In this post, we publish Shawn Maurer’s valuable talk from the ASECS 2011 Women’s Caucus roundtable, “From Dissertation to Publication.” It is largely unedited, and we are grateful to Professor Maurer for allowing us to reopen this conversation here on ABOPublic.
ASECS 2011 Vancouver
Good afternoon. I want to start by thanking Misty Anderson for her work in putting this panel together. I believe this to be a very valuable session, not just because of the important practical and professional advice it offers, but also because it gives us an opportunity to talk—in ways that are not always easy to do—about the effects of personal situations, of individual choices, on the whole “Dissertation to Publication” process. I think that in graduate school, on the job market, in our first teaching positions, we see a model of what our progress should look like that is presented to us, and internalized by us, as normative, as how things should be. And by that model, I mean of course, receiving our Ph.D., moving immediately to a tenure-track position, and publishing a monograph comprised of a revised version of our dissertation as part of (or prior to) the tenure review process.
While I recognize the ways in which ongoing economic exigencies have offered serious challenges to all aspects of this model, from the job market to the publishing industry, I would still maintain that the model itself continues to remain our ideal—what we believe in, aspire to, measure ourselves by. I want, then, to share my own story in light of that internalized ideal, because I think it is crucial that those of us at all levels of our careers, standing on all steps of the academic ladder, understand the possibility of, and the need for, multiple models of scholarly progression, multiple ways of configuring not only the balance among scholarship, teaching, and service, but also the balance—or should I say imbalance—between the demands of our work and the demands of our lives. As we all know, norms can have a psychological impact that far exceeds their practical “reality.” I know that not just on this panel, but also in this room, we have ourselves experienced, or know first-hand, countless stories that challenge that norm in sometimes powerful but also, and this is the piece I want to emphasize, often debilitating ways. Thus I think that hearing these “alternative” narratives can be important for all of us, for the graduate students or new faculty of course, but also for those of us on the other side—making up the hiring committees, the departmental review committees, the tenure and promotion committees.
So: my name is Shawn Maurer and I published my dissertation-turned-book, Proposing Men, while an independent scholar. The intentionally “confessional” quality of that statement—the sense of exposing something secret, even shameful—speaks to exactly the state I am trying to describe here: that routes that could conceivably be framed as “alternative” or “non-traditional” or simply “other” get experienced and understood instead as a kind of falling off, as lack, as failure.
Fifteen years ago, I left a tenure-track position at a major state university and moved across the country to Boston, where my partner held a tenure-track position but where I had no job, tenure-track or otherwise, in order to raise our daughter in the same city. This decision was tremendously scary for me—in no small part because it meant abandoning that norm, stepping off the prescribed path (which I had been travelling pretty smoothly without always recognizing how fortunate I had been) for the dark woods of the unknown. Yet I should add that, even as I wrestled with the existential questions (Would I ever find another academic job? Was giving up my job also giving up my feminist ideals? Who was I apart from my career?), I recognized that there were numerous benefits to forging this different path. In part, it was the experiences of a friend who joined my husband’s department at the same time he did and whose daughter was born five months before my own, that showed me that the grass is not greener—just different—on the other side. Thus while I was able to continue to work part-time at home, finishing the revisions to my book manuscript, my friend faced the simultaneous pressures of a new baby and a new job; she articulated her dilemma in terms that still reflect women’s experiences today: “When I’m at work I feel I should be with my family; when I’m with my family I feel I should be working.”
For me, at that time, the costs were different. While it was hugely exciting to have my book accepted for publication, as an “independent scholar” I lacked the institutional support and broader professional contexts in which that work could resonate; in addition, I missed the opportunity to be part of the larger conversation my book was responding to and might itself inspire. Choosing to step off the rails, to forge a different path meant, as well, that I lost momentum, lost pace with my graduate school colleagues, lost that clear sense of destination and productivity.
At the same time, what I gained, what I am offering you here today, is the knowledge that you can leave that proscribed path and not fall into the abyss, that you can make the unexpected choice and still live to tell, even to shape, your own tale. For me, facing the worst possible outcome—that I would, indeed, never be able to return to the profession I loved—meant that when I did get a job, this time at a small liberal arts institution, I had a clearer sense of who I was and what I wanted, and was in a better place to construct a career that placed human choices at the center of my professional, and indeed scholarly, life. Although the progression toward my second book, a study of adolescence and the eighteenth-century novel, has been, consequently, somewhat slower-paced, having to do, in part, with the extensive teaching and service demands of a small liberal arts institution (an important topic in its own right), I think that granting myself the permission to be an independent scholar through the writing of my first book has also enabled me to acknowledge the variations in scholarly output, as well as to recognize how my work might be enriched by bringing to it one’s “whole self.”
I think that the most important thing I’m trying to say to you is that in this process of moving your scholarly career forward, you need to figure out what works for you—not only in terms of the specific contours of research and writing, but also in terms of the personal and familial implications of those scholarly endeavors. I offer, then, the narrative of what worked for me in the spirit of pushing boundaries, challenging expectations, embracing the non-traditional. Recognizing that our research choices are human choices, acknowledging that the connections we value so highly in our families and friendships, with our students and colleagues, are also the engines that drive our scholarly selves, opens up, I believe, possibilities that can inform all of our scholarship, beginning with the publication of our dissertations. Thank you.
Latest posts by Shawn Mauer (see all)
- ASECS Roundtable: From Dissertation to Publication - August 25, 2014