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What Happens Next?

In this series, we ask former Career Enhancement Fellows to share key insights and experiences on their journey through the professoriate. For our inaugural newsletter, we spoke with Dr. Therí  A. Pickens (CEF ’14). Dr. Pickens is currently an Associate Professor of English at Bates College. Below, Dr. Pickens discusses the challenges of publishing her first book (New Body Politics: Narrating Arab and Black Identity in the Contemporary United States – Routledge Press), the impact intellectual community can have on the writing process, and reaffirms the importance of the Golden Rule. 

What did you find to be the biggest struggle in terms of publishing your first book?

Personally, it was difficult to synthesize all the unsolicited and sometimes conflicting advice I received while I was trying to write. The “how-to” publish and “what-to” write are two different questions and because of the abundance of advice, they often get conflated. My solution was to split the two questions, develop a plan for the how of publishing, and dedicate specific time to the writing. In terms of the process – proposal, drafting, submission, revisions, copy edits, celebration – that became easier once I realized what the process was. Each step had a small hiccup: not being legible as a book writer and not a dissertation, figuring out my scope/argument, finding writing/intellectual community, sorting through useful feedback from reviewers, rejecting/accepting feedback from reviewers, building in celebration/commiseration/consolation, coercing my mother to read the page proofs over vacation. They were more annoying than devastating.

What resources did you use (mentor connections, etc.) in order to navigate the publishing process? 

I created intellectual community in the form of writing groups (one at the college, one with folks from outside it), accounta-buddies for emotional support, accounta-buddies with institutional support, and accountability for writing. I also made sure to answer the question “how are you?” with something about my research when people asked. (That helped keep me accountable.) My mentor, Michelle Wright, is really quite good at asking pointed questions so I would often come to her and say “I need to quarterback this…” or “I’m thinking about rejecting this feedback…” and she would help me think things through. I am not particularly gifted at signposting and introductions, but people in my writing group were, so I would send the intro or a chapter and say “Please help” and they would. This was only possible in my peer networks because I was also fulfilling my responsibilities to them in the same ways.

What’s the biggest piece of advice you want to pass on to current or future CEFs as they begin the process of presenting their book projects to editors?

The editor and the writer have two different jobs. There are times when you will not be on the same page and that’s fine. You still have the same goal, which is to get your book out there. Keep in mind that at the beginning, you do have to understand your book as part of a marketplace of ideas and one that has to be legible in order to be sold [“engaged with”, “cited”]. During the process of revision & reviewers, your editor is not there for emotional support and neither is their staff. It it the writer’s job to clearly articulate what decisions are being made, and why they have intellectual integrity. After you have the book in your hands, it is your job to help market it and keep people interested. The ideas do not circulate automatically.

Anything else you would like to add about the politics/process of publishing? 

Don’t neglect your personal life as a way to get this done. You cannot produce your best work if you are not your best self. Check your ego & cynicism to make sure they don’t get in your way. They are useful affects and outlooks in moderation. Please remember that you are dealing with other people and be cordial, professional, and clear. Behaving like a jerk may not even have consequences you can easily recognize, but it always circulates and, sometimes, it can come back in unexpected, uninvited, unintended, and unwanted ways.

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Connecting to Community

In our current social-political climate, it is more imperative than ever to consider how we can leverage our identities as scholars, teachers, and administrators and the perspectives gained inside the academy to attend to the pressing needs of our communities. Dr. Marc S. Rodriguez (CEF ’07), Associate Professor of History at Portland State University, speaks about how his academic work concerning historical memory and civil rights shapes and is shaped by his engagement with community.

How have you negotiated the responsibilities of the academy with action in your community?

I saw my work as being done mainly on behalf of the many people in my hometown’s Latino community who had never had their story told to the outside world and never saw it as the complex historical process that it was. I have also maintained a role in the local politics of my hometown, and my family still lives there so I have never lost sight of where I came from.

How do you feel like engagement with your community has shaped your research and/or teaching practice?

My work grew from a desire to understand the lives of Tejano farm workers and their children. As the son of a Tejano farmworker it directly shaped my work.  With such diversity within the Latino/a population today there has been some historical erasure of the long term domestic Latinos who have lived in the US and have been born in the USA for nearly two centuries and in some cases much longer. My work seeks to tell part of that story.

As a scholar concerned with historical memory and civil rights, do you ever find yourself leveraging the insights gained from your research to impact your campus community? If so, how?

Social class is important. I sometimes worry that we have given up on economic issues in favor of multiculturalism and diversity so I have pushed colleagues and university administrators to pay attention not only to the somewhat easier work of attracting international elites and wealthy minorities to doctoral programs and university jobs, but also to maintain a commitment to Affirmative Action to recruit domestic minorities from low income backgrounds. I was a Pell Grant recipient as an undergraduate but I worry that too often fellowship programs and universities pick the easy fruit of elite yet diverse applicants rather than seeking out and perhaps taking a chance on the less exotic low income or first generation minority applicants. I remind people that the US Civil Rights Movements (all of them) were about upward mobility and justice rather than the diversification among and between global elites.

We welcome former CE Fellows who’d like to share their experiences or give advice that encourages their colleagues to engage in more community-based outreach or research to contact [email protected] for future inclusion in the Career Enhancement newsletter.

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