Is burnout the “new normal”?

This is our plague year (to borrow from Joseph Fink, creator of the podcast by the same name), and we all know it.

The majority of us have been in some sort of lockdown/work-from-home/social distancing since March of 2020.

I remember the talk running up to my last day at work. Students were nervous, and those from China had been sent boxes of surgical masks by their families. They asked if it was okay to wear them during class. We were all worried, but not sure what to do.

In early March, Saturday the 7th, I attended a party at a friend’s house – my last party for a *very* long time, it turned out. We joked about clicking ankles instead of giving hugs. None of us wore masks.

By Friday the 13th of March, I had cancelled all my in-person classes and writing lab sessions for the remainder of the academic year. I’ve been working from home ever since.

In the months that followed, I’ve seen countless job opportunities be cancelled due to Covid-19.

I was lucky, sure. I found new employment during the plague – but it did require me to move away from my partner –  almost 5,000  miles and 7 hours, to be exact.

I have made an international move, started a new job, learned not only to teach online but through an entirely new course management system, and completed a book manuscript – all in the space of 8  months.

I have been lonely and overwhelmed.

I have worried about my parents, both on the edge of the high-risk age rage. Not to mention my mother is a nurse who works at a state hospital. I have been worried about my in-laws, both solidly at high risk.

A teacher, mentor, and friend died this past year from Covid-19.

I’ve been increasingly anxious about the state of American politics, where an ever-growing number of people have publicly signed on to fascist rhetoric.

Because the school I currently work at mysteriously decided we didn’t need more than two weeks between quarters (so I had grading and then course prep to do), I have only had three days off since September.

In short, it hasn’t been a normal year. Not for any of us.

So why?

Why in the world are we trying to pretend that it is? That 2021 is somehow magically different?

Why are we pretending that it is impossible to make up for this year in work and school?

Why is it that, while we’re all working two to three times harder, no one seems to admit we all need a break?

And a long one.

That we could all be a lot kinder to ourselves and take it easy. That we can make up for lost time later.

That we’ve been suffering more than enough anxiety?

Even a brief search of Google reveals nearly 283 million results (with 10 different articles on the first page alone) declaring, “Students are falling behind!”

As if to say that we can’t fix that by changing how we teach and what we expect in the next few years.

We lament that people are losing jobs and housing and healthcare. That they can’t afford to feed themselves.

Yet, we pretend to be flummoxed about how we could possible change that.

And I just can’t stand it anymore.

If I can plan less for my students to do while still meeting basic outcomes. If I can be lenient enough to accept assignments even weeks late. If I can drop assignments that really aren’t necessary, so can everyone else. We don’t need to press on double-time as if nothing’s wrong.

I’m completely emotionally exhausted. Burned out.

I know everyone else is too.

Isn’t it time we honored that?

Isn’t it time we made plans for a “new normal” that doesn’t include complete and total burnout?

Learning and Writing in the Plague Year

I’ve struggled a lot lately with focus. Even writing this, I’m taking moments to stare out the window, or check Facebook. Or consider checking my work email. Or simply sink into a fairly mild yet constant sense of hopelessness. Why work on my book when, ultimately, in the face of a pandemic and an inevitable global economic depression, whatever I have to say about literacy and learning and emotion is useless? Who would read that when they’re struggling to find work? Who would read that when they’re struggling to stay safe? Who would read that when they’re struggling to stay healthy in body and in mind?

It helps to have meetings with students. Then, I can feel useful. Meaningful. I can check in on them. I can help them with their writing. I can reassure them. I can do some small thing towards helping in this new world of constant crisis.

But, that’s just the thing, isn’t it? I’ve been privileged enough that only now do I feel the ongoing crisis. It’s been there all along. Climate change. Late capitalism. Racism. Sexism. Homophobia. Hunger. War. All things I’ve felt to varying degrees, and in many cases not at all as a middle class, white, queer, nonbinary person with a salaried job.

I saw a tweet the other day that said that this pandemic was exposing many people (privileged people—largely, white, straight, middle class) to the myth of certainty for the first time. In many ways, I think they’re right. In other ways, at least for me, despite my very privileged position, I was already existing in a world of uncertainty—about the next job (I’ve been on one-year contracts for the past three years), the next residence (my current visa expires at the end of July), the next step—will I really be able to stay in academia, something I’ve spent the last decade training for? The pandemic has simply tripled the uncertainty.

I wish I could find the exact Tweet. I want to do it justice by quoting it directly. I just spent a good 15 minutes searching for it. This, too, is a small insight into my daily life lately. Write a sentence or two. Spend 10 minutes filling in citation information in Zotero and then copying citations into a document. Spend 30 minutes to 1 hour searching for quotable material. Deciding to check my email in search of some more immediate task. Some kind of task that might help me to feel like I actually have some value in this world. In my work.

Here I am, struggling even when I’m in a comparably stable living situation, with the added support of financially stable parents if necessary.

I can’t imagine what my students are going through. So many are having to choose between returning home, and going through quarantine, during which time they may not have sufficient Wifi to complete the work they need to turn in just a few short weeks from now, or stay in London, in the lonely, small rooms of student housing, separated from their family and friend base in the midst of a pandemic. Many of them have also had to deal with racist rhetoric and threats since the pandemic began. How they’re managing to get so much done, to stay so sane and positive, I have no idea. I wish I personally had more power over the assessments they have been set—to change these assessments to something these students can say, do, and/or make to help them cope. To help them process. To help them express their feelings and thoughts and developing theories during this time of massive change.

All of this underscores for me, even more than before, just how emotional learning and writing and working are. I was hoping, maybe, that I would be able to apply this to my own theorising about embodied-emotional literacy practices. But, to be honest, I’ve got nothing.

Maybe tomorrow.

Maybe next year.

In the meantime, I’ll take some time to listen to a podcast I’ve been finding helpful, Joseph Fink’s Our Plague Year:

Trying to write something meaningful—trial 20,005 (or something) A.K.A The life of an early-career academic

It’s been over four months since my last post. As usual, I got overwhelmed by the daily routine of the semester. And then I needed a break—to visit with family and regain a grounded feeling. I think I’ve managed to do this, and I become ever more convinced over time that breaks—complete breaks, meaning no work of any kind—are crucial for academics, who so often blur the lines between work and daily life.

I’ve been productive in that time, even though it doesn’t always feel like it. I submitted a co-authored article, revised another (it’s almost ready for re-submission), conducted four focus groups and two interviews, and submitted two grant applications, all while teaching and supervising and tutoring students. Plus running a writing lab. I’ve also been working on two of my most challenging book chapters. One is almost done. Maybe. I’m stuck on it. It’s 12,000 words now (though it’s only supposed to be 10,000), and I’m still struggling with it. I think it’s because I keep trying to do too many things for too many people. I’ve put it away, because I need some time to think it over, and to work on other things. The other chapter is coming along. Sort of. It’s an 18,000-word mish-mash of old and new. And that’s all okay. Writing is never an easy or linear process. But damn if I wish I didn’t have a neater process.

Today, I finally started on a new chapter, one I know will be much easier to write. It’s one that has had the most recent drafts written of it in the past three years. It’s one that I have the clearest sense of in terms of the shape it needs to take. It’s different from my other chapters in some key ways: it’s an autoethnographic exploration into how I develop/am developing my sense of ethical methods for my research.

tomato timer

Pomodoro Tomato Timer: Or how I get myself to work every Monday morning (see:

I have two goals for this chapter:

  1. To write something that can be grasped by all audiences.
  2. To be brutally honest about my own fannish self.

I’ve included it below. A new version I wrote this morning over my first hour-and-a-half of work. I even took the time to re-watch a video of Kurt’s solo performance of “Pennyroyal Tea” to transport me back to that time and that place in my life.

I’m posting all of this here to get myself moving forward, but also to share how desperately hard writing can be, even for experienced writers. Even for those who teach writing. Sometimes, I think my students think I have some special magic for reading and writing and researching in academia that they simply don’t have. But I don’t. I just have perseverance. I just have these weekly attempts at writing something meaningful. So, here it is, attempt number one at a brand-new chapter introduction (and not even the whole thing).


Young Brit discovers Nirvana

“Brit? Don’t stay up too late, okay” my dad warned as he went off to bed.

“Okay,” I mumbled, not really listening.

I was a night owl, and it wasn’t really that late—11:00 p.m. Maybe.

I suppose, now, that my dad’s request was more for my parents than for me. Their bedroom door was right off of the living room in our small, two-bedroom apartment, after all.

But I loved the house late at night. I used only a couple of side table lamps to light the room, and the house was quiet. Still. With much less noise coming from the major road nearby. I felt embraced by the calm of the night—able to be whoever I was without comment. I felt all grown up, watching TV in those late hours. Like I had an apartment all to myself.

The channel was set to MTV, but I wasn’t paying close attention. I had a diary in my lap, trying my hand at a new poem.

I perked up a little as the next show was announced—a replay of Nirvana’s famous Unplugged performance. I wasn’t super familiar with the band, but kids I admired at school—well, one in particular, a dark-haired Kurt Cobain wannabe with beautiful eyes and a don’t-care swagger—would wear Nirvana t-shirts. I figured I’d give it a try.

I was taken in by Kurt’s ratty, green sweater, and his shaggy blond hair constantly falling in his eyes. But it was his solo performance of “Pennyroyal Tea” that really did it.

The lights shifted to a low, almost romantic red hue, and the camera focused on Kurt’s face. His head hung down, and he closed his eyes through most of the song. Most of his bandmates had shifted to a different side of the stage. When his eyes weren’t closed, he was looking down, singing softly.

I was captivated.

I couldn’t look away. My own eyes were riveted to his face. My whole body felt warm, and hot tears were streaming down my face as I quietly wept. I had pulled my knees into my chest, trying to embrace yet stave off the overwhelming emotions that were crashing over me.

The song only lasts for a little over three minutes, but to me, time seemed to stop—the world only me, Kurt, and his guitar. When the song was over, it switched to commercial. Tears were still streaming, and I felt destroyed. I felt euphoric. Something had changed in me. I knew I’d never be the same.

I had finally fallen in love. I had finally found myself. I had found a set of connections to my dreams, my emotions, to some possible future that was ironclad and undeniable.

It didn’t take long for me to collect all of their albums. To stock up on merchandise—mainly t-shirts and books about Kurt’s life. I even convinced my parents to buy me an electric guitar, a beautiful, wine-red Mexican strat that made me feel powerful and strong and beautiful. All things I never felt otherwise.

Did I think Kurt was beautiful?


Did I have an adolescent crush?

Without a doubt.

But it was deeper than that.

I felt like I had found this kindred, tortured soul, and, like him, I would turn my pain into art. When I listened to Nirvana, I didn’t feel like an ugly freak. I felt special. Like an artist. Like a true poet. So often, in the public media, teenage girl fans are seen as swooning, out of control, lusty, lesser. But for me, my fandom reaffirmed my love of writing, and it gave me something to strive for other than being acceptable to the male gaze.

This was my first real experience with fandom. It wouldn’t be the last, but it would remain the most intimate. The most intense.


So, there you have it, the fruit of two hours on a Monday morning. Onward and…onward.

Interested in what got me so captivated? Check out Kurt’s performance at this link:




We need to fight for community care

Content Warning: suicide, suicidal ideation, sexual assault, rape



I almost didn’t make it out of high school alive.

That probably sounds extremely melodramatic, but it’s just a fact.

One evening, in the spring of 2002, after my parents had gone to bed, I took every prescription pill I could find in the house, and swallowed them. Not sure about the process I’d halfway unwittingly started in my body, and worried that, this time, like all the times before, I’d be unsuccessful, I crept downstairs to the kitchen and grabbed a paring knife. I wanted to slit my wrists. It turns out that I couldn’t bring myself to cut very deeply.

At some point, something in my mind shifted. I realized that my parents would wake me up the next morning, see the cuts on my wrists, and force me to go to a psychiatric hospital. I panicked.

After a very long, painful, and terrifying time staring at my parents’ bedroom door, I knocked.

“I think I need stitches,” I said.

This incident followed years of self-harm, anorexia, and risky sexual behavior.

When I was eight, I was sexually assaulted by an older friend. It happened in the middle of the night at a rowdy sleepover. It must have been witnessed by at least one other party attendee, because not long afterwards, I began to be ruthlessly bullied at school by students, and eventually, teachers too.

The first time I remember wanting to die, I had climbed up to the highest point (that I could reach) of the apartment building we lived in, and tried to find the courage to fling myself from it. I was nine years old—not even one full year after my sexual assault.

It only seemed natural, then, that seven years later, I almost succeeded in taking my own life.

In many ways, I was lucky. I got the community support, therapy, and medication I needed to cope better with my trauma, depression, and anxiety.

Despite continuing to struggle with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, for many years I was more or less stable. I even stopped taking anti-depressants for a long time. I felt like I really knew how to handle my depression; that nothing like that horrific night my sophomore year would ever happen again.

Then, in the spring of the second year in my PhD program, I had a very private emotional breakdown.

My grandfather had passed away the year before, slowly and painfully. My then partner was emotionally abusive, and had raped me more than once (though I was completely unable to articulate it at the time). I was being bullied by a few students in one of my sections of a writing course. To top it all off, my neurologist had changed my meds again. While Keppra, which I take to control my epilepsy, has no nasty physical side effects, it turns out, though I didn’t realize it at the time, that for me, it has the effect of massively increasing my anxiety and depression.

At no point did I think to ask for help. I didn’t want to be a burden on my already heavily burdened network of grad school friends. And I didn’t want to worry my parents or my friends at home. I was afraid of being labelled as a problem or a failure by faculty, so I said nothing. I asked for nothing.

Before long, I felt like a complete failure as a teacher, scholar, romantic partner, and friend. I still went to work. I still went to classes. I still managed smiles and laughter. I don’t think anyone knew anything was wrong.

And then, just before spring break, I’d had enough. After being bullied by students for months while struggling to remain completely neutral and professional in the classroom, I learned that I had not been successful in any of my applications for administrative roles. It seemed like the universe was telling me: “You’ll never cut it. You’re not good enough or smart enough.”

A thought began to control my mind: “It would have been better for everyone if you had just cried yourself to sleep when you were 16.” It would have been better if I had just succeeded.

In the space of a single night where I neither ate nor slept, I came up with a suicide plan. It was elaborate and thorough, and I obsessed over it.

I was going to slowly pull away from all of my friends, break up with my partner, re-home my cat, and donate all of my things to those in need. Then I’d clean out my car, drive to the middle of nowhere, step out of the car, and shoot myself.

Of course, this never happened.

Again, I was saved by access to insurance to cover therapy sessions and anti-depressants, and, most importantly, a supportive community.

Recently, a woman in my field died by suicide in her own office. She was, by all accounts, successful, well-liked, engaged, and engaging. This death is a reminder to all of us of the suffering that so many are experiencing in academia, whether they are students or faculty. Part of my decision to tell my story, gratuitous though some may view it, is to share that, ultimately, the only reason I’m still here, still working, still writing, is access to medical insurance which means I never lose access to my medications, as well as access to therapists when I need them.

It’s important to point out, however, that comprehensive medical coverage is not enough. In my case, every time I’ve been struggling, the first step to actually making use of my insurance is reaching out to and/or being reached out to by friends and family. This community provides ears for listening, voices for  encouragement, companions for exercise activities, hands for food prep, and anything else I might need, and vice versa.

We have had to build this, however, and it’s been difficult. No institution I have ever been at has had any official channels for supporting this kind of community care, and it becomes even harder to come by after the PhD, in the ever-so-lonely and stressful years of the early career academic.

I take time now to sleep, and to go to the gym during my work day. I refuse to answer emails on weekends. I eat when I need to. I do my best to only take on work that I care about and have time for. But, like so many others, my current institution provides no real support for this. It asks just as much of me and others, as any other business of late capitalism. It expects me to work far more than 35 hours per week (the current benchmark for full-time work in the U.K., where I live), without any expectation of remuneration for my surplus labor, and no time for real, extended rest. According to the university logic, if I am to be successful, if I am to keep my job, then I must literally become and live my work.

We need to do better at the institutional level and at the departmental level of academia not only in bargaining collectively for access to comprehensive medical insurance coverage, necessary paid time off, and more humane expectations of productivity. But we must do better to check in on people, and, even more importantly, to de-stigmatize mental illness. To refuse to valorize work for work’s sake. We must develop a culture that values space for reflection, relaxation, and rest.

Our very lives are at stake.



Should you always complete the fic?

Everywhere I go, I meet someone new who loves fanfiction. It’s pretty great, actually. Recently, I went out to dinner with my spouse and one of his colleague’s project partners. As it typically does for academics (and maybe any group of adults meeting each other), the question—And what do you do?—came up. I explained that I worked at King’s, and that I studied online fanfiction writers.

The dinner guest of honor, let’s call her A, suddenly got what I’m beginning to think of as “the look.” “The look” is that strange combination of mild embarrassment, sly acknowledgement of a shared code, and mostly, delight at meeting another fan.

Image result for andy dwyer excited gif

[I wish everyone responded like this.]

“I love fanfiction,” A said.

I smiled in response, and dove in.

My research usually gets only one of two responses: either, “Huh. I didn’t know they awarded PhDs for that kind of thing.”

bored board meeting GIF by Veep HBO


Or, following “the look,” “Oh my god, I’m really into X fic right now!”

picard is excite

We spoke for a while about fanfiction we loved, and, as I usually do, I let A run the conversation. I always enjoy learning about others’ fan experiences, especially since I’ve been so deeply embedded in studying my own. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear from another fan, especially in an unexpected place—like dinner with three biologists.

Eventually, we came to the subject of writing versus reading fanfic. I explained that I had actually written very little, since I started writing a massive opus around the end of my college years, but I stopped about two years later, when grad school took over basically everything in my life.

“I hate unfinished fics!” A lamented. “Though I understand why they happen.”

“Maybe I should just finish it,” I said, “I mean, I know how it ends. I just haven’t written it yet.”

“You should!” she replied enthusiastically.

I’ve been thinking about this conversation ever since, and the question I keep coming back to is: Should I really finish this fic?

It’s been twelve years since I started this story. At the time, I was 21 years old, and just completing an undergraduate degree in linguistics. At the time, I had been reading almost exclusively Hermione-Severus fic, and I had never stopped thinking about the fic that got me into the ship in the first place—a 50-odd chapter epic about time travel, changing history gone wrong, and, ultimately, love. I set out to write my own epic about time travel and love starring a mostly young Severus Snape and an original character, OC, based heavily on some strange internal fantasy I had of “ideal story me.” I day-dreamed the plot in its entirety one evening after hours in the fic archives, and I’ve never forgotten it.

The problem is: I don’t identify with the person who wrote that story anymore. I certainly don’t identify with the OC/Mary Sue I wrote then. I no longer seek some strange Hollywood-type beauty, and I’ve grown beyond writing cisnormative and heteronormative characters. Most importantly, when I was 21, after reading thousands of H/S fics, I was less worried about a 23-year-old character becoming fond of a 17-year-old Severus Snape, and, eventually, once he turned 18, becoming his lover—at least within the confines of a fic.

When I look back, so much about this fic captured a moment in my life that I remember, but do not necessarily feel close to anymore. What’s more, I feel like much of fandom, especially my own, has moved beyond a number of the tropes I was working with at the time.

I’m stuck between knowing how much fans hate an unfinished story, and feeling icky about the clichés in the story I started more than a decade ago. I love aspects of it, still, but I’m not sure finishing it is the right thing. (Not to mention that I’ve got plenty of writing on my plate as it is, at the moment.)

My fan self, and my academic self, has grown so much since then, and it’s hard to look at that story with anything other than squeamishness.

I’ll continue to consider A’s comment that I should finish the story. But maybe sometimes a reader’s disappointment about an unfinished fic is a writer’s disconnection with what that fic represented when they started it.



Taking Steps to Address Structural Whiteness—Fan Studies Network Conference 2019

Before I review this year’s Fan Studies Network Conference, I’d like to take a moment to signal boost some scholars already doing fantastic work on race in fandom:


The Conference


The Fan Studies Network Conference 2019 took place this past 28-29 June in Portsmouth, U.K. As usual, there were multiple fascinating panels with a wide range of foci, from fandom across generations, to the particularities of fan labour and copyright, to music fandom and the role of the digital playlist on platforms such as Spotify. However, by far, the recurring theme of this year’s conference asked us, as fan studies scholars and fans, to begin to account for the structural whiteness of our field (and in fandom). This theme came up multiple times throughout the conference—namely in Lori Morimoto’s keynote, the panel on fan methodologies, specifically in Dr. Rukmini Pande’s presentation, and of course the conference fishbowl discussion.

The conference kicked off with Lori Morimoto’s keynote, “What a difference a name makes: Transculturating fan studies,” where she talked about how to move beyond early scholarship’s view of “the fan,” who was often left unmarked in the literature, yet was almost always white, middle class, English-speaking, cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, and from the United States or U.K. Lori spoke insightfully and candidly about her own experiences discovering transcultural (and transnational) fandoms, when her family moved to Hong Kong during her teenage years. In that moment, she was faced with a whole different world of entertainment and fandom that has continued to affect how she identifies as both fan and fan scholar.

Her key points about how to do transcultural work are:

  1. Name Your Subjects: Be specific about the fandom and fans you’re working with. Don’t leave ‘white, middle class’ unmarked.
  2. Read and Listen Outside of Your Comfort Zone: Read and listen to multiple different fan works and fan research.
  3. Collaborate: One really important and effective way to overcome language and knowledge barriers in our work is to reach out to fellow fans and fan scholars.

Lori’s keynote set a good precedent for the conference, but it became clear very quickly, as the fishbowl began, that while we might be comfortable discussing transnational fandoms (as well as gender, sexuality, disability, and mental health) as a field, we are not yet sure how to discuss race, or the structured whiteness so many of us not only work within but benefit from.

The room was filled with tension and uncertainty as the fishbowl began. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a fishbowl discussion is where a smaller group of people discuss a topic while an audience looks on. In this case, speakers could leave when they felt ready, and/or agree to make space for new speakers entering from the audience.



I am still not sure this was an ideal format, given the size of the audience and the room. Not to mention that while the use of allowed for many interesting and important questions to be raised, very few of these were actually addressed during the fishbowl. What’s more, by the time participants became slightly more comfortable with the format, it was already almost time for the discussion to end. Finally, as perhaps might be expected, the majority of participants in the fishbowl (and I count myself among them) were self-identifying as white (with all the complications that alone can bring) and did not, with a few exceptions, address what structured whiteness might be/look like and how it affects them in their daily lives, research, and work. (Again, I’m not without blame here—I did point out that we all had the responsibility of clearly naming our subjects, including when we are working with white, middle class, US-based, English-speaking participants—but I did not have the courage to point out an example.)

However, while there were many issues with the format, as well as some of the questions that were raised, ultimately an important conversation was started this year that I can only hope will continue into future conferences, publications, courses, research topics/proposals, and more. For now, there are some important take-aways that I’d like to highlight here:

  • As white scholars, it is our responsibility to begin naming structural whiteness in the fandoms we research and in the work we do. We need not only make it clear what we are studying, but how the structural whiteness of some of these topics affects the participants themselves, as well as other various fandoms. Finally, we need to be prepared to question and critique fandoms’ racist behaviours.
  • Moreover, as white scholars, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves about race, whiteness, and transcultural fandoms and fan studies by reading widely, and learning how to listen rather than speak.
  • We must practice citations politically. We need to cite multiple scholars, including transcultural, transnational scholars of colour. We need to change the fan studies canon.

Finally, importantly, as Rukmini Pande put it during her presentation, “How (not) to talk about race: A critique of methodological practices in fan studies,” (D1):


“Repeat after me, ‘white’ is a racialized identity!”


We’ve got what we need to get started, now it’s time to start.

Before I go, here’s one great resource for interdisciplinary and transcultural work in fan studies: (Made by my lovely colleagues Ludi Price (@LudiPrice) and Nele Noppe (@unjapanologist).

Seeking Survey Participants – How do fans find stories they like?



Dr. Kristen Schuster and I recently started a study focusing how fans find, read, and evaluate stories in online fanfiction sites such as, Archive of Our Own, and Tumblr. If you read fanfiction, and you’ve got about 20 minutes to spare, please consider taking this survey (and sharing it with others!). Information regarding the survey is included below.  

[King’s College London Ethical Clearance Reference Number: MRA-18/19-12588]

Invitation Paragraph

We would like to invite you to participate in this research project which forms part of our ongoing engagement with online fanwriters and their community practices. Before you decide whether you want to take part, it is important for you to understand why the research is being done and what your participation will involve. Please take time to read the following information carefully and discuss it with others if you wish. Feel free to ask us if there is anything that is not clear or if you would like more information.

Our contact information is here and below:

Brittany Kelley:

Kristen Schuster:

What is the purpose of the study?

The purpose of the study is to better understand how our fellow fans search for the kinds of fanfiction stories they like, and how they evaluate these stories as they read, comment, and continue to search for fan-made content. Because we participate in online fanfiction communities, we understand some of the ways that fans might find, rate, and comment on certain types of stories, but we also do not want to speak for all fanfiction readers. Therefore, we would love to hear from you, to see what kinds of differences exist across the fanfiction community online.

Why have I been invited to take part?

You are being invited to participate in this study because you consider yourself to be a fan, and because you read fanfiction online. You may read this fanfiction at a range of sites (including, Archive of Our Own, and/or Tumblr), or only at one specific site, such as Sycophant Hex.

Please note that, due to ethical concerns in the United Kingdom, where we are based, you must be 18 years or older to participate in this survey.

What will happen if I take part?

If you choose to take part in the study you will be asked to complete the following survey. This survey includes three sections, and should not take longer than 20 minutes to complete. All questions are entirely voluntary, and you can stop at any time for any reason. As part of participation, you will be asked to provide some demographic information (including gender, race, sexuality, nationality, etc.), but you may choose not to answer any question you feel uncomfortable with. No personal information will be gathered as part of this survey, and all results will be completely anonymous.

Do I have to take part?

Participation is completely voluntary. You should only take part if you want to, and choosing not to take part will not disadvantage you in anyway. Once you have read the information sheet, please contact us if you have any questions that will help you make a decision about taking part. If you decide to take part, please press the continue button below.

What are the possible risks of taking part?

There are no foreseeable risks to taking part in this research. The questions regarding race, gender, and sexuality may make some participants feel uncomfortable, but you can choose not to answer these questions.

What are the possible benefits of taking part?

The benefit of taking part of this study is that you get to share your online fan experience with other interested fans who have a vested interest in fairly representing the amazing community work that fans do in online fanfiction communities.

Data handling and confidentiality

Your data will be processed in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation 2016 (GDPR). No personal data will be collected as part of this survey; all answers are completely anonymous. In addition, after the completion of our survey on 31 August 2019, we will download all data from our online form, and delete the data from our online, password-protected space. We will purge all raw data within three years of the completion of this project, or by 31 August 2022.

Data Protection Statement

The data controller for this project will be King’s College London (KCL). The University will process this data for the purpose of the research outlined above. The legal basis for processing data for research purposes under GDPR is a ‘task in the public interest’. You can provide your consent for the use of your data in this study by completing the survey.

You have the right to access information held about you. Your right of access can be exercised in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation. You also have other rights including rights of correction, erasure, objection, and data portability. Questions, comments and requests about your personal data can also be sent to the King’s College London Data Protection Officer Mr Albert Chan If you wish to lodge a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office, please visit

What if I change my mind about taking part?

You are free withdraw at any point of the study, without having to give a reason. Withdrawing from the study will not affect you in any way. However, once you have completed the survey, it would be difficult to pull your data, since all data is entered anonymously, and no other personally-identifying information (such as email addresses, pictures, etc.) will be taken as part of this survey. Please do contact us if you have any questions or concerns regarding this.

What will happen to the results of the study?

The results of the study will be summarised in scholarly publications, including an article and a larger book project. If you would like access to these reports, please feel free to contact us.

Who should I contact for further information?

If you have any questions or require more information about this study, please contact us using the following contact details:

Dr Brittany Kelley

Teaching Fellow in Digital Cultures

Department of Digital Humanities

King’s College London


Dr Kristen Schuster

Lecturer in Digital Curation

Department of Digital Humanities

King’s College London

What if I have further questions, or if something goes wrong?

If this study has harmed you in any way or if you wish to make a complaint about the conduct of the study you can contact King’s College London using the details below for further advice and information:

The Chair, Ms Elsa Ludlam,

Thank you for reading this information sheet and for considering taking part in this research.



Seeking Participants – Study on Family and Fandom

Are you a fanfic writer? Do you think of fandom as your family? Do you write about different kinds of families in your stories? Do you just want to talk about your fanfic with someone who loves fandom? Consider taking part in my study. More info below.

What is the study?

I am starting a follow-up study this week on family and fandom. This is an extension of earlier work I did where I looked at fandom, reading and writing, identity, and emotion. Basically, I want to know more about the complex roles that family plays in: discovering fandom; staying in fandom; and writing fics. “Family” is defined very broadly here. It can mean: the family you were born into; being adopted into a family / or adopting a child; family that has chosen you and/or that you have chosen. I’m looking to interview you about your own fannish experiences.

This study has two major components: a general interview about your participation in online fandom, the stories you write, and how family fits into that. With further consent, I’d love to do a guided interview to discuss how “family” was written into different fics. Interviews can be done: in person, over Skype (or a similar application), or via email. The hope is that any individual interview will not take longer than 45 minutes, unless you want it to.

What is the goal of the study?

As a long-time fan and sometime fanwriter myself, I am curious to better understand how and why we fans do what we do. In addition, because I am a teacher, I continually seek to better understand how and why people continue to do the reading and writing that they do in various communities and spaces. I have always been struck by the emotional richness and generosity of online fanwriting communities, and I believe that these communities have a lot to teach academics about how people learn and act in the world.

Therefore, the purpose of this study is to work towards developing better theories of learning and identity formation, particularly when it comes to reading and writing that happens in online spaces. In particular, the purpose of this study is to better understand what role family, however that is defined, plays in the overall emotional elements of reading, writing, and learning in online fan spaces.

Who can take part?

Are you 18 years old or older, and you love fanwriting? You’re in! (If you want to be.)

What will happen to participants?

If you agree to take part in the study, we will discuss the study and negotiate a consent form together. You can choose to: 1) go by your online fanfiction penname, or 2) choose a different penname. If you choose to go by a different penname, you will not be associated with any of your online writing.

If you choose to go by your original fanfiction penname, I will ask to conduct a guided interview to discuss how you decided to write about family in a specific story of interest. In this case, it is very likely that I will quote and analyse both the fan stories and interviews.

I will always share my writing with you before sharing it publicly in any way, which can include: in a teaching lecture or seminar, in an academic conference, in any kind of popular or academic publication. I welcome any and all commentary on what I have written. In addition, if you would prefer I remove something from the research record, I will.

I will stay in touch with you throughout the study. In addition, I will always contact you in the future if I would like to use the information from our interviews in a different way from the original study.

Why take part?

You get to talk to a super excited aca-fan who wants to know all about your fan experience (and, if you’re interested, share hers. Also, you get to have a say in how fans are represented to academics.

Are there any risks?

While you can always choose not to answer any questions you feel uncomfortable with, or to strike anything you may have said in an interview from the research record, it is possible that, because the study focuses on writing as well as emotion and family, that you may feel nervous or uncomfortable during the interviews. You will be asked questions about how you represent family in the stories that you write, and why. It is possible that these representations may not be positive, and may relate to negative experiences you may have had. If this is the case, you always have the option to refuse to answer a question, to stop the interview process, or even to pull from the study entirely. However, the interview questions will overwhelmingly focus largely on your stories and writing process, as well as how you got into fandom, rather than your specific family history.

What will Brittany do with the results?

The results of the study will be used in academic conference presentations and workshops. They will also be published in academic journal articles and/or book-length publications. The results may also be shared through my professional blog,, but never without your prior consent. Finally, some findings may be shared with students, particularly in courses that focus on research methods and ethics. I will never share any raw interview data without your prior consent.

Interested? – Contact me!

You can also find me at and Archive of Our Own, as PhoenixSongFalling.



It’s time to stop valorizing workaholics

For a while now, I’ve been keeping track of the hours I work—just out of curiosity. In part. In part it’s also a way for me to comfortably assuage and affirm my fastidious nature. But, perhaps, even more so, it’s also—in part—a response to so much damaging discourse on work in academia.

When I was working on my MA degree in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I quickly enculturated into the more hours/less sleep competition. Or, in other words, the endless complaining-bragging that goes a little like this:

“Well, I only slept six hours last night.”


“I’ve been working twelve-hour days.”

Of course, this activity provides well-needed bonding for graduate students. It’s one way for them to signal to each other: graduate school is hard and I am exhausted. Help!

But the responses to these kinds of statements were almost never: “That’s terrible! I’m so sorry!” Usually, they would go something like:

“I know! I worked seventeen hours yesterday, and I only got four hours of sleep!”

Add to this the “well-meaning” warnings from some of the tenure-track and tenured faculty that “faculty life is a lot harder than graduate school,” and you’ve got a recipe for an extremely unhealthy culture of work.

Just take a look at Nicholas A. Christakis’ recent tweet:

christakis tweet

Sure, it’s likely that, just like some of my professors, Christakis tweeted this from a disposition of goodwill—to prepare his students and post-docs for the reality of academic life in the sciences.

However, no matter how well-meaning his intent, his tweet is absolutely addressing the wrong part of the issue. In Christakis’ response, he paints the problem as:

“students aren’t adequately prepared for the realities of academia”

Instead of

“the academic culture of work is unhealthy and unsustainable.”

A much better approach would have been to admit to students that some weeks would be hard. That they’d work 80-100 hours sometimes. But, nonetheless, to encourage students to set firm boundaries on their time. To encourage them to rest and recuperate. To remind them that some of the best work comes from people who are well-rested—physically, mentally, and emotionally.

It might seem strange, then, that I count my work hours. But, despite my humanities training, and my penchant for slow, qualitative research, I enjoy bits of quantification. I like to count things like: hours worked, chapters or articles read, words written, deadlines met. It’s a way I use to congratulate myself on the little things (in fact, I reward myself with literal. gold. stickers in my calendar). This keeps me motivated to keep working in a job that’s so often defined by rejection and seeming (or real) failure. (So, so many job, conference, publication rejections—so, so many.)

In counting my work hours, though, I began to learn to negotiate what “work” means. When I first started this practice, I didn’t include meals or transport or official department events. But, this approach led to the same unhealthy work habits I mentioned before, not to mention crushing levels of guilt. So, I slowly started to work in things that really do count as work, even if they don’t always look like it. For example:

Department events (short of parties/informal drinks/meal meet-ups):

  • Recruitment events
  • Student-faculty meet-and-greets
  • New faculty hiring
  • Faculty (re)orientation
  • Faculty seminars
  • Faculty-student clubs (like the Digital Humanities Film Club I participated in last semester)

While many of these kinds of events are often not officially included in a faculty contract (except maybe under service), they are expected by your fellow departmental citizens, and they do require labor—a professional demeanor and emotional openness that is so often very tiring.

Transit time:

It took me sooo long to finally include this, despite the fact that I have often spent so much time traveling to and from work. For example, now that I work in London, I have about an hour commute both ways by train (with some walking). I often take that time to read and/or work on things like lectures, seminars, talks, or even responses to student work. (This morning I read Bourdieu’s Logic of Practice and started to mentally compose this blog post, for instance.) But even if I spend some time dozing—like I also did this morning on the early train—I still count this transit time, because this is time I could otherwise be doing other things. Like sleeping. Or drinking coffee and reading the news.


I always used to count these as breaks—or “not work; deduct from work hours.” But this meant that I started to skip meals in favor of more work. So, not only was I not eating well, but I was deducting time that companies are legally obligated to pay for in any other job. So, I began to count that time too. (Of course, like so many of my colleagues, I’m usually doing some kind of work anyway—reading for courses or research, or checking more email.)


Again, I had to count this into my work day because, otherwise, I’d never go to the gym. I do not count every time I exercise as work (like if I go for a walk on a Saturday, for instance), but certainly if I go to the gym for about an hour during my work day (that includes getting there, changing into clothes, working out, and cleaning up, mind you), then I absolutely count this, because it’s good for me to move my body.

Finally, now that I work in the U.K., my contract specifies that I am expected to work 35 hours per week. It turns out that, on average, I work about 42 hours per week (which is above even the U.S. expectation of 40 hours per week). In addition, I almost always work all seven days of the week. (I’m trying to reduce this habit.)

But, because I count things that are good for me, like meals and exercise, I’ve started to feel so much better during the rest of my work hours. Moreover, because I have some firm boundaries, such as—no email on Saturdays; no work after 3 pm on Friday (whenever possible);  I stop working when I feel exhausted and/or emotionally drained (especially when grading)—these hours don’t seem quite as onerous. Do I sometimes work more 60 hours or more in a week? Sure, but not every week. Not even close.

I have a life outside of work, and I believe in honoring and celebrating that life. And it’s that, celebrating of the life outside of work, that should become part of our overall culture of work.

Vulnerability as Strength

A month ago (I really can’t believe it was that long ago already), I visited York to give an invited talk about online research ethics. It was an immense honor, because I was asked, for the very first time, to be a keynote speaker. Even more so it was an honor because I got to meet so many fantastically-engaged scholars willing to geek out about ethics all day–on a Saturday no less!

That day, I talked about vulnerability, and I’ve been thinking about it in some shape or form ever since. I decided to make myself a bit vulnerable that day by exposing the deeply emotional links I had to my own research–because of my own fannish past, but also because of my persistent sense of imposter syndrome. I was already vulnerable, because I didn’t know how to be a ‘keynote speaker’. I mean, who would ever have thought to invite me to do such a thing, anyway?

I started with my , perhaps, most vulnerable, but also most intense fannish past.

It was September or October or November. Or maybe it was February. I honestly don’t remember the month. I only remember that I was smack-dab in the middle of my seventh-grade year, meaning I was 13 years old, and up late watching MTV. I had seen that they were going to replay Nirvana’s Unplugged performance (from 1993), and I was curious, since I had only recently “discovered” them in the form of their most enduring song—”Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I knew some cool kids at school were really into them, and, naturally, wanting to be cool too, I decided I liked them. I don’t think I was paying attention at first. I can’t really remember. What I do remember, however, is the moment when Kurt began singing “Pennyroyal Tea” by himself.


Suddenly, the rest of the world faded away, and it was just Kurt’s head hanging over his guitar as he belted out the lyrics. I was mesmerized. I felt like I was under some sort of spell. I couldn’t help it. I started to cry. Something about that moment was so beautiful and so sad to me that the tears began to flow without me quite knowing how it had happened. When the song was over, and the audience cheered, I knew something major had shifted within me.

I knew I would be a Nirvana fan for the rest of my life.

These days, I no longer seek out any and every performance, or beg my dad for $500 to buy the elusive “Love Buzz” single on eBay, or buy every book I can on Kurt’s life. I’ve left behind that moment of my fannish obsession. But I do still listen to them after a long day. And, yes, I admit to being pretty snotty when I see younger people wearing Nirvana t-shirts, when I know that many of them are only familiar with Smells Like Teen Spirit, if that. I feel this way despite the fact that I was only a young child when Nirvana hit the big time with their album Nevermind. I still rankle when people put Pearljam and Nirvana under the same label of ‘grunge’. I still can’t quite explain what happened that strange evening under the influence of teenage hormones and MTV, but a bond was formed then, and, so far, it really has stood the test of time.

I started here, I guess, because this was absolutely one of my most intense, all-consuming fan experiences. I not only obsessively listened to the music or learned about the band, I also dressed in plaid pajamas (when I could get away with it). I begged my parents to buy me a guitar so I could start learning how to play. My goal was to eventually write my own songs. I did write a couple. They weren’t very good.

I started there because I’m still just a tiny bit embarrassed by how obsessed I was for so long. I started there because it was, truly, my first entrée into fannish life. I started here because it so clearly demonstrates, as Larsen and Zubernis (2013) argued in their absolutely fantastic Fangasm: Supernatural fangirls, “Falling into fandom is like falling in love” (p. 8). And isn’t falling in love such a vulnerable thing to do?

I really do think that vulnerability is the key: owning it and feeling it and using it as a guide. As a strength. I argued that day that I came to vulnerability honestly–because of my own embarrassing obsessions, but also because of my own relationship with writing. And fanfiction is writing. As we all know from our own writing, while we may feel some sort of urge to share our writing with others, most of us also tend to feel extremely nervous about that very prospect. In his new book, Embarrassment: The emotional underlife of learning, Thomas Newkirk addresses how learning more generally, but certain learning how to write, is a bumpy process often beset with embarrassment, shame, and anxiety. There’s something very personal, very raw, very vulnerable about writing. As Riche (2017) has argued, however, this vulnerability is part of what makes writing so powerful. As he says in his article, “Toward a theory and pedagogy of rhetorical vulnerability,” “‘my existence as a rhetorical being necessitates my existence as a vulnerable being, someone whose life is contingent, perpetually exposed, and always subject to the effects of language (among countless other factors)” (Riche, 2017). In other words, vulnerability is the capacity to both affect and be affected by something. Considering the very vulnerability of writing overall, it becomes, perhaps, much easier to understand why Jones (2016) would argue that, for fans, posting a fanfiction story is similar to “A woman talking about an abortion with a friend in a café” that it is “a private act in a public space.”

But vulnerability can take us beyond this too, as it reminds us that we are humans. As Riche (2017) argued, vulnerability is “rooted in our embodiment, our affective lives, and our material connections to the world around us, which closes in on us and at the same time keeps us open.” It’s our ability to be affected just as much as or even more so than we can affect.

I’ve continued my argument so far that “doing vulnerability” as an academic means being willing to admit our ability to wound others, and to be willing to take on the risk of being wounded. Vulnerability is not and should not be one-sided. But my discussions with people that day raised a lot of really important questions for me to continue working through:

  • What about the danger of taking on the double meaning of vulnerability for academics in less privileged positions?
  • How does “doing vulnerability” relate to an ethic of self-care?
  • What about the danger of “accepting risk” becoming a paternalistic stance?
  • How can the concept of vulnerability help us when it comes to things like big data?
  • How can we mitigate the problem of traceability and vulnerability when it comes to publicly-funded research that might require us to share our raw data?
  • How can we balance between the strength vulnerability can wield against us, and the ethical strengths that vulnerability can provide for us?

I’m still working through these questions, slowly. The process, lately, has made me feel very raw– like an open wound. But can’t that be something of a good thing? That moment just before the transformation? The persistent itch before the skin heals? I’m not convinced yet, but I sure hope so.