academic reorganization · academic work · appreciation · empowerment · job notes · solidarity

Who’s your role model?

I’ve been thinking about role models lately. In our graduate professionalization seminar this week, we were talking about issues related to teaching: practical issues like classroom management, broader issues like different pedagogical theories relating to the teaching of writing, but also bigger, structural questions of “What does a career teaching in the academy look like, going forward?”

You probably know from your own experience that most university teachers are passively trained: we pick up a teaching style from being taught, mostly. We then model ourselves consciously or unconsciously to resemble teachers we admired: these are, literally, our role models. This applies to our research and service work as well: we learn how to do library research in a pretty programmatic way, perhaps, but the practices relating to books versus articles, how many submissions per year, what kinds of conferences, how to select and do university service (or avoid doing it), how to comport ourselves in meetings, all of that we kind of … make up as we go along, deliberately or accidentally modeling our behavior on what we’ve seen from others, usually senior to us.

The academy is changing. Fast, and a lot. Bigger classes, more diverse students, online teaching, greater research expectations, expectations related to seeking and securing outside funding, collaborative service work, higher stakes administrative work, politicization and austerity, and globalized classrooms.

It’s possible that some of those more senior scholars we most admire actually work in a version of the academy that doesn’t exist for junior scholars. An academy where teaching loads keep going down, to promote a research agenda. Where all the students speak English as a first language, or you can let someone else deal with that. Where SSHRC actually funds non-targeted research. Where teaching online is a hobby, or something you can do for extra money. Where you can ignore, mostly, the external climate of anti-intellectualism and academy-bashing, because you’ve still got lots of majors and enough government money. Where mentoring PhDs involves writing them reference letters for academic jobs.

Life on the ground in the profession looks different now even than when I started here, almost ten years ago. It’s worlds different from when I started as a student at York, in a first year English seminar, with a cap of 12 students and taught by a senior professor.

I like the academic social media space in part because it allows us to find role models among academics of our own generation: a kind of lateral modelling where we can figure out the structural realities together, as they operate today. We can become colleagues in arms, building horizontal relationships to give context and nuance, maybe, to the vision of the life of the mind we pick up from our traditional role models or mentors, who tend to be senior to us.

Who are your role models? IRL, when I was a grad student, and of course since then as well, my role models have included Heather Zwicker (my dissertation supervisor) and Susan Brown (my MA supervisor). Heather showed me that you can be assertive and sassy and smart and get ahead on your own terms. Susan showed me how to be a feminist and a digital humanist at the same time, in a literature department. And what it might be like to start a family on the tenure track.

I have some new and different role models now. Erin Wunker is teaching me about what it means to be an academic in the new world of LTAs and increasing contingency: a teacher and researcher with incisive smarts and grace, clear-eyed and articulate. Lee Skallerup Bessette is teaching me about loud and proud contingency, about changing research areas without real institutional support, about building community through networking and public writing. Adeline Koh is teaching me about weaving a thorough interrogation of race and gender into digital humanities work, about building alliances and calling bullshit and being thoroughly engaged across scholarly and para-scholarly platforms: this is what integrity looks like. I hope to be learning more from Melissa Dalgleish about post-academic careers and what a new kind of life of the mind might look like.

I’m trying to cultivate mentors and models from across the ranks, and across the wide range of academic lives: I feel the richer for it, humbled by the various kinds of excellence I am lucky enough to witness. I feel empowered from these examples to continue to learn to be the kind of academic that I can become.

What about you? Can you share some of your role models? We’d love to hear about them.

6 thoughts on “Who’s your role model?

  1. I didn't really have any such role models until after grad school, after a visiting teaching post, after a post-doc, and well into my first position. That says something! That said, I would say Carrie Dawson was and is the woman whom I most aspire to be: caring and generous to a fault, with a wicked sense of humour behind a carefully cultivated skill for diplomacy, a true passion for her fields, and with a life outside her job, as well.

    I would say, though, that while the academy is changing, and perhaps faster than it has in the past, there is an awful lot about it that doesn't change that quickly.

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  2. I have had many role models over a lifetime and they have made a difference in me. My teachers were important role models: Mrs. Patsula, Mr. Wren, Mrs. Messsinger who almost made me a chemist. In university and grad school I admired Patrick Lane, Tenney Nathanson, Jane Miller, Barbara Cully and Bill Gaston. My life as it is right now is filled with people who inspire me in a variety of ways and they aren't all scholars. Here is a beginning list: Erin Wunker! El Jones! Ardath Whynacht! Laura Moss!! Larissa Lai! Stephen Collis! Rita Wong! Charles Demers! Jan Zwicky! bell hooks! Hannah Arendt! Carmen Derkson! Daphne Marlatt! Tomson Highway! CORNEL WEST! LEE MARACLE! MARIA CAMPBELL! LISA ROBERTSON! My two daughters, Rory (almost 12) and Micah Sophia (almost 7) inspire me almost daily. They are so bright and creative and smart, smart, smart. Micah is dressing me up for Halloween as a stalk of broccoli: what better genius? Tell me?

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  3. Funny, I keep thinking how am I going to include everyone who has mentored, protected, and supported me in some way in the front matter portion of my dissertation? Too many to list. Mentoring is intricate business and I don't think it is just about one facet of your life: Some mentors are close to you, you converse frequently over coffee, they know and care about your life, your work; some mentors you meet less frequently, but they have a place in your heart-mind-body because of their past or present support, love, keen intellects, philosophy, work, and actions; some mentors give you words, their “body of writing”–this too, I think, is a form of mentorship; some mentors teach you how to live and give you gifts that do not seem like gifts; some mentors forge pathways and keep you in sight along the way; some mentors make your daily life a little easier through laughter, a hot homemade meal, kind words, encouragement; some mentors fashion you with armour and bravery… With the current political climate, the rife anti-intellectualism, the capitalist mechanisms intent on destroying fundamental rights, diversity of means, modes of thought, ecology, people, the continued social struggle to de-economize in the face of economic tyranny– poems, theory, art, critical and creative writing, theatre, film are more significant than ever. So in random order and with love: Jay Gamble, Lochlan and Rannoch, Larissa Lai, Rachel Zolf, Lisa Robertson, Robert Majzels, Aritha van Herk, Nicole Markotic, Robert Kroetsch, Nicole Brossard, Helene Cixous, Luce Irigaray, Erina Harris, Diana Brydon, Salome Voeglin, Gillian Jerome, Jorie Graham, Erin Wunker, Christine Stewart, Lisa Gotell, Hannah Arendt, Kiki Benson, Rod McGillis, Gemma Corradi Fiumara, Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, Tom Wayman, Stefania Forlini, Susan Bennett, Susan Rudy, Daphne Marlatt, Stephen Collis, Kim Solga, Liz Galway, Jessica Růžková, Ann Holden, Brad Cran, Brian Hendricks, Jason Camelot, Elin Diamond, Adrian Kertzer, Jacquie Jenkins, Shulamith Firestone, Nina Power, Gillian Rose, Crystal Young, Shirley Derkson, and the women, men, and children who listen to see…

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  4. Oh, this is wonderful. Let me see, for a very preliminary start: Erin Wunker, for her self-sacrificing and burning commitment to teaching, to the power of language, and to the best parts of the academy; Aimee Morrison, for her commitment to her students, whatever career path they choose, and for her clear-eyed take on the sticky bits of being a woman and a digital humanist in academe; Emily Ballantyne, for being one of the most committed and the most loving people I know, as well as being a damn fine critic of poetry; Christopher Doody, for his laser focus on the subjects he loves; Thom Bryce, for his unutterable kindness as a human being and his incredible talent as a writer and scholar; Dani Spinosa, for modelling badassery in research and in life; Jonathan Vandor, for being mean academic daddy and getting things done, and for his total devotion to his field of study; Daniel Powell, for his endless enthusiasm for making good research happen, for all the opportunities he creates for others, and for his admirable pragmatism; Alexis Godard, for modelling such admirable and wide-ranging curiosity about the world in all its weirdness; and Moose, for showing me that sometimes, it's okay to just eat some cheese and take a catnap.

    I'm missing so very many people here, but just the exercise of thinking of them has made my night. Thanks, Aimee!

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  5. I am sitting here with the biggest grin on my face. I started a list on twitter, continued it on facebook, and will add to it here: My Hook & Eye comrades for putting themselves out there in public in a gesture of vulnerability, commitment, and generosity, Jacob Sandler for his unwavering faith in the power of words, Susan Bennett for selfless and constant support and mentorship (& for reminding me of the importance of a good pinot), Smaro Kamboureli for rattling the bars of complacency and convention and reminding me of the importance of dancing, Jason Haslam for his zinging wit (& for using that zinging wit to tell the emperor he is not wearing clothes), Carrie Dawson who's amazingness knows no bounds and who is entered in my phone as Carrie DAWESOME. There's more, but I need to get back to the work these folks continually inspire me to do.

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