Gloria González López on Maintaining a Balanced Life

Initiating our work/life balance series for 2012-13

Dr. Gloria González-López is a Gender and Sexuality scholar working with Mexican and Mexican American communities, with an emphasis on social inequality. She is a prolific author and serves as the Minority Liaison Officer for the Sociology Department at UT Austin. She is also a truly humane being. Based on her own life and professional experiences, she shared insights on maintaining a healthy and balanced life with graduate students and staff in the first of a series of conversations on work/life balance.

Dr. González-López, who joined UT Austin in 2002 as an Assistant Professor, suggests that caring about yourself and others lays the foundation for building good health and community. She walks every morning in order to maintain balance and claims staying healthy and being able to be a happy Sociologist is not impossible.

Some lessons learned:
• Sharing well-being tips with others is helpful
• Self-care is basic: eat, sleep and exercise
• Sleep 8 hours, or enough to feel rested and have a clear mind – don’t compromise
• Having a schedule that includes exercise is vital
• Turn off your electronic devices at a certain time every night
• Try not to answer emails on the weekend (unless there is something truly urgent! —yes! the rest can wait)
• Don’t text while driving
• Taking time off makes you more productive, produces more publications, keeps your research interests dynamic

How do you have a personal life, or possibly a family?
Since there is so little time to write, those who are successful remain highly focused, disciplined and happy, although highly scheduled. Remember, your academic life cannot become your main source of happiness. Life brings its own rewards.

Mentors really made a difference through true care and cultivation. This makes all the difference. It also pays to be mentored by someone who is living a well-balanced life. Repay their efforts by paying it forward and becoming a great mentor to your students.

Cultivating mentors: Be honest about your needs, visit during office hours and do not overwhelm people. Show faculty members respect for their time and expertise. Take baby steps in building relationships and look for chemistry and similar interests beyond shared racial or sexual identities. A relationship with a mentor is after all a human relationship – a special one.

Don’t put life on hold because of your PhD:
This can create resentment and inhibit your productivity. Turning off the computer on the weekend was really helpful. Carrying around a small notebook helps to capture ideas without turning on the computer. Gloria’s recipe for success in her own life: M&Ms, mountains and movies on the weekend. By Sunday you’re looking forward to Monday and getting back to writing.

Do not isolate yourself. Misery loves company, but also swap strategies for success. Ask people who are happy how they do it. Have at least one friend who is not a Sociologist, outside academia. Not losing touch with everyday life and staying grounded helps to stay mentally healthy and socially connected. It is a privilege to be a professor and humanizing to talk with people about the price of tomatoes and the election at the grocery store.

While she was in graduate school, Gloria was accepted with no funding, so accepted a TAship outside the department in her first year. She did not take the required course load in her first year so soon she was told that she was “out of sequence.” When the chair of the department told her, she wanted to leave but was talked out of it. It was a rough start, people were leaving but Gloria talked herself out of it and developed a thicker skin and some resilience. It’s easy to shrink and lose confidence. The wonderful, supportive mentors in her department helped her generously — she survived. Going to counseling was very helpful and she was fortunate to find a therapist who was also a professor aware of her struggles. She gained new contexts for academic life.

Learning to unplug from work without feeling guilty is vital:
In Sociology we study slavery. What about self-slavery? Academic slaves should unite to abolish self-slavery. Comply with what is required. Find out what to do to get tenure: book, #of articles, other collaborations and contributions. Gloria made the promise to herself to become a professor and get tenure as long as it feels OK with the rest of her life. That promise lays the foundation for self-respect rather than self-slavery. Intellectual ambition and intellectual greed should be differentiated. Herein lies the compromise in living a healthy life. The ego is highly invested in one’s profession: how many times you are cited, falling prey to the smartest person in the room syndrome. The tendency to look at who is ahead and come up lacking rather than seeing where you are in a continuum of scholars fosters insecurity. Perfectionism is the bane of academic success.

At ASA a senior scholar got an award and complained that he was not nominated the year before. Gloria was shocked while learning about the ways in which even people who have succeeded apparently might not be aware of these painful traps. This is a sad state of affairs. The take away: conventional definitions of success do not guarantee happiness. The most successful are not necessarily the happiest. Rescuing the humanity in your life and checking your motivation for doing Sociology is so important. Gloria wanted to work with adult scholars in community colleges. She did not get the job in a teaching college so started applying to R1 Universities. A newly minted PhD, she was a finalist 4 times before being offered a job at UT. UT was her opportunity # 5; her resilience and determination were rewarded. The thought of doing something to transform society is very motivating. It’s much more important to be relevant than famous.

Taking an Astronomy 101 class can help you get some perspective on how tiny you are. Remind yourself that making a difference in the lives of even a few people is really important and very fulfilling. Arrogance hinders learning. Staying humble is a good exercise, which also helps in dealing with the publication review cycle. The reviewers can be aggressively critical. Gloria includes the following comment in her reviews: “Please feel free to edit my recommendations so we make sure that the author receives feedback in a kind, supportive, and compassionate manner.” This helps to mitigate the culture of intellectual violence that can be so damaging. Transforming the culture of scholarship in the direction of kindness is needed and important.

Think of projects that are highly needed in communities of your interest and pursue them in a way that’s not self-punishing. It’s not always easy, which is why it’s important to take time periodically to touch base with your original motivation. Don’t lose the larger picture of life.

Participant Comments

Juan Portillo
“I am grateful to Dr. Gloria González-López for taking the time to share with us her experiences and her wisdom during the wellness and self-care talk. In particular, I appreciated her answer to the following question: how can one approach colleagues and professors who are coming from a different epistemological stance and may not know how their words and actions in and out of class can harm or marginalize students? Dr. González-López gave an example of a student in a class she taught many years ago who straight up told her he did not get feminism and would sometimes make hostile comments. She then decided to utilize her relationship to other students in the class to work together and manage the class discussions in a way where he could learn and grow. I realized then that the best way to approach any problem in academia is to not do it alone. I have relied many times on professors and other graduate students to solve personal and professional problems. Thus, I realized that within the message of self-care there is an implicit expectation that we can also take care of each other. This way, academia does not become too individualized, competition does not rule, and intellectual growth can take place. I am now more ready to be supportive of my peers and professors.”

Amias Maldonado
“ I found the work/life balance discussion to be incredibly rewarding on many levels. On a personal level, it was a safe space to communicate feelings that we graduate students all experience yet hide from each other. On an institutional level, knowing that we have reflexive, open, well-rounded people like Gloria in the sociology department makes me feel proud and supported. And on a practical level, Gloria offered many helpful strategies and ways of thinking that will certainly help me retain my sanity as I go through the graduate program.”

Katie Jensen
“The largest issue I face, and I feel many others face in graduate school is self-punishment. Especially the first year of graduate school. The load was such that I was unable to produce the quality I had always prided myself on. My identity and self-esteem was and is tied up in “being and believing I am a good student.” And graduate school became the first time in my life where I had to read strategically, read only the topic sentences; try to get the general argument without immersing myself in the specificities of the work. And I had never wanted to be that type of person. So how do I not punish myself for engaging in behavior I had always prided myself on not engaging in?

Secondly, often the solution we present to maintaining “work/life” balance is to make boundaries, to set aside chunks of time for life (e.g., don’t work on Sundays, don’t work after 6pm). It’s true that otherwise work will take over, and fill the space we do not consciously take from it. But does anyone else ever feel that this becomes another way that my life is regimented? That the key to happiness and balance becomes constructed as yet another obligation? Personally, I love to run. Some of the happiest, most mentally sound times of my life have been when I have gone for jogs every day – doesn’t matter how long or how fast. But, in graduate school I easily fall out of the habit, I repeat the horrible mantras “I’m too busy”, “There’s no time” or, one of the worst – “I didn’t finish what I sent out to accomplish today, so I don’t deserve and can’t have the reward.” So I have to force myself to take time for myself. But I can’t figure out how to remove this language of force, this sense of obligation, which I find so antithetical to the whole point of work/life balance.

So, my tips for resilience:
Do something social each day, whether it be a coffee or lunch date, drinks with friends, or soccer games.
Always do something between work and bedtime, no matter how late it is.
Always do something in the mornings before work – I like to watch shows like “Saved by the Bell” or “The Wonder Years” while I eat my oatmeal and prepare for the day.”

Julie Skalamera
“First and foremost, I want to thank you both for encouraging dialogue on well-being. I feel very fortunate (and rather proud) to be a member of a department who takes time to discuss and puts special emphasis on this important topic! I am also inspired by hearing others’ stories. Today was such a wonderful experience for me, and I am excited that it IS possible to have a well-rounded lifestyle AND productive career.

In terms of more specific comments and feedback… I will definitely keep in mind the advice and lessons that were shared today as I launch my graduate school career here at UT. I appreciated the dialogue about keeping in mind the larger picture and remembering what wakes me up and gets me excited to be doing sociology. As we discussed, it is truly a privilege to be a member of this community and to be pursuing my research interests. I am still adjusting to life as a graduate student in a new city — balancing the workload, meeting new people, exploring an unfamiliar environment — and I learned today that this adjustment period will be a process. I will need to be patient with myself as I determine study habits, time management, and fitting in my personal life. Again, the discussion today was helpful, refreshing, and very much appreciated.”

ASA 2012 Visions of Graduate Student Utopias

UT Austin citizens past and present: Dana Britton (Professor, Rutgers), Christine Williams, (Chair, UT Sociology), Kirsten Dellinger (Chair, Univ of Mississippi), Jeff Jackson (Assoc Prof, Univ of Mississippi), Kumiko Nemoto (Associate Professor, Western Kentucky University), and Patti Giuffre (Professor, Texas State)
Graduate Coordinator Evelyn Porter’s ASA report:

My focus this year at ASA was the Director of Graduate Studies meeting and networking with UT Austin alums at the Departmental Alumni Night. Many thanks to those of you who stopped by our table to say hello, it was great to see you! Next year in New York, we will have a reception, so plan to attend.

The most valuable part of the conference for me was the DGS meeting. I discovered (much to my delight) that UT Austin has substantial student support systems in place that many other universities have not developed. These include: an annual reporting system for students and mentors; a blog and other social media outlets; student-led brown bags, panel discussions and research presentations; health and well-being forums and other community building events (Spiderhouse salon, lunch on the patio, afternoon teas). Most of these programs are collaborations between students, faculty and staff. UT Austin is better able to focus on graduate student health and well being because staff are willing and able to provide support that faculty are often too busy to initiate. Twenty-seven colleges and universities had representatives at the meeting and we were one of two with an annual reporting system in place for students and mentors. I was one of two staff members attending and it made me very appreciative of the resources UT Austin has at its disposal. Considering our 80 ASA presenters (primarily graduate students) at the conference and the department’s multi-year funding of admitted students, what we offer to students academically and financially far surpasses most other universities. Most universities are dealing with overt competition among students for TAships and RAships and are unable to offer multi-year funding packages. Additionally, we have been fortunate to fund professional development opportunities for conference presentations and workshops thanks to university and faculty largesse.

The DGS report this year was from the ASA Committee on the Status of Racial and Ethnic Minorities in Sociology. I was again impressed by the way our department embraces and exemplifies diversity in a healthy, collaborative community-minded environment.

From the Graduate Student Under Represented Minority survey:

Grad School to Faculty – career paths for Underrepresented members
How does physical and mental health among minority students and faculty impact their career paths? Too many students and faculty of color are dying young. Second tier publications from minority faculty include a lot of titles about marginalization and troubled journeys. What are the characteristics of mentoring that advance the career path of URM grad students into faculty roles? Support for URM students must include building cultural and institutional capital.

URM students want to give a different lens to social problems. Students reported that the university did not value what they wanted to study. This was portrayed as having to fight for what they wanted to do. The framing was “we’re supportive” but nothing was done to further their research goals. Core committee members told one person to avoid controversial issues. Mentoring should include learning about health disparities, equity issues and language issues as well as gender and sexual minority perspectives.

What worked best was when students found the opportunity to learn the language of context, to conceptualize social change in a way that was understood by the academe. Supporting intellectual needs was found to be as important as funding and other forms of support. More focused support for the development of social and cultural capital, knowing how to ask questions, for instance is recommended. First generation students often don’t have the background or the desire to leave their cultural enclave. Discomfort must be acknowledged and assisted, class differences should be considered and thoughtful responses offered. Giving future faculty an understanding about how academia works, the dynamics of the academy is vital. Mentors who praise their students in front of their peers offer a boon to anyone on the market. Being merciless with insistence on the quality of writing while communicating that you care is also vital.

Positive experiences improve confidence and give a sense of belonging. Mentors can provide buffers to micro aggressions and perceptions of URM students as undeserving of “special” consideration:
• Provide practical skills for writing, analysis, grant-writing and collaboration techniques.
• Provide dominant cultural capital including: how to act and how not to act; what to expect; formal and informal rules of the academy and how to negotiate comments of racism, elitism, sexism and ethnocentrism.
• Reveal the supports, processes and dominant culture “inside scoop” that leads to success in the academy.
• Respect and support for diversity of thought and scholarship. The values and perspectives of new members of the academy must be incorporated.

SREM reported grad student advice to programs:
• Listen to minority student voices – groups should meet with faculty to convey feelings
• Peer mentoring – other students providing social support
• Funding Support – systematic support for students with fellowships and research
• Better communication among various departmental constituents
• Faculty should publish with their students
• Adjusting and accounting for socioeconomic /cultural backgrounds
• More support for peer networks
• Inadequate race scholarship, need more courses on race theory
• Have a graduate student annual conference in which graduate students present their work.

While the graduate student survey addresses URM specific issues, most of the mentoring suggestions apply to all graduate students. I am heartened by the Sociology department’s dedication to furthering the scholarship and well being of its graduate students and look forward to collaborating with all of you to ensure our quality of life here at UT Austin remains superb.

UT Sociology Graduate Community: The Race & Ethnicity Group

This past Friday, the Race & Ethnicity graduate student community group held its first meeting.  Founded in 2009, the group was created with three main goals in mind.  The first is to offer graduate students interested in race & ethnicity a supportive and collaborative place to workshop and discuss their work and papers in progress.  The second is to create a timely space where we can critically examine the ways in which race & ethnicity operate in current events and if necessary, make a political intervention into the discourse.  This was the case last spring, when several members of the race & ethnicity group along with Dr. Ben Carrington authored a Daily Texan column addressing the Trayvon Martin shooting.  Our final goal is to bring in respected and innovative scholars of race & ethnicity to discuss their works with the UT community.  To that end, the group has sponsored or co-sponsored talks by Drs. Joe Feagin, Adia Harvey Wingfield, John Sugden, and Beccy Watson among others.

This fall, we will be examining media representations of race broadly and the ways in which race & ethnicity are understood and discussed by the media in the 2012 election specifically.  In June, UT sociology professors Dr. Ben Carrington and Dr. Simone Browne co-edited a special issue of Qualitative Sociology entitled “The Obamas and the New Politics of Race” (currently available for free) and at our next meeting we will be discussing selected articles from the issue as a springboard into our semester-long conversation.  As part of our speaker series, in December we will be privileged to welcome Dr. Avery Gordon, author of Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination.  Dr. Gordon’s work demonstrates that past or haunting social forces control present life in different and more complicated ways than most social analysts presume and offers new ways to theorize the complex intersections of race, gender, and class.

We encourage any UT graduate students involved in race & ethnicity studies to e-mail Amias Maldonado ( for details on future meetings, as we strive to create a multidisciplinary, inclusive atmosphere that encourages intellectual collaboration and academic community.

Image Credit: Humanity, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collabratory

Marx Attacks!: A Lesson in Collective Effervescence

Here at the UT Department of Sociology, we believe in one simple truth: the history of the world is the history of football (or soccer, if you’d like to be American about it) struggle.  There is a dialectic between the talented and the talentless, and out of that primordial stew, somewhere, somehow, the UT Sociology Intramural Football team arose.  Now in its fourth year, the team stands as a shining example that graduate students do indeed recognize a world that exists outside our piles of books and revise-and-resubmit articles.  Under the name Marx Attacks! – for we are both economic materialists and a green, space faring race from Mars that has come to destroy the planet in a very 1950s pulp fiction way – we continue to fight the good fight, confident that one day the people will rise up behind us and declare to the world “Hey, these guys are pretty good for being grad students!  Maybe we should let them score more.”

The team is always looking for new players of any skill level to join. We play outdoors at the IM fields for four weeks in the fall, and indoors at the Rec Sports Gym on campus for four weeks in the spring. We try and practice once a week, and often head to the Flying Saucer afterward. During practices, we sometimes scrimmage against other departments and programs – mainly history and LLILAS.

Professors Javier Auyero, Ben Carrington, Art Sakamoto, and Alex Weinreb (together known as the “athletic vanguard”) have graced us with their presence on occasion in the past; professors, students, and enthusiastic spectators are welcome. The more, the merrier!

Email Eric Borja if you’d like to join us: