I’m of the mind that educational institutions should be palaces — and those who educate should be paid more than just about any other profession. To me, investing in education, particularly through public support to universities and research institutions, helps all of us within and across societies. When we know how to process information and distinguish fact from fiction, we can discuss issues which affect us all through informed debate, and shift our thinking as new information and evidence comes available.

Society at large in my mind should reward the many, many, many individuals who ceaselessly and unrelentingly dedicate their lives to educating others. It simply makes sense to me, as an individual, as a member of society and as an extended member of the University of Helsinki staff and faculty.

As further cuts to education and research are discussed and pushed forward as sound policy, I am appalled. I may not be a member of a particular union at the university; but I unequivocally support the unions and their members as they strike today. All those who work at and with the university to make it one of the best in the world deserve better. This collective of amazing, talented and indefatigably dedicated individuals should certainly be valued rather than continuously and rather callously put under increasing pressure to do more with stagnant (if not falling) wages and with the added understanding that their jobs and vocations may be but fleetingly secure.

Academic life is no joke. Nor is it particularly lucrative for the vast majority of us who have chosen it. And, most academics do not expect outrageously generous salaries or benefits. However, most of us understand that continual cuts result in increasing burdens on the entire system. Certainly, as employees, we suffer. But, more importantly, those seeking an education and knowledge suffer more.

If I were a member of one of the university unions, I would be striking today. Proudly. And resolutely.

Solidarity, my comrades! Your worth is immeasurable!



As a twenty-something graduate student, I never imagined teaching. The prize that I kept my eye on at that time was research, ideally in a position related to policy in some way, shape or form. At that time, as an arrogant graduate student rather myopically focused on her own research, I thought landing a teaching gig would be the worst possible outcome of all those hours and years spent as a graduate student.

Oh, the irony. Life has a way of reminding us of just how foolish we can be as young (or, even, older) idealists.

Fast forward 20-plus years, and here I am lecturing to graduate students. What’s weirder still, I love it. After three full academic years of teaching at the University of Helsinki, I cannot imagine not teaching.

Part of my enthusiasm for teaching lies within the topics I teach: academic writing, conference presentations and presentations in general, and grant writing, along with a few other transferrable skills courses. I was fortunate as a graduate student to have incredible mentors, professors-turned-friends who I still rely on for their wisdom and guidance, even if I don’t constantly pester them or hover in their doorways. The lessons they taught me years ago remain with me even now, and often echo in my own lectures. I can only hope that I do these incredible minds and kind souls justice. Because they shaped me in so many ways and helped me to become a more dedicated member of the academic community I now feel duty-bound to serve.

As exhausting as the academic calendar is and as much as I look forward to summer and winter breaks, being an instructor never ceases to provide further inspiration and immeasurable rewards. This most likely reflects the immense privilege it is to guide the pool of students that grace my classrooms. These brilliant, dedicated individuals, wise beyond their years, amaze me. They are, quite simply and, as one professor referred to me, indefatigable. As I sift through my inbox sending reviews and feedback to those who worked incredibly hard throughout whichever course they took with me, some of these bright young minds provide feedback to me. I welcome these moments because they help me do better in future. But, this, this I wasn’t expecting and it has moved me in ways I can’t begin to describe:

…. [O]ne thing that I found particularly inspiring was that you seemed to let your personality bubble through your professional instructor role. I have noticed that especially women often somehow suppress or flatten their personality when acting in an expert position, which is maybe because they are afraid of not to be taken seriously otherwise. I don’t want to end up falling into this pit, so I also want to thank you for showing an empowering example that it is possible to be a professional without burying yourself under a role.

For whatever reason, this feedback from an incredibly bright young student represents one of the most powerful indicators that I’m doing what I should be doing. What I was intended to do. And, perhaps, something I’m truly good at. If my classroom example encourages young women scholars to be themselves regardless of stereotypes and expectations, all the better.

Indeed. As a graduate student, as a young career professional and later as a mid-career professional, I didn’t always feel sufficiently empowered to be me. Perhaps the greatest gift this gig has offered me is a way to find my own voice and to apply that voice to providing guidance to others. Without consciously realising it, my own voice appears more genuine and more authentic than it’s ever been before. And, oddly, more confident.

I love my job. Truly. But, this personal metamorphosis was so entirely unintended, yet I completely welcome it. And, can only hope that it continues. At the very least, I hope my own metamorphosis allows others to transform as well…



What we are taught, part 2

Over breakfast one morning when I was maybe 14 or 15 years old, my grandfather advised me to ‘keep [my] knees together’. To this day, I have no idea what prompted this seemingly random statement.

As an awkward adolescent sitting at breakfast in a restaurant with her family, I was mortified. From the faces of everyone except my grandfather and the choked chortling coming from the wait staff, it’s one of my most vivid memories of my grandfather and one I’d rather not recall quite so easily. The message, however, was as clear then as it is now: my own actions as a girl or woman will be interpreted by others and either invite judgements of virtue or exploitation and I alone hold responsibility over whatever happens. In other words, what happens to me (sexually) is my ‘fault’.

Horseshit, I say, now as I did then. I am of course responsible for the choices I make and decisions I take. But, I am not an object.

Nearly 30 years later and armed with a firm understanding of feminism, sexual justice, and the notion that there is no justification for the subjugation or exploitation of anyone, it’s discouraging to hear what is passing as a project aimed at today’s youth in West Virginia.

Labelled Project Future Two-a-Days, the ‘social media and drug education’ programme launched in August is aimed at high school athletes and guiding them on ‘avoiding trouble on the internet‘. Basically, it teaches young athletes how not to tweet, text or post to social media any evidence which might incriminate them or lead to criminal charges against them.

That is, things happen when you add drugs, alcohol, smartphones and raging hormones. Don’t share it via social media and here’s how you can avoid getting caught.

Maybe, in all this training, we can insert a little bit of guidance on not sexually assaulting young girls? Maybe a little something about ‘consensual sex’ and its meaning? And, hey, whilst we’re at it, maybe we could talk about safer sex? Since the programme mentions drug education, maybe we can also add a little about responsible drinking and drugs behaviour as well?

But, no, the idea is to not get caught — not to not do it in the first place. That it is designed for young male athletes is rather shocking.

News this week has showcased yet another town’s lovely treatment of a pair of young girls who were raped (at a star football player’s home and by him and his friends), one girl being left for dead on her lawn in freezing temps. Despite both physical and digital evidence, despite eye witness accounts from the younger girl and several of the other boys there, and despite what appears to be confessions from the two boys who assaulted the girls, the charges were mysteriously dropped. Instead, the two girls — one 13 and another 14 — were blamed for what happened to them and much of the town stands firmly behind the boys who perpetrated rape whilst publicly shaming the girls.

‘They asked for it’. ‘They deserved it’. ‘Matt 1: Daisy 0’ read one viscious t-shirt — Matt being the star football player, Daisy being the girl left for dead. That t-shirt was worn by another girl.

How many times will this happen? How many times has it happened and gone unreported?

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network provides a depressing answer to that last question: out of every 100 rapes, 54 go unreported. Only three out of every 100 rapists will spend a single day in jail for the crime(s) they commit. Three. I think we can agree that that is appalling.

From RAINN ( Sources:  1.  Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2006-2010; 2. FBI, Uniform Crime Reports: 2006-2010; 3. National Center for Policy Analysis, Crime and Punishment in America, 1999; 4. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006; 5. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006.

From RAINN (
1. Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2006-2010; 2. FBI, Uniform Crime Reports: 2006-2010; 3. National Center for Policy Analysis, Crime and Punishment in America, 1999; 4. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006; 5. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006.

There is no justice figures like these. Whilst these are figures for all rapes regardless of age, given the reluctance of most kids to talk about sex let alone sexual violence and drugs and alcohol with their parents, it’s easy to imagine that most instances of rape in adolescents go unreported to anyone. But, by all means, let’s start programmes which teach young men how to get away with sexually assaulting young girls.

Gloria Steinem may have been speaking on a seemingly unrelated issue when she recently said that we need to ‘change the culture‘. But, that seems precisely what we need to do. Rather than teaching boys and young men how not to get caught and to not post videos or pictures of their friends raping young girls, we have the tools and responsibility to teach them how to respect young girls and how NOT to rape young girls. We should spend a little energy and time imparting upon them that girls and women are not simply sexual objects — young girls are equally important and valuable — intellectually, socially and culturally. Let’s provide young people with healthy notions of relationships of all types.

And, while we’re at it, let’s teach young girls (and young boys) that have been sexually assaulted that they won’t be blamed for the heinous acts perpetrated against them. They will not be shamed by their community simply because the popular, well-connected individual is the guilty party. It is not their fault when a violent crime is committed against them.

The only way we can change the culture of rape and the culture of objectification is to call it what it is and hold those accountable for turning a blind eye. And, we commit further crimes when we blame those against whom such crimes have been perpetrated.

Thirty years on from that mortifying breakfast and I am realising nothing has really changed. But, that doesn’t mean it can’t.

US$1 Trillion and Counting…?

It was always a foregone conclusion that I would attend university. But, I must be one of the only people amongst my friends who didn’t graduate from university or graduate school with crippling student loan debt.

Despite an early career as a ‘professional student’, which included an extended period spent ‘finding myself’ and finishing my undergrad (1988-1993, spent at two separate institutes and with enough credit hours to have at least three majors), a Master’s (1994-1997), and just shy of a PhD (1997-1999, with a few extra semesters still on the roster spent in absentia), I didn’t take out a single student loan. Not one.

To be completely transparent, from my third year onward as an undergrad, I worked at least part-time and had help (particularly with tuition fees) from scholarships and/or my family throughout. My entire graduate education tuition was provided for through assistantships and fellowships, and I was paid as a teaching or research assistant (at times very handsomely). I worked hard; and I played hard. But, I had no debt of any kind at the end of it all. Even the credit card debt I’d wracked up when times were leaner were paid off by the time I left the halls of the academy for ‘the real world’.

I am a rarity in the US evidently.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across graph from a study carried out by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY), which included current college loan debt by age range and was astounded to see that a healthy percentagee of those in their 60s still had outstanding balances from their college days. A healthy 5.3%, in fact. That amounts to nearly 2 million individuals in their 60s! Think about that. You’d expect that an individual would graduate university sometime in their early to mid-20s. Then, get a job straight away, work for 30+ years, and then they still have student loan debt? How is that possible?

I well remember peers of mine in graduate school tabulating how much their education had cost. One such peer had a PhD from NYU, one of the leading schools in his particular field. Because teaching jobs at the time were few and far between, he could only get an adjunct teaching position, which meant he was paid about the same as I was as a first-year PhD candidate on a fellowship and assistantship. His student loan payments were double his rent and car payment combined, and he lived in a shit hole. Another friend who had completed his Master’s and was a brilliant archaeologist and historic preservationist had something like US$70 000 in student loan debt upon graduation. Finding jobs for them was more about survival than what they were necessarily trained to do or enjoyed doing.

According to the same study carried out by the FRBNY, student loan debt in the US now tops both outstanding automobile loans and credit card debt, and has been estimated at US$1 trillion. That’s staggering. Granted, that balance isn’t shouldered by one individual nor even one generation as the graph above shows. But, still. With roughly 37 million individuals (or 15.4% of those who have debt of any kind) collectively carrying that debt, that’s a heavy burden to bear.

From my relatively privileged position of not being saddled with crippling student loan debt, it’s easy for me to say that I fully support an education system which is free to all. Recent graduates have plenty enough to worry about—securing a job in their chosen profession, developing their careers, etc. For those who happen to marry and/or have children at the same time, which is perfectly within their rights, why add the burden of student loan debt to that list of concerns? Furthermore, shouldn’t we as a society want to see our citizenry well educated and trained, equipping them as much as possible with the tools they need to succeed in their professions?

If knowledge is power, why do we make it so difficult to gain a body knowledge? If it’s inherently better to teach a man to fish, why charge him with interest to learn to do so?