Why Trust Me
My Beginning in Academia
While studying Historical Linguistics at Sorbonne University, Paris, for my Ph.D., I won a very fancy and inclusive award called “Prix de la Vocation” from the Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet Foundation (Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet is the founder of “Publicis,” the first advertising company in Europe and the third in the world). I am still proud to have been chosen along with twenty other brilliant young talents from all fields out of 4,000 applicants. The award ceremony took place at Théâtre de Paris in November 2015. This award allowed me to work as a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, for three years.
My award-winning research project on the sociolinguistic relationship between Ancient Greek and Phrygian eventually became the core of my dissertation entitled Problèmes Linguistiques du Rapport entre Grec(s) et Phrygien(s) [Linguistic Problems on the Relationship Between Ancient Greek(s) and Phrygian(s)], which provided the material for more than a dozen published academic articles, more than two dozen speaking engagements, one ongoing book project (partly funded by Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies) and several other projects that are being developed.
My Fight Against Traditionalist Academia
When I arrived at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2016, I attended the annual Indo-European Conference for the first time. It was a huge reality check, and I felt like a total failure compared to my fellow graduate students who presented excellent research papers on that occasion. I admit that I had no idea how to deliver a successful conference, write an effective abstract, or write a compelling paper. I was only familiar with the old-fashioned academic world in which not only undergraduate students but also graduate students were considered merely passive recipients and not active producers of knowledge. No one had ever actually taught me how to succeed in the academic world. I still remember the cruelty of an old professor in Paris to whom I sent my first article for feedback. He completely dismissed me by defining my first attempt at academic writing as “a worthless little article not free of errors.” This kind of attitude is the root of a huge problem.
Sadly, physical appearance can still affect your academic career in the 21st century. Since my first exam as an undergraduate student in Classics at the University of Turin in Italy, I have experienced countless micro-aggressions based on my physical appearance. Before sharing this with you, you should know that in Italian universities, a student’s knowledge of a discipline is still assessed through an oral exam, a practice in which an examiner poses questions to the student in spoken form. The student has to answer the question in such a way as to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the subject to pass the exam. On my first exam, the old professor got overtly aggressive as soon as I sat on the chair before him to be examined. After he had meticulously scanned me from head to toe, he contemptuously defined me as: “Some little blonde, to be sure, someone who would never deserve the top score of 30/30 cum laude.” Rest assured, in all my bleach-blond-haired glory, I passed and got the top score on that exam.
Men are not the only culprits of gender stereotyping, though. I overheard fellow ladies’ comments along the lines of “Is it a conference or a beauty pageant?” as I was walking towards the podium on many occasions. But I didn’t let that intimidate me. Keeping with that tradition, I rebelliously defended my Ph.D. dissertation in my bleach-blond hair and short black backless dress while sitting cross-legged on top of an old Sorbonne’s desk. Sure enough, the most rock ’n roll dissertation defense in the history of the Sorbonne — and with the highest honors, too. Academia is still a conservative and male-dominated environment: we should not forget that it was created by elite white men and for privileged white men. On the other hand, I wish it was a safe space for scholars to express themselves and grow intellectually without fearing judgment or shame independently of their gender or physical appearance. As stated by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, one of the first feminist literary women in the Americas in the 17th century, “souls do not have a gender” (Romance 19, v. 111–12).
The Perks of Persevering
Yet, despite the progress in the last decades, there is still a long way to go for the complete acceptance of scholars that deviate from the norms: women, like me, but also LGBTQ+ scholars, older students, scholars of color, scholars with disabilities (above all mental health conditions)… All of us, who come from marginalized positions, must work twice as hard to be taken seriously. Fueled by these obstacles and believing I could offer something unique to the academic community, I began an intensive self-education process. I had to train myself very hard to become the “Rockstar Scholar” I eventually became. I had to hone all the so-called “transferable skills:” academic writing, public speaking, grant writing, time management, positioning…
The life of a “Rockstar Scholar” is undoubtedly pretty cool. You can devote your full attention to research and present your findings at international conferences worldwide. 2019 was an incredible year full of speaking engagements at some of the world’s most prestigious universities. For all of you that love to travel… Imagine getting all-expenses-paid trips to present your work at conferences in San Diego (CA), Paris (France), Lesbos (Greece), Besançon (France), Copenhagen (Denmark), Los Angeles (CA), Washington (D.C.)… I felt like a Rockstar on tour, and it was awesome. Plus, I continually felt empowered to push further in my research because of the enthusiastic feedback from the attendants of my talks.
In light of my personal experiences in Academia, I am excited to share my successes and failures as a part of a career coaching and consulting service, which I call “The Rockstar Scholar” Career Coaching Program. I would love to help you become the best scholar you can be by giving you the tools to land that tenure-track job you fancy, publish a series of successful books, or even get paid to travel the world presenting your research discoveries at international conferences. Unfortunately, very few graduate departments in Europe and the U.S. will teach you the lessons I learned the hard way all along my journey.
As sad as it might sound, most graduate departments exploit the idealism and the hunger for knowledge to lure them into a perverse system that not only does not teach them how to navigate an academic career properly but teaches them (above all in the Humanities and Social Sciences) that life outside of Academia means failure. Academia works as a sect: once you are in, you cannot get out of it without having to suffer the consequences. This explains why young scholars actively choose a life of hardship at the periphery of Academia by accepting underpaid adjunct teaching (or whatever “contingent faculty”) positions, hoping that such a sacrifice will eventually open the doors to the tenure-track position of their dreams. Regardless of the Ivory Tower’s narrative that one must never associate intellectual endeavor with payment, intellectual dreams have a price tag.
A career within Academia is not for everyone, not because you are not good enough, but because universities generate more than twice as many Ph.D. graduates as there are tenure-track job openings per year (especially in the Humanities and Social Sciences). It is as simple as math. Unless you are independently wealthy or can rely on an established set of academic connections which will allow you to find a tenured place right after your graduation, most of the time, you will have to spend many years on the job market before even interviewing for a tenure-track job. Luckily, there are many exciting ways to use the “transferable skills” you have acquired in Academia throughout all industries. Cutting-edge tech companies like Apple and Google have teams of researchers (yes, research!) on salary, and politicians use speech writers (yes, public speaking!) all the time to help win campaigns. If you are good at teaching (yes, teaching!), there is every chance that you will be able to sell anything. Long story short, there is a big world of possibilities out there!
Regardless of my promising start in Academia, I have come to realize that I do not want to be part of it in a canonical way. It’s not that I hate it. On the contrary, for better or worse, I owe everything I have become and most of the skills I have honed to Academia. However, my professional path is continually evolving. For me, the opportunities to learn and grow here in Los Angeles are exponentially more significant than the prestige garnered by a tenured position at any institution because I highly value my freedom. I think this mentality and ability to step back for a broader perspective can help you unlock your potential for something truly remarkable in unexpected places. Also, it is a good way for me to balance the creative and analytic sides of my brain, thus taking care of my mental health.
If you are considering leaving Academia and need guidance or want to explore all kinds of opportunities, then the “Beyond” part of my Career Coaching Program is for you! Regardless of your reasons for leaving or looking elsewhere, I am here to support you. Of course, I am available for all sorts of projects needing my expertise through the “Ask a Scholar!” Scientific Advising Service and I can help you translate your work into multiple languages in the frame of the “International Scholar” Academic Translation Service.
I am committed to creating customer value by providing comprehensive services to scholars and students and helping them successfully reach out to (and integrate into) the non-academic community. My mission is to make high-skilled students and scholars like you reach their full potential by giving them the tools to collaborate and shine internationally, inside and outside Academia.
Thank you very much for visiting my site, and please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions!