"I grew up in an academic family, so my doctorate was the end of a fairly linear progression which I always expected. I knew I was good at it and enjoyed it. I started out in fine arts, then moved into women’s studies for my Master’s and doctorate. I focused on women’s work and experiences in technology through a social science lens. For me things have always evolved. Questions lead to other questions. I never thought I would end up doing stats or researching technology following an undergraduate study in fine arts!
"I finished my doctorate in 2002. My knowledge and skills took me to being the project manager of a research database. Over five years we developed a website and a database, and during this time I was also teaching on contract at the university with the hope that it would lead to a permanent faculty position. I developed new courses, such as a course on women and technology, and a course on transgender issues and feminism.
"However, eventually I got fed up with the insecure nature of the university teaching work I was doing, and I realised that the increasing commercial nature of the institution – with the concomitant focus on being a bureaucratic ‘research factory’ – didn’t fit with my values. I came from a social justice field, where making real change for real people was important.
"So I went to work at a private research institute for around nine months, then I abruptly quit. Although the catalyst was a restrictive immediate supervisor, the organisation was very ‘old school’. There were lots of areas I wanted to explore, and could not! This institute suffered from the same problems I found in academia. One day, I simply walked out.
"A friend and I then started a charity, the Healthy Food Bank foundation, for which I am the Research Director. I started up a magazine to support the charity, and served as the Editor-in-Chief. I also saw some personal training clients during this time, and began to work as a nutritional coach. Now I supervise a cohort of over 100 women, providing individualized nutritional instruction and coaching. I also run group fitness workshops occasionally. I have been working on a couple of books related to this area of health and nutrition, and I make income from my website as well.
"My website, www.stumptuous.com, was created over 10 years ago when I realised that there was no real information out there for women who wanted to get into shape – as I did – and lift weights to do it. A lot of the information that existed was poor quality. I read a lot of literature on the subject, added articles to the site, and got a lot of feedback from other women all over the world. The site has grown immensely. I get a lot of emails about how other things in women’s lives can change when they become strong, so it’s become more like a ‘transforming lives’ project.
"I love the fact that I’m the boss. I work so well independently. It’s not that I can’t take feedback, it’s just that I can’t take rules for the sake of rules. There is an intellectual independence that I love. Time and physical flexibility are so important for me, and my background in employment really gave me the ability to critique the way others work. In academia, and at the institute, you had to be physically present in the office the whole time. As a person working in a knowledge industry, I never understood this. I always found the insecurity (especially at the beginning) difficult. Establishing a steady stream of income and a whole new network took a lot of time. Even if things are going well, there is always the fear of ‘what if this dries up?’ Also the working hours can be quite extreme. If you are doing something you love and it doesn’t feel like work, you can find yourself doing more work than when you were at the job you hated! This is especially true in the beginning, but the mental preoccupation can be stressful too.
"All the insights from my doctoral studies are so relevant. In understanding why women eat poorly, you have to understand their lives – dead-end female occupations, lower incomes, the power imbalance which exists in society, childcare, taking care of ageing relatives, etc. All these things shape fitness and health, and access to good food. As well as content, skills such as setting up a study, running, interpreting data – and then explaining it in plain language – have been very useful.
"A cautionary tale would be to take note of what you see that you don’t like, and steer away from it. A lot of what I saw told me that, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ These clues can be just as useful as moving towards what you do like. I modelled a lot of what I did on the kind of academic escapees I work with now, rather than the kind of old school academia I wanted to get away from."