Classically Inclined

March 11, 2016

Future Plans

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 8:24 am
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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.

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.

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…

August 17, 2012

Employment for next year

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 9:00 am
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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.

February 2, 2012

REF – Release the Guidelines!

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:53 am
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This week’s big news in REF-land is that HEFCE have released the final criteria and working methods for the assessment panels. For those of you not living in acronym-land, this means that we finally know what the ground rules are for the big assessment exercise which will look at the work produced by UK universities since the last one, judge its relative worth, and use those judgements as a way to allocate research funding from the government. The process has been long and drawn-out, since the REF is the successor to the RAE (Research Excellence Framework rather than the Research Assessment Exercise, don’t ask me why they decided to change it, I think I was still an undergrad when that decision got made) and they’ve had to work out how precisely it’s going to differ.

The working criteria that interest me are those for Panel D, which covers the subpanels of Modern Languages and Linguistics; English Language and Literature; History; Classics; Philosophy; Theology and Religious Studies; Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory; Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts; and Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management. So it’s sort of a broad church humanities panel. Each subject has its own specialist subpanel (so a ballerina won’t have to deal with the work of an Egyptologist, for instance); the central panel is, as far as I can tell, responsible for doing overview work and coordinating everything, which is reasonable enough.

One very important change from the original proposals not included in the Panel D guidelines, which I feel particularly strongly about, is that the REF have now decided that researchers may submit one fewer output per period of maternity leave taken – so basically, as opposed to having to submit four outputs (articles, books, chapters in books, etc.), if you’ve had a baby you only need to submit three. This is a vast improvement on the original proposal, which suggested that in order for an output to be waived, a researcher would need to have taken fourteen months off. As numerous researchers pointed out, that’s enough for two pregnancies, and very few academics take that amount of leave or are able to do so. I have to say, as one of the people who wrote in to point out the problems with the latter approach, I’m really pleased that common sense has won out here, given the opportunity it had to go horribly wrong. It’s nice to have something to be optimistic about. (more…)

September 13, 2011

Advancing in Academia with Vitae

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 4:09 am
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On Monday, Vitae ran an event called Advancing in Academia which, you may note, took place in a hotel in Birmingham. This, I thought to myself, was a good opportunity, and the geographic convenience meant it was too good to miss. (It didn’t stop me arriving half an hour later than I’d planned to, but that was more the result of blithely trusting the local buses.) I had a pretty straightforward agenda going in – I wanted to know whether my perceptions of the higher education environment were accurate, whether I had actually got as good a plan for career development as I thought I had, and more generally to touch base with an organisation which I’ve made great use of virtually over the last few years but haven’t really had a chance to engage with in person. (They’re the people, for instance, who put together the Researcher Development Framework.)

I have to say that I’m very glad that I decided to go, as it was a good example of what can come of taking up unexpected opportunities. The event had a couple of interactive discussion segments and a couple of personal narrative segments, where established academics talked about how their career paths had got them to where they were today. On the plus side, most of them said ‘it was all by chance, but it looks orderly now’, whilst also saying that there were some key bits of strategic thinking and planning you could do which would help with the inevitable chaotic reality of life. Having a sense of vision and purpose, for instance, helps you decide what you want to prioritise in your life, and thus influences decisions about what you agree or decide to do in your department. This was particularly clear in the Academic Promotions exercise, where each group got a character to shepherd through three years of their life in an attempt to gain promotion. There were dice. It was great. And I got mildly over-attached to our group’s junior career art historian, but that’s by the by. (more…)

September 2, 2011

Survival tips for new academics (like me!)

Last week’s Guardian Livechat was on advice for new academics on how they might survive their new roles. (I’m afraid that there seems to be some overall issue with the WordPress code at the moment that won’t let me insert links, so the shortened link for the chat is http://bit.ly/q0bBA9.) As a new academic of sorts, I was taking pretty frantic notes. While I’ve had teaching experience in the States, including a full year’s worth in a faculty-level position, I’ve never had to deal with anything beyond the teaching side of things. Administrative meetings remain a closed book to me (until later this month, when their mysteries will be revealed), as do many of the other practicalities that being a grad student sheltered me from. I thought I’d put together my Top Tips from the livechat – do tell me if you disagree or think I’ve left out something important.

Get to know people. Surprisingly basic, but at the same time there’s a wide range of people to get to know – the subject-area librarian, other library staff, the support staff for your department, colleagues inside and outside the department, senior administrators and deans, research administrators, security guards, catering staff… anyone you see, really.

Use your resources. This includes making sure you’re getting most from your university’s benefits for employees; talking to the library to make sure you know all they can do for you and your students; asking colleagues if you can watch them lecture to get ideas and a sense of the “house style”; reading any minutes of meetings that come your way to get a sense of how things work without actually being involved; going to staff development workshops or training events for new tech;

Get a mentor. Whether official or unofficial, having someone to talk stuff over with and ask for advice is going to be vital.

Be keen. You’d think this would be a no-brainer. After all, you’ve spent mumble years finishing the PhD, you clearly want an academic career, and you’ve made it to the first step on the ladder – you’ll be overflowing with joy and bonhomie, right? Well, I’m doing my best, but I’m also moving my life from one city to another and not getting enough sleep, so I’m going to have to put a bit of effort into sounding as enthusiastic as I actually am about starting a new job, and this new job in particular. Not because the enthusiasm isn’t there, but because the energy to express it is hiding under the sofa.

Learn to say no. Ah, the eternal truth of the time eater. I personally believe this is a small anteater type creature that sits under my desk and snuffles up time when I’m not looking. Learning to politely say ‘no’ to things that I don’t have time to do on top of my teaching and research load is going to be one of my biggest challenges, because I’m an obliging sort of soul who likes taking advantage of opportunities. However, that’s got to be balanced with a firm dose of reality. All the opportunities in the world aren’t going to be any good if you’re too overloaded to take advantage of any of them properly.

…but know when to say yes. Some opportunities will be golden. Learning how to discern which ones I should pick up and which ones I can safely say no to is going to be another key skill to develop. (While I’m at it, I might try to sharpen my mindreading and fortune telling skills as well…)

Think about assessment. The Livechat had a particularly productive thread on how to approach assessment and feedback, which always seems to score low on the National Student Survey. I’ve picked up a number of helpful ideas, and am just going to have to make sure that I follow through with them!

Remember why you’re doing it. You need to build time in for doing the things that made you happy to be an academic in the first place. This means being strict about not letting teaching or admin expand to fill the time available, and leaving space to get on with research (or vice versa). There’s no point in having the job you love if you don’t actually love doing it. That balancing act is going to be tricky – but it’s all part of the learning curve.

If anyone’s got any more Top Tips for surviving the first year of being a full-time academic, please share them in the comments!

July 6, 2011

Next year’s plans – good news!

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 5:26 am
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As those of you who follow me on Twitter know, I have spent the last few months working through the job application process, and my endeavours have borne fruit. I am delighted to tell you that I will be joining the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity at the University of Birmingham as a Teaching Fellow in Roman literature for the 2011-12 academic year.

I’m looking forward to joining the department very much; it sounds like I’m going to be doing a wide range of teaching, both in terms of subject and approach, and the course requirements are set up in very interesting and cool ways. The final details will probably be hammered out next week, but whatever the final details look like, it’s going to be an exciting year.

Of course, next year’s job market will usher in another period of running around like a headless chicken in pursuit of multiple forms and paperwork, but for now, it’s very satisfying to be able to rest after the chaos of this year’s job hunt, and the international move, and, um, finishing off the PhD. I suspect I’m due a proper holiday…

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