September is creeping ever closer, and so I’m delighted to share that my contract as a Teaching Fellow in Latin Literature at Birmingham has been extended for another year.
In personal terms, this is a very promising step, as it means I’ll be in a familiar environment and won’t have to learn the administrative processes all over again – which, in turn, translates into more time, which (if I’m careful) I’ll be able to use to work on revising the book manuscript. There’s also a chance I’ll get to teach something directly related to the book, but as that’s still a bit up in the air I’ll say no more just yet. (Plus I don’t have to move. This is worth its weight in gold.)
However, this feels like a very simple solution to an extremely long-running and frustrating problem. Those who follow me on Twitter know that I have been submitting job and fellowship applications here, there and everywhere – twenty-eight at the last count, which is a lot for a field as small as Classics. Very few of those have progressed to interviews, and the ones that have have been teaching-focused rather than research-based. I have the very strong suspicion that’s because I don’t currently have a book contract under my belt. There’s been a bit of a build-up of researchers at my level over the last few years, so I’m competing against people with not just one but sometimes two or three books – and in the current REF-driven environment, that effectively means I don’t stand a chance. The hiring system doesn’t have a way to take into account that I am the earliest of early career researchers, and thus only need to submit one output to the assessment panels (although I’ve been working on ways to flag this fact up more clearly, as it’s not the sort of information that’s immediately obvious to people looking over applications). The requirements of the REF really do seem to be pushing hiring panels towards the bird in the hand, as it were, instead of thinking about how to nurture potential excellence – and, in fairness to the panels, they can do that because they have such a large pool of good people three or four years ahead of me in their careers to pick from.
I am looking forward to staying at Birmingham – I’ve really enjoyed working with my colleagues this year, I’m delighted that I get to see current students again and that I get to meet the new intake, and the coming year is going to have some interesting opportunities in it. But this year’s job hunt has made it inexorably clear that if I want to get any further next year, it’s all about getting that book contract nailed down.