THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

October 20, 2011

As students return to campus, academic bloggers have been looking at the perennial challenges faced by scholars struggling to maintain a work-life balance, in the spirit, one feels, of the recent film I Don't Know How She Does It.

Ben Aslinger, assistant professor in English and media studies at Bentley University, a business school in New England, challenges the stereotype that single academics "somehow have it 'easier' than other academics".

Writing on the University of Wisconsin's Antenna blog, Professor Aslinger maintains that single academics can often take the brunt of the workload as their "personal life may be largely invisible" to their colleagues.

"It can be harder to speak up for yourself when the reasons behind particular schedule requests or needs are not visible on the left ring finger or pictures on your office desk," he notes.

Writing elsewhere on the blog, Susan Murray describes the challenges of being an academic and a single mother. "At the precise time that my tenure file was being voted on by my department's committee on personnel, I was in the hospital recovering from the birth of my son," she recalls. "My tenure clock and biological clock have always been eerily and problematically matched."

Professor Murray says being an "active and engaged" parent and "a productive and present" faculty member has led to her often feeling as if she is "doing a poor job on both fronts".

She says that many conferences, talks and meetings simply fall by the wayside in her mission to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

However, she says that it is a price worth paying: "I have a life that is richer, more intimate, and more complex thanks to the presence of my son in my life."

The blog is the first in a series looking at how academics cope with their work-life balance, and Professor Aslinger says he hopes that it can show how everybody struggles, in order to make academics "more savvy and sympathetic colleagues".

Meanwhile, on Blogenspiel, Another Damned Medievalist demonstrates how difficult the start of term can be even for seasoned academics. She uses the analogy of a race to describe the start of term: "You sign up for a marathon, and all of a sudden you find it's a cross-country steeple-chase-y thing."

While she says she is aware that the autumn semester is invariably the busiest, she details how the best organisational skills can be thrown by unexpected "hurdles" such as "new university service commitments, new accreditation procedures, a new shiny set of assessment standards, a search committee".

Another Damned Medievalist has found list-making helpful and remarks that "some of the weight that I felt has been lifted by knowing that some hurdles really are movable. Yes, I need to vacuum. No I don't need to mop all the floors TODAY. Yes, I need to do laundry. No, I don't need to iron anything to get through this week."

She adds that, even if making a list is not something you would be keen on, "sometimes, just taking the time to think things through is worth it".

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