Academaze: Finding Your Way through the American Research University by Sydney Phlox

Academaze Book Review

I was given an advance free copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Blogger Sydney Phlox (academic science blog ) is woman in a (mostly) man’s world – a professor in a physical science field at a major research university in the U.S.

SP is a US university professor, so the book provides us with insight into how things work across the Pond (tenure, funding, teaching, travel for work, etc). Having said that, I think that the principles might be pretty similar elsewhere (UK and Europe at least, I can’t comment on Asia or Australia).

This book is a must read for anybody interested in how the STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) world works, what the life of a scientist/researcher/lecturer is like at an American university, the things they have to do to keep their labs/ research groups going;

  • anybody interested/ thinking of/wanting to work in STEM/ especially, but not exclusively, women;
  • family and friends of the said women or men; undergrads and postgrads wanting to pursue career in academia, career advisors and student advisors, PhD students and post-docs, PIs and mentors;
  • anybody wanting to know what the life of a(n) (academic) researcher is like.

I think this is a fantastic book to prepare you for what to expect of a career in Academia.

I really enjoyed reading Academaze, which is such an appropriate title for it. The book is very easy to read, the chapters and subjects covered flow very well. While I was reading the book, it felt like I was talking to a more experienced, very friendly and professional colleague over a cup of tea. The world of academia would benefit from more Sidney Phloxes!

Academaze is a very inspiring book from a very inspiring person, Sydney Phlox is a role model for women in STEM, or any career. The book is bursting with excellent advice, great humour, a realistic but hopeful ‘can-be-done’ tone. Things are well explained, but not at all patronising, and with funny cartoons galore to illustrate the points. It also makes you contemplate roles within STEM from the perspective of colleagues across an institution’s hierarchy.

She’s covered it all: advice on how to navigate your relationships with your colleagues, supervisors, PIs, mentors, lab/group/ institution and field politics, career advice and job hunting for recent graduates, even mental-health advice (it doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to get done up to an “it’ll do” standard) and coping techniques; from impostor syndrome, writing papers and grant proposals, to balancing family with work, teaching and advising on travel for job/career, even advice for non-native English speakers.

I am a woman in STEM  in the UK and have recently completed my postgrad studies. I wish I had read this book as an undergraduate or just after graduating, as it would have answered a lot of questions I had, and quite a few I didn’t know I had. It also would have saved me a lot of grief and help me make more informed decisions.


Libraries and Balkan immigrant(s)

I’ve been in living in the UK for 15 years now. When I talk about Croatia, I don’t say ‘back home’ any more. I stopped saying ‘back home’ quite a while ago. UK felt like home just a few months after I arrived. I love living here. For so many different reasons. One of the things that stuck with me was that there was a lot of green. Green meadows, green hills, green parks (and Green Park). The grass really looked greener here, on the UK side, than back on the Balkans. No pun intended.

One of the first places I wanted to go to, if not the first place, just a few days after I settled into my new routine was a local library. I had no cassette/ CD player yet and was looking for something to read in the evening. And I was curious to see if ‘their’ libraries were any different than ‘ours’ ‘back home’.

File:Public library interior, Woking England.jpg,_Woking_England.jpg

One day, I just went in, exchanged polite greetings with the librarians and just had a good look around. As far as I remember that particular small town library was only on one floor. Apart from just books and archives, there was also an audio book section, a CD section, a video section, magazine section, section with maps (A-Z) of different places in the country and a career section slimming supplements.

I never heard of any library having tapes/CDs and videos, let alone a careers section. Well, not a Balkan library in my hometown, anyway. Not that I’ve visited that many libraries ‘back home’, da se razumijemo (let’s make that clear). I haven’t even been to 10 different libraries, so it’s not like I’m an expert on libraries and what they should have and how they should look like. I just assumed they were all pretty much the same, in principle.

Without wanting to sound like a grumpy old woman, from what I can remember in my time, CDs and tapes were bought, and there were places where you went to rent a video. Not libraries. This just seemed rather different to me. A very good different.

When I asked if I could join the local library where I had lived at the time, I was told that I don’t need to pay any joining fee!!! I couldn’t believe my ears!!! I needed a letter from my host family (I was an au pair then), and a photo ID; to confirm who I was and where I lived. And the best part was, that I could borrow more than 2-3 books. I can’t remember now whether it was 9 books (15 years ago) maximum or more for not 2, but 3 weeks!!! I was shocked! That was just brilliant!! 😀 😀 😀 And that wasn’t all!

The libraries here (local ones) are government run. That explains the lack of joining and membership fees, because it comes out of our taxes. This has its limitations, as the budget belts are getting tighter and tighter *blows raspberry*. All the libraries in a county (zupanija) are connected, so you can reserve and borrow books from another library in your county if your local doesn’t have the book you need. If you’d like to return your books/items on loan out of working hours, there is a drop box available.

Libraries also have a fantastic little trolley where they were selling less popular or very slightly damaged books, for a superb price! Sheer heaven, I tell you, for a bookworm like me! These days you can now borrow e-books if you have the right (read: up to date) gadgetry / e-readers.

There are mobile libraries, too. I never needed to use them. It’s like a mini library on wheels for the areas without library buildings (small villages or some suburbs). Mobile LibraryMobile Library

The 'Marsh Mobile' library van at Burgh-le-Marsh Roman weekend. Credit: Joe Blissett


This is a pic from an old (2008) article, but I thought it would be funny to put it in here to illustrate the point of mobile libraries and their role in communities

There are many other useful things in our (UK) libraries, like little exhibitions, careers service, council help desk, etc. But more about that next time, if you’re interested. This was intended as little teaser post to see if you (non-UK readers) would like to know more about my immigrant library experience(s). Or if you’re from UK, maybe you’d like to read about impressions of someone who likes your libraries for reasons different to you? I would like to know what our Balkan libraries are like now.