Lifting a Ton of Feathers: A Woman's Guide to Surviving in the Academic World


273 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-8020-7411-1
DDC 378.1'2'082




Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is associate editor of the Canadian Book Review Annual.


This well-documented book effectively puts to rest any romantic notions
the reader might entertain about academia, the primary one being that it
is somehow immune from the gender discrimination that is commonplace in
other employment settings. Feminist academic and psychologist Paula
Caplan argues that, notwithstanding the specious claims of university
administrators, discrimination against women—and particularly those
from nondominant groups—remains a powerful force in academia, and a
more insidious one in that it now takes more subtle forms. Her survival
guide for female graduate students and faculty contains a wealth of
essential information and practical advice on such topics as uncovering
an institution’s “unwritten rules” (a sine qua non of academic
survival), networking, obtaining financial aid, finding and working with
a thesis supervisor, job search, salary negotiation, and achieving
tenure (or disputing decisions to deny tenure).

The author tempers idealism with a strong note of pragmatism by
suggesting that radicalized and feminist faculty wait until they secure
tenure before launching an all-out campaign against academic orthodoxy.
As crucial an element in academic survival as taking practical action is
achieving psychological well-being; one of this book’s most insistent
prescriptions is that women academics resist engaging in misplaced
self-blame—the byproduct of a lifetime of socialization—over
career-related failures that may be due to circumstances beyond their

A Ton of Feathers is a cold dose of reality that no woman academic
should be without.


Caplan, Paula J., “Lifting a Ton of Feathers: A Woman's Guide to Surviving in the Academic World,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 21, 2024,