Jen Mankoff on managing an academic career with a disability & finding good ways forward

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Jennifer Mankoff is an endowed professor in the School of Computer Science and Engineering at University of Washington in the US.  Jen’s journey to this position though hasn’t been straightforward because she has been dealing with ongoing chronic health issues since her PhD days. Jen talks about managing disability as an academic and in particular the ways in she positively frames her experiences and points to the support of family and colleagues. She also has interesting experiences about being part of an academic couple as well as managing parenting and extended family caring roles. While considering herself a private person, she recognises it is important for people like herself to share their experiences, not just of successes but also about what is hard, and to give the message that we all go through these hard times and can find ways forward. 

“It was a really positive learning experience in the end to have gone through [dealing with repetitive strain injury during grad school].”

“[Learning] how to parent slowly…not to measure parenting success by the amount that is accomplished but instead by the quality of time I spend with the kids”

“Every day I feel full energy all day long I get to feel grateful for it because I have enough reminders in my life of what else it could be.”

“I’m respected for the fact that I manage my career with a disability.”

“It’s really important for anyone to share not just what their successes are but also what’s been hard to let everyone know that we all go through these hard times and find ways forward.”

Overview (times approximate):

01:40 Dealing with repetitive strain injury in grad school - having a supportive supervisor, writing 30 mins twice every day, still getting published, making it work, gaining excellent time management and self-care skills because of it.

08:10 Dealing with Lyme disease - talking about working 55 hours as low compared to colleagues, shifting to 35 hrs when having children, dealing with the disease, and still being able to progress tenure case with a supportive department and spouse, and learning how to work with the fluctuations in health, to write when intellectually active, and how to parent slowly 

12:30 Talking about the many ways in which faculty and colleagues were supportive despite it being an invisible chronic illness

14:56 Describing the impacts of Lyme disease, the process of getting diagnosed, starting treatment, still trying to see through teaching commitments and dealing with the unpredictability of the disease. Diagnosed in 2007 and the positive progression of both lifestyle management techniques and illness, feeling grateful, and creating visibility of the disease with a cane.

22:00 The positive framing, and reflecting on how she has come to this, dealing with imposter syndrome and also with the knowledge that you are not performing in the way you are capable of if you were healthy, the difficulty of accepting second best constantly, and the question of whether she was choosing illness, and learning to love herself

26:40 Doing research on assistive technology, moving to Berkeley, getting educated on disability rights movement, eventually embracing an identity as a woman with a disability, and the challenges of studying and talking about her own situation, and the value of support from mentors and colleagues

35:04 Managing situations day to day, not being good at separating work and family, needing to prioritise children or students at different times, putting out a personal newsletter every week to communicate what’s going on in her personal and professional life and how that week will be juggled, modelling time management.

39:00 Reflecting on being part of a couple in the same research area. Moving from Berkeley to CMU and then to Washington. Having a partner as head of department and the challenges this entails. Now being in different departments. The importance of explicitly dealing with potential conflicts of interest between partners, and setting boundaries by not communicating through partners.

50:52 Talking about her current research directions, doing a lot of work now around making, discrimination, sexual assault, gender and medical interactions especially with chronic disease patients, and a study with students to understand their major life events and stressors and how to support them.

59:30 Final comments about learning to expose her experiences and to allow people to see this sort of diversity in faculty life. Encouraging others to share: “It’s really important for anyone to share not just what their successes are but also what’s been hard to let everyone know that we all go through these hard times and find ways forward.” And that you are not alone in experiencing these.

1:02:43 End

 Related Links

People Jennifer mentions:

Anind Dey - https://ischool.uw.edu/people/faculty/profile/anind

Gregory Abowd - http://ubicomp.cc.gatech.edu/gregory-d-abowd/

Scott Hudson - https://hcii.cmu.edu/people/scott-hudson

Gillian Hayes - https://www.gillianhayes.com

James Landay - https://www.landay.org

WISH - https://wish-symposium.org

Articles about or by Jennifer:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jennifer_Mankoff

https://www.cs.washington.edu/people/faculty/jmankoff

https://news.cs.washington.edu/2017/06/28/allen-school-set-to-amplify-uws-leadership-in-human-computer-interaction-with-new-hires-jennifer-mankoff-and-jon-froehlich/

Jennifer’s story around disability and chronic disease as an academic

https://www.lymedisease.org/disability-community-mankoff/

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-00112-7

https://www.geekwire.com/2018/working-geek-uw-computer-scientist-jennifer-mankoff-channeled-adversity-career-path/ 

Publication: Early et al, 2018, Understanding Gender Equity in Author Order Assignment

https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=3290265.3274315