Classically Inclined

September 21, 2015

On being an ECR, academia and maternity leave

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 10:21 pm
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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.

March 31, 2015

On pregnancy, academia and antiquity

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 10:55 am
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I type this from the second day of my official maternity leave, having made it to the end of term without infans making an early appearance. The presence of infans has, of course, been getting more and more obvious over the last few weeks; I’ve been particularly aware of it while staying at on-campus accommodation during the week to make my life easier, and eating in the attached student dining hall in the evenings, although the British Library offered some equally confused expressions. I’ve been thinking about pregnant bodies in academic spaces since Rachel Moss posted about this issue at the end of February, and while I’ve been very lucky not to have encountered any directly negative responses, I’ve been very aware of getting surprised looks from people around campus as I have been going around my daily business. While these reactions do not explicitly say I should not be in the space of an HE institution, they reveal my presence there is unexpected (surely she should be on leave?), particularly in a student dining hall where many of the students may be seeing me for the first time. (A massive thank you to the catering staff and the hospitality team is in order, as they have been lovely throughout the term and looked after an increasingly pregnant academic with remarkable aplomb.)

Another academic space that I shan’t be occupying, although this is entirely self-selecting, is the upcoming Classical Association conference in Bristol. This is largely a matter of practicality – Bristol and my home are very far apart, and my due date is shortly after the conference ends. While the thought of interrupting a staid paper session with a polite request for an ambulance is fairly entertaining in the abstract, I suspect the reality would be pretty subpar. However, this raises questions about whether I would have felt comfortable attending the conference if it had fallen earlier in the pregnancy. I did actually attend a couple of conferences very early on, before anybody knew about it, let alone before there were any physical giveaways beyond me not drinking alcohol. However, I’ve not attended anything particularly formal since the academic year started, and now that conference season proper is kicking off, practicalities intervene. Yet I wonder about the presence of the pregnant female body at these gatherings, and remember the classics and feminism sandpit in January, when I felt visibly pregnant but was not necessarily registering as such to others. The visibility of the pregnancy seems to relate directly to the social acceptability of being seen in public as pregnant – even in a world where economic factors mean women are working up to as close to their due dates as they can.

I want to turn to Soranus here, who has handed down to us an excellent manual on gynaecology which tells you more than you will ever need to know about pregnancy, giving birth and early infant care in the ancient world. (As Helen King says, it’s a relief to find out that midwives were expected to keep their fingernails short.) I’ve been reading his advice for the pregnant woman through the nine months with interest – in the eighth month, for instance, he recommends that women “must take exercise only in a litter or big sedan chair, unless one desires to walk short of the point of exhaustion”, and suggests that the abdomen should be anointed “all over with a cerate containing oil made up from unripe olives and myrtle, for if the skin is toned up it does not break, but is kept unwrinkled”. Soranus, dispensing stretch mark avoidance before Bio-Oil was ever dreamt up.

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August 4, 2014

On social media and impact – a reflection

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 2:30 pm
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I mentioned a while ago that I’d been asked to co-facilitate an event run by the Classical Reception Studies Network about impact and social media. Now that event has taken place, I thought I’d put a couple of thoughts down about it. The event was sort-of-livetweeted by others using the hashtag #csrn, but I don’t think any of us got around to archiving those tweets (ironic, given that one of the things we discussed was the use of Storify).

The afternoon was essentially an opportunity for people who were using social media in various ways to talk about how we used it and what platforms worked, and for people who were interested in using social media in the future or who wanted to know how they might improve their usage to learn, ask for ideas and so forth. Nobody acted as an expert, although the experiences of Emma Bridges (who moderates Classics International over on Facebook) and myself provided a starting-off point for discussions.  I have to admit that my decision to come onto various social media platforms was horribly calculated – my very first post provided a rationale for why I was doing this, although as my post a year later showed, my manifesto shifted and indeed continues to shift depending on how much energy I’ve got spare. Before I got onto Twitter I even (horror of horrors) got out a book from the university library about how to manage one’s brand on-line to work out what I was doing. But oddly enough, that deliberate approach has saved me from a lot of the pitfalls and confusions that I’ve encountered on other platforms, like Facebook (which I got onto because some old students told me I really should be, and now is an odd space full of friends, family, old students and senior colleagues). This sense of needing to work out boundaries and what you are actually doing was something everyone shared – having a clear aim definitely seemed to work better than just sort of hoping.

Another point that came up was the importance of accepting that you can’t control the internet – there’s no point in defining success in metrics about how many people  read or engage with things, because online space can’t be controlled in that way. (See, for instance, the fact that the post with the most hits on here is about writing a thesis introduction, not anything to do with my research or teaching.) Another point that emerged in the conversation was about community – many people commented on how good it was to speak to others in the field, build networks with people in other countries, and cross the interdisciplinary boundaries through the more informal engagement possible on something like Twitter.

I learned things myself – for instance, Silvie Kilgallon gave us a great explanation of how Tumblr works through her various sites, including the Stitched Iliad project and Aristotelian Complacency. I now understand how Tumblr functions, although I have to admit that it’s not for me – it doesn’t really fit with what I’m doing or how I tend to communicate my work. But this was another important thing that I wanted to say, and I think did get said, which was that there wasn’t any point in Doing Stuff on social media unless it worked for you. In the days of graduate training enthusiastically telling every graduate to set up a blog, I think it’s worth pausing to ask why you are doing these things and what it achieves. Without a clear sense of what you are about, it becomes very easy to lose focus and thus lose motivation. And, as we all agreed, there’s nothing sadder than discovering a dead blog that hasn’t been updated in months with no farewell post.

The final important point that came out of the workshop was that social media has a particularly helpful role to play when it comes to classical reception studies. Those of us (like me) who talk a lot about books, films and other forms of cultural production can reach out to the people consuming this material, and indeed in some cases to the people producing it. That means our scholarship has the chance of reaching beyond the walls of the academy and to a general interest audience – some of whom will be reading this post now. And if you are, thank you. Having the chance to talk about my research and my general thoughts about the subject I love to people who aren’t colleagues or students is precious, and I’m glad that you all stick around to listen.

There is an official report on the workshop written by Carol Atack available in PDF form.

Edit: We also seem to have spawned a blog.

April 12, 2014

Top ten blog posts – year three

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 12:29 pm
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Well, I did it for the first two anniversaries, so I think that means it’s a tradition… yes, this is the blog’s third birthday! I know that the last year has been a little bit less active because of the new job and a lot of general upheaval, but thank you for those who are still here and still reading; I hope that as things settle down over the coming year, I’ll be able to post a bit more frequently and include a few more thoughts about my research. So here are the top ten posts for the past year – enjoy!

  1. How to write a thesis introduction – an ever popular post still here at the top; overall, this one post counts for about half of the blog’s annual traffic. All I can say is that I hope that it helps a good number of the people who find it.
  2. How to write a conference abstract – this one has started to get institutionalised and various official conferences point people to it, so it’s no surprise that it’s still getting a good number of hits.
  3. The Shield of Achilles – classical reception thoughts on W.H. Auden’s poem that seems to get a lot of interest – I have no idea whether English teachers are setting it as an assignment, but at least it’s proving popular.
  4. Freud, the uncanny and monsters – my thoughts on Freud, the uncanny and where classical monsters which aren’t Medusa fit into a psychoanalytic model. Written after reading his essay on the unheimlich.
  5. Tips For Conferences, or “Don’t Wear Pearls  – my tips on going to conferences, or what happens after you’ve had your abstract accepted.
  6. Film Review: Quo Vadis (1951) – classical reception observations on one of the influential films in the field.
  7. Film Review: The 300 Spartans (1962) – more of the same, thinking about the film in a classical reception framework.
  8. Book review: Becoming a critically reflective teacher – Stephen D. Brookfield – when I wrote this review, I had no idea how influential Brookfield would become in my general model for generating student feedback. I hope other people find themselves drawn to the book by my review.
  9. Classicist Women on Twitter – very pleased that this has made it into the top ten! My post paralleling the Twitter list that curates a list of women doing classics on Twitter. Always open for nominations.
  10. The classical pedagogy of trigger warnings – thoughts on how to flag up sensitive material (in this case poems dealing with abusive relationships and sexual assault) in a class syllabus without removing students’ agency or failing in my duty of care towards vulnerable students.

June 28, 2013

Petition against privatising UK student loans

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 1:36 pm
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As Twitter and the New Statesman noticed yesterday, Danny Alexander has confirmed the government’s intention to privatise the student loan book.

There are so many things wrong with this that I can’t quite begin to articulate them, but let’s settle for the fact that there are some suggestions in a leaked memo that the interest on existing loans could be increased retrospectively.

Given all the problems and issues we’re facing with getting the most talented students from any background into higher education, the privatisation of the loan book would be one further discouragement from pursuing further study from those without independent financial resources. It would be one further step towards the privatisation and marketisation that is already creeping into the university sector, where (to my mind) it has no place. And it won’t ultimately do anything towards improving the country’s financial situation right now.

Tim Whitmarsh has set up a petition calling on the government not to privatise student loans. Please take a minute to sign. If this goes through, there will be serious consequences for all UK universities, academics and students.

June 18, 2013

Plans for next year and beyond

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 9:27 am
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As it’s now up on the website, I guess I can make the announcement – from the start of September, I will be joining the Department of Classics at Royal Holloway on a three year lectureship.

I’ve known about this for a while now and have been passing on the news to people in person, but for various reasons I wanted to wait for something more official before telling the internet. Obviously, I’m delighted. As anyone who has been following the job market knows, a three year job at the moment is an amazing break (and I have to admit that it’s only really just sinking in!). London is a brilliant place for me for personal as well as professional reasons; one of the things I am most looking forward to, if I’m honest, is the novelty of living with my husband. (Radical, I know.) The department at Royal Holloway, despite its well-publicised peril a few years ago, is full of interesting people working on interesting things, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better in both teaching and research.

I will be sorry to leave my colleagues at Birmingham. Despite recent upheavals, they have been unfailingly generous and kind to me, particularly given that I’ve been on a Teaching Fellowship (and thus on a two-legged academic contract). They’ve been great to work with, and have put up with all sorts of things from me, most recently wandering around asking ‘what do you think the connection is between classics and spiritualism?’ and making loud verbal expressions of frustration at unhelpful secondary literature. However, I will be there until the end of August, so I have a while yet to enjoy their company.

I’ll blog some more about the teaching I will be doing at Royal Holloway later in the summer, but for now, it’s back to the research grindstone…

May 14, 2013

#ECRchat – Managing Career Expectations

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 10:17 am
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The #ECRchat that I hosted last week started off with a poll full of options about professional development for the early career researcher, and it ended in a tie for topics, which I don’t think has ever happened before! As I’d done more thought about managing career expectations, we went with that; learning and developing leadership skills will be the topic of a future chat.

Managing career expectations was a topic I wanted to look at because there is often a tendency for ECRs to think about this as an internally-focused process, where one adjusts one’s own expectations of what might happen in the future. However, in the business world, managing expectations is all about how you relate to other people, both customers and colleagues, rather than some kind of self-policing mechanism. I wanted to see what happened if we applied this idea to the ECR sphere, whether it could be helpful for us to think with, and what insights considering the idea of managing expectations would generate.

We started the chat by thinking about what managing expectations is, and where those expectations come from. The idea of the disconnect between the ideal and the reality felt like a central part of this, as did the way that expectation gaps create disappointment. People felt there was a fine balance between aiming high and accepting the realities of one’s situation – including, perhaps, that certain things just wouldn’t work for you as an individual. Digging a bit deeper, we identified plenty of places where expectations come from – the job specification, your department, your university, disciplinary norms, ourselves, our families, the norms of (senior) colleagues, search committees, your PhD supervisor, funding bodies, and students. Being aware that expectations sometimes come from outside, and that this means we have the power to decide whether we want to sign up to them, seemed an important take-home point here.

After thinking about where expectations come from, we considered how we might find out what those expectations are before it’s too late to engage with them. There were lots of possibilities – considering the needs of the stakeholders in your projects, for example, or talking to colleagues to work out how the expectations of you on paper might play out in practice. The key message which came from this section of the chat was the importance of communication to make sure that you knew what people were after, and could adjust your behaviour accordingly. This also held true when we thought about how to go about managing those expectations – honesty, clarity, straightforwardness and a dose of humour seemed the sensible way to go! Participants also flagged up the importance of being willing to say ‘no’ if an expectation was genuinely at odds with other things which also needed doing. It felt as if some personal thought was needed here too, to work out what your career priorities were and how they fitted into the expectations of the institution, so you could balance the two accordingly – but it felt very difficult to make a satisfying plan without knowing the shape of all these jigsaw pieces.

We closed by thinking about how we might use expectations for our advantage rather than as coercion. Some suggestions including making sure that we know expectations so we can show how we are meeting them during performance reviews; using them to gain opportunities that might not otherwise be available; making them a tool to point out where your potential isn’t being fully developed or used; and using them as part of the networking process to discover more about your field and what’s going on in it.

If you’d like to read more from the chat, the Storified tweets are here.

Crossposted at the #ECRchat blog.

May 6, 2013

Hosting #ECRchat

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 10:00 pm
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I’m looking forward to hosting another edition of #ECRchat on Twitter later this week! As usual, the chat will take place on Thursday at 11am UK time and will last an hour.  All you need to do to take part is follow the hash tag! If you haven’t come across #ECRchat before, there’s plenty of information on the website. You can also vote in the poll to decide what the topic of the chat will be – the topics this week all look at aspects of professional development for the early career researcher. I hope you can join us!

 

April 19, 2013

Bibliometrics for Classicists

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 2:50 pm
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So, on Wednesday I went along to a training session put on by our excellent library team as part of their series on ways for academic staff to raise their research profiles. This was the only one of the four I attended, partly because of time and partly because I’m probably a bit beyond the 101 seminar on how to use social media at this stage (she types optimistically). But bibliometrics are one of those things that turn up frequently in the pages of the Times Higher Education, have hands wrung over them in despair about what role they’ll play in the approaching REF assessment, are derided as being statistically useless and praised as representing the future of research strategy. It was about time that I actually found out what they were and how they work. I should give massive credit for what follows to our stellar library team, in particular Linda Norbury for all the work she put into pulling this workshop together.

Bibliometrics and Classicists

The major question for me, and for some of you reading this, was whether bibliometrics are one of those things that we as classicists have to care about. Some REF panels have decided to use bibliometric data (albeit sparingly) in their assessments this time around, which obviously raises the spectre of this becoming standard practice. Our REF panel is not one of them, and unless the tools available pick up significantly, it’s not going to be – at the moment, we are peculiarly poorly served by the major services which offer this sort of thing. They’ve got good coverage for the sciences; they’ve got good coverage for the social sciences; but the humanities are nowhere.

In some ways, this might be enough for you to throw up your hands, declare that there’s no point bending over backwards to learn about another science-generated form of measurement imposed on the discipline, and request that bibliometrics hie themselves to a nunnery. It’s tempting. Unfortunately, the funding landscape is starting to get a bit keen on this sort of data – and knowing why we don’t have it available is perhaps as useful in applications as being able to provide it, particularly for cross-disciplinary schemes. It’s a little frustrating to try out this stuff and realise that ‘your field’ isn’t being looked after properly, but being familiar with the principles now will mean that when the providers do eventually catch up, we’ll be ahead of the game.

If the throwing up your hands option still appeals, you can stop reading now.

What can bibliometrics tell you?

Bibliometrics can tell you two things – the impact rating of a journal, and the h-index of an individual researcher. Well, they can tell you more than that, but those are the two things that they’re most commonly used for.

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April 12, 2013

Top ten blog posts – year two

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 7:39 pm
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Gosh, another blog-versary! Today marks two years of blogging since my first cautious forays into the medium. It’s been another good and productive year – I’ve noticed my blogging starting to swing a bit more towards my research and away from the ‘hints and tips’ sort of post, but those are still proving popular in the archives. So, here are the top ten posts from the last year – some similarities to last year’s list, but some new entries as well. Enjoy!

  1. How to write a thesis introduction – I have to say I’m astonished at how popular this ‘how to’ post has been over the past year. Does just what it says on the tin, and apparently there’s a market for it!
  2. How to write a conference abstract – again, another popular ‘how to’ post that seems to fill a need in the market.
  3. Film Review: Immortals – my comments on the 2011 film. Not, I have to admit, usually reached by classical reception search terms, but never mind.
  4. Tips For Conferences, or “Don’t Wear Pearls” – the ‘how to’ guide to conference, which includes how to actually write the conference paper once you’ve got the abstract accepted.
  5. Pompeii in Times Square – some comments on the 2011 exhibition in Times Square. I’m quietly wondering whether a parallel write-up of the British Museum’s new exhibition will do so well in the traffic ratings when it goes up.
  6. Book review: Becoming a critically reflective teacher – Stephen D. Brookfield – deals with the critical incident questionnaire, mainly found by people googling for book reviews.
  7. The Shield of Achilles – a new entry! Classical reception thoughts on W.H. Auden’s poem.
  8. Writing a cover letter to a journal – another how-to, that does exactly what it says on the tin.
  9. Some Selected Penis Poetry – some of my translations of the Priapea poems. I suspect whoever finds this via googling is not finding what they are looking for.
  10. The sex lives of Homeric heroines – more on the Priapea (can’t think why that does well with traffic), this time wondering about how much elegaic and satirical poems reconstruct the sex lives of the women in Homer, and why.
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