Classically Inclined

March 1, 2012

Holy motivational force, Batwoman! Reflections on the first #femlead chat

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 5:22 pm
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So, last night was the first Twitter chat of #femlead, which is a new project of the University of Venus. You can read more about the logic behind it through the link, but the main goal is to provide a space “for those who lead, those with vision, those who seek to support one another in the challenges and opportunities facing us in all areas of academic life”. I’d count myself in the second and third categories, and I’d like to be in the first category one day, so I thought this was a good thing to take part in – particularly given the lack of women in leadership roles in higher ed. My immediate concerns going into the chat were centred around what opportunities there are to develop leadership in the world of the short term contract, and what I could do to develop my skills and my career path.

I have to say that I got a great deal more than that out of the chat, focused around the topic of service vs. leadership, and which is now available over at Storify. A couple of broad themes emerged. Firstly, leadership has to fit into the wider narrative of who you are and what you do – there’s no point in taking on a leadership role if it doesn’t somehow fit your picture of yourself and where you’re going. There was also a lot of emphasis on noticing the rhetoric of how you present these things.  You need to talk about achievements as demonstrating leadership rather than be modest about them.

The chat wasn’t short of ideas about how to cope with the short term contract problem either. As I was often told, there are plenty of opportunities out there – you need to look for them and make sure it’s clear you are interested in them, and then present them in such a way in the next short term contract that more opportunities arise. There are opportunities for leadership that arise outside the institution you are based in, such as in professional organisations, that aren’t affected by moving about. Whatever the location, you should still be aware of the power structures and create mentoring opportunities, because that’s how you let people know that you want these kinds of responsibilities.

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January 24, 2012

Book review: The Good Supervisor – Gina Wisker

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 9:14 am
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Back at the end of October, I went for an afternoon of supervisor training. The point of this experience was so that I could get a bit of advice on how to go about providing useful feedback to the undergraduate dissertation students who have been placed in my tender care this academic year. While my experience with my writing group has given me some experience with how to provide useful feedback, the power dynamic with peers is very different to that with students and, as became clear during the session, there are important differences between how one deals with undergraduates and graduate students.

During that training session, one of the books we were pointed to as a further resource was The Good Supervisor, which deals in the main with how to deal with Masters and doctoral students, although there is some discussion of how to transfer the concepts to undergraduate students (namely, remembering that the average undergraduate thesis is not going to be considered for publication and is thus allowed to be a little less ambitious and more directed than would be expected of graduate-level work). The contents page certainly promises a comprehensive survey of the issues a supervisor will experience, from managing your first contact with a student to how to provide after-viva care. (more…)

October 27, 2011

Busy, busy bee

I think this has been the most busy week I’ve had to face at Birmingham, and it’s driving home to me just how much catching-up work I have to do as a new academic. This week is crunch point for student meetings of several types – I have dissertation students coming to talk about the first piece of written work they’ve produced for me; my first year students have their Adjustment Tutorials to make sure they’re settling in to university life, and to help us identify anyone who might be in need of extra support; and I’m having initial meetings with the second years planning their study tour, a great feature of the Birmingham course which funds students to go overseas and visit sites and museums relevant to their areas of study. These are all crucial and exciting meetings to have with students – the first real insight I get into how third years are tackling their dissertation work, sharing the highs and lows of the first month at university, beginning to plan foreign travel and come up with realistic ideas about what can be accomplished in the time available.

But all of this exciting student contact has to be fitted around writing my lectures, which this week includes planning a seminar on the first two books of Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica and preparing a comparative lecture on Greek cults and hero worship, plus what now seems like an inordinate amount of other meetings. I’m sure that if I’d been thinking straight, I wouldn’t have planned to attend both the university Central Induction event and a training session on supervising students in the same week as the mid-term IAA school meeting… but hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it’s too late to worry about that now. The lecture on Greek cults and heroes seemed like a great idea when I was putting the syllabus together, but as usual, coming to write it is a bit more complicated than I expected. There have also been some admin jobs that I haven’t been able to put off, including such domestic delights as buying a new mop and picking up a kettle from the Post Office – which don’t sound particularly thrilling, but demand their own chunk of time which I can’t then devote to other things.

Mind you, after you’ve gone through eight adjustment tutorials in a row, like I did this morning, your brain has turned into well-intentioned mush – it’s important to check in with first year students that they’re making friends, the finances are alright and they’re balancing their workload, but moving out of pastoral care mode into hardcore lecture writing mode is surprisingly tough. It’s days like this I envy my senior colleagues, who are able to review and revise their lectures rather than do a whole series from scratch, or at least have notes for one course they’ve taught in this format before. I’m consoling myself with the thought that if I put the effort into producing good lecture notes this time around, I’ll have good material to reuse elsewhere. It doesn’t hurt that it’s reading week next week; after this week of back-to-back meetings, I’m going to appreciate a bit of a breather.

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!

May 13, 2011

My annual skills review – using the Vitae RDF

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:33 am
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The point of working through the Vitae Researcher Development Framework wasn’t just for me to cast a beady eye over it and comment about how it may or may not be suitable for my field – the point is to give me a roadmap to work through for my own personal development. When I went through the parallel process last year (using a document from the University of Sussex that I now can’t relocate on their website, but that outlined the skills that the Joint Skills Statement [links to PDF] from the research councils says that everyone leaving a PhD should be able to do), I had a couple of key things I wanted to improve:

  • Improve my understanding of theory and its application to classics.
  • Improve my awareness of issue surrounding higher education in the UK and US, and worldwide.
  • Learn what the health and safety issues for humanities departments are.
  • Develop my public profile as a researcher.
  • Articulate the transferrable skills that I have gained through doing a Ph.D.

I think I’ve managed to do all of those things – and I also think that moving from the document based on the JSS to the Vitae framework is a good move now. I don’t feel that the JSS document has any challenges for me any more, while the Vitae version most definitely does.

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May 6, 2011

Some thoughts on the Vitae Researcher Development Framework

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:04 am
Tags: ,

Vitae is a UK-based organisation that “champions the personal, professional and career development of doctoral researchers and research staff in higher education institutions and research institutes.” A couple of years ago, when I first discovered them, I found their website contained a wealth of resources for assessing your position as a researcher and for thinking about personal development. I reviewed how I’d done in May last year, and now the time has come around again for me to revisit the question of where I am in my professional development and how I want to improve. Vitae has upped the game a bit, though – they’ve recently introduced this nifty Researcher Development Framework spreadsheet that helps you identify key characteristics of your state as a researcher, and work out how to get from where you are to where you want to be. The RDF works as a wheel – you have four main categories of qualities demonstrated by researcher, which in turn are broken down into three sub-categories, which themselves have between three and seven qualities associated with them.

Each of the subcategories have rubrics associated with them, so in the spreadsheet you can identify where you are in each category and where you want to be – thus not only giving you an accurate position of where you are as a researcher and where you want to be as a researcher, but also of where you could be as a researcher. For instance, the highest level rubric for the category of “critical thinking” is “creates evaluation processes and evaluates progress, impact and outcomes for national/international organisations and/or projects.” Now, nobody, bar nobody, is going to expect just-been-awarded-her-doctorate me to have involvement with international organisation – but it’s a good thing for me to know as I start to eye a career in academia, in terms of five and ten year plans. It’s also quite a good thing to help bridge the gap between my old identity as PhD student and my new identity as the holder of a doctorate – there’s a sense of a broader career progression here that doesn’t assume some magical process occurs when you submit your thesis and transforms you into a grown-up, which helps as a mechanism to negotiate that liminal space.

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