Classically Inclined

June 22, 2017

Is the academic research seminar series still fit for purpose?

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:21 am
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When I joined Royal Holloway four years ago, I was asked to take over the job of coordinating the academic research seminar and reviving it after it had fallen into abeyance (mainly as the department had had its mind on other things). I was delighted to take it on – it would mean I could write to all sorts of interesting people, I would be sending regular e-mails to the Liverpool Classicists e-mail list so my name became familiar,  and it was a research-related sort of admin task. Great. I made a point of putting the seminar in a lunchtime slot, because while I wasn’t pregnant at the time, I was very aware of the issues of family-friendly working and several colleagues had (and still have!) young children. And I got on with it.

By the time I was made permanent, and so could start thinking about what I might want to do differently, I was already feeling that the research seminar wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. Yes, I invited some great speakers and got to hear some really interesting papers, but the pressures of term (teaching, meetings with other staff and students, preparation, admin that had to be completed right this minute and so on) meant that my colleagues often couldn’t make it. Our graduate students are a geographically diverse bunch, sometimes living quite a distance from campus, and found it disruptive to come in for a single hour if there wasn’t something else happening on the same day. Despite plenty of publicity, we rarely got people from other departments in the college coming along, and in three years we never had a visitor from further afield. So I started wondering what the seminar was actually trying to do.

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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…)

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