Writing Your Book for Minoritized Women Academics with Jane Jones, PhD
When you write a book, it’s lasting. It’s sharable. Your book is findable online which for professors that means you can help more people with your research, teaching, and the things you care about most. I’m delighted to share this featured interview with you.
Dr. Jane Joann Jones is a book coach for minoritized women professors. She left the tenure track 8 years ago to help you confidently write your book.
Jane says, “You’ve done this research. It’s really meaningful to you. And you wanna see it out in the world.” If you want a book, I want you to have a book! I hope this interview resonates with you.
Welcome to The Social Academic blog and podcast. We’re also on YouTube! I’m Jennifer van Alstyne (@HigherEdPR). Here we talk about managing your online presence as a professor. You can build skills to have a strong digital footprint to share your research and teaching online. And I’m here to help you.
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In this interview, Dr. Jane Jones and I talk about
Meet Dr. Jane Jones
Jennifer: Welcome to The Social Academic. Today I’m talking with Dr. Jane Jones of Up In Consulting.
We’re gonna be talking about books. So, authors, please listen up. This one is for you. Dr. Jane Jones, would you please introduce yourself?
Jane: Sure. My name is Jane Jones. I am a New Yorker and I am a book writing coach. I came to book writing after I left my tenure track job. I was an Assistant Professor of Sociology. That’s where I have my PhD, in sociology.
I started out as a developmental editor and then transitioned into coaching. The business I have now is a book coaching business where I work with women in academia who are writing books in humanities and social sciences. I help them get those books done through a combination of developmental editing, coaching, and project management support.
Jennifer: I love that. Now, can I ask, what do you like most about coaching? Why do you like working with people on their books?
Jane: Oh my goodness, there are a lot of reasons actually. I really do love coaching.
One thing that stands out with the coaching side is how much academics already know, but have been socialized to believe they don’t know. Especially women.
Jennifer: Ooh. Especially women. Okay.
Jane: Especially women. Especially Black women, other women of color, They’ve been taught not to trust their own knowledge.
Jane: And through coaching, a lot of what I focus on, is helping people realize that you already know a lot about your topic. You already have a lot of expertise. You don’t always have to defer to other scholars, to your dissertation advisor, especially when you’re writing your book. You no longer have to answer to your dissertation advisor. And that you have a lot of the skills already.
To be sure, there are a lot of things that we aren’t taught about publishing. There is a big hidden curriculum around book writing. And exposing that hidden curriculum is very important, while also reinforcing people’s trust in their own knowledge. Being able to do both of those two things at the same time, I think is the most important part of the coaching relationship for me.
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What are universities not teaching you about book writing?
Jennifer: I love that because my next question was what are universities kind of not teaching you, right? What are universities not teaching, especially minoritized faculty, about writing books?
It sounds like people do have more knowledge than they’re able to process, maybe admit, or accept of themselves. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? Where is that difference between how much we know and how much we really need support?
Jane: I always joke that there’s no Publishing 101. There’s no Book Writing 101.That course is not taught in grad school. I mean, for that matter, Article Writing 101 isn’t either. Those aren’t taught in grad school.
Where people have a lot of knowledge is in their subject matter. In the data you have collected, all of the literature, you’ve read, how you make sense of the literature. People are experts there. You’ve spent your whole graduate career…Because I work with people at all stages of their career from Assistant Professor to Full Professor. You’ve accumulated so much data, number one. And you have so much knowledge. Right? So that is there.
But in terms of questions like, “Well, how is a book different than a dissertation?”
You know, “Structurally, what do I put in my book that wasn’t in the dissertation?”
Or, you know, “How do I create the through line in my book?”
You know, these really, kind of tactical questions about how do I actually do the writing of this type of manuscript? Which is different than an article, and is different than a grant proposal. They’ve never been taught that.
Even though they have all of the information, they don’t know how to get it on paper in a way that is going to be legible for our reader. That’s where the work happens. That’s what we do, and that’s what universities don’t teach people how to do.
Sometimes it’s because people just don’t know how to teach it. It’s kind of like, you write your book for yourself. For many people who write their first book, and if you’re a first book author watching this, if someone comes and asks you what you did, you might be like, “I don’t remember. I just got that done. I was on a tenure timeline, and I put my head down, and I wrote.” And maybe I had a book manuscript workshop. Or, you know, like, I had good friends, or a supportive mentor who read it and gave me feedback. And I wrote, got feedback, wrote, got feedback, and that was it. And then the book was done, right? That doesn’t mean you can then teach that process to somebody else.
So being able to be a little bit on the outside of the process as developmental editor, and with the other developmental editors, you know, who work in the program with me, being on the outside of that process and saying, you know, there are some common things. There are some things that all books have in common. And we’re gonna teach you how to implement and how to learn that craft, the things that are common about the craft of book writing.
We work with people across disciplines. We’re ‘discipline agnostic’ as we like to say. You know, from art historians to people who are more on the side of doing quantitative, big survey research, but writing books. We run the gamut. But even within that, there are things people have in common in their books and in their trials of writing, you know? The experiences they’re having, trying to make enough time to write the book, feeling imposter syndrome, not knowing what to do with feedback, being worried about approaching an acquisitions editor. You know, going back to the hidden curriculum, not knowing how to talk to an acquisitions editor and feeling very intimidated. Those are all things that we help them with that I think aren’t really being talked to them in other places.
People might be exchanging information informally. They’re like, “Oh, my friend published here. They said the editor is really nice.” Or, “They said the editor is really hands-on or not hands-on. So I have this informal knowledge, but I don’t know how to craft an email to an acquisitions editor. Or, strike up a conversation with them at a conference. And I feel very worried to do that.” You know, “I don’t know how to describe my book in one or two sentences so that I could talk to somebody about it at a conference and not spend 10 minutes talking about my book. Which, ultimately I will be, but I don’t have that sharp, quick summary.” Those are things that we help them with, because it could feel very disempowering when you don’t know how to do that.
Again, you have all this great information, but, if you don’t know how to talk to an acquisitions editor, how are you gonna have a book? If you don’t know how to craft a chapter, how are you gonna have a book.
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Minoritized women in the academy do more service and mentoring
Jennifer: These are skills that professors can learn. These are skills that are learnable and that you can develop, but because they’re not taught by universities and the people who have experience in them maybe don’t know how to teach these skills, it is amazing that you and your team are there to support them. I’m so happy about that.
And I’m also happy that you work with minoritized faculty, with women. Why is that important to you?
Jane: It’s really important! I just want to go back to one thing, the people who have written books and don’t necessarily know how to teach it. I would add additionally, and kind of looping this into working with women and minoritized faculty is, like, they don’t often have the time to teach somebody elsehow to write a book.
It’s a time consuming process. A book is a multi-year process and people add mentoring like, “I’ll read a chapter for you and give you feedback.” But for someone to give them that structured support over time, faculty are having to publish themselves. They have to do their own service committees, they have their own families. Again, that doesn’t mean that they don’t offer help, but it means that they may not have the time or capacity to give that systematic type of help we do.
I think that’s especially pronounced for women and minoritized faculty because they often have an extra service load. They do more service. We know that statistically. They do more service. They’re doing more care-taking outside of work. Right?
There isn’t always that easy transmission of knowledge from a senior faculty member to a junior faculty member because they’re just as pressed as anybody else. And so are the junior faculty! And we don’t only work with junior faculty, but the majority of our clients are.
They have the same issues like extra service, students who want their mentorship because they’re the only Black person in the department. They’re only person who studies race. They’re the only person who does X research. So they have students who want their mentoring. And all of this creates extra commitments for them.
One thing that we focus on in coaching is helping people prioritize their books when there’s a lot of other things going on. Teaching that craft of writing, but also saying, like, “Hey, this book is really important to you for a lot of reasons. Like, professionally take a tenure promotion. But also because you’ve done this research, it’s really meaningful to you, and you wanna see it out in the world. How do we help you make sure that it stays top of mind?” What do we do to support people so that the book can stay top of mind.
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Have more conversations about your book
Jennifer: I love that. I feel like my work is really aligned with that actually, because I’m really helping professors and researchers talk about the research and the teaching that they do on online. That way more people can have conversations, so that they can have more collaboration, so that they can get more research funding.
But most of the people that I work with have a lot of anxiety talking about themselves. Do you find that your authors have anxiety talking about their books?
Jane: Yeah. (laughs) Yeah. Definitely. And I think that the work you’re doing is so important, ’cause, in my opinion, if you write a book, don’t you want people to read it?
Like, you want it out in the world. Like, you wanna be in conversation with other people. You want people to read it, but you also want to talk to people about it.
Jennifer: Right, yeah. Yeah. Even, the ability to have someone on your team, be that kind of support, not just when you start writing the book, but through the whole process. That’s such an amazing idea that we can’t necessarily get through a mentorship position at your university. Especially if no one is in your field. I love that that support system is there.
It also gives authors an opportunity to have someone that they can talk with about their book. Some of the authors that I work with, I ask, “Who do you talk about your book with?”
And their answer is, “No one. Once I stopped working with my editor, I don’t talk with my colleagues. I don’t talk with my family. I don’t talk with my friends. My book came out seven years ago and I never talk about it.”
That really strikes me as something that I think that, people who work with you, they’re talking about their book. And thinking about it in much larger ways. Because it’s really introspective, and being introspective is hard. I love that you help people with that process and actually understand their motivations for why they’re doing it, who they’re helping. It’s amazing.
Jane: Yeah. Thank you. I think that another part that’s really important is that my programs are group programs.
Jane: And that’s on purpose. Because like you said, it is very introspective. For some people, the solitude, the solitary work, they like it. They’re like, “I like writing solitary. I like being alone with my thoughts.” And that’s great.
Some people are like, “It’s isolating, and I don’t like it, and I feel very alone in the process.” Being with people who are at a similar stage as them, and when I say stage, I don’t mean career-wise, I mean stage of the book. Because people come in, and they’re all at a similar stage of writing, so they’re all kind of going through it together.
“I’m trying to figure out the overarching argument of this book,” or, “I’m writing two of my empirical chapters, the two of my body chapters.” There’s a feeling of, “We’re in it together.”
I spoke to a former client the other day, and she was in Elevate a year ago maybe, and she said, “Our Elevate group still meets on Mondays and Thursdays on Zoom, and we still write together.”
Jennifer: I love that.
Jane: I was like, “Oh, my goodness.” I didn’t even know that they did that. And she’s like, “We kept the time and whoever can make it comes on Mondays and Thursdays and we meet.” Just having that community of people who are in it with you and are like, “I’ve seen you from when you started this book and you weren’t sure what it was about. And now you’re here and we’re just seeing each other’s process and giving each other support that way.”
It’s just awesome because we don’t get a lot of that in academia. We have to be very intentional about cultivating it. It doesn’t just show up for us.
Being able to provide that space where you have peers so you can be like, “I tried that too, and this is what happened when I tried it. “You know, or, “I went through that experience and I came out and I was, like, ‘I did it, and you could do it too.'”
Jennifer: I did it and you can do it too. Just hearing those two sentences, they’re so short. But, it just makes such a difference, especially to the women and minoritized faculty that you most want to help.
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Anxieties about writing your book are normal
Jane: Yeah. I mean just seeing that. ‘Cause you get into it and you’re like, “I don’t know if I’m ever gonna be done with this book.” (Jane laughs). People definitely have that thought,
- “I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to finish this.”
- “I’ve been avoiding it.”
- “I haven’t been working on my book, because I’ve been scared.”
- “I got some feedback that put me into a tailspin.”
- “I became overwhelmed with other commitments and I feel some shame about it.
- “I feel so embarrassed.”
Jane: And reminding them that it happens. It’s disappointing that it happens, but it doesn’t mean something’s wrong with you. I was normalizing it and seeing when I did one-on-one, one thing that always happened was people would tell me something, I’d be like, “Oh, that’s really common.”
And they’d be like, “It is?”
And I’d be like, “Yeah, I have other clients who have experienced that.”
And they’re like, “They have?”
Jennifer: (Laughs). Yeah
Jane: So being able to put everyone in the group and be like, “Look, you’re all having this experience.” You are not uniquely incompetent in some way. This is something that happens to a lot of people. Just because we aren’t talking about it on Twitter, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Jennifer: You know, I like when it is talked about on Twitter. I like when people talk about their struggles with writing on Twitter. Because I cheer them on. I’m like, “If you struggle with your writing, you get back to it, even if it’s a year later, two years later, 10 years later, I don’t care. Because I will remember that you were vulnerable and open about something you were going through. And I wanna cheer you on and I wanna hear about things when they’re not so good too.” So I really like vulnerability.
I love that people have a safe space to do that in your program. But I also encourage people, if you’re struggling with something, being open about it on social media can help spark new ideas, tools, and resources that you can use. But also new collaborations and ideas that could help spurn your research in another way. I mean, there’s just so much possibility besides hearing from other people, “Yes. I went through that too.” So yeah, I like that idea of being open about it.
Jane: Yeah, to be open about it! You know, it’s interesting. We gravitate to what is other people’s achievements and our failures, right? So, you finish a chapter and you’re like, “Yeah, but it’s not as good as I thought it would be.” Or, “Yeah, but it took me two months longer than I thought it would.” There’s always a diminishing.
Jane: And convert on the flip side, they talk about other people who are like, “Well, that person finished their chapter so much faster than I did.” Or, “That person, you know, did this.” And it’s like, well, maybe they did. Maybe you don’t know the whole story. But it’s interesting, in our brains we kind of put everyone else as, “Well, they did it better or faster than I did. And when I did it, it was a mess.” And to coach around that and be like what is the story you are telling about your progress? And, is that story serving you? Because often it’s not. Saying, “I wrote my chapter, but…” And then using some type of diminishing, diminishing it in some way, how is that helping you?
Jane: Why would we emphasize that part of the story? What does it accomplish? It doesn’t accomplish anything besides making you feel like crap. It doesn’t accomplish anything. It doesn’t make you write faster. You can’t go back in time.(Jennifer laughs) You can’t go back in time and write the chapter faster.
Jennifer: Yeah, yeah.
Jane: So why would we talk about it so much? But we do, because sometimes we’re like, “Well, I don’t wanna seem arrogant.” Or, “It’s because I don’t believe that this is worthy of celebrating because it didn’t happen the exact way I wanted it to.” So where are the opportunities to kind of neutralize some of that language, so that people aren’t…
Jennifer: But you can find positives in it, right? Like, maybe that extra time gave you opportunity to realize something new. Maybe it was good that you didn’t write it as fast as you thought you might have been able to. There’s so much self-talk that can be negative that can be harmful for ourselves.
Jane: Yeah, there’s a lot of negative self-talk. Yeah.
Jennifer: Yeah. – I’ve definitely done that. I’m a creative writer and I’ve totally done that to my own. I didn’t write that fast enough or I didn’t write as much as so-and-so, yeah. It’s never helpful. It’s never helpful.
Jane: Yeah. Yeah. It’s like our running critic. And sometimes, it’s something my coach always says, “We can’t always get the critic to completely go away. We can put them in the backseat of the car, and be like, ‘You go back there. You’re not driving this car anymore. You’re not even in the back seat, but, like, the third row.'” (Jennifer laughs) You know, “We’re putting you back there. Like, I recognize that I may not be at a point where I can get rid of you, but I’m not going to give you authority over this ride. You don’t have the wheel. You’re back there.”
Jennifer: Still in the car, right? Can’t kick it out entirely. I mean, sometimes we can’t get control over it.
Jane: Still in the car. Like, you realize, you’re not wrong for having these thoughts. Like, they’re natural. And we’ve also been socialized to believe it’s not rigorous enough. It’s not fast enough. Publish or perish. There’s a lot of socialization at hand that is part of the reason why people have these thoughts.
As a coach it would be irresponsible for me to go in and just be like, “Oh no, you shouldn’t think any of this ever again.” Because as a sociologist, I know how strong the socialization is. As a coach I know that just makes you feel bad about having the thought. Then you feel bad because you didn’t write fast enough according to your standard. Then you feel bad that you’re judging yourself. And then you just feel doubly bad. So it’s like, “Okay, let’s just, like, take it back.”
Jennifer: Get out of that spiral.
Jane: Yeah. Let’s get out of the spiral. And, it’s okay that you had that thought. It’s okay that you feel bad. We don’t want you to feel bad indefinitely.
Jennifer: Hmm. I like that. We don’t want you to feel bad indefinitely.
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Elevate, a group editing and coaching program
Jennifer: Tell me more about Elevate. Who should join?
Jane: Everyone. I’m just kidding. (Jane and Jennifer laugh).
Jennifer: You said that people in the cohort are all in a similar place writing their book. When is it right to join your program Elevate?
Jane: Okay, so Elevate is a group editing and coaching program. We have a curriculum that we walk you through the
- craft of writing a book
- project management behind writing a book
- mindset issues behind writing a book.
So much of what slows us down is our own thoughts. Like, “I’m not ready to write this.” “I don’t know what decision to make.” “So and so said this about my chapter, so I’m going to feel bad about it and just ignore it.” “I’m gonna avoid. I don’t wanna look at the feedback, so I’m just gonna avoid it.”
Those are the three domains we work in the craft of writing, project management, and mindset. We do that through a curriculum. We have lessons the same way you would in any course. We have editorial feedback, so you submit your writing for feedback twice a month.
And we have a lot of mindset coaching that I coach people hard, (Jennifer laughs) which I think is what most Elevate alumni would say. Like, “Jane really coaches us. Like, she really pushes us.”
Jane: I push you in a way that not like, “Write your book faster, write your book faster,” but rather, “Let’s get to the bottom of why you’re having these feelings about your book. Let’s get to it and figure it out,” type of coaching.
Because we’re academics, we’re in our brains so much. When it gets into having emotions, we’re, like, “Oh, no, we’re rational. We can’t really think about that.”
I used to be that person too. Oh, no.(Jennifer laughs) I hate that, all that emotion stuff. That’s not gonna work for me. Well, I kind of need to confront it, because you and your book are gonna be together for a very long time.
Like you were saying, like, as you write it and then after you write it, it’s not going anywhere. You should figure out how to enjoy it. To find pleasure in the process of writing it and be excited about it.
It’s just like any other thing. You’re not gonna be excited about your book 24 hours a day, but you wanna get to a point where you’re more excited and motivated than you are demoralized and stressed.
Jennifer: Hmm, mm-hm.
Jane: In the program, we go 24 weeks. We go through those three themes one by one. People who join, all women, they’re normally at a stage in their book where they are figuring out the big overarching picture of the book and the structure of the book.
Some people come in and they haven’t written a lot yet. They have all of their data collected, most of their literature read. You might need to go back and collect a little bit more data, but, we want you to really be past that stage. Some people come in and they haven’t written a lot.
Some people come in and they’ve written a lot and they’re just like, “I’ve been writing and writing, but I still don’t have a really clear through line,” or, “I still don’t know my argument.” And that’s fine, because people’s processes are different. Some people like to get a lot of words on paper and then go back and kind of orient themselves.
We advocate you creating the foundation first and then building your house. (Jennifer laughs) So people normally come in when they want that support. What we do first is teach people how to write your book overview, how to write your book’s framework and then create an outline for the entire book. And then they start writing chapters.
Normally within the program you can come out with a couple of chapter drafts if you have the time to commit, and you will know what your book is about, how you’re going to write it. You know how it’s going to unfold over time. And then you get to work.
Jennifer: You have a plan in place. You have the mindset that you need to make that plan actually done, like, to get your book done. I love that.
Jane: Yeah, yeah.
Jennifer: Oh, if people want more support, you help them with that too. Like, beyond writing their book, is that correct?
Jane: We focus on books, but we have an alumni program for Elevate. We don’t expect anyone to write a book in six months. (Jennifer and Jane laugh). That is not what we do. We do not make pie in the sky promises.
We have an alumni program and people often come back and do the alumni program, which is another six months. There we really focus on more now you’ve done a lot of the deep work, the deep thinking in Elevate. Now we are helping you get a lot of words on paper. People are doing the writing and getting the body chapters, I call them ‘the empirical chapters.’ But I know people also have ‘theory chapters,’ so I don’t want anyone to be like, “What about the theory chapter?”
We focus on getting chapters done or revising because some people will take Elevate, go off for a little while and work independently, and then come back and be like, “I have a couple of chapters done.” And we’re like, “Great, let’s start revising them.”
Jennifer: I’m glad I asked you about that because I felt like there might be some people who are like, “Oh, I need a little bit more help than that. Is there an option?” I’m glad that there’s an alumni program that supports you with continuing that process. That’s amazing.
What else should people know or consider about Elevate? Because your new cohort is opening up again soon.
Jane: Yeah, so we accept people who are writing first, second, third books. I think initially when we ran the program, it was very much for people who were transforming dissertations into books. And we have gotten a substantial number of people who are writing second books, which are a different challenge because you don’t have that scaffolding of the dissertation. Even if your first book is dramatically different from the dissertation, which many are, the book is not a revised dissertation. It is like a caterpillar to butterfly.
But the second book just poses different challenges, and we support people who are writing their second book, their third book, because that foundational work of creating the overview, the framework, the outline, you need to do that every time. It’s not like you write the first book and you’re like, “Well I’m an expert on book writing now, so I don’t need any help.” That’s not how it works. (Jennifer laughs). And even experts get support.
So it’s not a matter that it’s a remedial type of program. That’s not what it is. It’s not, for, “Oh the people who don’t know how to write books.” No, it’s for people who wanna write books with supportive community, expert editorial feedback and coaching to help them write the book with less stress, a better support system, a clear foundation for the book. So that they can make progress with more ease.
Writing a book is a complicated thing. It should be because you’re dealing with complicated ideas and all sorts of interesting data. And it’s not easy. But there can be more clarity and momentum in the process than what there currently is for a lot of people.
Jennifer: I think that this is such a wonderful gift that you can give to yourself, especially if this is, like, your second, third, or fourth book. Like, why not make this time easier and better?
Jane: The majority of the people who work with us pay through their universities. We have a significant number of people, and some people pay out of pocket. We have people who are like, “I wanna make this investment because my book’s important to me and I don’t wanna twiddle my thumbs…”
Jennifer: (Laughs). Good. So if you are listening to this, if you’re watching us on YouTube or reading the blog, know that this is a program that’s there to support you and that you can pay for it out of pocket or you can request funds from your university. I hope that you sign up for the wait list.
Jane: You can apply for Elevate. The application is just an application. It’s not a commitment to join the program. We look at your application, because one thing about the program is that we wanna make sure that you’re a good fit for the program.
We also wanna make sure the program’s a good fit for you. If we think that you’re not at the right stage, if there’s something about your research that we feel that we can’t support you…For instance, we had someone who’s writing a memoir and we’re like, “We don’t really edit a lot of memoirs.” If we feel like the program is not a good fit for you, we will tell you because we only want people in it who can commit and who we can help.
That is the point of going in and applying and possibly talking to me about the process if you have a lot of questions, that we wanna make sure that it works for everyone. Because it’s a big commitment. And also, a book is a big deal. If you’re gonna get support, you wanna make sure you’re getting the right support at the right time.
Instagram Live about finding your book audience on social media
Jennifer: I love that. Thank you so much for joining me for this interview, and for everyone listening, I do wanna let you know that Jane and I did an Instagram Live where we talked about your book audience versus platform.
Thank you so much for watching this episode of The Social Academic! And thank you so much, Dr. Jane Jones, for joining me.
Jane: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.
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Bio for Dr. Jane Jones
Jane Joann Jones is an academic book coach who helps minoritized scholars get the feedback & support they need to confidently write their books. Jane strives to be the coach she wished for when she was on the tenure track.
In her eight years as an editor and coach, Jane has successfully helped dozens of academic authors create and execute a writing plan and ultimately write their books, confidently. Her clients have published with presses including Oxford, Princeton, Bloomsbury, University of Chicago, Stanford, Duke, and UNC. Through her work, Jane has restored minoritized academics’ faith in their writing abilities and their place in the academic world.
When she’s not challenging the status quo in academia, you can find Jane sipping a craft bourbon, on the rocks, while experimenting with a new cooking recipe. She also enjoys visiting museums for only one hour, devouring cooking shows, and impromptu dance parties to the tunes of Lizzo and Queen Bey. If you happen to be strolling through her New York neighborhood, you might see her at Lucille’s, her local café, drinking an oat milk latté with a raspberry donut and a good book.
Jennifer van Alstyne View All →
Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and communications consultant. She founded The Academic Designer, LLC to help professors, researchers, and graduate students manage their online presence. Jennifer’s goal is to help people share their work with the world.
Check out her personal site at https://jennifervanalstyne
or learn more about the services she offers at https://theacademicdesigner.com