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Information and education about psychology, gender, and trauma.

Advice and reflections on writing, research, and life in academia. 

Posts written by Dr. Jem Tosh and Dr. Lucy Thompson. 

Advice From Academia (That I Ignored)

by Dr. Jem Tosh

I never really saw the point of structuring my career or work around multiple systems where the goal posts were always changing. Why turn down opportunities or change the focus of your research to match the current priorities of others, that are likely to change over time and could take you further away from what you're really passionate about? Rather than have that narrow focus dictated by a fluctuating system with ever-changing criteria (i.e. funding bodies, REF assessments) I chose breadth, meaning that whatever the priorities turn out to be, at least some of my work will be relevant or eligible - and if not, well, at least I had fun while doing it.

1. Don't write a book.

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me not to write Perverse Psychology or Psychology and Gender Dysphoria, I would have more money than my book royalties. Many of my colleagues in academia, particularly in the discipline of psychology, advised me to avoid writing books like it was career suicide. 'Don't write books, write journal articles'. Personally, I always wondered why it was a choice. Those who know me well, know that whenever I'm offered a choice (e.g. If you read out a menu and ask me what I want, I'm likely to respond with 'all of the above'). I'm not an 'or' person, I'm an 'and' person, and I think long term. So, while I could think about all of the journal articles I could have written during that time (about 9 or 10, if you're curious), I look over the breadth of my current publishing record, which includes a range of topics, disciplines, and formats (e.g. books, book chapters, journal articles, commentaries, reviews, encyclopaedia entries, special issues and so on). So, I'm not feeling too worried about the fact that my journal list could be longer tbh.

2. Publish in high impact journals.

The most frequent response I get about this piece of advice is either about the UK REF and the importance of contributing to a university department's entry, or that working in academia depends on producing high impact journal articles. The problem is (actually there are many, many problems with this system) that it promotes those perspectives that are already accepted and influential. Analyzing rare or taboo topics, using or developing innovative or creative methodologies, challenge the rigid expectations of journals that predominantly focus on quantitative and positivistic approaches. The radical work that redefines a discipline, a method, or a topic, is less likely to fit into a process or system that is so difficult to dismantle. It's an inflexible system that is resistant to change - and my work is all about change, and those complex, messy issues that don't always fit within current concepts and/or approaches. I'm not going to change my work or my focus just to score points in a flawed system, and one that is changing.

Instead, I prioritise open access publications. I want my work to be available and read. So, my impact scores are low, but my impact (particularly my social impact) is high. I have around 25,000 views, reads and downloads of my work on and Publishing in smaller journals, that are more appropriate and relevant to my work (or specialist), that are also more accessible and can publish quicker, means that my work remains timely and relevant. That just makes more sense to me.

3. Don't speak up. Don't stand out.

I have been told this piece of advice a lot - over most of my life actually. I've resigned to the fact that I just don't know how not to stand out. So, I'm just going with it. When I started campaigning against gender conversion therapies (those therapies that try to change someone's gender identity), I was told by many people to stop talking about it. Whether it was people who thought that transgender people did need this kind of therapy (click here to see why they don't) or LGBTQA+ people who knew the risk I was taking in speaking out.

It was a risk and it was really stressful. I received a lot of hostility, which was distressing and at times terrifying. But that doesn't mean taking a stand was a bad thing. These reactions were due to transphobia and homophobia. They wouldn't have gone away if I had stayed quiet, they would have just been less visible. I felt I had a responsibility, as someone in training and now qualified, to use the spaces I had access to for social change, and I still believe that. For every person who turned their back or disagreed with what I was doing, I met many more who were working for the same thing and with the same passion.

4. Tone it down.

I got this a few times from mentors over the years, trying their best to protect me from the onslaught of hostility and discrimination that can happen within psychology (and academia more generally) when you work on topics that have divided the profession. I could see how they struggled to encourage me, while at the same time worrying about what would happen to me. It was usually related to feminism and my work regarding social justice. Passion and politics don't fit well within a discipline that promotes 'objective science', but my work embraces subjectivity, transparency, and ethics. My passion is what drives me when I'm analyzing a traumatizing transcript about violence against women, or how I break my publishing records (yes, I have publishing records). People think that I'm productive, and I am, but it's my passion that drives my writing. So don't tone it down, turn it up. I can write a draft paper that I'm excited about in day. When I have to write something that my heart's just not in, it can take months. I'm more productive when I'm really excited and interested in a project, so I go with my interest and the publications follow.

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also known as Dr. Jemma Tosh (deadname)


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