I originally wrote this post for jobs.ac.uk, but I decided it might be better here. I also am wary about posting another rejection-based blog post (anywhere!), but I think it's the right time for this one in particular.
Rejection is built into the fabric of academia, but rarely does it hit so many early career academics at it does the day that Leverhulme ECF decisions come out. For a lot of reasons, I didn’t submit an application this year, but I remember the pain of last year’s rejection so vividly. ‘We’re sorry to tell you that your application was not successful. However, your proposal made it to the final shortlist, and this is clear evidence that the panel thinks your research project is very promising’. Egh. This was my second Leverhulme rejection, and add that to two British Academy postdoc rejections I felt like I knew the lay of the land. But that one hurt. A lot.
So, today feels like a day where a lot of people could use some encouragement. So here it is. My career story.
I graduated from my PhD in 2015.
For the 2015/16 academic year I applied for twelve jobs. I got one interview. I ended up doing hourly-paid teaching at my PhD institution. I ‘invented’ a non-stipendiary postdoctoral fellowship for myself at a research institute. I worked on my book (that’s another post for another day), and I worked on an article. I applied for and got Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.
For the 2016/17 academic year I applied for fifteen jobs, and I had three interviews (for four jobs). I didn’t get any of them. I made the final shortlist for the Leverhulme ECFs. I kept my non-stipendiary position at the research institute. I continued working on my book. I had my first article published in a major journal. I did a term of hourly-paid teaching at my PhD institution. I gave up. I didn’t want to do this anymore. I love teaching, and I absolutely love my research. Being an academic is part of the fabric of my being. But I realised that it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter how much I wanted it.
A teaching fellowship was advertised in the ‘off season’ to start in January of the 2016/17 academic year, that was for 12 months. Meaning, I would be tossed back out onto the job market in the off-season again. I applied. I got an interview. I went, I was 100% myself, with no feeling of intense desperation. I didn’t feel like I had to make it. I got the job.
I signed a book contract but not for my PhD book. I hope that will come in the next month or two (I’ve done the required revisions to the proposal and sent it back recently).
I have applied for three jobs so far since getting my job – two permanent jobs, one two-year research fellowship. I got an interview for the first permanent job, but I didn’t get it. I think my presentation went well, but my interview was awful – I think because by that stage I was pretty sure that I wasn’t the candidate they wanted, and that got to my head. I was long-listed for the second permanent job, and am waiting to hear further details about the interview. I’m still waiting to hear about the research fellowship. This second - the one I've been long-listed for, at least - is the one I want to get, and I'm trying not to get too weird and over excited about it.
I’m still in a precarious position, but much less than in the 18 months since submitting my PhD. I have been privileged enough to be able to play the waiting game. But this isn’t that article. This isn’t the ‘just wait it out and you’ll succeed’ article because frankly, that’s terrible advice.
I also don’t want to advise you to ‘just be yourself’, because that’s terrible advice too. The times I have tried hardest to BE MYSELF are the times I have come across as the most desperate and over-enthusiastic.
I don’t know what my advice. I suppose I don’t have any. There are people who have applied for more or fewer jobs than I have, who have been luckier or unluckier, who have had an easier time of publishing their PhD book, and who have had a harder time.
Right now, I’m trying to find a permanent job. I’m going through the round-about again. When (if) I get there, I will go through it again with grants, and books, and articles, and it just doesn’t stop. I’m okay with that. I think you have to be okay with that.
But this story isn’t about me. It’s about the fact that every person who has a story of the academy has a different story. Maybe you weren’t meant to get the Leverhulme. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t. I adore my department now. I’ve been interviewed for a permanent job in what would have been the first year of my Leverhulme. We’re all different.
And, we all experience rejection. That’s what binds us together as academics (whether we have institutional positions or not!). We need to be there for each other in those times. Because we all know rejection is the worst part of this game.
Occasionally I will post questions that have been asked on my Curious Cat page (where you can ask me all kinds of questions anonymously). These will be exactly as they appear on the Curious Cat page, but I may expand on my answers slightly in separate posts, or below the original answer.
Where do you think the field of Greek religon is moving after polis religion?
This is a very loaded question, and you will get as many different answers as scholars of ancient Greek religion.
The first thing to say is there are a lot of good things about the polis religion model, and it has helped us over the last 25 years advance the study of Greek religion immensely. It has become, and I think will continue to be, a starting point for new scholars of Greek religion - certainly until there is a new model as widely accepted and used as polis-religion.
To my mind, polis religion has two major flaws: it doesn't account for 'marginal' personal religious practices (this has been really well-explored by scholars like Esther Eidinow and Julia Kindt), and it doesn't account for personal religious experiences: the simple fact that people are different, experience things differently, think about things, believe things all differently.
That's why I think the future of the field (and my own work) will lay in materialism as a theoretical framework (in fact, I am planning to write an article about this very thing, and how it can be used in ancient history!).
Materialism is closely linked to sensory studies, but not quite the same (though they are highly complementary!). It can allow us to conduct ethnographic studies through 'lived' experience, objects, practices, traditions, and spaces in a place where we cannot conduct direct ethnography. When applied to the study of religion, this means that we look at how people encounter in their ‘everyday world’, as well as the sensations and feelings of everyday life, focused through the lens of religious practice. It can be focused through other lenses, and even in the study of religion, it's important to take civic, political, social, and economic lenses into account (this is another question, about religious embeddedness!).
I want to be very clear that this is not THE way forward. The future of the study of Greek religion will be, I think, a patchwork of interweaving and overlapping methodological and theoretical frameworks for which my part will, I hope, be the introduction of Materialism. There is already wonderful work being done in and through sensory studies and cognitive approaches (Jenifer Larson's recent Understanding Greek Religion is an excellent introduction to this).
And, I think that it will be quite a while before we can move on from polis religion and the influence of Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood.
I have Type 1 Bipolar. I ‘outed’ myself last October on World Mental Health Day. Since then, I have spoken candidly about various aspects of having bipolar and a panic disorder, but these have usually been fleeting bursts on Twitter. Until now I have not committed anything to the permanence of this site, partly because being open in a post that can be called and recalled by anyone, at any time, is scary and worrying. I am on the market for a permanent academic job, and I am obviously concerned that this will negatively affect that endeavour.
I am worried about the stigma of having a chronic mental illness. Will I be able to be ‘open’ about my diagnosis until the stigma is gone? No. Will the stigma be lifted unless people, like me, are ‘open’ about their diagnoses? No. It’s a vicious cycle. To break it, I have to step forward and be open. This is the small thing I can do to help.
Living with bipolar isn’t easy. Twice a day I take my medications, I will take these for the rest of my life. Perhaps not these exact ones, because that’s the thing about medication for chronic illnesses (of all kinds, not just mental illness) – sometimes they stop working the way you want them to work. Everything I do is a balancing act. If I do x, I will feel like a. That means that I might not be able to do y later on. It’s Spoon Theory. Do I need to go to the supermarket with my 5-year-old? That will take four spoons. If I can go on my own, it will be two. Do I have to take the 6:55am train to Leicester to make a meeting with a student? That will be one additional spoon than taking the 8:56. If Kiddo doesn’t sleep well tonight I will need an extra five spoons, so do I want to keep three in reserve – that means it will only cost two of tomorrow’s spoons. You get the point.
Even though I take meds, I still experience the fluctuations of my mood disorder. They obviously aren’t as pronounced as if I wasn’t taking medication. I have learned to match my work to these – when I am ‘up’ I produce new research and do as much teaching preparation as I can. When I am ‘down’ I edit – I am brutal and mean, and the comments I leave on my own work are sometimes heartbreaking. When I am ‘even’, I submit work. If I can help it I never push ‘submit’ while I am up or down, because even though these are very mild versions of mania and depression I am still not as measured as I would like to be when I do the final checks of a manuscript or abstract.
This is not a glorification of bipolar. Yes, I did write tens of thousands of words in a manic frenzy during my PhD, but I also completely neglected my own health and let my marriage crumble around me. I have – like anyone who faces a chronic illness – learned how to work with myself, rather than fighting against myself.
It doesn’t always work, and I am particularly bad at preventative ‘self-care’. My ability to recognise when I need to break out of my bubble is dulled and broken. Fighting this is something I will be doing forever.
I am not bipolar. I have bipolar. That’s an important distinction. And over the last six months, I have forced myself to come to terms with having a lifelong invisible illness, a disability. It has made it easier to be open. But it will always be an uphill battle, and I will always be fighting a war against myself – I just hope for more, longer, periods of peace.
Late last year I ran an Academic Kindness Gift Circle (you can read about it here). It was, by and large, successful, but the timing was slightly problematic. I thought I would - for the more permanent (and possibly annual) AKGC have it earlier in the year, with a sending window, so that gifts will arrive all around the same time (and for us in the UK, will come around exam-marking time!)
The other concern was that a limit of £15- did exclude a number of people who just couldn't justify the expense. The purpose of this is to spread community and support throughout the academy, so I am conscious to this. Therefore...
1. Gifts should cost no more than £5/€6/$6USD/$8AUD/$8CAD/the closest whole value that comes up when you compare with £5 on xe.com. This is excluding postage.
2. Gifts can be whatever you like within this range including handmade or purchased. They should be accompanied by a personal letter addressed to your giftee. The entire value may be spent on paper or card to carry this message (that is to say, the entire gift may be the letter itself).
3. Gifts must be anonymous.
4. Gifts must be posted in the week beginning Monday May 22nd, 2017. Gifters must email me to confirm that gifts have been posted.
Sign up will be open from 19/3/17 to 20/4/17.
To keep postage costs down, there will be regional pools. Last time this was UK and EU, North America, Rest of the World. The regional breakdown will depend on signups.
To maintain anonymity there will be a designated return address for each region. If you are happy to act as the regional return person, please indicate this on the sign up form. This involves having your address marked as the return address on all gifts in your region. If any gifts go astray they will then be 'returned' to you and we can try and get them to their intended recipient. I will be the designated return for UK (and perhaps Europe).
If you cannot afford to participate the please get in touch with me by email and I will arrange for funds to be sent you to. If you can afford to sponsor another gift, please donate via PayPal (this does not need to be in increments of £5- you are free to donate however much you wish). All unused funds at the end of the gifting period will be donated to Arts Emergency. The only money coming in to this PayPal account at this point are related to AKGC. If you do not want to donate via PayPay please email me.
Exciting news when I got into the office this morning! My offering to Routledge's God and Heroes of the Ancient World series is being contracted! It will surprise no one to hear that my contribution is on Hades, the shadowy god of the Underworld.
In line with the rest of the series, this book will cover the mythology and cult representation of Hades in the ancient world and look at what happens to the god after antiquity.
Update: Below you can see the original proposal that I sent - there are a few changes that were made (reflected in the table of contents above) after review, but no major changes were made to the content.
Another “CV of Failure” has (inevitably) appeared. These make me feel uncomfortable. It’s not that they don’t represent a conversation that we need to have. It’s that - no matter how well-meaning the writers are - the pieces themselves are tone deaf. They are written from a place of figurative and literal privilege: permanent positions and lofty offices. No doubt many people find these ‘Shadow CVs’ uplifting and hope-giving, they also alienate people whose plans haven’t exactly… gone to plan. They are the academic equivalent of ‘White Saviour syndrome’. The impetus to write this came from seeing this tweet, which perfectly summed up my feelings:
But I can let you in on a secret: these days we've all been rejected from jobs and fellowships and had papers rejected and not been admitted to every one of the seventeen graduate programmes we applied to. Here’s another secret: most of us still haven’t ended up with tenure-track positions at Princeton. And, for your sins, here’s a third secret: those of us who haven't ended up with such coveted positions work just as hard and have just as many stories of woe. Many of us are also being systemically discriminated against because of our gender, sexuality, skin colour, age, accent, socio-economic background, the ability of our bodies or minds to work “properly”, or some combination of these factors.
So, I could (and have) written about jobs I've failed to get: on the jobs.ac.uk Post-PhD blog and YouTube. I've also written about a “failed” publication – but that article is currently in press at an excellent journal in large part because of that initial “failure” and the reports I received from it.
I could also tell you how at the end of my PhD my marriage failed. Or how around the same time my health failed. Or how I have failed at work-life balance. Or about the times I had to choose between failing at some aspect of my work or failing as a parent. I could, and have, been open and explicit about all kinds of failure. And that’s something we need to talk about. But it’s not done best in the context of ‘Here Are All The Times I Didn't Get What I Wanted But I Have Succeeded Now And So Can You!’.
Here’s why: there are as many ways of measuring success as there are people on the planet. Probably more. I might love a tenure-track position at Princeton, but when I sit down and think about what I’d have to give up for that… that doesn't look like success to me anymore.
So – let's continue to talk about failure in academia. But we should be doing it in an ongoing, constructive, and open way. We should be letting people who have experience of being failed by the academy talk. You shouldn't need to have a faculty position to say: hey, I've failed too. Because guess what: every single person in academia has “failed”. But that doesn't make us failures. So I want to encourage everyone: adjuncts, PhD candidates, those who have lived on a string of fixed-term contracts, those who have landed tenure track positions, and everyone in the middle, to talk about failure. But not in the format of the “CV of Failures” - in everyday conversations. We should be trying to normalise failure in the academy, but a genre built to hide the humble-brag isn't the way to do it.
Huge thanks to Joe Fruscione, who read an early draft of this piece. His comments helped me articulate my ideas in, frankly, a much clearer way.
I'm currently working on an essay about survivor guilt in early career academics, and want to hear about experiances of guilt or anxiety directly related to your personal successes in academia. These can be things like publication or conferences acceptances, successful fellowship or grant applications, getting jobs or funding, and also feelings brought up when others either have career related setbacks or don't perform to their own expectations. ALL responses uses in the essay will be anonymous, but if you wish you can leave a contact details for follow-ups.
If you do not currently identify as an early career academic, please feel free to still contribute, but limit your responses to times you did identify as early career.
I am leaving the definition of 'early career' deliberately open.
2016 was pretty awful for many, many people and I wasn’t really any different. Like many people I was devastated by the Brexit vote in June, and around that time I’d also reached the conclusion that my academic career was very sadly probably over, after having not secured a 12-month full-time contract for the 2016/17 year. This was a really tough time for me, especially after coming so close to winning a Leverhulme. I felt really dejected and down about the prospect of my career, although I kept up my research (in part because I just didn’t know what else to do, and in part, because I find a lot of comfort and calm in doing it). I felt uneasy about the direction I was trying to push my book in, and that certainly didn’t help my overall frame of mind about my academic career.
But, there was some good stuff in the year too. I started my YouTube channel, and I’m still definitely in the learning and growing phase of video making. I’m really enjoying doing that and looking forward to taking that into my next adventure.
I got to teach some new things at King’s and tried out some exciting classroom activities and teaching techniques. In part, I think, this was pushed by the knowledge that this may well have been the last time I taught. I almost felt obliged to try out some of the stuff I’d always wanted to do in my classroom, but never before felt I had the freedom or authority. This term I not only had the freedom to play but also had the confidence in my experience to give some new stuff a go. By and large, there were more successes than not-successes in that, so I’m pretty pleased.
I made a huge decision about my book that saw me decide to not resubmit it to a UP and instead entirely rethink it and submit it to another press. I was hoping to hear back about the review before the end of the year - but I knew it was a bit of a long-shot (especially given the closure over Christmas and New Year!). Hopefully, that might be the first big news of 2017.
On publishing, though, I did get the first piece of my PhD research accepted to a proper grown up journal. I submitted the corrected proofs just before the Christmas closure, so my article should appear on the advanced articles page pretty soon. It’s called ‘Girls Playing Persephone (in Marriage and Death)’ and looks at two different cases of girls imitating Persephone to undergo status change.
At present, it’s hard to start properly planning 2017 because I just don’t know what I’ll be doing in a specific sense. In a general sense, though, I’m really happy to be joining the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester as a Teaching Fellow in Ancient History from January 16th.
I’ll also be heading to the Classical Association annual conference in April to present some work on the sensorial experience of the young girls who attend Athena Polias, and that will form the basis of the next big article I hope to publish. I’ve obviously got Reciprocity and Death under review at the moment, and I’m also preparing a proposal for a short edition on Hades. I'm keeping publishing plans short and specific for this year. I want to use this time to clear the decks a bit, before really starting on Belief, Behaviour, and Belonging in ernest once everything else is wrapped up. One of my biggest issues this year has been trying to do too many things at once - jumping about a bit. It's worked well, but if I want to start getting things from 90% there to Finished then I need to spend some time tying up those lose ends. By the end of 2017 I want to be finished with my PhD research, and have a truly clean slate to move onto B3.
I can’t say too much about 2017 at the moment because I just don’t know. For the first time in a really long time, though, that’s kind of an exciting sense of ‘just not knowing’, rather than a terrified sense of ‘Having No Bloody Clue’.
Thanks to everyone who has supported me this year – to my family, Andrew, my daughter, my mentors, my friends, Twitter, readers of my blog and viewers of my videos. Thank you. And, let’s get going on 2017!
One of my main non-work priorities in 2017 is going to be reading. I love reading, but I have let my non-work-related reading slip away over the last few years. So, I'm soliciting interest in an online book club/reading group.
At this point I envision reading one book per month, with the list to be drawn from as diverse a authorship as possible. I'm quite disapointed in the number of old white men that I've read this year, and I'd like to remedy that next year!
I suggest we start in January with The Good Immigrant, a collection of twenty-one personal essays about race, immigration, and being othered in Britain, edited by Nikesh Shukla.
If you're interested, please fill out the form below and I'll get in touch with everyone with some more details (when I sort out what might be the best way to organise this - please also leave any suggestions for this in the comments section of the form).
Here are the ten things from the past year that I want to revisit. These aren't necessarily my most popular posts, but they are the ten things I think have been the most importnat. Or fun.
Thanks for sticking around on my journey though academic precarity this year. I have done things this year I never thought I would be able to, including revealing my chronic illness to the world, and talking candidly about my situation and how I felt as a precarious academic. I hope to continue 2017 with some strong ideas, some more #AcademicKindness, a lot more solidarity, and hopefully a very large dose of happiness.
Let me know in the comments or on Twitter if there's anything specifc you'd like to see me cover in the next year, either here on on YouTube.
Happy Holidays, all!