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To blog or not to blog?

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I’ve devoted myself to be open and as transparent as possible as an academic blogger. I do keep my students’ privacy in mind, and I am also mindful of my relatively precarious position, thus I often refrain from directly critiquing my current institution, choosing instead to critique the whole system as it is organized right now. But I am stuck now between my stated ethos of openness and honesty and the reality of higher education right now.

There was a heated discussion on Twitter over the weekend about the ethics of live-tweeting (and, one could argue live-blogging) conference panels, sessions, talks, etc. You can search for #twittergate or go to my good Twitter-friend Adeline Koh’s Storify of all the tweets, blog posts, and discussion on the topic.

One of the first posts that garnered some notoriety for me dealt with the very topic of the closed-circuit of academic communication, provocatively titled, How Higher Ed Makes Most Things Meaningless. I try to walk the walk by blogging about my research, my teaching, and my experience in higher education for these very reasons. And, I can’t quantify how much better I am as a scholar and a teacher for having reached out on various public forums such as blogging and Twitter. Certainly, I’m going to NCTE conference to present because I tweet (the panel is on Twitter as professional development for teachers). But did my presence on Twitter improve my odds of being selected for MLA13? Many of the opportunities that have come my way are the kind that “don’t count” officially, but are invaluable to me and my progress as a scholar.

But then I read this in the New York Times:

‘A few years ago, researchers at Cornell constructed fake résumés, identical in all respects except parental status. They asked college students to evaluate the fitness of candidates for employment or promotion. Mothers were much less likely to be hired. If hired, they were offered, on average, $11,000 less in starting salary and were much less likely to be deemed deserving of promotion.

The researchers also submitted similar résumés in response to more than 600 actual job advertisements. Applicants identified as childless received twice as many callbacks as the supposed mothers.’

Unfortunately (or fortunately), I have been unable to hide the fact that I am a mother and a wife. And while I respect Historiann’s reasons for keeping her position as a mother an open secret, I have always had trouble separating the different aspects of myself and my identity (I deal with this extensively in my Bad Female Academic series). Is it all too late for me? I have a wonderfully gender-neutral name (true story: I was continually placed on the boys’ teams growing up), so perhaps if I was more able to “hide” the clear markers of my gender (Wife! Mother!), I’d be able to surmount this particular piece of systematic gender discrimination. While my Facebook profile is impossible to find using a simple Google search, it wouldn’t take too much poking around my blog to find out all about my position as wife and mother (but also my research and teaching, right? RIGHT?).

All of this is to get to the thing that I am really wanting, but somewhat unable, to blog about: I am applying for jobs this year. Anyone who has read these pages knows about my dissatisfaction with my current professional opinion. Most advice for job seekers is directed towards PhD students or those early in their careers. I think that there is a place for my voice as an “old” PhD within the job search narrative, although I’m not sure if I have any advice to offer that isn’t also applicable to “new” or “soon-to-be” PhDs. Yet. But the one piece of advice that I have consistently received about my upcoming job search is, keep it quiet. On the blog, on Twitter, on facebook, everywhere. Silence.

As you can imagine, this advice is probably the most difficult for me to follow (except for maybe, make sure there are no typos in your application materials). I understand to a certain extent why I shouldn’t blog, and certainly anything I might write wouldn’t name names or get so specific as to embarrass anyone. But. This is part of who I am as an academic: a blogger. I don’t hide it on my application materials, nor should I hide my status a job-seeker here on the blog.

This is the last great silence in higher education: the job search. Sure, we’ve got the wiki which is a breath of fresh air and insight (for better or for worse) into a process that has taken place in relative secrecy for far too long. And I am well aware that I am no so unique that their aren’t 200-300 other perfectly qualified applicants who would be just as good, if not better, in a position than me. Blogging the search (or even blogging that I am searching, or at all) is always a potential liability. This circles back to the original impetus (or, rather, excuse) for writing this post: hostility towards live-tweeting or live-blogging a conference. Higher education (like any large organization), generally, fears the openness that social media brings. Try as they may, they can’t really control what goes viral and what doesn’t. This fear is passed along to many of those working in higher education, and the fear outweighs any opportunities for doing things different and, dare I say, better.

All this to say that I’m still not sure if I’m going to be blogging (or tweeting) very much of my job search. If I get an MLA interview, I’m sure I’ll have a post on what I’m going to be wearing or preparing, or reminiscing about my past experiences doing the dreaded hotel room interview (I’ll probably share that one even if I’m not interviewing). Not sure how I’d be able to keep on-campus interviews a secret, especially if they involve getting stuck in Chicago on United again. But I imagine that I’ll have to find some other outlet (sorry friends IRL and my husband) when I am disappointed and crushed that no one wants me. Or when I do badly. It seems unfair that I can’t access one of my greatest assets during the search: my virtual community. Short of the anonymity of the wikis, the job search can be even more intensely isolating and lonely than writing the dissertation.

I guess it comes down to this: do I want a job so desperately that I am willing to, for a time, fundamentally change how I do things in the hopes that everything that I have been doing hasn’t already sabotaged my chances?


Lee Skallerup Bessette grew up Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Her undergraduate degree is in Professional Writing from the Unversité d Sherbrooke and her MA is in Comparative Canadian Literature from the same. Her Ph.D. is from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. Her academic interests are varied: postcolonial speculative fiction, contemporary Haitian literature, translation studies, and life writing

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