Thank You.

The Ratty started as an idea between two graduate students at Brown University in the fall of 2019. When it launched in February of 2020, we had no idea what was in store for the world starting just one month later. It is only in hindsight that we know starting a blog in 2020 almost certainly meant it was doomed, but we struggle to call it a failure.

The idea for The Ratty stemmed from our shared love of writing for non-academic audiences. Not only is it genuinely fun, but it is an incredibly valuable skill to develop as a graduate student. But, it can be really hard to enter that space and make that case for yourself without guidance. We wanted to be that guidance.

We assembled an awesome team of students, some with editorial experience, some without. We worked together to build a training process for PhD students in both writing and editing for non-academic audiences. We thought a lot about what our name would be, what our name would mean, how we would move a piece through the editorial process, how we could leverage existing networks for visibility, and how we could best serve graduate students. We also dreamed big.

We’re big fans of platforms like Contingent, Lady Science, and Eidolon. We dreamed (and so badly hoped) we could elevate voices like they do, produce fascinating pieces like they do, and support writers like they do. So, we got to work.

We lined up writers and we started publishing pieces in February 2020. We even had a little launch party. We don’t need to tell you what happened just a month after our launch. With a staff of entirely grad students who were in the midst of finding out just how badly they could be abandoned by their institutions, The Ratty took a huge hit. But really, we felt like we had been abandoned by our institution long before.

Originally, The Ratty was meant to serve only Brown grad students. We figured we would start small and expand from there. Before we got started in earnest, we met with a variety of campus support centers, some of whom had reached out to us. We didn’t leave any of those meetings feeling particularly good.

The pandemic raged on and all of us focused individually on keeping our heads above water. We published here and there, but we couldn’t justify asking more work from students who were already struggling. We back off on our publicity and on our calls for pitches.

By July of 2021 we started to feel like maybe we could put more effort back into The Ratty. We opened up pitches to all graduate students, regardless of institution. And we got pitches! Some really awesome ones. We published pieces. Some really awesome ones. We put together a workshop for grad students on pitching their research to non-academic venues. We were joined by editors and writers for non-academic venues, and they were phenomenal. The pitches resulted in more really really cool work.

Some of these pieces got the attention of staff and faculty at Brown once again. Some professors even indicated that they would create class assignments for their grad students that involved writing for us and going through our editing process. None followed through. And so, The Ratty just kind of sat there.

We are definitely sad. The Ratty is a good idea, a good project, and worth so much more time and support. But, it’s hard not to be angry. Angry at the pandemic, angry at those who said they would help but didn’t, and a bit angry at ourselves. Could we have done more? We don’t think so. But we can hope the short life The Ratty had was still a good life. We always talk about the sunset stage of digital scholarship projects at work, but it’s different when it’s your own and you were still dreaming of what it could be when you had to say goodbye.

So, The Ratty is no longer accepting pitches. We will continue to keep the website up as long as we can afford it. Thank you to all of you who shared our calls for pitches and read all of the amazing work our students did. Thank you to our staff most of all. We love and appreciate you.

Year-ish in Review

The Ratty opened its pitches and published its first article in February 2020, which I’m sure we’ll reflect on for many years to come as some of the worst possible timing. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and at the time, we were beyond excited to put this thing out into the world. Publishing has been more sporadic than we would have liked. Getting pitches has often been an uphill battle. But we get it. Things have just been really hard. In addition to looking out for ourselves and our staff, we’re doing our best not to add to the already heavy burdens graduate students are carrying. So, we’re publishing what we can when we can, and continuing to support graduate student public scholarship to the best of our ability. 

This isn’t so much a “year in review” as a look back on everything we have done. In the midst of a global pandemic, we have managed to publish 10 pieces and pay our editors and our authors for their work. We’re choosing to think of this as a win. So, we’re pleased to share with you all a list of the brilliant scholarship that we’ve had the privilege to help share with the world. 

The Cows of Alabanda by Sam Butler

Traveling through modern-day Turkey for his research forces Classics PhD candidate Sam Butler to think more deeply about his role in the field of Classics and what it means to study Classics beyond just Greece and Rome. 

Fake News and the Agency of Women in Viking Age Iceland by Sarah Christensen

While many of us may have been introduced to the term “fake news” around the time of the 2016 US presidential election, the concept of “fake news” has been used to undermine women and their agency for at least 1,000 years. 

The Hebrew Bible from Below and Beyond by Shane M. Thompson

When most people think of the Hebrew Bible, they think of the area that is now occupied by modern-day Israel. But this view often overlooks the role of Egyptian and non-elite actors in the history and politics of the time. 

You Are What You Do Not Eat: The Problematic Relationship between Fashionable Bodies and the Consumption of Food from Nineteenth-Century France to Now by Elise Bouley

The image of the Parisian model dressed to the nines in couture surrounded by a lavish dinner setting while looking like they are undernourished is not new to your Instagram feed. Graduate student Elise Bouley explores the contradiction in these images and their deep-rooted past in French fashion. 

You’re Not Alone by The Ratty Team

In April of 2020 the pandemic was still new, but all of the financial, mental, and physical issues we are still struggling with today began to rear their ugly heads for graduate students in particular. Underfunded and under-supported, we turned to writing as a way to let out some of our feelings, feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, and guilt. Hopefully, this piece shows some of you that whatever you are feeling, you are not alone. 

Indigenizing Colonization: How Indigenous Knowledge Can Help Us Do Better When Looking to Colonize Other Planets by Sierra V. Kaufman

Colonizing a hostile planet like Mars can seem like an impossible task, until you remember that humans have done it before. Using her indigenous knowledge, graduate student and Shinnecock Nation citizen Sierra V. Kaufman studies how we might grow food on other planets. 

A New Personalized Cancer Treatment–Will “Gliatrap” Be Able to Lure and Treat Cancer Cells to Prevent Tumor Recurrence? by Yusuke Suita

A diagnosis of brain cancer has the potential to rank among the scariest experiences of your life. Glioblastoma in particular is especially aggressive, which means it is one of the most important targets of current cancer research. Graduate student Yusuke Suita works with a team at Brown University Rhode Island Hospital on an innovative treatment for glioblastoma. 

The Prospects for Limiting Nuclear War and the Strategy of “Escalate to De-escalate” – A Research Note by Daniel Post

The threat of nuclear war has been a political reality for many of the world’s superpowers for decades now, and experts are still debating the best ways to eliminate the threat. Sharing his preliminary dissertation research, Daniel Post critiques the “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, showing why ramping up may do more harm than good. 

The Hashtag that Became a Movement: #MeToo Fiction 2017-2021 and Beyond by Jess Amy 

In 2017 #MeToo became a worldwide movement, calling on survivors of sexual assault to share their stories and stand together in solidarity. Since then, the movement has found its way into contemporary fiction, working its way into the mainstream cultural conversation. 

BIOMASS: Exploring Sustainable Fuel and Alternative Power by Abdulrazaq Omo

The threat of climate change is immediate, and greenhouse gases sit at the center of the urgency. Is it possible to turn some of this greenhouse gas-producing waste into a viable fuel source. Abdulrazaq Omo walks us through the process of turning fruit waste into an alternative power source. 

Welcome to The Ratty

Public scholarship is a critical component of research work here in 2020. Reaching out to wider public audiences allows scholars to generate interest in their subject matter, cultivate relationships with other scholars, institutions, and funding sources, and combat dangerous ideas that pervade often insular fields. Yet despite the value of public outreach (and the high quality of our education here at Brown), we are not provided with any training in how to engage in such scholarship.

That’s where The Ratty comes in.

The Ratty is a blog for graduate students at Brown University that is designed as both a platform for showcasing public scholarship but also a means by which students can get the training they need to become public scholars. 

Graduate students will write and publish an article that presents their research in a way that the public can grapple with but that doesn’t speak down or obfuscate complexity. They will work with our team of trained editors to create an article geared toward a public audience building from standard academic research models. Through this process, grad students will learn more about the differences between academic and public writing, will gain experience in pitching and editing, and in the end will be able to point to a digital publication of their writing and a digital author page of their contributions.

With The Ratty, we’re trying to fill a couple of gaps we’ve noticed from our own experience: the gaps in public scholarship training, but also the gap in just experiencing the editing process. Much of the time we submit papers to our professors and we get their feedback, but that’s it — you can choose to never open that feedback document and never submit a further edited version of your work. But it’s in that second back-and-forth that you really start to make big changes and real productivity happens in your writing. 

This interaction, however, can be pretty emotionally trying, especially if it’s something you’ve never experienced before. Sure, we’ve all probably been gutted by critique on papers from teachers, but we haven’t necessarily had to push back against their critique and we haven’t had to respond to any of the more emotional changes that have been asked of us. That part of the editing process can be vicious, and this is true in grad school as well as in academic publishing. It’s another one of our goals with The Ratty to help students get used to the editing process in a way that is a little kinder. The world is often unkind, and we don’t have to be that way. 

But we’re not limited to articles! The Ratty also wants to work with students who are interested in showcasing their research in other media — videos, comics, mixed media, etc. While our editors are specifically trained to work with public writing, we also understand that writing isn’t always the best way for students to showcase research, and it’s not always the way that the public is most interested in engaging with you. If you have ideas for other formats and styles of presentation, The Ratty is interested in hearing about it.

We’re also interested in using The Ratty to help train graduate students in Public Scholarship in other ways. Every day we interact with interesting people on Twitter, Instagram, etc. who are really committed to public scholarship, and they all do it in very different ways. So, we are planning to host a yearly speaker series, “The Ratty Presents,” where we bring in people who engage in public scholarship from lots of different fields. This will hopefully allow us to continue to evolve our understanding of public scholarship and push the ways in which The Ratty can help graduate students at Brown engage with the public.

There is real life inspiration for our logo: Daryl (2018-2019), who has carved a place in our hearts and in our branding.

So that’s what The Ratty is and what we hope to do with it, but why is it called The Ratty? Our inspiration is, perhaps obviously, our community’s nickname for Sharpe Refectory. “The Ratty” is something that the students call this dining hall — it’s not University-sanctioned, but the nickname is still known and used outside of the study body. The Ratty, too, is a student-led initiative. A lot of people are frustrated with how the job market has changed, the rules for PhDs have changed, but our training hasn’t been updated to reflect that at all. The Ratty is about taking back at least one aspect of our education. We’re going to take the reins and train ourselves in how to do those things that we know are important.

Right now, the entire team of The Ratty — from managing editors down — are women, people of color, or both, which speaks volumes about who feels like they need to push the boundaries of academia. These are the people who feel like they’re kept out of the traditional model that we’re still trying to use to train our PhD students. This further solidifies our commitment to working to bolster our training through The Ratty in order to help especially those people that academia often leaves behind.

So join us! You can pitch us to work with our editors in bringing your research to a public audience, and we’re always interested in training more editors. The Ratty is reclaiming student space in scholarship, making it public and loud. Sometimes it takes a small rat to make a big change.