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Croucher, R --- "The Academy as Kitchen Mrs Beeton Comes to Law School" [2006] LegEdDig 32; (2006) 14(4) Legal Education Digest 21

The Academy as Kitchen — Mrs Beeton Comes to Law School

R Croucher

[2006] LegEdDig 32; (2006) 14(4) Legal Education Digest 21

39 Law Teacher 3, 2005, pp 243–258

There are two cookbooks that the author remembers as universals: the Commonsense Cookery Book and the mid-Victorian classic, Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book (and her Book of Household Management). They were books of simple wisdom with strategies for survival and success. This paper is her ‘cookbook’ that pays homage to them both.

Her ‘recipes’ are written from the perspective of women in the academy, but are not only for consumption by women (although written principally with women in mind); they also include bits, ‘morsels’ of her story — as all good recipes and principles of household management do. They represent her perspective on developing as an academic. Academia is really no different from a kitchen; and the secret to personal development lies in understanding the social, gender and management dynamics that underpin human behaviour ‘in the kitchen’.

The author’s paper sits within the culture of the legal academy and works within the persona of the professional identity of legal academics from the point of view of women. It plays with the challenges of seeking advancement, both as an individual pursuit and a collective responsibility, through the device of the feminine.

Advancement in the kitchen begins with learning to write recipes — knowing the values framework for judging what you do (promotion appointment criteria); and keeping track of all your efforts. Recipe writing begins with writing lists: everything you do in the kitchen has value. List every time you serve on a committee (indicates services); every time you are asked to do so (indicates standing); every time you are asked to make a presentation in an academic environment (academic standing) or a professional environment (standing amongst the profession); to serve on a community body (Parents & Citizens, Girl Guides, etc — community outreach and service); every time you are asked to referee an article (academic standing). Get evaluations of every teaching or presentation opportunity and note what you have done in relation to them (reflective teaching practice). Keep every note, card, email of thank you and praise from students, committee chairs, anyone (all indicators of quality of contribution and personally very reassuring).

OK, so how do you get them? Be focused and determined. It is slow-cooking stew to reach the top of the academic (or whatever other) ladder. But it is worth the trouble. It needs tending — it cannot be ignored or it will dry out — it needs the addition of herbs and wine along the way — and following a good recipe.

Rejection, or critical reviews, of an article or the rejection of a grant application can be very constructive things. Remember, you are gaining free feedback, free advice, from supposed experts in the relevant field. You may even take the reviewers on and submit that they are wrong, and/or you can try another journal, taking on board whatever of the comments you do agree with. And, if rejected again, you are still getting more and more free feedback. In the meantime keep a file of rejection letters and remember to laugh at them.

Promotion is tricky. The key to it is learning how to be heard — learning the craft of recipe writing. This is not a matter of ‘changing your voice’, but it is a matter of amplifying it, bringing it into focus. Making your voice heard is quite an art.

Second, you need a good CV. This is your recipe book. So you have to plan it — record your ingredients — seek advice — find your mentors for yourself — give advice if you are in a position to do so — share your recipes! Advise others if you can: be the mentor to others — men and women. If you want someone to read your paper or article, then ask them.

A good CV in the academic context requires careful nurturing — targeting good journals for placement of articles; using professional journals for publication as well (this can lead to other professional community involvement as well as giving you a profile in the profession); making yourself known at conferences for your presentations; balancing all aspects of your career against the things that go towards promotion in the particular environment you are in.

Third, you need good referees. In the academic context this is one of the most critical elements in the process towards promotion. Seek out the people you really want to know in the context of your work. The best referees in the academic context are people who do not know you particularly well; who themselves are regarded as world leaders (preferably); and whose judgment therefore has both the gravitas and the objectivity that gives it real weight in the evaluation of your case for promotion.

Part of building your portfolio is networking — joining the international chefs’ circuit. Attending conferences is a good way to build your network — presenting papers is even better. Your network becomes your sounding board — to taste-test your (and their) work. You can build a network within the university through joining interest groups, going to professional development seminars, volunteering for a university wide committee.

To apply for advancement you need, quite simply, to work the criteria, either for a more senior appointment or promotion. It is no good if your recipe is written in code (or just left as an attachment to a perfunctory letter saying you wish to apply for promotion/appointment). You need to show how ‘this and that’ in your CV demonstrates the things that are listed in the promotion criteria.

Some may regard you as a chef from hell. That you are too authoritative; too consultative; you will get it all. If you are Head Chef you must at some stage have carving knives in your back. But it only hurts if you feel it. The essential element is to feel comfortable in your decisions and stick to the recipe — good process is essential — measure the ingredients, follow the cooking time, and remember the delegation principle.

You do not have to be able to cook everything. Delegate. Plan and delegate. And you need time to reflect. As you gain in seniority, there may be opportunities that you do not need to take, but that would actually be good for younger colleagues — a positive act of mentoring by passing on a good opportunity for their self-development. Women, on the whole, know how to value other people’s work. Spotting opportunities for junior colleagues can be nurturing, even maternal, giving space for development.

So now the author is here, as Dean, with now over seven years in total of deaning, and experiences which have shown her the strength and limitations of being a women in this role. It has given her first and foremost a great scope for active mentoring of her younger colleagues.

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