol 2, No 2 (2014) Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism

2. Monstrous birth tropes and hybrid breeding grounds – became “Monstrous Breeding Grounds: Creation, Isolation and Suffering at Noble’s Island, Hailsham and Rankstadt” in Monstrous Geographies: Places and Spaces of the Monstrous. 2013

3. When the hybrid talks back – became “Are We Not Men? When the Human-Animal Cyborg Talks Back” (with Dr Lisa Dethridge) in Navigating Cybercultures, 2013.

4. The erotic nature of the hybrid – became ” Strange Erotic Encounters: Speculative Fiction and the Trope of Bestiality”, in “Forces of the Erotic”. 2014.

5. and the creative component – the middle chapter “Xenos” published in Scarlet Stiletto: The Second Cut.  Clan Destine Press. Ed Phyllis. King.

 

 

Academic Study, Brand Identity, creative writing, Creative Writing PhD, Early Career Reseacher, Marketing, PhD completion, Post Doctoral Study, publishing the novel, writing workshops

Show Me The Story: Creating Your Doctoral Narrative

2013-09-12 14.18.06

Once you have your doctorate, don’t imagine the progress reports stop. Don’t think you can say goodbye to explaining what your research means, or why it is important and whether anyone should care. In fact, once you graduate, the demands for you to sell your doctoral story have never been greater. Now you have your doctorate, you are expected to deliver your story about your research in razor sharp, fully focused, bite sized pitches. To everyone.

Some great advice I received shortly after graduating was to start practicing my story. Not the story of what I wrote about – but the story of me; my doctoral research, my journey – both what I did and what I planned to do. I had to curate myself.

In short, you have to be able to sell yourself. “Let everyone know who you are, that’s no easy thing,” I was warned. My mentor is a fellow doctoral traveller, fast tracked on those research only spheres, and I took frantic notes over lunch, as if I was back in a research study methods class early on in the PhD.

I was reminded of the need to be able to tell the story of my work again when I listened to a consummate performer and terrific writer Graeme Simsion at The Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. Simsion is the Melbourne author of the bestselling novel ‘Asperger’s romcom’ The Rosie Project. 

The Rosie Project 9781922079770

I have the good fortune to live in Melbourne, a UNESCO City of Literature, and to work at RMIT University literally one block from the Wheeler Centre for Books and Writing (my second home), where I regularly attend lunchtime and evening writer’s talks and events, and many weekends every year honing my craft at writing workshops and meeting with my regular writing cohort.

Like so many who have enjoyed Graeme Simsion’s romantic Asperger comedy The Rosie Project, including Bill Gates who called it “profound” I had marvelled at Simsion’s clean and sparse style and economical use of language, as well as pace. But I also know many who know Graeme (it’s a small writing world in Melbourne, and indeed Australia) so I also know the dedication that goes into perfecting his craft, and in writing a sequel of his successful first novel. All the more reason to appreciate his work and also enjoy listening to him speak – in particular, on the value of stories.

The Rosie Effect 9781922182104

Take heart, fellow doctoral students in creative writing. When someone challenges you on why you are doing something so ‘nebulous’ and not a doctorate in say communications or public relations, reply, as I do “because I believe in the value of stories”.

In fact, post doctorate, I work in strategic communications where I use my doctoral skills daily – and use the power of the narrative to shape communications. It’s a gift to be able to tell a story, but a craft to spin a yarn across all mediums.

In his talk, Graeme Simsion stood and spoke, engaged with the audience – a full house of adoring fans, and said loud and clear “I have found the value of stories”.

Interestingly, while Graeme said he was inspired to write the character of geneticist Don Tillman in The Rosie Project by a friend’s story (an IT wiz with Aspergers), he didn’t want to write his story.

How do you go about taking a real person and turning it into a character? One way is to create a character and then place them in not the same situation as the real person, but an exaggerated one – raise the stakes, throw everything at the character. And don’t worry about going with the comedy if that seems to be the way the character is dictating the story.

“If you are lucky enough to be gifted a character who makes good comedy, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” said Graeme – who learnt this gem from Australian comedy writer Tim Ferguson, whose motto is “make them laugh, make them cry, make them think.”

 

The crucial thing for Graeme was that he didn’t set out to deliver a message, but to tell a story. As I was listening to this, I reflected on the doctorate in creative writing, where we are compelled to both tell a story (with the novel) AND deliver a message (with the exegesis). This is one of the hardest things for the candidate because the brain is going “exposition, exposition” for half the required work, and “show, don’t tell” for the other half of the doctorate. One has to deal with writing time and focus, and always the need to refrain from adding the message we are learning from our research into the novel, instead of letting the novel tell the story.

Graeme said “if you write a story that has your values, you might succeed”. And I think that’s the key – to go so deep into your research, and know it so well, that it comes out in your writing in an organic way. This is a far cry from “I am going to get a scholarship and take four years from other work and write my novel – oh, and I’ll throw together that pesky exegesis to keep the examiners happy.” I think to be really successful at both sides of the creative doctorate, you have to pursue both research and writing with equal passion. And that’s not easy.

Of course, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Oh – they are? Point taken, well then, even more writers would be doing the creative writing doctorate than they are already!

The other thing that Graeme said is that he doesn’t want to get too influenced by other people’s portrayals of fictional characters ‘on the spectrum’. So he doesn’t watch Big Bang Theory. No Sheldon Cooper for Graeme, lest he be swayed by that approach. Many writers say the same thing – though in some ways it’s counter intuitive with academic research. We endlessly swot over other academic’s papers, for instance. And the worst thing that could happen if you are writing an academic paper about fictional characters with Aspergers in TV sitcoms is not to have watched The Big Bang Theory – or read other papers on the topic. How often as a doctoral candidate did I hear “We don’t care what you think, you stand on other people’s shoulders – and what does your academic guru think?” In creative writing, however, your voice should be unique.

 

Graeme’s view is that there are a range of people in real life with Aspergers, just like, for instance, knowing one person who is gay doesn’t provide you with an understanding of every gay person on the planet. “We need to be able to see a range of people in fiction, not stereotypes,” he said.

Graeme has a successful background in IT, which proves that you can’t stereotype writers – no working in a bookshop or living off writing grants and a bit of sessional teaching but rather a career that taught him that “there are craft things you learn when you take on a new discipline.”

I admire this methodical approach, and perhaps that’s the sweet spot where STEM and the creative arts meet. I was so intrigued by Graeme’s logical breakdown of turning a screenplay into a novel that I pass these suggestions of Graeme’s onto you. Remember, a novel allows the reader deep into the inner world of the character, especially if it is a novel in first person, as is the Rosie Project. How do you translate this inner world into a screenplay?

“Sometimes you don’t,” admitted Graeme. “A book is a book and some things a book does better. You can always go to that book and get into the inner world.” One of the reasons people have buddies in films said Graeme, is so they can externalise their thoughts and their inner world.

But there are tricks, said Graeme. Such as the voice over. This is either liked or loathed. I was reminded of watching Blade Runner again recently, with a friend who had never seen it, and her son, who studied it at school. Even though we watched the Director’s Cut, I still had the 1982 Theatrical Release in my head, expecting Rick Deckard’s (contentious) voice over as Replicant Roy Batty dies.

The 21 year old, who had never seen this version, looked at me in amazement. “Why would anyone think the audience needed a voice over?” he asked. A film does some things, and as Graeme Simsion said, “A book is a book and some things a book does better.”

Why indeed. The death scene with just the close up on Deckard’s face is far more poetic, filled with longing – for life. Is the voice over needed? The beauty of films that we fill in the internal monologue through music, cinematography, and acting.

However, when we are telling the story of our doctorate, we cannot assume anything as we are selling our research to a varied group of people. We may not have a captive audience, the lighting and sound may be bad and we have not had time to develop our characters. It could be a short ten minute interview for a coveted academic job, and we are one of many vying for the post. In that case, go for the obvious, sum it up, make it snappy. Give them the Deckard voice over in the Blade Runner Theatrical release. “I didn’t know how long we had together – who does?”

Yes, give it to them, curate yourself with a little story. Practice on your friends.  Like any story, the story of your doctorate gets easier with the telling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

academic publications, Brand Identity, Early Career Reseacher, Publishing academic research

Holy Matrimony! The peril of the ‘married name’ for women in academia

2013-09-21 11.30.17

Mrs George Clooney may rue the day she changed her name after marriage to her Hollywood superstar. Statistics being what they are, she may want her name back. And that name is Amal Alamuddin – the name she used at university, the one she used to become a high flying lawyer (currently advising how Greece win back the Parthenon marbles from the British Museum) and the name she with which she basically made a name for herself.

At the same time, more or less, UK heiress Jemima Khan has announced a decade after divorcing Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan that she intends to revert to her maiden name. She writes in the New Statesman that she feels sad about it because she used her married name for so long. And for good reason – use it long enough, and a new name becomes your identity. A woman may build up her brand under the adopted married name, and that’s not an easy thing to change. Brands remain, for better or worse, longer than the shelf life of many relationships.

IMG_1714

Eleanor Robertson from The Guardian speculates that Amal Alamuddin Clooney may have decided on the American actress tradition of hitching the married name to hers – a double barrelled effort – but she still may be on dangerous ground when it comes to her brand and identity. For a man may take his name back if things turn sour.

Flamboyant Australian businessman Geoffrey Edelsten has waded into the debate about whether or not a woman should change her name on marriage by demanding that his estranged wife Brynne stop using his surnameAccording to Daily Mail Australia, an enraged Mr Edelsten said: ‘Stop using my last name, Brynne. You are only using it to get publicity and attention, it’s desperate.’

Edelsten has declared that Brynne, who has a reality TV show that is based on her brand as a glamour wife, ditch her married name, demanding that she “Make a name “ for herself [and] stop leaning on mine, it’s an embarrassment to me and a desperate act of attention.”

This is perhaps a cautionary tale about why women should not change their name on marriage – and a more convincing argument than any a feminist can muster. The former Brynne Edelsten is now Ms Brynne Gordon.

Eleanor Robertson defends Amal’s choice by arguing that “the political valences attached to taking your husband’s name are different for different groups of women, but the arguments we hear most centre the perspectives of feminists with a prominent platform.” However, it takes a woman a long time to build up her resume and credibility, and that shouldn’t be thrown away lightly, no matter if that knight in shining armour happens to be George Clooney.

As MamaMia blogger Jamila Rizvi observed, why wouldn’t the former Amal Alammudin – a renowned lawyer and person of note in her own right – want to keep the name under which she had accomplished so much? The name that she was born with? The name that says more about her culture and ethnicity than her husband’s name?

The fact is that these choices are not the same for men, and that women in academia should think carefully about casting aside their names. The lure of the wonderful and lavish wedding is embedded in popular culture. But isn’t it possible to have the ring, the big dress and the presents – and still keep your name, just as your husband is keeping his?

Amal’s choice is quite pertinent to doctoral students and post docs, because the higher degree journey comes at all stages of the lifecycle, and with it love, divorce, remarriage, recoupling, and conscious uncoupling. None of this means terribly much for men, but for women on the academic journey it comes with the political choice of surname.

If you meet that special someone while a doctoral student (don’t ask me how this is possible, because don’t you have study to attend to???) and decide to be married, will you, like Amal, opt to be Dr Mrs His Surname? Or Dr Mrs Mine & His Surname?

I married very young but was never expected or asked to give up my name. I kept my Greek name through all my degrees and decades of marriage, and though now uncoupled, when I received my doctorate, it was in the name I was born with. My children, who have their father’s name, have never felt confused that their mother has a different name. Indeed, I have a different name to my own mother, though she is still married to my father. She is not Greek and returned to her own more ethnically appropriate name decades ago after Women’s Studies courses at university caused her to question the convention of changing your name on marriage.

My mother taught me this – in your career your name is your business card. It is, like the former Amal Alammudin, the name with which you make your mark on the profession. As a writer, I take my name very seriously. A career in journalism taught me the importance of one’s byline. Indeed, fellow Australian and writer Kathy Lette, who defended Amal in the Herald Sun (Saturday 11 October 2014) has kept her own name despite her long marriage to UK lawyer Geoffrey Robertson.

If you think you can take for granted the fact that you may keep your new married name forever (or indeed, want to keep it forever), think again. Once conscious uncoupling has been achieved, you may find yourself with the added burden of starting over with your publication record and explaining your name change. Just because you are traditional and did your husband the huge ego boost of severing your identity and taking his name, doesn’t mean that when you tire of each other he will not decide that he has other uses for his name, and other partners-in-waiting with which to bestow his mighty gift. Or that he simply doesn’t like you having his name when he no longer has you.

Then again, you might feel you no longer want the name now you are by yourself, and remember, if you never changed your name in the first place at least you won’t be stuck with the name of someone you are no longer with.

You – my dear traditional female academic who has attached so much importance to your acquired name – may find that there is a battle over naming rights. Before you can say “look me up on Google Scholar” you may be asked to hand back your name. Your ‘married’ name that is. Yes, start again with your publication record.

It is simply something men in academia never have to contemplate.

Whether or not to take a man’s name on marriage is something that used to divide younger women from their older married cohorts. Back in the 1980s, no self respecting feminist would use the title ‘Mrs’ let alone dump their surname at the altar. These were the days of being proud to use Ms as a title (before you became Dr) and you could take comfort in watching strong female TV characters like Murphy Brown, who were single, feminist and making it  – and having a great time – in the tough world of media (with their own name).

These days, of course, young women are jumping at the chance to add “Mrs” to their name, and are keen to adopt their husband’s surname as a badge of pride, or, more likely, as a sign of success at having finally nabbed one of those commitment-phobic men.

Just what men think about this name changing game has rarely been investigated, presumably because we expect men to puffer up with pride that a woman will shed their identity for the privilege of being their wife.

But what about when the often inevitable split happens? It used to be one of the reasons women were cautioned not to through away their moniker. It’s not only time consuming to change all one’s official paperwork to a new name – come divorce, and it has to be changed back.

The trouble is, that name – the name you, a married woman, have adopted with such pride, is one that you worked hard to elevate as your own brand in whatever career you developed. You changed your twitter handle to hubby’s name – and now he wants it back? What’s your twitter handle going to be now? @Washisname? That maybe all very well if you have a reality TV show, less convincing if you are attempting a career in academia, for example.

I am intrigued by why men encourage and agree to women taking their name on marriage. Presumably it is an ownership deal for them. Perhaps, as a woman, I simply do not understand why men agree to a woman taking their name. It is not about love, that’s for sure. Love does not need to have matching names (unless you are very insecure). Why then?

IMG_1687

The trouble with taking a man’s name for an academic in need of a publication record is that few women pause to consider that their man’s name might be up for grabs in a divorce settlement. Perhaps it will be a chattel that is disputed in court, bartered, say, in exchange for jewellery given or fought over in return for part ownership of a holiday house?

And is a man’s name, like his fidelity and love, something that can be regifted over and over again in new marriages, leaving an endless trail of wives with the same surname? Or should the previous owners be forced to relinquish the naming rights?

Geoffrey Edlesten has revealed that a newly acquired name may be as transient as most marriages. According to The Daily Mail, Geoffrey has said that he wants his new paramour, Gabi Grecko, to take his name when he marries her. ‘I love Gabi and I want her to use my name once she feels comfortable to do so.’

I rather like the American celebrity ritual of adding the husband’s name to their name on marriage – such as Christy Turlington Burns and Robin Wright Penn. And then dropping it like Farrah Fawcett (Majors) or (as listed on wikipedia) the actress “previously credited as Robin Wright Penn” as they drop the bloke from their life. It suggests that coupledom is a temporary condition, one that should not impinge on one’s identity. It says ‘ I will placate your ego by hitching your name to mine, but like the caravan annex, it will be abandoned by the road side once I decide to pack up and make a getaway, without any costs to my identity.’

 

The image of abandoned surnames littering the highway of love is rather compelling.

 

Academic Study, creative writing, Creative Writing PhD, Early Career Reseacher, PhD completion, Post Doctoral Study, post submission blues

Post Doctoral Wilderness: life as an Early Career Researcher

mannequins IMG_0203

There is no danger of me dropping out of my PhD studies. That’s simply because I went the distance and completed and graduated. My crisis of faith is coming post doctorate. I am like one of Baudrillard’s simulacrum, going through the motions, a mere copy of my former driven self as a doctoral candidate. I have gone through the PhD journey and come out the other end. My reward is this – I am an Early Career Researcher. Whatever that means.

It seems ridiculous to be still complaining of doctoral burnout when I graduated nearly nine months ago. But as this is a warts and all personal insight into the doctoral – and post doctoral – journey, I am telling you like it is.

That nebulous period of being an ‘Early Career Researcher’, of which there is no exact definition, is a hard one to navigate. I work with artists who have had to ‘PhD up’ in their long term jobs as university expectations have changed. A doctorate now allows them more security and the ability to lobby for a pay increase.

For those who have come through ‘the system’ hard and fast as young students, the ECR phase is one where they may grapple with their first foray into the ‘workforce’ and struggle to find a position.

Then there are those like me, and others I know, especially in the creative writing field, who have had varied careers, careers in the media (which has rapidly changed beyond recognition) and for whom a doctorate is no ‘deal breaker’ in the employment stakes. In fact, it may well be considered a hindrance, especially in Australia.

I know that some of the most common refrains about doctoral studies concern completing, and the anxiety of simply staying the distance. So many candidates drop out. But there is also a problem at the other end – the end where we PhD students are extruded from the system like sausage meat. And that problem is called ‘what do we do now’? It is, in short, a crisis of vision.

poster woman glasses IMG_0914

It’s sure as hell one your university isn’t bothered answering. Or has probably considered. Heck – they get money for simply signing you up and having you complete. You expect them to care about what happens when you finish? You want vision – that’s up to you.

Actually, I have found that if you look hard, there is actually some consideration to this ECR dilemma, and there are some universities that do offer support. And, why not? There is counselling after all for drug offenders, for alcoholics. There should also be similar support for those who have completed a doctorate.

I would like to see all universities take some of the fat they creamed from doctoral students and actually put serious effort into addressing the post traumatic stress disorder that comes from completing four years of doctoral study. And I am not joking. Post Traumatic Doctoral Study Disorder (PTDSD) is a thing. 

The minute you graduate, the university is there with its begging cap cajoling for alumni handouts. The entire four years, I can guarantee most students will have had indifferent supervision and support from the university. Yet the minute you have any success, the university is there, media cap in hand, begging for a free ride on your publicity. And I must declare here that I have worked in both Alumni and media sections of academia and they are only doing their job and are not responsible for the grief your supervisor or Dean or examiners caused you!

And so it is. But doctoral students should get something from their university in return for all the financial aid they provide to its coffers, and that’s support for every single one for five years after they graduate with a doctorate. Support that deals with the psychological fall out of higher education, with the agonizing career and research issues, and help in finding a purpose and voice for their work.

Other wise, what on earth is it all about, anyway? Or is it too cynical of me to think the universities are just doing it for the money?

I actually think the most critical phase of the doctoral journey begins once the graduation gear gets handed back.

road IMG_2073

This is the nebulous phase of the ‘Early Career Researcher’. This is the point at which one may be within five years of having received the doctorate, and be, basically, floundering for something else.

It would be a job. More likely, it is a career and direction. It is a job of some meaning, it is the five year plan and future job satisfaction. It is getting published and getting published in the right places. It is impacts, and citations, and brilliantly constructed resumes and it is getting published.

It is making a name for ourselves. It is questioning why we spent four or more years on doctoral studies. It is falling in and out of love with our research. It is wondering if our research is even relevant any more. It is questioning the faith. It is, ultimately, anxiety, lack of direction, and all on top of bone numbing study burn out.

Hell – I know where I felt like this before. This wandering around in the dark in utter fear. This terrifying identity crisis of not being in control but everyone assuming you are the expert. This shattering life changing period of just having gone through an amazing, physically and mentally challenging period of generation only to be then left raising properly the thing that you have created – this squalling, demanding, blubbering, nascent bundle of knowledge called – your research.

Oh yes, I am a mother of two and I can cast my mind back almost 16 years exactly to what it felt like to be a first time mother and holding my baby and wondering ‘what the hell do I do now?’

cherubs IMG_1458

Again – a doctorate is like childbirth, pregnancy, parenting – it is the closest thing men (and many women) have to knowing what it is like to create and birth and then be solely responsible for something. And for the mothers with doctorates, it is a strangely familiar place to be. The academic world for ECRs is as competitive as it is for new mothers. Who has the more glamorous role? Who can afford to outsource? What name did you give your research? Is it the best dressed? Is it going to the best journals? Or is your research that kid with the name no one can spell, with snot marks over its face? And are you the mum who looks like they slept in their clothes after a rough night of teething? Or the sleek corporate mum who can afford to take a little sessional teaching on the side while spending their time submitting polished pieces to top journals while the pesky aspect of working for a living and supporting the family is taken care of by a separate primary breadwinner?

For the record, I’m the mum up all night blogging and submitting to journals and scrambling the get the kids to school on time and then writing and blogging for my day job in a university gallery. I know the hell that is multi tasking, and the plight of being an invisible ‘mummy track’ Early Career Researcher without an academic position or tenure.  Or that mythical ‘research day’. Strange, though, that I have published far more than those lucky sods who have this research day. No points for guessing which mum I empathise with in the movie ‘Motherhood’.

 

If my thesis holds correct, then there will be a way through the forest. At some point – hey, that mythical five years down the track time when I will no longer be an Early Career Researcher – my ‘research’ – my ‘baby’ – will be at school. Able to trade sandwiches, bully and get bullied, start standing up for itself and be independent. Yes. My baby – my research, will have a name for itself, and make my name in the academy.

I hope.

Then again, there are many parents who do a crap job and ruin their kids chances for life. If you ignore your kid and never speak to it or never socialize it or spend time with it – well, bad things happen, right? Said kid will wither and perish one way or another. Same thing with your research and academic career, I suspect. Except there is no State Care or welfare organization to take the research off you for being negligent. No, that’s it, unless you make an effort, your hard doctoral work can just go to hell and be forgotten. There is no such thing as a doctorate being a ticket for life. It is simply the start of the whole journey.

Have I made you feel really anxious yet?

That’s how I felt at a workshop on the perils and pitfalls of being an Early Career Researcher. I came away feeling defeated. Like I had already failed my research by not sending it to the best A Star Preschool (journal). That I hadn’t organized my research enough play dates with the Cool Kids of Academia. My research had to get by with bursts of love while I dealt with its siblings – my actual biological human children, and my actual day job/career that supports everyone. Poor research, it gets attention lavished on it and then has to fend for itself.

The only glimmer of hope was being told at this workshop that ‘you have to start somewhere’ when getting published. And that having some sort of profile – like a blog – was a good thing. And that all the others in the workshop felt the same as me and none of us had the genius research-child, we all had the kids that didn’t sleep through the night and were on the lower percentile growth chart when it came to stellar publication success and giving us all a leg up in an academic career.

We were also, just like a new mothers group [and an Early Career Research group is just like a suburban new mothers group] in that post birth, traumatic stress disorder state. We had burn out, apathy, and a major amount of fear.

Let me tell you – no one and I mean no one at that workshop was confident, focused and optimistic about a tenured position as an academic in the field they wanted to work in. Those with children or commitments were mired in one city – in this case Melbourne – and grateful for whatever sessional work they could get, or unrelated professional work that wasn’t face to face teaching. Others had a coveted ECR position – in which the clock was ticking, in some cases very loudly before funding ran out.

Those who were young (ish) were prepared to chase three year contracts around the globe. Regardless of where they were job wise, everyone was in the same position regarding publication. Oh research – our research babies – are so demanding, and the field is so competitive. Just as well we love you, research baby.  We have a big journey ahead.

motorbike IMG_1999

I feel that by attending the ECR workshop, I avoided the common pitfall of wandering around in a post doc wilderness for longer than necessary. I am not sure I have a compass yet, but at least the workshop pointed me to a door and said “that one – ”

I was reassured that having had the door opened, anyone can do very well if they decide to!  It’s hard work, but the main reason many academics do not do as well as they could, is because the door is often not opened for them. 

I do believe that just as parenting skills need to be taught post birth, so should universities offer Early Career Researchers similar education classes about navigating the stormy uncharted waters of their careers ahead. And for the record, I believe that the definition ECR needs to be those who graduated from the university and not just those lucky enough to score a job in one after graduating.

academic cohort, Academic conferences, CliFi, conferences, Early Career Reseacher, networking

How to survive academic conference season

 

second globe IMG_1573

I am not the only one to emerge from the intensive academic conference ‘silly season’ wishing I’d never submit another abstract again, yet with my head brimming full of ideas and the warm glow of nascent global friendships an email away.

Back six or eight months ago, when I first saw the call for papers, the reality of the workload and time juggle (not to mention travel) that is conference participation seemed a distant problem.

Conferences are jammed into the European summer (June-July) and teaching breaks, but I reside on the other end of the world, and so many people I met at both conferences in Australia said the same thing: jetlag, exhaustion and time poor. It takes time and money to get across the globe and add onto that presenting…not easy.

oxford skyline 2

Mind you, if you live in Melbourne, June-July is bitter cold and the thought of a conference in somewhere warm is very appealing. However, I have deluded myself more than once into imagining Oxford is warm in July…and turned up for a conference only to be confronted with worse weather than back home (in winter). So I spend the first day or so scurrying around looking for warm clothes as locals assured me they ‘had their summer already’ and it was a very nice – week, which I alas missed. I realised that when you are Australian, you do not go to Europe for the nice summer weather.

After several trips overseas in the past few years for conferences, I was happy to stay closer to home; a conference in Canberra and then one in Melbourne – at RMIT no less – so I really was within my geographical comfort zone!

In fact, at the Motherhood, Feminisms and the Future conference held at RMIT University, when asked, “where are you from” I would reply, “here – right here”. There is something about being on home ground that is very convenient, but then again, the camaraderie that results from everyone being together in a foreign location has its own benefits.

better motherhood brochure flowers

With conferences there are lots of different hurdles and expectations. First, you have to find out what is available and in what area you might like to present. When I was a doctoral student, this seemed very hard to decode. Was it laziness or pure obstruction or the assumption that you ‘just knew’ where to find out about conferences that resulted in those in academia never (and I mean NEVER) passing on useful information such as where to find CFP or what the heck CFP meant in the first place?

I always tell my students that the Call For Papers is where to look, which websites to go to, and how to find out about conference alerts. I am very grateful for the one confident and well published professor who did the same for me. Then it’s a matter of working out strategically where you’ll get the most bang for your buck (literally, if travelling). Again, most academics seem useless at mentoring students in this regard.  And so we stumble on, learning by trial and error.

Ditto the much overlooked topic of how to submit an abstract that will get you noticed. I actually had an academic say to me “no wonder your abstracts are accepted, they have sexy titles, snappy writing and play into the key areas the conference organisers want to promote.” This said with a snide sneer and derision. And I am thinking – “getting noticed and getting your abstract accepted – isn’t that a good thing?”

I have presented at many different types of conferences – interdisciplinary, literary, ecocritical, feminism, bioethical, animal studies – what I have discovered is that, in the humanities at least, there are many ways of spinning your topic so that you can present a different version of your broad research area to a different audience.

moterhood presentation

This I think is not a bad thing, because if we are to use our research in a wide context, to a wide audience and speak to our research as public intellectuals post PhD, then testing out across different disciplines while forming those ideas is certainly a help.

My doctoral research has taken me to conferences where I have presented papers on topics such as animal experimentation, bestiality, geography and monstrosity and post apocalyptic dystopia…and I can feel the pull of cannibalism calling to me (in a speculative fictional context of course!) I am so very excited by cannibalism right now and how it is being explored in Cli-Fi.

Ecocriticism (and Cli-Fi) is one of my academic passions – and the opportunity to put together a panel for the recent Affective Habitus conference (the subject of my last blog post) was too good to pass up. However, a few weeks later, the Motherhood and Feminisms conference at RMIT was also a perfect fit, providing me with an opportunity to present a paper on a book I co-wrote with Dr Caroline van de Pol on high risk pregnancy. I published Handle With Care as a Masters student, and am soon to relaunch it as an ebook, aimed at midwifery students. So the timing was perfect.

handle with care at conference

What I hadn’t anticipated was my level of exhaustion. I thought that with the PhD now completed, I would have so much more time, so back to back conferences would be a breeze. In fact, I did three back to back international conferences as a doctoral student, which makes me wonder how on earth I found the energy. Much like a woman who looks back on surviving raising triplets, I shake my head in amazement. I also wonder what’s wrong with me now that I am drained by my recent conference adventures.

I am not the only one – so many people at the Motherhood conference were on their third conference in a row, having crammed as much in as possible. First, if you are from Australia (or New Zealand) it’s a long way to go to head to Europe or America to present a paper so you might as well do two – or three conferences. It’s more time and cost effective. Also, if you are a full time academic or sessional, then you’ll need to cram everything into the break in the teaching semesters.

time IMG_1574

I have often written that doing a doctorate is like having a baby. I now think that the conference circus is like maternity as well. How else can I explain that as soon as I finished writing this blog, and vowed never to subject myself to another conference again and instead just ‘concentrate on my writing’ (as if the two are somehow unconnected…) than I discover two conferences in Sydney that have grabbed my attention. One is the Independent Publishers Conference (again, right up my areas of interest) and the other the Gothic Spaces: Boundaries, Mergence, Liminalities conference…both in Sydney, both on at good times for me in the exhibition cycle of the university gallery where I work.

It’s like wanting another baby again…except without the lifelong commitment and childcare issues that go with it.  Dammit! How can I pass up weaving an abstract around ‘Hybridity and trangression’? I mean – this is the stuff of my doctorate. This is what I spent years studying. This is what I dream about.

I have come to realise that once you step through the door marked ‘doctorate’ there is no turning back. Some people get excited by cheap airfares to Bali, others by a shoe sale; for me, it’s those dead/alive dichotomies that do it every time.

As for my exhaustion? My energy levels and enthusiasm? It appears that I didn’t need to give up on conferences – I just needed a good night’s sleep.

oxford bike

Conference tips from a conference junkie

Remember – if you have beginner nerves, the more conferences you do, the easier it is to present your work in front of everyone:

  • Sign up for conference alerts in as many of the areas as you have an interest. Sometimes you won’t feel like trawling for a conference, and that’s when a CFP that pops in your inbox that ignite that spark of interest all over again
  • Audiences are forgiving when you are starting out
  • It is worth the time, money and effort because you will gradually make a name for yourself among the people who will be your academic peers
  • Conferences are about dipping your research toes in the big pool of water that is the latest global thinking on a discipline
  • A good keynote speaker can give your research ideas a jet propelled push into a new direction or confirm you are on the right path
  • You’ll meet interesting people who literally speak your research language
  • Conversations over conference dinners can open up new ideas and directions for you
  • Be generous with your knowledge and helpful and understanding to others. Academic karma is real
  • Don’t eat from the vegetarian/vegan/gluten free platter unless you have specified such food options or someone who won’t or can’t eat certain foods will go without.
  • A conference paper is about 20 minutes so your word limit should be under 3000 words…time yourself!
  • Don’t send your audience to sleep. A conference presentation is a performance. An animation, a taster. It’s not a book chapter.
  • Take along business cards. Get on twitter and have your twitter handle up on your powerpoint.
  • Attend everything, participate, ask questions, say thanks, be appreciative of the organisers, be generous with your comments and praise to others, be nice. Enjoy yourself. Embrace whatever the conference location has to offer.
  • Be open to every conversation, even if it is ‘off topic’. I received an intensive session on a future book that was on the back burner – all because I sat opposite a fascinating lecturer whose area is contemporary German literature. When she said ‘take down these names, read these people – take notes!’ I realised the reason you go to a conference dinner is exactly this. Sometimes, virtual reality just doesn’t cut it. And serendipity is all. I felt the stars align that night, and as a writer and researcher felt incredibly grateful for such an encounter.
  • Last tip – a conference is not just about you presenting your research. It is about sharing, networking, establishing collaborations and global friendships. Be generous with everything you have to offer – and be kind. Otherwise, why bother getting together at all?

 

 

Academic conferences, Brand Identity, CliFi, conferences, Early Career Reseacher, networking, Tweeting research, Uncategorized, University life

Tweet that: reporting at academic conferences

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 8.34.32 PM

I have recently returned from an academic conference in Canberra with a new appreciation of how Tweeting at conferences can expand your participation in the event – both with other participants (both those who Tweet and those who don’t) and in your own understanding and appreciation of other papers. Tweeting focuses and distills your understanding – and yes, it can also distract and fragment your energy and concentration.

So – why do it, and if you do, how to get the best out of your conference Tweeting?

My involvement in The Affective Habitus Conference in Canberra from 19-21 June, 2014, included pre conference media and in conference live Tweeting. This was my first conference where I was both presenting and Tweeting, both as myself and also as postgraduate committee member for Aslec-Anz (the Association for the Study of Literature, Environment & Culture, Australia and New Zealand.

The Affective Habitus (New Environmental Histories of Botany, Zoology and Emotions) conference tackled issues of climate change from a humanities and science perspective. The papers were thought provoking, challenging, and asked us to consider among other things; plant subjectivity, depression as a shared creative endeavour, our connection with the ocean and the concept that the ice core remembers us from a time long before we humans even had a concept Antarctica existed.

Not surprisingly, the beautifully constructed papers and provocative topics lent themselves to Tweeting – broadcasting information live in neat soundbites of information.

Tweeting at conferences is a great way to get these ideas out. I was Tweeting under my own Twitter handle and also that of the conference organiser Aslec-ANZ – as was a colleague and several other conference participants. We all managed to Tweet slightly different versions of the same information, so that a talk became a multi facted version of itself, as if you are standing at a mutli panelled mirror and each version of the reflected imaged slightly changed.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 10.32.15 PM

 

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 10.37.32 PM

 

While there are some obvious measures to take when Tweeting at a conference – everyone sticking to the same conference hashtag for a start (such as The Affective Habitus hastag #ecohab14), I was interested to see that Brian Croxall at the Chronicle of Higher Education suggesting that conference participants also provide their Twitter handle up front when they begin their presentation, so others can Tweet their talk effectively. That’s a great idea, as it makes attribution easier. Not everyone can be easy to find on Twitter!

Two conference participants in particular at Affective Habitus – the dynamic Eileen Joy – (@EileenAJoy) and equally media savvy Siobhan O’Sullivan – have a large social media following and well known, easily found Twitter handles. For the others I tried searching them out and when I couldn’t find them, I simply added their full names for attribution.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 11.25.22 PM

Croxall suggests that two rules to keep in mind both as the Tweeter and the Tweeted; for those presenting, expect to be tweeted and assume (or hope) you will be, and for the person Tweeting – do so professionally, respecting people wishes not to be photographed or their words broadcast if they make that clear. However, most people are delighted to have their ideas disseminated via social media. I personally always ask permission before I take someone’s photograph for Twitter  – except in  the case of a remote keynote when it is a case of dissemination of knowledge via electronic media (skype/video) anyway.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 11.08.05 PM

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 11.10.24 PM

Then there is the vexed problem of tweeting at a conference social gathering, such as the conference dinner or drinks. Does one Tweet images and conversation? My feeling is that when it comes to photos, perhaps approach the keynotes with key people (especially if they are a little glam and dressed up) but do it early before you and they have had a drink to unwind, and respect the edict “no – not at this social event’. And as for Tweeting social talk – just don’t. My motto is be interesting, but not invasive. And besides, at the social gatherings, you are there to relax and network and get to know those in your field better, not to broadcast the gossip! It goes without saying, never Tweet and drink.

That gets us to an interesting point – if there are so many restrictions, and Tweeting can be so invasive for everyone, why tweet at all? There is a school of thought that says “Don’t Tweet. Pay attention to the conference presentations, or you are wasting your time.” A valid point, except when you are in charge of promoting the conference – and helping promote the message of the conference, as I was.

But I also discovered that Tweeting at conferences boosts the visibility of your own paper, and your own profile in your chosen subject area.

My paper was on Cli-Fi – or climate change inspired science fiction. Using the pace and narrative technique of science fiction – an ideas based genre – my goal is to entertain and inform taking the readers into deep ecological ideas and animal rights issues through a fast paced story line. I Tweeted something about this and discovered a rich vein of like minded followers under the #clifi tag.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 11.03.52 PM

Don’t lose sight of the fact that conferences are about communicating ideas, and in these days of the Internet, we need to think beyond the walls of the conference venue and communicate globally – a hasthtag (such as #ecohab14) can take your message and research across countries, continents, hemispheres. I may have been sitting in the Humanities Research Centre at ANU, stealthily acquiring a cold of epic proportions along with plenty of ideas for my next paper and next book, but my Tweets broadcast the conference well beyond the graceful streets, brilliant but cold blue skies of a Canberra morning out to the world. From somewhere so remote, in effect, as the pinprick on a continent in the southern hemisphere, we connect. One Tweet is a ripple in the pond of information, forever spreading. 

pool reflections IMG_4488

But – that said – there is a downside to Tweeting at the conference – for the Tweeter – as you do not get to give the papers your undivided attention, because you are constantly on the look out for ‘sound bites’. Now, some presenters are adept in the art of the sound bite, encapsulating their key message in a pithy quote early on. Others speak in realms of poetic sound bites, their pens deftly carrying verbal hooks that have lulled audiences for years into sailing with them on their thoughts. Then – there are those for whom the every act of public speaking is a painful event, and the act of writing for the public is lost in the assumed worth of their words. This is perhaps when it is time to abandon the notion of Tweeting that paper at all, unless it is of vital importance and you can curate their research in 140 characters for them.

Like writing notes, Tweeting allows you synthesise important points of someone’s paper, and also become a short hand for your own notes looking back at conference proceedings. I use my Tweeting and Retweeting as a way of curating information for myself – my rule is if I want to read it again and find it valuable, then I’ll Tweet it. It is an archive of curated media in a seam of information that I constantly refer back to.

Dr Katie Mack – @AstroKatie – is a researcher at the University of Melbourne’s School of Physics who spreads her science message via social media (she has a huge following! Check her out). In an article in the June 2014 university magazine “Unlocking the secret of tweet success” AstroKatie says “The number one question people ask me about using Twitter as a scientist is, “How much time does it take?” – her response – Twitter is an ongoing conversation you dip in and out of when you have a spare moment.

I agree. By live Tweeting, I am capturing my note taking and refining it to succinct points, and also pushing that into the Twittersphere with other interpretations of that event – I imagine this as a Hydra, with entangled threads of information weaving their way into cyberspace, but all connected to a single entity – the conference, the speaker. It’s an ongoing conversation where some points may be taken up by others, and some may not. It’s my interpretation, my voice in the conversation, about what is going on.

I certainly didn’t spend all my time Tweeting at the conference – but I did spend a lot of time listening for soundbites. Fond memories of my days as a journalist. However, those days have been taken over my my life in academia, and that’s a world where one goes deeper into the topic. One thing I do know is that Tweeting, like any communication, is done for an audience. Those I had in mind at the Affective Habitus conference were those who were interested in the conversation about the environment, ecocriticism, and science and the humanities.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 11.32.23 PM

I also found it fascinating to connect with others while live tweeting – who out there was also interested in what the conference topic was? In short, conference Tweeting is about networking on a global scale and being part of a bigger conversation.