Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, historian Nadya Williams writes about how the pandemic provided her with more opportunities to write. We at Current are thrilled about this. Earlier this year Nadya joined our team of contributing editors! (Check out her work at Current here.)
Here is a taste of her Chronicle piece:
For female academics, the narrative of our careers readily falls into two eras: before Covid hit and after. Before the pandemic, we bore the disproportionate burden of service, were less likely to be promoted to full professor, and felt the “baby penalty.” Since March 2020, all of the above still applies, only worse.
No doubt you’ve seen the headlines on the pandemic’s “sexist consequences” — how it has “hit female academics the hardest” and led to increased “gaps in productivity and publishing” and “lost research time.” Women have shouldered the burdens of “child care, eldercare, and student emotional support.”
And yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. While my own career can be easily divided into before- and after-Covid eras, the distinguishing characteristic is that now — for the first time in my life — I write every day. Following changes I made early on during lockdown, I am writing and publishing more than ever before.
How did that happen? A key part of the explanation: I have a supportive partner, a tenured position, good health, and two decent-quality coffee machines in the home. Yet I had all of those things before the pandemic and only managed to publish an article a year. And that was in a good year.
So what changed? And the more important question for female academics, and especially for mothers: Is my experience an isolated case, or could this be something that others could replicate, given the right “lab” conditions, levels of support, and sufficient caffeine?
In retrospect, perhaps the most surprising finding of my inadvertent productivity experiment is that what happened was something that has always been within my control, but I simply did not realize it. To explain, I will go back to the beginning.
In March 2020, as the national lockdown began, my husband (also an academic) and I suddenly needed to do our full-time jobs from home. We were teaching and grading, and carrying out significant service obligations (I was wrapping up a stint as the “Quality Enhancement Plan director” for my campus — accreditation lingo), while parenting three children (then 14, 4, and 1).
As a household of obsessive Type A people, we coped by creating a rigid daily schedule. As part of it, and for the first time in my career, I built something new into my workday: an hour of uninterrupted quiet time, just for writing.
Every day at 4 p.m., my husband stopped work and took the two younger kids outside for an hour to run around the yard, look for dinosaur fossils (to date, that quest has fallen short), blow bubbles, and climb trees. I set up camp in the kitchen and devised two key rules for myself: No checking email during this hour, and no working on anything other than my research and writing.
The result was a glimpse of joy and sanity each day. It allowed me to enjoy my family and work much more than before, and certainly more than I would have otherwise, under pandemic conditions. The practical outcomes:
- By the end of that 2020 summer, I had done the research and written from scratch two academic articles on a topic that was outside my previous expertise. I sent off both to journals. As of this writing, one has been published, and the other has been accepted for publication.
- I started writing short pieces regularly in a new-to-me genre: public writing in mainstream outlets. It’s been an exciting opportunity to share my ideas. But this kind of writing also offers me an additional measure of accountability: I have monthly deadlines, which means that not writing is not an option.
- I am now finishing a book project that I started in January 2021. It’s under contract and due to the publisher by late August.
Most important, I am a much more fulfilled academic now than I was before the pandemic. This is particularly remarkable, given the internal strife on my campus.
The entire piece is behind the paywall at The Chronicle of Higher Education.