A must read for ECAs: Advice on writing and disseminating your research through a feminist lens

By Rhea Gandhi

Image: Panelists at the GENDER.ED panel on writing and disseminating research in gender and sexuality studies

On March 24, GENDER.ED hosted a roundtable on ‘Writing and Disseminating your Research’ aimed at Early Career Academics. As an early career academic and a PhD Assistant at GENDER.ED, I was interested in this session and hopeful for guidance as I dip my toes into academia after being a professional psychotherapist for the last seven years. In this blog, I summarize the big takeaways from the very helpful session.

The speakers, Prof. Melanie Hughes, Prof. Louise Jackson and Dr. Agomoni Ganguli-Mitra gave us their top tips, drawing on their expertise in academic publishing, leading major grant agencies, and interdisciplinary collaborations. These practical tips from experienced academics and researchers felt valuable, validating, kind and real all at once.

Prof. Melanie Hughes:

  1. Say No! Academia can be very demanding. Set aside time to support yourself first. There is a lot of pressure to say yes as an early career academic so perhaps assign someone as your ‘no’ person. Someone who helps you set these boundaries with your work and in life. Run through these opportunities with them! It is normal to worry that these opportunities might not come again – but they do. New and equivalent opportunities will always arrive. So, the question now becomes – who is going to become your ‘no’ person?

Prof. Louise Jackson: 

  1. Don’t rush to get published but be strategic. Where would you want to be published and which is the best fit? Plan it out, opportunities will come along. Don’t let somebody else’s agenda push your work around.
  2. During your PhD ask yourself – Is your PhD going to be a book? Mine your thesis as much as you can for your career. Ask yourself: how many articles can I turn it into if it is not a book?
  3. Don’t hesitate to communicate with editors of journals and book publishing houses. Write to them pre-submission so you don’t waste your time. Give them a summary of your work and ask if this is something the journal would be interested in. This saves time and builds a working relationship!
  4. Work with other people, it’s fun!
  5. Publish on blogs; you’ll find that public writing helps to articulate your ideas better. Don’t give all your best research away but use the short format public article as a signpost towards your research. This process helps strip away academic jargon and helps you realize how obstructive and alienating this can be. It will improve your academic writing when you can communicate your ideas in more clear, simple ways.

Dr. Agomoni Ganguli-Mitra:

  1. Embrace the feeling of always being out of your depth, especially as an interdisciplinary researcher. We can wear different hats and be versatile with them while working inter-disciplinarily.
  2. I don’t publish a lot and don’t buy into the publish or perish unless it is required of you. It is tough to have more than one good idea every few years!
  3. Writing is about building community. Work with others and don’t hesitate to ask senior people if they want to write something with you. Often they have many ideas but no time and this helps them get the ball rolling too!
  4. When you are writing with others, make sure you work with someone who puts in the work and you are aware of their work ethic. Sometimes working with someone senior can mean you do all the work.
  5. Talk about authorship in the very beginning so there are no misunderstandings.
  6. If you begin a project and feel uncomfortable with the direction it is going in, say ‘no’ early on. Make sure it fits with you and keep your integrity as a researcher.
  7. Don’t say yes to a presentation unless it helps you.
  8. Take advantage of special issues in journals and speak to the editors. This helps form a community.
  9. Book chapters are not peer reviewed so think carefully about committing to them. On the other hand, they could be good for building a community and being in conversation with those you want to be in dialogue with.

The panel also responded to questions about work-life balance and what it means for gendered care.

Prof. Louise Jackson: Unfortunately, academia is demanding and this doesn’t get much better! So here are some tips:

  1. Use a diary to organize everything.
  2. Assume everything takes at least twice as long as you think it will and allocate reasonable time based on this!
  3. Don’t stare at a blank screen: sitting in front of a computer will not make anything happen. It’s not just one thing or the other – try and do other things so that your work goes on at the back of your head. That is more effective.

Dr. Agomoni Ganguli-Mitra:

  1. Take a break! Find your own rhythm and know how you work best.
  2. Attend writing retreats – it helps to know that others are dedicating time to writing through their busy lives just as you do.
  3. Always have deadlines with your coauthors.

Prof. Melanie Hughes:

  1. Set more boundaries!
  2. Fiercely protect your writing time if you are a binge writer. Writing a little everyday does not work for everyone.
  3. Break down your schedule into monthly, yearly and daily plans. There is always so much more that you have to do than you have time for.

Towards the end, the Director of GENDER.ED, Dr. Radhika Govinda asked an exceptionally valuable question: What do we do differently as feminists in the academy? And can we speak more about slow scholarship?

Dr. Agomoni Ganguli-Mitra responded with assertion that slow scholarship is the only good scholarship. The panel concluded in line with Dr. Mitra that we need to find ways to communicate important ideas more easily as feminists, and that making our work more accessible is feminist work.

There were many more valuable questions and insights. The attendees got to ask the panel their unique questions based on where they were in their careers and research at present (like me!). So if you liked what you read, remember to keep an eye out for our other events on our Twitter (@UoE_gender.Ed) and be there if you can the next time: we look forward to meeting you!

Author Bio 

Rhea Gandhi is a psychotherapist, group therapist and liberation-oriented educator and researcher. She is doing her PhD in Counselling Studies and is broadly exploring decolonial approaches to counselling training.