Classically Inclined

May 23, 2016

New worlds, new projects, new monsters

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 12:26 pm
Tags: , , ,

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while but finding the opportunity and the words has been difficult. I’m coming through a bit of a perfect storm of conclusions – the end of being on a temporary contract, the end of working on the Seneca book manuscript, the end of teaching, the end (nearly) of exam term, the end of when I was supposed to be working at Royal Holloway. The thing about endings is that they bring beginnings with them – but these aren’t the sort of beginnings I’ve been used to. I’ve been thinking about this quite hard, because at first I assumed that my inability to think beyond the next short-term task was down to the small person – as I’ve said before, during maternity leave and the first few months back at work, I wasn’t up to anything more strenous than editing work. But there’s more to it than that.

In intellectual terms, the submission of the Seneca book (even if we still have to get through the foothills of indexing and copyediting) is a remarkably huge deal. At this point I have been working on it for eight years, in one form or another, from the original idea I suggested for my PhD and which got laughed out of court, to the germ of an idea about Seneca which I still vividly remember coming up with when walking down a summer road in Brooklyn, through the process of writing and defending the PhD, then the elongated and lengthy reiterations of editing, editing and editing some more to make the thing into a book… it’s been a long intellectual journey which has revolved around that material. To wave it off has been more of a jolt than I was expecting.

Moving onto a permanent contract marks a new phase too. I’ve spent every single year of my life up to this point thinking in terms of stages. Work to the GCSEs, to the A-levels, to the BA, to the PhD, to this short term contract, that one, and that one… there’s always been a fixed end-point around which I have structured my time and goals, particularly over the last five years. Suddenly, that’s gone. I am finding it quite difficult to adjust. (I know this is ‘my golden slippers pinch terribly’ territory, but bear with me.)

One of the immediate effects of my contract change is that I am eligible for a research sabbatical term next academic year – for those of you unfamiliar with this, the idea is that you take some time off teaching and administrative duties and focus solely on your research. In practice, all sorts of things tend to encroach on that time – but, thankfully, because nobody was planning for me to be at Royal Holloway next year, there is very little that has the potential to encroach, this year at least. So I can take the excellent advice that has been given to me by various people and think about consolidation.

What that means in practice is that I’ll be spending the summer and autumn working properly on to the next book project, which feels unbelievably daunting because the manuscript is due next year. I have to keep reminding myself that there are lots of different reasons that this book is different to the first, in terms of content and audience, and indeed the fact that I have got a lot better at writing than I was back at the start of the PhD. I’ve also been thinking about the ideas I want to explore in the new book for a while – ever since I wrote the Harryhausen piece – so I’m not starting entirely from scratch.

Yes, folks, this is finally the debut of the Monster Book. I had been planning to do this after the second Seneca book, but at the last Classical Association meeting I attended the opportunity came up to explore doing it at this stage, and I figured it would be a nice change of pace to do something reception-y that has been bouncing around in my head for a while. The book all stems from my vague dissatisfaction that there doesn’t seem to be a satisfactory way of explaining the appearance of classical monsters in popular culture. The book is meant to look at the ways that the ancient monster is reimagined in popular culture, and locates it in contemporary space. I may have to come up with a System, which is a bit unnerving, but I’m sure I’ll think of something. I’ve already made a start with the conference paper I’ve just given in Poland at the excellent Chasing Mythical Beasts conference – the paper for that is going to turn into a free-standing article but it’s all grist to the mill. I’m also giving a paper at the Celtic Classics Conference which I’m hoping will be one of the earlier chapters doing some of the theoretical heavy lifting.

There are so many issues to think through here. There’s the whole glorious world of monster theory to get stuck into, not to mention the fact that monsters have got all trendy in scholarship about ancient texts and I should probably get the hang of that. There’s a wealth of popular culture to get to grips with (which means a lot of bad things to read and watch, and hopefully some gems to discover in the middle of it all). But most of all, I have to get into the mindset of doing new, fresh research again, and start generating new words and ideas. At the moment, that feels like the hardest thing of all.

April 27, 2016

On being a productive academic mother

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 12:40 pm
Tags: , , ,

I was having a conversation over e-mail with an academic of my acquaintance who has just had a child, and was wondering if I could offer her any suggestions about how I’ve managed to keep getting things done since infans was born. In all honesty, a big part of it has been the fact that I’ve not been required to do anything terribly creative – the book revisions and manuscript preparation, while chunky, haven’t really required me to put together much new material or think up fresh ideas, and there’s only so much imagination and intellectual capital you need to change the formatting of a bibliography. I am the first person to complain grumpily on Twitter about the slog of editing a passage for the dozenth time, but actually, that’s probably the level of mental demand I’ve been operating at. I’ve only started to think properly about the conference papers I’m giving this summer in the last month or so, and the effort required to put together something new has actually been quite daunting.

However, I did have a couple of other thoughts and suggestions about getting stuff done, if you choose to, and thought I’d put them here in case anyone else find them useful. The first is to accept that for the first few months, you probably won’t get anything done, especially if you’re breastfeeding on demand as I was – and that’s totally alright and as it should be. Giving oneself permission for this is really, really hard (or at least I found it so after the first few weeks), but actually, stop.

If you do have things that absolutely must get done, then naps are the way forward. If you’re lucky enough to have a baby giving you enough sleep during the night to function during the day without naps yourself, and have a baby who will go to sleep somewhere that is not on you, and for more than five minutes at a time. Sometimes babies do not seem to realise mummy needs time to reply to that research collaborator. And that is OK too. But thinking about how to use any nap time you do get strategically is key – what do you most need to do to give yourself piece of mind? It may be having a cup of tea and checking the proofs you’ve been asked to return before the end of the week; it may be washing up and tidying the kitchen so the thought of the post-lunch mess doesn’t keep you consistently on edge; it may be having a nap yourself, or a shower, or watching an episode of some mindless television. All of these things are also OK.

The only way I did get anything done during those naps was lists. Lots and lots of lists. I prioritised things that had immediate deadlines or I had already committed to (like final revisions and copyedits for articles which were more or less done), and things related to the book manuscript. I did agree to take on a short piece for a web-based outreach project, which I thought would be a good way of getting me back into the groove of generating ‘new’ words, but in retrospect I wish I’d said no to that as I did to a book review invitation – it didn’t drain away time, but it was a bit of a distraction. What worked particularly well for me was accepting that tasks which came under the heading of ‘collegiality’ – things I should do not to hold up collected volumes/editors, meeting deadlines and so on – needed to be done; the book was the massive priority, even if it was advancing a paragraph of edits at a time; and everything else could wait. Really.

So the big ‘formal’ advice I have is to push back firmly on anything related to teaching or administration, and to only let research in if there are imminent deadlines or if it is the most important project you have in hand. I was also a big fan of checking my e-mail even if only to delete or file it, as I did with about 95% of the e-mail I got during the course of my leave – the thought of coming back to an untouched inbox after even a few weeks gives me the shivers.

Some of this is, of course, down to who you are as an individual and where you are in your career, and I really don’t want to suggest that I did the ‘right’ thing. I felt particularly under pressure about the book because of being, at the time, on a three year contract and being very aware that I needed to have the book in press for job hunting. I also inevitably start feeling a bit jumpy after a few weeks if I don’t have something academic to get on with – one of the reasons that a year’s maternity leave completely off from academia would have been a really, really bad idea for me. Please don’t look at this post and assume these have to be your choices – they don’t. I recommend Rachel Moss’s thoughts about some of the choices she made in the early months, and I’ll also mention that I went back to work after just under six months of maternity leave (again, entirely my choice but under the implicit pressure of a short-term contract). I am pretty sure that if I ever do this again, I will make a different set of choices.

Since going back to work in September, I’ve also found that I think about far fewer projects than I did pre-infans. In those heady days (ahem), I could have two or three projects in various stages on the go at once, and could balance hopping between them – for instance, I often found I needed the other projects to give me something to do when the book was getting too much or had reached a pause point, and there would often be some outreach or cross-over work in there too. Now, with teaching and everything else, I think realistically I can only manage one project at a time. I was recently given the advice that with children, one should prioritise quality over quantity – and I now see why that was an excellent suggestion, if only because I cannot imagine trying to do more than one thing at once in the more strictly delineated working time I now have. This will change as infans gets older, of course, but right now that’s the reality.

Now I find myself in the slightly strange vacuum between finishing a big project and starting a big project, and not knowing quite what to do with myself… but that’s another subject for another post.

April 4, 2016

How to write a thesis conclusion

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:27 am
Tags: , ,

One of the most popular posts on this blog is about how to write a thesis introduction. Several years later, this post serves as its companion, and explores how to write a thesis conclusion. The thoughts here cover the genre of PhD thesis and book conclusions, but the general points apply to undergraduate and MA dissertations too (as indeed do the points in my original post). Conclusions have a habit of looking suspiciously easy, particularly if you follow the structural rubric that says you tell your reader what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. Up to a point, Lord Copper. The problem with this approach in any kind of writing is that it very easily generates a laundry list summarising your chapters but not really offering anything new. I think the warning sign for a conclusion is that it feels like you’re reading the final paragraph of each of your chapters in a single document. There’s a place for that sort of writing, in a thesis synopsis or an abstract, but it’s not really a conclusion.

So what does a conclusion do? Once more taking the philological turn, it should conclude. It should tie up the loose ends, bring everything together neatly – and, yes, articulate the argument one final time, just to make sure that your reader has got the point. It should leave the reader in no doubt about why what they have read is of deep intellectual significance, the contribution it has made, how it has changed how they think about your subject.

I’ve found that the most sensible way to consider what you might want to say in a conclusion is to look at your argument thematically. What ideas have emerged again and again, perhaps in different shapes? What are the big points of contact between your various chapters that then build to mean something really significant? What concepts run through your work that you didn’t highlight in your introduction because the reader wasn’t ready for them until they had read the whole thing? Thinking thematically can help you provide a synthesis rather than a summary of the thesis. I know that sounds jargony, but it’s actually a helpful distinction – you’re pulling together the threads of your argument and revealing the jumper that you have been knitting from them, rather than just pointing to various balls of wool and expecting the reader to produce the jumper themselves.

The shape and the form that the conclusion will take will differ radically from work to work. When I was writing my PhD and using a rolling synopsis, I didn’t actually include a section for the conclusion – I assumed it would sort of write itself. It did, in the end, and came to just over five pages of general observation and tying up. I made sure that I restated the big take-away point I wanted the PhD to make; pulled together some elements of the individual chapters that otherwise did not get put side-by-side but needed to be; attempted some synthesis; and mentioned some directions for future work. That worked for the PhD.

However, it didn’t work when I came to revise the PhD for the Book. In the end, I actually retitled the Conclusion – it’s now an Epilogue, just over four pages long, but working in tandem to the main text rather than doing a wrap-up. You can get away with this sort of thing in a book, and this book needed to – there’s a big question about how the case I’ve made about Stoicism and the family fits into the bigger picture of Stoic doctrine as a whole, and which I don’t think can be answered until after the final chapter. Which is why the Epilogue answers it – so sometimes conclusions are places to deal with the big methodological or argumentative concerns which for whatever reason have had to be delayed until all the relevant material has been presented to the reader. Most of the Epilogue as it stands currently handles that big question, but it’s an answer that wouldn’t make any sort of sense without the book which will come before it.

But ultimately, the biggest thing that the conclusion should do is make it absolutely clear why the idea you’ve been exploring in your research needed and warranted as many words as it did, and why your reader will never think about the subject in the same way again. They’ve read your chapters, and have the evidence. It’s the conclusion’s job to make sure that there’s no mistake about the impact that evidence has on their understanding of the world, and to leave your point ringing in their ears as they finish the final page. The form that will work best does, I think, depend a lot more on the personality of the writer in conclusions than it does in introductions – so think of it also like ending a really long, really enjoyable phone call. Finish the conversation off, but in such a way that your (silent) interlocutor has plenty to think about. After all, scholarship is a conversation – hopefully somebody will pick up where you have left off and continue the dialogue.

March 11, 2016

Future Plans

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 8:24 am
Tags: ,

As some of you may recall, my contract at Royal Holloway was for a three year post, scheduled to end this August. I’m delighted to be able to let you know that I have now been offered and have accepted a permenant post in the department of Classics here.

The process of getting to this stage has been a bit Byzantine and complicated, so I shan’t bore you with it, but I’m delighted. As regular readers and Twitter followers may have gathered, I enjoy teaching the students who come to us very much; I have the opportunity to teach across a range of subjects in my research area, including the languages; and I feel like I fit well with my colleagues in both research interests and general temperament. Given some conversations going on elsewhere about the pressures on female academics with children, I should also say that I feel I’m in a department which is very sympathetic to those pressures and the needs of academic parents – on the announcement of my pregnancy, I had two professors and a lecturer (all male) crowded in my office with congratulations and tales of their own children as tinies, which I treasure as a rare and precious thing (though it shouldn’t be).

As this news came in the middle of term, and we’re still not out of the teaching woods, I will be honest that the long-term effects of this still haven’t quite sunk in. The most obvious of those is that according to RHUL’s sabbatical policy, I am entitled to a sabbatical, which I’ll be taking in the autumn term – the sabbatical was confirmed a few days before the paperwork dealing with the contract change was sorted, which was mildly amusing! Of course, in the longer term this means there are all sorts of options open for collaborations with colleagues, getting the Monster Project up and running, and developing some more courses that really draw on and advance my research interests. But for now, I’ll settle for getting through term without the worry of watching the job adverts.

February 28, 2016

On impact

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:26 pm
Tags:

This post has been brewing for a while – since I took part in the Family Archive Project’s two outreach events last year, in fact. Given the emphasis that’s currently placed on impact, and how important it is in terms of the REF (or so we assume), these two events highlighted the variety of possible kinds of impact and what we actually think we’re doing when we’re doing it.

Before I say anything else, I should sing the praises of Fiona Blair, our research and administration assistant, without whom neither of these events, nor any of the focus groups we also ran as part of the Project, would have happened. She spent fantastic amounts of time putting together all the materials and props needed for the sessions, and was the brains behind quite a bit of what actually happened at the events. She also prodded me into thinking about the issues behind this post. So thank you, Fiona.

The first outreach event had always been built into the Family Archive Project – it was a workshop at the National Archives, with various academics and professional curators, sharing the findings of the project up to that point and getting conversation going around the issue of family archiving. The event showcased some fantastic projects, like the Seacroft Story and My Route, and there was some really interesting discussion around the general questions we raised. The attendees were, as I say, PLU – People Like Us, that is, with qualifications at a certain level, with an academic or professional interest in these issues, or with a personal archive that they were dealing with in a semi-professional capacity. That’s the sort of event that I usually think of when I think ‘impact’ – how to get professionals in a room to tell them things that might make a difference to how they do their jobs, so that they can then tell us how our research has changed how they’re doing things, so we can tick the impact box. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s the model of impact I feel that I default to, for better or worse.

The second outreach event was a bit more of a ‘right place, right time’ affair – we were lucky enough to be asked to put on an event as part of the University of Leeds’ participation in the Being Human festival. For this event, we set up a participation station in the Merrion Centre, a lower end shopping centre in Leeds city centre – we were located right outside the Brighthouse store. We set up three tables – one with lots of leaflets and further information, including a lecture and a small workshop we were also putting on as part of the Being Human programme; a ‘touch table’ with photo frames, books, and other objects reflecting the family archive and what might go into it; and an activity table for children where they could make a memory book, as well as sheets with colouring and an activity booklet themed around the family including a word search and other activities. We had a trunk in the middle of the tables where members of the public could submit items they had in their family archive, tangible or intangible, and it got filled up with postcards as the day progressed. (It was a freezing cold and rainy day in Leeds, and we were very grateful for the wind-shield effect we got from the prematurely erected Santa’s grotto in front of us.)

The participation station reached a very different kind of audience. Although we had a couple of banners up explaining about the project and how we were connected to the university, not many people seemed to realise that we were academics or that this was about research; we had a number of people asking if we were social workers, for instance, or whether we were offering family counselling. We had some good chats with various passers-by, and were able to highlight the resources that Leeds City Library have for researching family history. We had lots of interested children making memory books, and plenty of parents took away our colouring sheets and word searches for a rainy day.

So, where was the impact of that? What were we going to measure to report back to the assessors of how ‘effective’ the event had been? How could we count how much change we had made?

Well, I suspect that the thing I have learned as a result of helping to run these two very different events is that those are sort of the wrong questions. They’re questions focused on a particular model of outreach – the one that expects change to happen measurably at the level of professionals and policy organisations, or talks given in urban centres to a particular audience of people, where attendees will be happy to fill out questionnaires afterwards. The participation station had perhaps a couple of hundred people stroll by us or cast an eye over the banners, which may have made them think about something they weren’t otherwise thinking about – but they weren’t going to fill out a survey form and tell us that. The impact is much more difficult to track, although not necessarily smaller.

Yet the sorts of event like the participation station are crucially important, because they get the work being done at universities out into communities who may not see the relevance of it, or even realise it’s meant to be relevant for them. They get the very fact of university and research out there, although you have to find ways of telling that story that fit the context you’re telling it in. It takes the research out beyond the ‘usual suspects’ for talks and workshops and things where you book tickets in advance. The very nature of an exhibition designed to catch the interest of people having a normal Saturday is fundamentally different to the more traditional formats of ‘outreach’ event, and correspondingly more difficult to measure in terms of impact.

It may be that the greatest traceable impact that event has is giving a parent ten peaceful minutes on a rainy afternoon after they have dug out the colouring sheets that they took home from our stall. But in and of itself, that’s a worthy difference to make. So next time I start thinking about impact, I’m going to try and be a bit more aware of this distinction – surely if part of the point of sharing your research is to get it out to the people who have funded it, that includes all sections of our society.

December 23, 2015

2015: A review

Christmas and the turn of the year are coming over the horizon, so it’s as good a moment as any to have a look back over the last year. The blog has been a bit quiet since the arrival of infans, as my priorities have been geared towards getting on with my teaching and research rather than this enjoyable but not particularly critical activity. Which is a shame, as there have been several things I’ve wanted to blog about and may still get around to, but it’s not as much fun as introducing infans to stacking cups. However, the good thing about the silence on here (and the comparative silence on Twitter) is that there’s been a lot getting done elsewhere!

Teaching: this term I’ve been coordinating our first year skills course, repeat teaching Intermediate Latin and teaching Roman Life Stories from scratch. I’ve also had third year dissertations and some MA teaching, along with a spot of Catullus too. I’m really enjoying Roman Life Stories – it’s a version of the Roman Life Course module I taught at Birmingham, into two hours of seminar/lecture rather than just a lecture, and limited to third years rather than second and third years together. It’s lovely having the extra time and being able to have some proper discussion going about the sources, and the students seem to be finding it very interesting too. It’s slightly strange that I’m back to using very detailed lecture notes, written when I was a bit less confident, but it’s all getting there! I’m also enjoying seeing how students engage with secondary literature – I’ve got them leading discussion about a designated article each week in groups of three and four, and that seems to be going quite well.

Intermediate Latin is going pretty much as it did last academic year, with a couple of tweaks to the insignia system. The course has got to the stage where the students have settled down and are a bit more confident in their own abilities, which means they start having more fun with the language and that makes it more fun for me too. It’s always a pleasure to watch students levelling up, and this year is no exception.

Research: the big project this year has been getting on with the book manuscript… and I’m delighted to report that last week, I finally submitted a complete manuscript to the press and have just received the approval of their external reader. There’s still plenty to do – the reader requested a few minor changes, the manuscript needs to be gone over to meet the press style guide, there’s metadata to provide and indexing to sort… but with any luck, it’s all now into the technical bits and bobs, and the academic hard graft is done. Fingers very much crossed for this to go smoothly in the new year.

The other major project on the go has been the AHRC Family Archive project. It’s nearing its final stages – we’ve done all the outreach activities we built into the grant, and are now working on co-writing the two articles we had planned as a result of it. We had a meeting earlier this month to discuss how to structure those articles and what they should say, and it was delightfully productive and positive. I’ve been having a blast working with the project team, and I’m hoping we can find directions to go with this in the future.

I’ve also finally got the pedagogy article that’s been hanging around for a couple of years out the door, which is no small feat but a very nice one to have out of the way, and there’s been continuing admin work around getting the piece on women classicists at Newnham into print. Conference activity has been non-existent this year for pretty obvious reasons, but I’ll be gearing up with two papers in summer 2016 that relate to the Monster Project (which I really do have to write about properly before too long). I’m quite looking forward to getting stuck into new projects now that these ones are coming to their natural ends.

Personal: the most obvious amazing thing is the arrival of infans, followed closely by surviving my first term as a parent, followed even more closely by managing to submit a book manuscript (or as near as you can get) whilst parenting. At the end of last year, I wrote that this would be life-changing for me and my husband. Of course, it has been, but in some strange ways things have kept on pottering on just as normal – I still research, I still teach. I also now keep an eye out for new nursery rhymes and memorise any vaguely catchy folksong I come across, and have discovered Views I never knew I had about childrearing and high chair design. Other things have diminished to compensate for that, but they’ve not been things I’ve missed terribly much – and indeed, their current absence is more a fallowness than a complete loss. It does mean I’ve been saying no to things a little more, but that’s not actually a bad thing.

It feels slightly strange to put this under personal, but I’ve been delighted that my vague inclination that we should actually have a British equivalent of the Women’s Classical Caucus has finally started getting somewhere – the Women’s Classical Committee UK is now up and running (or has a proper webpage, which is just as good). We’re organising our launch event for April 2016, and it’s going to be fabulous.

The big question for 2016 is what’s happening with my job prospects. As you may remember, my contract with Royal Holloway lasts for three years, which ends on 31st August 2016. There are jobs coming up, but having a baby and a fixed abode means I don’t have the amazing geographical flexibility that lets me apply for everything. That’s OK – it’s a compromise I decided I was willing to take. Despite this being a three year post, it also comes with a three year probation period; maternity leave meant I had my mid-probation meeting with our dean this semester rather than in the summer. I’m very pleased that I will now be judged to have passed probation when the book is in press… it’s all so close! So if I get that done by Easter, that will be a double whammy. Let’s see how it goes…

November 10, 2015

A seasonal Movember post on philosophical facial hair

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:06 pm
Tags: ,

Tis the season for people to start doing extravagant things with their facial hair – yes, Movember is upon us. It will not surprise you to learn that the question of whether to beard or not to beard was also asked in antiquity, in particular in terms of whether a philosopher should have a beard or not. If you think of the statues of philosophers you see in museums, or at least the statues that are represented as being of philosophers, they tend to have a prolific growth of facial hair to their credit. For some in antiquity, possessing a beard was seen as a defining characteristic of being a philosopher – beardedness somehow became equated with possessing wisdom.

Alas for those currently cultivating their facial foliage, it turns out that the connection isn’t quite that simple. This post is a quick round-up of some things that the Roman Stoics have to say about what’s going on with beards, gender and wisdom.

The division between those with beards and those without isn’t just between the wise and non-wise – it’s also seen as a dividing line between men and women, although again, having a beard isn’t in and of itself enough to make you a man. Having a beard is described as natural or according to nature. The Stoics are very keen on the idea that if something is according to nature, then it’s also in accordance with virtue, which makes the deliberate distinction between men and women caused by facial hair something to be valued. In Musonius Rufus’ On Cutting The Hair (Discourse 21), he compares the beard to the crest of the cock or the mane of the lion. Epictetus uses the same imagery in Discourses 1.16.12, again to emphasise the difference between the male and the female of the species.

There are always those who aren’t so happy with their stubble, which turns out to be a sign of a deeper existential malaise. In Discourses 3.1, Epictetus critiques a young man for depilating himself and confusing the natural boundary between the genders. However, he then goes on to remind his victim that he is not human by virtue of his hair, but by virtue of his moral purpose (proairesis). While the young man’s attitude to his bodily hair is a symptom of his confusion about how the world works, he needs to do more than cultivate a healthy beard to address the underlying problem. Indeed, while Epictetus attacks the youth for his excessive personal care regime in this discourse, in Discourses 4.11 he expresses a different view – he would rather have an over-coiffured youth come to learn philosophy than one with ‘his moustache reaching down to his knees’, because at least he would be able to point the first student in the correct direction of what is good and beautiful (to kalon).

The Roman philosophers are also aware of the tension between the beard as an emblem of the philosopher and the fact that simply having a beard is not enough to make one a philosopher. Epictetus says that his beard and his rough cloak identify him as a philosopher to the young man attacked for depilation (3.1.24). He lists growing a beard, along with composing philosophical treatises, as one of the marks of philosophising which Epicurus demonstrated but attributed to the flesh (sarx) rather than his moral purpose (proairesis; Discourses 2.23.21). He implies that a philosopher should reject the threat of having his beard shaved, even if such an action could result in the philosopher’s decapitation (Discourses 1.2.27). Yet  in Discourses 4.8, he parallels philosophy to music and carpentry to illustrate that simply taking on the attire of a trade is not enough to make one a practitioner of that trade. The beard signals an affiliation with the philosophical life, but it holds no guarantee that its wearer will actually be living in accordance with that philosophy.

Epictetus’ comments reflect anxiety about balancing what is according to nature with the requirements of society and the line between acting like a philosopher and merely looking like one. Seneca makes a similar observation early in the Epistulae Morales, when he encourages his addressee Lucilius to continue with his philosophical studies (5.1-3). He draws a distinction between moral improvement and simply adopting the trappings of so-called philosophers; Lucilius should not deliberately present himself in a way that arouses comment. Among the things Seneca discourages him from are an outspoken hatred of silver, a bed put on the earth, messy dress sense, uncut hair – and a more unruly beard. The danger of this sort of thing is that it puts off precisely the people whom the philosophers want to reach most: the decision to look so out of step with the world around them means ‘ordinary’ people run a mile from any philosophy that seems to require them to behave so outlandishly.

Given the various attempts at facial hair that will be materialising over the coming months, and the varied range of responses they are sure to generate among the friends and acquaintances of Movember participants, I suspect the power of the beard to overstep the common boundaries of good taste is about to be tested to its limits once again. Perhaps we might bear in mind the warning that just to wear the beard isn’t the same as having the inner disposition associated with it. The Movember Foundation focuses on four key areas of men’s health – prostrate cancer, testicular cancer, poor mental health and physical inactivity. If you are participating in Movember, or somebody you know is, then take Seneca’s advice and think about the hidden ways in which you’re committed to improving those problems, which will last beyond the application of the razor on 1st December and the eventual donning of the charity Christmas jumper.

October 2, 2015

Gamifying Intermediate Latin – the first year

Following on from my noodlings here about whether I should submit my gamification of intermediate Latin for a College Excellence Teaching Prize, I managed to put the paperwork in before the small boy appeared – and I’m delighted to say that I won one of the awards! The prize was awarded for “an innovative and creative project, which engages students from diverse backgrounds in motivational extracurricular learning”, which is rather nice as that was what I was after. As those of you reading who teach intermediate language classes will know, it’s probably the most diverse set of student experiences you find in a college classroom, and thus presents some really interesting challenges.

For those of you coming to this fresh – gamification is a strategy that tries to use the human enjoyment of games to enhance the learning experience within the classes. Last year, I reworked how I teach intermediate Latin to make the formative work I’d assumed students would do out of the goodness of their hearts into a tangible system of game-based activities. This would make the previously unspoken assumptions about the workload in the class clear and visible, and hopefully also give students the motivation to keep on top of the work required. The introduction of short-term rewards in a game format functioned through an insignia or badge system, where each activity had its own specific sticker type to collect. Students competed to collect the most insignia over the course of the term, with a ‘top three’ scoreboard updated regularly on Moodle. I wrote about how I thought things were going after one term here.

(more…)

September 21, 2015

On being an ECR, academia and maternity leave

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 10:21 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Today was my first day back from maternity leave. I have, hypothetically, been away from the demands of my job a little under six months; we now have a small boy who at just over five months is happy and thriving, and starting to get the hang of this sitting up business. Now is the time for me to dive back into all of the things that I have left undone since I shut my office door at the end of March.

Or, at least, it would be if I had actually been away.

The funny thing about academic maternity leave is that you don’t actually leave. You slow down a bit, but you don’t stop. Yes, I didn’t do any exam marking in the summer term, I handed over running the departmental research seminar, and I’ve not been on campus since I left the building. But according to my records (yes, I keep records), during my maternity leave I:

  • Made some final changes to the sci fi and classics review piece and got it published.
  • Did some final administrative work related to my chapter about women classicists at Newnham for a volume due out later in the year.
  • Made edits to my pedagogy article and saw that through to publication.
  • Approved proofs for a book review that I submitted a few years ago.
  • Wrote a short article on Seneca and relaxing for a web outreach project.
  • Wrote a case study report for the Family Archive project and kept in the loop with that as it progressed.
  • Finalised the book contract.
  • Revised two and a half book chapters plus an epilogue (which is still in revision but getting there).
  • Provided some guidance for the replacement Intermediate Latin marker on how to go about it.
  • Sorted out the syllabus for the new course I’m teaching this year, requested electronic copies of readings, and submitted a reading list.
  • Sorted out my course Moodles.
  • Completed the annual monitoring forms for the courses I taught last year.
  • Engaged in discussion about the establishment of a UK-based body to represent women in classics, which is growing out of the classics and feminism sandpit because I put my money where my mouth was.
  • Did I mention learning how to parent a tiny baby, live with less sleep than I thought humanly possible, establish breastfeeding, heal from undergoing significant physical trauma, have my emotions turned upside down every five minutes by hormones, and realise why people tell new parents to stock up on muslins?

Now, baby wrangling aside, none of those things were expected of me. With the possible exception of the annual monitoring forms, my department didn’t expect me to do any of that (and I suspect that if I’d put my foot down, they would have been worked round). Part of this is because I’m generally a productive person, and I have become good at doing things efficiently during nap times (and I’m lucky to have a baby who does nap). But there are a whole load of implicit pressures at work here, both internal and external.

Internally, I recognise that some of these choices were driven by wanting to be a good colleague. If you have promised an article, say, by a publication deadline, it’s good practice to follow through, regardless of whether you’ve just had a small person, right? It’s just common professional courtesy, isn’t it? If you’ve committed to a volume, shouldn’t you help the editors to have as painless an experience as possible by responding to their e-mails in a timely fashion? I mean, sure, people say that you shouldn’t worry because you’re on leave, but if the press has set a deadline, then that deadline’s there, baby or no, and you are inextricably bound into the process of getting the book on the shelf. The way that academic publishing works means that once you’re involved, you work to the publishers’ timetable.

Some of the choices were pragmatic, in their own way. The syllabus and Moodle wrangling happened because it was going to be far easier to do that in dribs and drabs instead of getting to this week and trying to do All The Things at once – a little bit of advanced preparation goes a long way in making re-entry smoother, even after a normal summer.

Yet there are also huge implicit external pressures at work here, not least in the shape of the job market. It wouldn’t hurt if I’d left most of the heavy lifting for the book until the start of 2016, but the pressure to be able to say in applications that the manuscript is in press… when we’re all told that it’s The Book that makes the difference between fixed term and permanent contracts… Oh, and all the other articles, that’s all important for the job market too, because the more an early career researcher in a temporary post can have on her CV, the more shiny it makes her, so long as that magic book is there. So everything will be alright?

These myths about the lengths an ECR has to go to in order to get a permanent contract are pernicious enough under normal circumstances, driving those in junior positions with no security to bend over backwards to achieve goals which come with nothing more than vague promises that it’s this quality that’ll make the difference in the next job round. Those goalposts keep moving, of course – it’s the Book, it’s a project with demonstrable Impact (thanks, REF), it’s more peer reviewed article in big-hitting journals with the right metrics, it’s a good social media presence (or none at all), it’s Fellowship of the HEA.

But to have those same pressures impact on your maternity leave, whether you are conscious of them or not, is a sign of just how paranoid the current system of academic hiring makes you without even noticing. I can’t put things on hold because I need to know what’s happening when my contract ends in August, and the job adverts are already starting to appear.  But equally, I can’t put the rest of my life on hold until that phoenix-like permanent contract deigns to make an appearance. (Not that a permanent job cures all ills by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s the grail we’re told to reach for and that the system appears to reward.) I’m making decisions that limit my ability to be the perfect ECR who can up sticks and move to a contract at the opposite end of the country at a moment’s notice – because there’s more to life than that.

I’m going to go and snuggle up to my son and get some sleep. And tomorrow I’ll take him to campus and introduce him to some of the people who know him but have never met him. And eventually we’ll find a new way for our family to get through the week. And I’ll keep on making the most of nap times. But I will not let those ECR myths take charge of our shared life and take away the daily joys of being together.

July 6, 2015

June is busting out all over…

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 6:28 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

…and it’s taken me until July to blog about it. Such is the life of a new mum. I type this with infans in his sling, finally having the nap he has resisted all day, while I reflect upon the changes and developments that have happened in my life over the last twelve weeks.

Arguably the most significant of these is the arrival of the new small person, who is growing and thriving at a slightly alarming but very encouraging rate. We’ve all got the hang of the basics now, so it’s a matter of doing the day-to-day living, which is demanding but rather less intense than the first six weeks or so. That the final output of my maternity leave, when it finishes in September, should be a happy, cheerful and generally content baby looks like a goal that is on track.

However, I will happily own up to the fact that the itch to get back on with research work has already returned, reinforcing my personal conviction that a year’s worth of maternity leave would have had me climbing the walls. I’ve already been surprisingly productive – I finished off the science fiction piece, have done more work for the Family Archive project, and have sorted out the edits to an article about writing for the Companion to the World of Roman Women that started off as a series of blog posts on here.

Most importantly, however, last week I signed and posted back my contract with Cambridge University Press for a book provisionally entitled The Ethics of the Family in Seneca.

As you will probably have guessed, this is going to be the book version of my PhD thesis, and I’ve spent the time since submission in 2011 working on getting the manuscript into a good enough shape for publication. In fact, I’m still working on revising the manuscript, as those of you who follow me on Twitter will know, but now there’s an end date for the manuscript to be finished, and everything feels more… real.

When I graduated, I said that my life goals for the next few years were a baby, a book and abode. It looks like the most elusive of those three is finally getting closer. I may write more about the process of getting here at some stage, but right now, I’m going to go and help infans (who has woken up since I started writing this post) practice rolling onto his side.

Next Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,109 other followers