141 Letter from Ulrike Gretzel

On Working with Others

Dear future women tourism researchers,

It is my greatest hope that when you read this, gender inequality will have become such an obsolete concept that you will ask yourself why all these female tourism researchers found it necessary to contribute to a book by and about women in tourism research. I usually don’t think of myself as a woman in tourism research. But then I attend a conference as a keynote speaker and I experience how differently my male counterparts are being introduced and treated. I also once looked at the salaries of my colleagues when I worked at a public university in the United States and couldn’t believe how much higher my male colleagues’ salaries were. Or, I read an email addressed to me or another female tourism researcher and wonder whether the tone and content would have been the same if addressed to a male. And, yes, I also get those emails from students who call me Mrs. Gretzel and then happily go on to refer to a male colleague as Professor.

There are many more instances that continue to shake me out of my (delusional) gender-neutral professional mindset. They are important reminders that the playing field in tourism research is currently far from being level despite the great numbers of female tourism students. They also highlight that there is a great need for celebrating the achievements of women in the field and for mentoring those women who would like to have careers in it. Tourism research continues to lose so many amazing women and is exploiting so many others that there is an urgent need for change. And even if these concepts may seem completely foreign to you, the tourism researcher of the future, there is probably still a need to fight for gender equality to maintain it.

So, here I am, trying to figure out what I could possibly contribute to this endeavor. I thought about listing all the amazing women in tourism who helped me and inspired me over the years, but there are simply too many! If you can’t say the same, make an effort to read the work of female tourism researchers, seek them out at conferences, follow them on social media, and send them an email letting them know that you would like to learn more about them or their work. I also considered giving general career advice, but I am a total procrastinator, I am constantly behind on deadlines because I can’t say no, I sometimes end up doing all the work in collaborative projects, and I have way too many ideas that never get published because I am a perfectionist. And I currently do not have a full-time, tenured appointment at an institution that values my contributions to tourism research. In a nutshell, nobody should take advice from me. Maybe you should stop reading this right now. In the end, I decided to focus on the hardest lessons I had to learn over the years but also the most incredible experiences I have had so far, and those are related to working with others.

Working with students

Whether they are undergraduate or PhD students, students are the most difficult and the most rewarding part of our work. Paying it forward is a mantra that I have learned from my PhD advisor and which I practice religiously. Everyone who has worked with me knows that my claws come out when I sense injustice against my students, especially when they are female, minorities, or in any other way underprivileged. Educating and mentoring the next generation is the single most impactful thing we do. Standing up for them is our duty. And yet, a lot of that work will go unnoticed, or even worse, will be criticized. It took me a while to realize that I can’t possibly inspire every student. Thankfully, I currently work at an institution that acknowledges the many biases against women in student evaluations. If you don’t, make sure that you alert administrators to these.

And I am glad that I never listened to people who told me not to take on so many master or PhD students or to make them work on my own research projects. Yes, my academic life would have been a lot easier. But they have taken my thinking into directions I could have never imagined and have introduced me to colleagues or industry professionals I would have never met otherwise. Every single one of them has made my hair greyer but my life and my career richer.

If you happen to work at an institution that does not have a graduate program, there are still lots of opportunities to engage undergraduate students in research projects. There are conferences that have awards for undergraduate research papers (e.g. TTRA), conferences where undergraduate students can present (e.g. ISCONTOUR), and conferences/communities that encourage research on teaching and innovation in classrooms (e.g. ISTTE, TEFI). Scholarship on teaching is currently undervalued in tourism (and many other disciplines) but I have found it to be a very rewarding aspect of my career and an area where funding is often more widely available than for tourism research. Our current teaching models and assessment strategies are obsolete (we make students sit in hour-long lectures and usually don’t acknowledge the technological circumstances they will encounter in the workplace). I hope you will feel motivated to help change the way we teach tourism.

Working with industry

Tourism is an applied field and working with industry is something that many of us do. But the rhythms and demands of industry are different from those of academia and a collaboration will only work when that is not only understood but embraced by both parties. I have spent countless hours talking with industry professionals that never led to anything. As an academic, and especially as a woman, there is often the expectation that we will happily provide advice for nothing in return. The only way I have been able to counter this is to actively negotiate some benefit. This could be a guest lecture in class, an introduction to other industry professionals, data that can be used for academic research, internships for students, a few questions added to an industry survey, or an invitation to an industry event. Don’t be afraid to ask!

I have also always made sure to attend industry conferences or conferences that mix both industry and academia. Many of these sessions didn’t spark any ground-breaking research ideas but helped as examples in my teaching. Most, however, taught me something invaluable about current industry needs and industry lingo that greatly informed my research.

The male dominance in many areas of the industry makes collaborative efforts challenging for female tourism researchers. Finding allies and building long-term relationships is the key to success. Colleagues might tell you that you are wasting your time but looking at my career so far, many of my contributions are built on work with industry partners. However, a note of caution is in order: working with industry in tourism requires that you have institutional support. If your Dean insists on taking 50% overhead, your grants and contracts office takes ten weeks or longer to execute contracts, and your accounting department is not willing to help you process the funds and your expenses, you might be better off not pursuing this. Being part of a research center or lab can help with the fight against the bureaucratic windmills.

Working with colleagues

When I applied for my PhD in Communications, the then director of the program was puzzled to see my co-authored papers. He couldn’t figure out how to determine what contribution I had made to these publications. So, depending on the discipline you position yourself in, publishing with others might be looked at differently. Most of my publications continue to be collaborative efforts and many include people from very different disciplines. Some of these partnerships were absolutely enlightening and motivating, while others were horrific. In reality, publishing and grant writing increasingly demand teams with various forms of expertise. But don’t settle just because you think you need to collaborate or feel obliged to work with your immediate colleagues. Find colleagues who appreciate you and energize your thinking. They might be at different universities or in different disciplines. Be aware that collaborations are almost always more work than solo projects.

Most of my collaborations start in person at conferences but many start with an email. Reach out to people and share your ideas but choose wisely (listen to your intuition and listen to colleagues) and don’t be afraid to walk away at any stage if a partnership would require compromising the quality of your work or your ethical standards. I often hang in way too long because I feel passionate about the project or like the colleagues, but difficult partnerships require a lot of energy and waste a lot of time.

Working with colleagues outside of your department or school allows you to build bridges with other institutions. This gives you the potential of mobility. Mobility is one of the greatest assets in academia and a necessary facet of intellectual growth. Much frustration in academia stems from having to work with people who have created fiefdoms, can’t “think outside of their institution”, or feel miserable in their job but are unable to quit. There are many good reasons for why some institutions forbid the hiring of their own PhD students. My mobility has saved me many times over the years and has tremendously enriched my career. It is based on having lots of international, interdisciplinary connections and having built a CV that is transferable. If you play research assessment or tenure criteria games, you might be very successful locally, but in the end not be able to move to a different institution.

Now your personal circumstances might not allow you to be mobile in the sense of switching institutions, but you can still engage in bridge-building across departments, you can arrange for short-term research stays at other academic institutions or in industry, you can bring in scholars from other places, and you can do quality research and teaching that will be recognized and gives you options if your circumstances change. When you read this, there might be even fewer academic positions available and there might not be any tenured positions left. In that situation, mobility will matter even more.

Working with others who have a family

I was an unmarried woman without children for most of my career. It is with great sadness that I have to report that even in the 21st century, single females are seen as incomplete without a partner by their side. I usually got seated with my other single colleagues – thankfully, I always liked mine a lot, or at the academic equivalent of the “children’s table” with the graduate students. The big problem is that my time was never valued the same as that of colleagues with family. I was expected to take the less convenient teaching hours, adjust my meeting schedule to their needs, be continuously available for students, and appear at events outside of normal working hours much more than said colleagues. As a result, it was much harder to maintain boundaries and achieve work-life balance for me as a single woman. My advice is to accommodate when you can but not to feel guilty when you have to push back.

Single females still have caring obligations, including pets, relatives, and friends. They are just (not yet) as recognized as taking care of partners or children. I will never forget the negative course evaluation I received from a student who complained that I couldn’t agree to an ad hoc meeting after one of the lectures because I had to rush to the animal hospital to be with my cat when the vet put him to sleep. I don’t think I would have gotten that nasty comment if my human child had died that day.

I can’t count the times I have heard someone (male and female) say: “it’s no wonder that she has so many publications, she doesn’t have a family”. To all the wonderful single and/or childless women tourism researchers of the future, don’t let others take away from your achievements!

Parting thoughts

Academia can be a hostile work environment infused with male values like competition, assertiveness, independence, and leadership. At least in the presence, it perpetuates gender stereotypes and disadvantages women in many ways. We all have an obligation to do something about this. Not all of us will be activists, but all of us can take small steps to point out problematic language and behavior to raise awareness and to be mentors to and protectors of other women. I for sure am looking forward to reading all the contributions to this book and building on them in my research.


Ulrike Gretzel

University of Southern California, USA


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Women’s voices in tourism research Copyright © 2021 by The University of Queensland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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