Jennifer Polk is the go-to authority on helping grad students and people with PhDs explore careers beyond professoriate and academic jobs. She writes on issues related to graduate education and career outcomes for doctoral-degree holders, has a PhD in History from the University of Toronto, and is the co-founder of Beyond the Professoriate, and the owner of From PhD to Life and Self Employed PhD.
While Jennifer has now built a career around helping others with doctorates figure out what’s next, she herself is a great example of how a person with a doctorate can pursue and attain career satisfaction outside of the traditional academic path. Here, she chats with me about what she does for people with their doctorate (many of whom, sometimes, have no idea what’s next!), her own journey into this line of work, how she found her community through social media, and the one piece of advice she would give to anyone with a doctorate. Read on for more!
My friend and colleague Ruchika Tulshyan (a speaker, journalist, and the author of The Diversity Advantage) and I co-wrote a piece about how workplace discrimination against South Asian Americans can be traced back to the classroom, especially in light of the model minority myth, published this past week in The Aerogram.
Here are some of the takeaways from our article:
Starting in the classroom, belief in the model minority myth can lead to difficulties for students
…this can be traced back to pervasive and systemic discrimination that starts in K-12 environments, and impacts social beliefs
…which then ends up in the workplace
The model minority myth can sometimes help South Asian Americans get their foot in the door in certain workplaces (the myth can lead hiring managers to check off the diversity box in an apparently ‘nonthreatening’ way — which perpetuates its own problems)… BUT
…It can then create “a whole new ceiling,” since the same stereotypes that seem to make them appealing hires can work against them when it comes to advancement
Also, re: previous point, South Asian Americans (especially South Asian American women) are noticeably absent from leadership roles
Ultimately, discrimination against South Asian Americans exists from the K-12 level into the career space
If you’re interested, you can read the whole thing here.
P.S. – You can follow Ruchika on Twitter at @rtulshyan, or visit her website here. And if we’re not already Twitter friends, add me at @punitarice.
Also, in case you missed it, here’s a piece for Education Week Teacher on the importance of pronouncing students’ names correctly.
Did you see the “First Time I Saw Me” campaign on Twitter a few months ago? Black Girl Nerds and Netflix collaborated earlier this year and started a campaign centered around diversity and representation in the media, and pushed the use of the hashtag #FirstTimeISawMe to collect stories from people sharing the first time they saw themselves. (Two of the most popular videos/stories came from Ava DuVernay and Spike Lee. Also, here are some great videos.) It got me thinking about my own experience with the “first time I saw me” on television or in pop culture. And I realized that the first time I saw me… hasn’t happened yet.
Have you ever worked for a boss who knew less than you about your area of work? Or, how do you deal with a boss who knows nothing about the area in which you work?? (If you have any actual advice for dealing with a bad boss, please leave a comment!). My cousin N.* found herself in this exact position. (*She’ll be saying some negative things about management at her current position, so let’s leave some mystery around her name.)
N. is a recent graduate with a degree in Physics, and a background teaching Astronomy, and she’s basically a genius. Her plan after graduating was to do something cool at NASA (where she interned), or head into a Ph.D. program right away (related: here’s a post on pursuing a doctorate in education). But, as she put it, “the reality turned out to be quite different for me and not at all how I planned.” Instead of starting a Ph.D. program, or working for NASA — “a dream I’ve probably mentioned to every person in my family at some point since 9th grade,” she says — my cousin took on a position doing K-12 science research and developing and writing science assessments for various states (clients).
At this job, while she was struggling with the conflict between her expected career path and the reality (as she put it, “who really plans for things to go unplanned? I certainly didn’t.”), she also found herself contending with another major struggle everyone has probably contended with at one point or another:
A boss who knows much less than her. Here, she chats about her experience working for a boss who knows less than her, and how it contributed to her leaving that position this October. Here’s her story.
The Simpsons is a great show. But Apu sucks. For a variety of reasons — including the fact that there’s so little representation of South Asians on tv in the first place, and that the depiction of Apu as simultaneously the perfect model minority and immigrant, and the depiction of him as a joke that encompassed all stereotypes about South Asians popular in the early 90s — I have problems with the creation of Apu. With Hari Kondabolu’s new documentary The Problem With Apu coming out, I found myself thinking about my own personal problems with Apu, and wrote a bit about some of these problems for The Establishment. Some (paraphrased) snippets from my piece for The Establishment are below, (or you can read the whole thing here) if you’re interested…
I wrote an essay for Education Week Teacher about why pronouncing students’ names correctly is — and should be — a big deal. In the piece, I spoke about why mispronouncing students’ names is problematic (and can be a kind of microaggression), what my own experience has been with my own name, information about the ISAASE Name Pronunciation Guide, and actionable tips for teachers to improve their name pronunciation.
A brief excerpt from the piece (about how many South Asian Americans — myself included — already simplify our own names for the benefit of others, thus emphasizing the importance of teachers making the extra effort to get it right!)
I am South Asian American and spent over a decade mispronouncing my name for my own teachers to make it easier for them to say. My name is pronounced Pu-nee-tha; but for years, I said “Puh-nee-da.” I’m not alone in doing this; a lot of South Asian Americans I know offer an Americanized pronunciation of their names (Unn-jal-ee goes by “Anne-julie”), if not another name entirely (Sanket goes by “Prasad”). In spite of offering teachers what I imagined was an easier version of my name, most still pronounced it wrong (“Poo-needa?” “Paw-needa?”).
Pavana Reddy (who you may already be following on Instagram — she’s also known as @mazadohta!), is an amazing, beautiful, inspiring poet. You can sample her lovely poetry on her Instagram page (here), hear it on Anoushka Shankar’s album Land of Gold, or read it in her first book, Rangoli.
I got to connect with and interview Pavana for ISAASE’s Be Inspired project. We had a touching, earnest conversation about her experience of internalizing a sense of otherness growing up Brown in Canada, and about how the pain of losing her sister to suicide changed her writing. She also shared why she feels it’s so important for young people to share their feelings.
The English teacher in me is happy to have connected with such a talented rising poet, and the human being in me is so grateful I had the opportunity to connect with this beautiful soul; this was one of the most personal interviews I had a chance to do for the project, and I’m honored she was willing to share her story with me.
I hope you’ll check out the full interview if you’re interested. Below is an excerpt.
“…I wish I had the language I have now to have been able to save my sister from the pain she silently carried for years. After her death, I didn’t have anyone to talk to. My teachers were not as accessible as they should have been, and coming from such a small town also kept me from speaking to my peers; so I turned to books for company. I would read so much that the characters would become my friends, and that helped me deal with my sense of disconnect. I realized I wasn’t in alone if how I felt, and that brought me a lot of comfort.”
If you’d like to read, the full interview is here.
P.S. – More of Anoushka Shankar’s music here, and here, and here’s an interview with Natasha Sumant of Gundi Studios.
And a follow-up appeared on my Instagram feed from @the_indian_feminist (an account that I love, by the way), which screenshotted those Tweets and added:
I know it’s hard to stop, I kept letting people mispronounce my name for so long until I realised I started INTRODUCING myself in the mispronounced version. That got me fucked up. Ever since I just tell people if they’re saying it wrong, and it’s been great.
And yet, I have to argue that mispronouncing your own name isn’t inherently always “wrong.”
if I’d heard this sentiment while growing up, I think it’s possible that it might have impacted me in a way that maybe could have resulted in my saying my own name right. So hearing this kind of advice might be important for a lot of people.
But I hate that the way it’s framed seems to shame South Asian (and other) kids who engage in this behavior.
A lot of kids adjust their own name pronunciation in an effort to make their own experiences growing up easier (especially for those kids who are growing up in areas that are less-than-diverse).
Cultural identity and acceptance is a journey.
And for a lot of South Asian American kids (and other kids too!), they may just not be ready, or “far along” enough on that cultural identity journey to embrace pronouncing their own names the way their parents might say it.
Or, they might have any other number of reasons for not saying their name correctly.
I think rather than shaming kids for mispronouncing their own names, we should encourage them to embrace their identities and cultures and roots — but not at the cost of shaming them for where they’re at now.
The Name Pronunciation Guide for K-12 teachers is an example of a resource that’s meant to help improve teachers’ pronunciation, and in so doing, maybe remove one of the factors that might influence/lead some kids to mispronounce their own names. Tools like this can help equip educators to do their best with pronouncing “difficult” (ok, foreign) names correctly.
At the same time, it’s critical to remember that kids all have different reasons for wanting to pronounce their names the way that they pronounce them.
If you can relate to this post, please consider sharing your own experience in the comments section below. And if you’re interested, you can learn more about my book here or look at the listing for it on Amazon.
Do you, or have you ever mispronounced your own name? Why?
P.S. – Add me on Instagram here, and on Twitter here. Any Amazon links will be affiliate links; more information about the site disclosure here.
Have you heard of Lady Pista? Sumangala Narendrakumar (aka Lady Pista) is a recording artist and DJ whose music is a blend of dancehall, electro-house, and world music. A couple months ago, I reached out to Lady Pista to connect about the ISAASE Be Inspired project, which aims to inspire young South Asian Americans by sharing diverse profiles and stories of success (especially success that doesn’t fit stereotypes of South Asian achievement!). She shared some lessons she’s learned along her journey navigating the entertainment industry as a South Asian woman. Here are two of my favorite pieces of advice she shared…
“You have to remember that you are the biggest vehicle to your own success.”
On following your passion and carving out your own destiny:
“We are all told that the arts isn’t a career and we need to find a suitable role in society and fit the mold. What if your mission wasn’t to follow the pack? What if it was to break boundaries so our communities can evolve?”
I loved getting to know Lady Pista, and chatting about her experience of pursuing a career in the entertainment industry, challenges she’s faced along the way, and her advice for young people pursuing a similar path. If you’re interested, you can read the full interview here, and you can hear some of her music at her website.
P.S. – Her 5-track EP “Imma Pista” releases next month!
Happy Diwali! Thursday of this week is Diwali (also spelled Divali, and sometimes called Deepavali/Deepawali). A lifetime ago, when I was a student, a teacher asked me to explain Diwali to my classmates. I don’t think I provided much more than:
“Um… it’s the festival of lights? There are fireworks?”
Me, as an 11 or 12 year old who knew very little about Diwali
In my defense, it was middle school, and it — and everyone in it — was awkward. And I really didn’t know the significance of the holiday — just that we celebrated it. (I think I knew that different people celebrated it differently / for different reasons, but I definitely wasn’t the expert on Diwali she hoped I’d be. And I also felt kind of embarrassed, like I was letting down all of India by not being able to teach everyone about it. The whole thing was pretty embarrassing, actually.)
Today, I can share a lot more about Diwali (but then, today, I’m also the teacher instead of the student, and also, I’m not 12 anymore), so I thought I’d do that here. If I’d known then what I know now, here is what I’d have shared with my teacher and peers… so read on to learn all you might want to know about Diwali so you can teach students about it (plus, some resources for teaching students about it).
(And, pro-tip: if you’ve got an Indian kid in class who celebrates it, please find out ahead of time if they’d like to share anything about it with the class — and please don’t assume they’re the expert!)
What is Diwali?
Diwali is an important cultural (and religious) holiday, and it’s celebrated by over a billion people on Earth, for many different reasons.
Why Teach about Diwali?
If you’re teacher, this probably means many of your students and staff members are celebrating, too. Which means it’s probably also worth considering teaching about Diwali. So if you’re teaching about Diwali (and I hope you are), I hope this post is helpful for you!
While the holiday is celebrated for its religious significance for many Indian religions (including Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, and others), it is also important to learn about in the context of studying world cultures, because of its’ CULTURAL significance.
In my school district, this is particularly relevant for students in 7th Grade World Studies, who will soon be talking more about the cultural significance of holidays, and the role they play in human civilization and society, in the next few weeks when we start Unit 2 (Culture & Cultural Diffusion). Thus, even from a strictly informative standpoint, it is worth learning about!
What is Diwali?
The holiday has many different meanings for different cultural and religious groups in India, but one of the key themes of Diwali is the celebration of the triumph of good over evil (definitely an idea we can all get behind). This theme is represented in many different ways for the hundreds of diverse cultural groups in South Asia.
Diwali (or Deepawali) means “row of lamps,” and these lamps or lanterns represent the “inner light” in all of us. Often, when someone wishes you a Happy Diwali, they also share some version of this sentiment: “may there be so much light filling your lives that darkness finds no room to dwell!”
How is Diwali Celebrated?
Diwali is part of a five-day Festival of Lights that begins just before the New Year in the Hindu lunar calendar. Diwali is originally a Hindu holiday, and for many Hindu families, it can include praying to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, prosperity, and good fortune.
The most visible forms of celebration include fireworks, eating and exchanging sweets, decorating doorsteps with Rangoli Art, hanging lights, and lighting clay lamps.
What about Sikhs?
Many Sikhs also celebrate Diwali for its cultural significance, but Diwali has a different religious meaning than it does for Hindus. Diwali is celebrated in Sikhism for some distinct reasons:
Sikhs celebrate an event called Bandi Chhorh Divas, which marks the return of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Ji, who was freed, and helped free 52 Hindu kings who were being held as political prisoners, in 1619. When he arrived at Harmandar Sahib (aka The Golden Temple), it was Diwali day, and hundreds of lamps had been lit to welcome him home.
Diwali is also associated with the martyrdom of an elderly Sikh scholar and strategist named Bhai Mani Singh, in 1737 on Diwali day. Bhai Mani Singh was the Granthi (reader of Sikh scripture) at Harmandir Sahib, and he transcribed the final version of Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikhs’ Living Guru and holy book) dictated to him by Guru Gobind Singh, the last guru of the Sikhs, in 1704. The martyrdom of this important religious and historical figure is also honored on Diwali.
Many Sikhs celebrate Diwali for its cultural significance, but may also partake in religious activities, including Kirtan and an Akhand Paath (continuous reading of Guru Granth Sahib). Typically, Sikhs celebrate Diwali with fireworks and hanging lights at Gurdwaras.
My favorite resources for teaching about Diwali
There are links embedded throughout the information above, which you are more than welcome to use. Below you will find some more links to resources that didn’t make it into the text above, but that can be used or shared to enrich understanding of this holiday’s significance, as well as to improve cultural competence and proficiency.
If you end up putting together a mini-lesson plan of your own, please consider sharing it in the comments below!
Have a Happy Diwali! May this year be full of you getting to do all the things you love to do. Love and light to everyone!
P.S. – Here is a nice video of President Obama wishes everyone a Happy Diwali, and here’s a helpful infographic on Diwali. Also, here’s a fun idea for using repetition in the classroom, and here’s a lesson plan to encourage random acts of kindness, and here’s how our family celebrated Diwali last year. Also, if you haven’t already done so, check out this post about my outreach organization, ISAASE.
The image at the bottom of this post is from my Instagram. Follow me if you’re not already at @punitarice.