Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

We All Need Champions – My Writing Champions

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So Digital Writing Month #DigiWriMo is about to start and I am both excited and terrified!

I am excited to be co-facilitating and trying out an inclusive/postcolonial open online experience idea… Extremely excited by the choices of guest contributors we made (though also realizing all the wonderful people we missed! No worries, they can still contribute throughout the month) and extremely grateful for the high quality and diversity of the contributions they made – will make great daily bouts of inspiration for the month.

But terrified because these things can so often turn out differently from what you intend and as you allow for more emergence you take risks. And then you try to predict and prevent them which could often result in more centralization and less emergence. But I am fortunate to have incredible co-facilitators Kevin and Sarah. And hopefully everyone will be willing to give us constructive criticism. Hmm should we have a signup form?

So I was just talking to a friend Toni about impostor syndrome and how having a champion helps you survive through it. I had several such champions whom I thanked about a year ago just when I was invited to be a columnist for the journal Hybrid Pedagogy (which btw initiated DigiWriMo – as an aside, Hybrid Ped’s directors Jesse Stommel and Sean Morris are among my mentors and champions – and Chris Friend, the managing editor and my column editor, too). And I told her one of my own champions who believed in me and my writing is coming to. CAIRO. All of next week!

So I wanted to say something about him. Jon Nixon was my first PhD supervisor. And he taught me about academic kindness and generosity like no one else. I didn’t know he was known for his scholarship when I first started working with him, but I think what I do know of him is more important than all that.

For context: I did my PhD remotely. The University was Sheffield and I lived in Cairo, in Houston and in Norwich throughout doing it. I only visited Sheffield a few times. Jon was only my supervisor for 1.5 years. He went to another University right after my upgrade viva (it’s a UK thing for PhDs which is a small version of your thesis defense but w/o external examiner). Jon retired shortly before I was finishing my thesis (I was on maternity leave at the time) and asked my then-supervisor to get in touch with me.

Here are some amazing things he has done for me:

He started talking to me as soon as I was accepted into the PhD program before I started officially paying. He didn’t have to go out of his way to do that

He taught me I don’t need to read books by people just because intellectuals expect me to. I could focus on what was important for my own research rather than authors others thought I should read because that’s what they’re talking about these days

He encouraged me to dig into postcolonialsim and to question his own understanding of it because of our different positionalities.

More importantly – when he was no longer my supervisor, he showed an interest in my work – my ideas, my writing. He made time to read early drafts of much of my work and give real feedback. Thesis chapters. Peer reviewed articles. Even some of my early non-peer-reviewed stuff. I eventually grew out of it, but I don’t think I could have gotten far without it

He cheered me on. Gave me confidence in my writing style and quality of my ideas. That I should push for some things like submitting a chapter to a book whose proposal deadline had passed (I got in, it got published!). That I could write my own edited book fresh off the PhD (in progress)

More than that, he gave me all kinds of academic advice outside of writing. He introduced me to people doing similar work. He gave me insider tips about how things worked. He told me about established scholars whose submissions to journals got rejected.

He continues to mentor me in ways I solicit and ways I don’t.

I am excited to see him in Cairo this week and to share some of his generosity with others on campus for 3 days.

There is lifelong learning and there is lifelong mentoring – when both meet you get an amazing relationship. So happy to be hosting Jon here.

And hoping people will find such mentors (peers or more) through Digital Writing Month.

(apologies if this was an inhospitable post by being too personal)

2 Comments

  1. Thanks Maha for introducing me to this new concept.. “imposter syndrome” …

    I mean, it doesn’t sound nice.. but it’s good to be aware! So we can do something about it!!

    Each probably has their own standards and definition of a “high achiever”. A person who is an undergrad vis-a-vis a Phd holder would probably have different standards of achievement. I guess it will all boil into how we interpret the words of these people.

    I would like to go back to what Carl Roger’s would call “incongruity”. The gap between ideal self and real self.

    The larger the gap, the more incongruity and more suffering. I guess the only definition of high achievement that I’m going to believe in is MY own definition. And work on lessening the gap with my real self and the ideal self I want to be.

    Like you, I am thankful that I have my own champions. Whether professors or friends who cheer me up. There’s one friend I have, whenever I tell her “please read my blog post and comment”.. She would always comment “I believe in you” .. Sometimes I wonder if she even read my post… but I do appreciate her comments. Even if its the same comment in every blog post 🙂

  2. I’m scared as well … and excited!

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