Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Faculty Writing Groups: A Support for Women Balancing Family and Career on the Academic Tightrope

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Faculty Writing Groups: A Support for Women Balancing Family and Career on the Academic Tightrope

Article excerpt


Historically, the Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, has been rooted in teaching practice and the education of preservice teachers. Most faculty of education positions require teaching experience in the public school system, and many new faculty members have less experience conducting research, applying for grants, and writing for publication than those in nonprofessional disciplines (Badenhorst et al., 2013). While faculty promotion and tenure committees (governed by university policies) consider teaching and service in the process of gaining tenure, research productivity remains the primary area for assessment. Without research and publications individual faculty members are unlikely to gain tenure and be promoted even if they excel in teaching and provide service above and beyond institutional expectations. Consequently, there is enormous pressure on individual faculty members to publish and to secure research funding (Polster, 2007).

A faculty writing group was created 7 years ago to support faculty with writing and research. Previous research literature has pointed to the value of writing groups as support mechanisms for new academics (Galligan et al., 2003; Grant, 2006; Lee & Boud, 2003; Morss & Murray, 2001). Our writing group was structured to be noncompetitive, nonjudgmental, and relationship based (Badenhorst et al., 2013; Fassinger & Gilliland, 1992). Although the writing group was open to all faculty members, initially only untenured faculty and faculty with contracts attended, and most were women. In the second year of the writing group, only female faculty and female faculty with contracts continued to attend.

In our faculty writing group, we start with a check-in circle, we collect items for the weekly agenda, and we share successes and failures. In the centre of our table is usually a notice to use "soft eyes turned to wonder" when others are speaking (Palmer, 1998, p. 116) As a writing group we have provided support for group writing and individual writing. To date our writing group has published together in journals (Badenhorst et al., 2013), magazines (Badenhorst et al., 2012), and edited books (McLeod et al., 2015; Young et al., in press) and has presented together at several conferences (Badenhorst et al., 2012; Badenhorst et al., 2013; McLeod et al., 2011; McLeod et al., 2012; McLeod et al., 2012b; Young et al., 2013; Young et al., 2014). The group has also provided support for writing projects that are specific to individuals. Through receiving supports (as needed and requested), such as reading drafts and providing feedback and encouragement, individual faculty members feel more confident when submitting for publication.

This study focuses on a set of issues that surfaced regularly in writing group discussions over the years-namely, balancing family and an academic career. Writing group members strongly felt that this topic warranted further study. The women in this study previously worked in other settings, including public schools, mental health clinics, hospitals, and private schools, prior to making a transition into the academic environment. In their previous work environments most of the women had much clearer boundaries between their work lives, family lives, and other activities. While these boundaries were not necessarily "impregnable" (Nippert-Eng, 1996, p. 280), they were more obvious.

Theoretical Framework

This study is situated within the framework of work/family border theory. According to Clark, the contradiction between "determining and being determined" makes work and family balance challenging. Each individual's life is "differentiated by borders that vary in permeability," and the degree of permeability affects how much individuals feel that they are in control (determining) or lack control (being determined) of the transitions between work and home (Clark, 2000, p. 752). Building on the work of Nippert-Eng (1996), Clark's theory describes the lines between the domains of work, family, and other (nonwork) as being physical, temporal, and psychological. …

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