COVID-19 Makes Transforming the Academy More Urgent

A full year into quarantines, Zoom-everything, no childcare, and facilitating kids’ education at home, there is reason for concern about the long-term consequences for women in academia.

Within academic STEM fields, where women earn about half of the doctorates but are woefully underrepresented in advanced ranks, the impact may be particularly dramatic. The ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic directly affect individual women, but also academia itself. The pandemic has amplified inequities within academia and in society more broadly.

Will we recognize these impacts and seize the opportunity to make academia a more inclusive and equitable institution that welcomes the contributions of diverse academic women? If we want the best talent and most innovative research to advance knowledge, we must.

Even before a global pandemic abruptly moved our lives into virtual spaces, women shouldered a greater burden for care work in their families, communities, and workplaces, leaving less time to devote to their scholarship. As the immediate decline in the number of manuscripts submitted to scholarly journals by women demonstrates, the pandemic has exacerbated this inequity.

While some faculty and administrators still insist these are individual problems, the pandemic has confirmed what feminist sociologists have been saying for decades – we have structured our universities to reflect sexist and racist assumptions about who does, and should do, particular kinds of work, and how that work is valued, supported, and rewarded. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how far we are from equity and how easily we can lose ground. 

Faculty worry that administrators will not “let a good crisis go to waste,” as they cut faculty, staff, and academic programs, and reorganize their universities. They also note that many universities have attempted to acknowledge this crisis and responded by extending the time to tenure for faculty and changing the use of teaching evaluations. Some faculty are concerned that these responses may exacerbate rather than alleviate gender inequality. But this does not have to be the scenario.

The Research

My research suggests we are in a critical time that may be a moment for those committed to feminist institutional transformation to push for change. My interviews with feminist sociologists indicate they should be at the decision-making table to steer the response of universities to the pandemic in feminist directions. Why single out feminist sociologists for a central role in shaping policy for a more inclusive academia?

Sociologists are trained to identify and analyze how institutional structures and cultures perpetuate or remediate inequalities. Their expertise can help others to recognize that the expectations, policies, practices, and culture of the university—not characteristics of individuals—maintain inequality.  Feminist sociologists produce knowledge using the tools of their discipline and use that knowledge to inspire, inform, and demand structural and cultural transformation. They combine their disciplinary, methodological, and theoretical expertise with their political commitments to expose the ways these policies, practices, and institutional cultures reflect and reinforce white masculine privilege. This work can help us imagine a transformed institution.

The pandemic has revealed that despite decades of increasing numbers of women and minorities entering the academy, the organizational principles still presume a homogenous faculty composed of heterosexual white men with stay-at-home wives. The faculties have changed but the taken-for-granted assumptions about work and family often do not reflect this reality. Further, we must acknowledge that higher education includes a wide range of institutions serving very different types of students. My interviews with feminist sociologists who work on institutional change suggest that a just academy must reflect and support the lives of the diverse individuals within it. My findings encourage us to consider how our efforts to transform the academy should acknowledge and respond to this broad diversity, rather than impose a one-size-fits-all model of formal recommendations. Feminist sociologists have helped identify principles that could propel changes in policies and practices and re-shape institutional culture.

The current crisis requires change, and universities could use this moment to address the fundamental expectations, policies, practices, and cultures that have long reduced the possibility of meritocracy for women and people of color. Administrators must be aware that decisions made now will have long-term consequences. For example, tenure clock extensions may reduce pressure in the short term, but they will affect life-time salaries and retirement benefits for those who take that extra year now. Women cannot simply “catch up” on their research, and the consequences of the gender gap in manuscript submissions will further exacerbate inequalities.

My research suggests universities would be well served to listen to the experts within their own ranks. Feminist sociologists have the knowledge and skills to identify and analyze organizational problems. And, they have the political commitments that compel them to help change their institutions. While all faculty are tired and over-extended, many feminist sociologists continue to apply their disciplinary expertise to institutional transformation. They are already hard at work documenting and analyzing the effects of the pandemic. Research is revealing disparate experiences for parents and non-parents, with especially dire circumstances for mothers. We must seize this opportunity to devise policy and implement changes in practice, based on recommendations that can push us forward to a more just academy.

Heather Laube is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan-Flint. Her research examines how feminist academics navigate their often-conflicting positions and identities as they strive to maintain their feminist ideals, achieve professional success, and transform the academy. She is also interested in the ways innovative faculty mentoring programs can help individuals thrive and contribute to institutional change. You can find Dr. Laube on Twitter @h_laube.


What is Publons and why do they keep e-mailing after I review a paper?

As most of us have experienced, the moment we hit “submit” after peer-reviewing a journal article, our inbox immediately receives a flurry of e-mails. There’s the standard “your review has been submitted,” the occasional form letter from the editor thanking you for the review, and then there’s at least one (sometimes more) from something called “Publons.” If you’re anything like me, you don’t even bother to open the Publons e-mail, which, admittedly, sounds like one of the dozen or so predatory journals whose e-mails sometimes make it out of my spam folder.

After years of customarily ignoring Publons, my curiosity got the best of me last fall and I opened one of their e-mails to find that they offer a free service to track my peer reviews. Interested, but not yet convinced, I further investigated.

It turns out that Publons has created partnerships with numerous journals (including Gender & Society) in an effort to recognize and document reviewers’ labor. By signing up for Publons, the service automatically catalogues each time I review an article and, if I choose, will collect the actual review that I wrote. Even better, Publons tracks the outcomes (whether published or not) and, if published, provides the citation count for all the articles I’ve reviewed. For those really interested in the editorial process (e.g. editors/editorial board members) there’s also resources to help improve and manage peer reviews.

Publons convinced me and I’ve recently signed up for the service. To my great joy, it requires almost no effort on my part. My reviewers are automatically indexed. If I’m ever interested in how that article I reviewed a few months ago is doing, I can log in and check its metrics. I can even view my indirect contribution to the discipline by tracking the success of all the papers I’ve reviewed.

Publons is another metric to add to our ever expanding scorecard of professional performance. There’s certainly a limit to such quantification of our scholarly lives. But, at the same time, I appreciate that it makes the value work of reviewing more visible. My research has improved tremendously through the insightful suggestions I’ve received from reviews, and I hope that I have done the same for others. At least Publons provides an effortless way to recognize that critical work.

Better yet, many universities are starting to recognize peer reviewing. At the University of North Texas, there is a section in my annual report for me to list each review I’ve conducted. While this certainly holds less weight than publications, it does reflect well on my contributions to the discipline. It’s my understanding that other universities are moving in this direction as well.

If you haven’t yet, it may be worthwhile to open one of those e-mails from Publons and start getting some credit for the important, and often unrecognized, work we do as peer reviewers.

William Scarborough is an assistant professor of Sociology at the University of North Texas. His research examines the cultural and economic determinants of gender and race inequality across the U.S.

Key Reasons to Review in Academia

In most universities today, faculty, staff, and graduate students are being asked to do more with less. Many report being stretched too thin and becoming burned out. To cope, we are learning to guard our “free” time jealously, and we are honing the much-needed skill of saying no to more service. The service that we do choose is either unavoidable or personally meaningful to us. This strategy for self-preservation and mental health is important.

One service demand that is on the rise is conducting peer-reviews of manuscripts for journals. According to John Robert Warren (2019), there has been an explosion of publication demands in sociology in the last 30 plus years. In 1986, the Social Sciences Citation Index’s Journal Citation Reports listed 64 journals about sociology, compared to 143 in 2016. This proliferation of journals is related to increased requirements on graduate students and faculty to publish, and it inevitably creates a greater demand for peer-reviewers.

In this context in which so many people feel over-extended and under-appreciated, why take on the purely elective, time-consuming, and largely invisible work of conducting peer reviews?

We believe that there are several key reasons why you should say yes to reviewing, or at least put reviewing manuscripts closer to the top of your elective service list, especially for a journal like Gender & Society. 

  • Practice feminist mentoring. By reading, constructively critiquing, and responding to authors, you help them develop their writing and analytical skills. If you were fortunate enough to be well-mentored yourself, you can pass on what you were taught, paying it forward, contributing to a vibrant intellectual community of scholars. If you were not as lucky and received less than constructive feedback somewhere along your intellectual journey, peer-reviews give you an opportunity to interrupt and correct assumptions that feedback must be harsh and demeaning in order to be critical.
  • Grow your own research and writing skills. By reading and responding to other people’s work, you expand your skillset. You might get excited about a new concept, approach to data collection, or data set. Reviewing helps you stay on top of what’s happening in the field, and what you read might help fertilize your own projects.
  • Build the discipline. While this is obvious, it behooves us to point it out because it is so important: Serving as a peer-reviewer shapes the state of knowledge in sociology. As a traditional gate-keeper, you help ensure that published work is of high quality. As a feminist gatekeeper, you can help transform the discipline in key ways. The work of individual peer-reviewers may be invisible, but their collective work builds the discipline.
  • Expand your network. Although authors won’t usually know who you are when you review their work, editors and deputy editors will. Your thoughtful and constructive reviews increase your cultural capital within this network, and they will seek you out as experts in the future. While this may mean more service—not the goal—it might also mean new scholarly opportunities. At the very least, you help make a name for yourself in the field of sociology.
  • Enhance your cv. Although there may be no fame and glory in “blind” peer-reviews, this work does enhance your cv. You should list the journals where you’ve reviewed articles and save thank you emails and certificates from grateful journal editors. You may be able to include those in tenure and promotion packets and annual merit reviews.

We are writing this blog to gently remind our community of scholars of the importance and the value of peer-reviewing. The work of peer-reviewing is precious, and peer-reviewers who engage in feminist mentoring are essential to the evolution of a vibrant and critical body of work within disciplines. When fewer people accept invitations to review, those few people are not doing more than their fair share and they inadvertently get to have a greater voice in shaping the discipline. A wide range of peer reviewers ensures intellectual diversity and inclusion of multiple perspectives in the field – an exercise that forms the core of feminist knowledge production. We particularly appeal to those advancing in the field to engage in peer review because, as members of the academic community, we regularly call upon our colleagues in the field to review and write for us (sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly). Peer review is one vital way of giving back to the field for all the times someone has contributed to our journeys and helped us move along. We strive to recast reviewing articles as a form of service that is empowering rather than demeaning. Perhaps it can be a way to intellectually recharge in an otherwise draining work world. Let’s hope so. One thing is certain: We need you.

Kristen Myers is Professor and Chair of Sociology at East Carolina University. She has published work on gender in STEM fields, gender in childhood, masculinity and fatherhood, and racetalk.  She is a Deputy Editor of Gender & Society.

Pallavi Banerjee is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Calgary, Canada. She has published work on immigrant families, gender, motherhood, tech-work and intersectionality. She is an Editorial Board member for Gender & Society.


Warren, John Robert. 2019. “How Much Do You Have to Publish to Get a Job in a Top Sociology Department? Or to Get Tenure? Trends over a Generation.” Sociological Science 6: 172-196.

Do we owe each other our emotional labor?

By Aliya Hamid Rao

In academia our intellectual pursuits are also inherently emotional. It is thus unsurprising that in a recent blog post (here) another graduate student makes a case for acknowledging that academic work is infused with emotional labor, and for creating a space for “crying in academia.” She urges us to move away from scripts of professionalism so that we can stop pretending that emotional labor is not intrinsic to almost all that we do as aspiring academics.

I find this framing is problematic. One function of “professionalism” in academia is to create emotionally neutral spaces. Being emotionally neutral is a myth, of course. These artificial spaces require emotional labor in manipulating our own emotional displays to minimize the expression of our emotions. But they also bring the freedom of not being compelled to perform emotional labor for someone else. The author uses examples of her own crying in her department and how it was at times “handled” well by administrative staff, while at other times it caused discomfort. She condemns the idea of having to reign in her emotions so that “the person you’re crying in front of doesn’t have to figure out how to make space for your feelings.” Yet, the demand to figure “out how to make space for your feelings” is intrinsically a demand for emotional labor from others. Continue reading “Do we owe each other our emotional labor?”